Are you threatened or challenged?

I’m going to make a few assumptions for the sake of this post.  Hopefully they aren’t too far-fetched.

  1. Let’s assume we all want our athletes to improve.  Still with me?
  2. Let’s assume that you’re willing to do what it takes to make that happen.  (Within legal and moral limits obviously.)

With that set, what if we made one more assumption?

  1. Let’s assume the only thing that mattered for your athlete to improve is if your athlete believed their training was appropriate?

What if nothing else mattered.  It didn’t matter if you ran 8x50m or 10x1k.  If the only thing that mattered was that the athlete had faith in what they were doing and it was going to make them better….what would you do differently?

Not what workouts would you run, but how would you structure your entire coaching process.  Team meetings, practices, every interaction.  If the goal became to absolutely ensure that the athlete believed in their training.  Because I think it’s time that we start talking about this more.  The research is pushing us in this direction and shows us that this is more truth than you may think.

Sure, there’s likely to be a “good enough” bar that needs to be reached for workouts/technique, but there isn’t likely to be a “better” or “perfect” workout out there.  We know this about parenting…we know that there is a “good-enough” bar where more parenting or different parenting isn’t necessarily better.

When that level of good-enough is met, then all children can survive and become independent, capable adults.  But parenting isn’t some endless linear staircase that you can always improve upon.  And neither are your workouts.

  1. Let’s also assume that your workouts and training are “good enough” already. Give yourself some credit because I’m inclined to believe that this bar is much lower than people think it is.

Where his he going with this?  Here’s the kicker…two people can have physiologically different reactions to the exact same stimulus based on whether they believe the stimulus is right or wrong, good or bad, a threat or challenge, etc.

Athlete A runs your workout and believes it’s a great, appropriate workout that will make him stronger…his body will then respond in kind to make him stronger and more capable.  Athlete B runs right alongside Athlete A, stride for stride, but Athlete B believes that your workout is all wrong.  It’s not right for him and is going to make him worse.  His body will follow the lead of his mind and prepare for the imminent attack.

“First off, there are important physiological differences between the two responses that can affect your immediate performance and long-term consequences of stress.  One of the biggest differences has to do with how stress affects your cardiovascular system.  Both a threat response and a challenge response prepare you for action – something you can feel when your heart starts pounding faster.  But during a threat response, the body is anticipating physical harm.  To minimize the blood loss that might follow a nasty fight, your blood vessels constrict.  The body also ramps up inflammation and mobilizes immune cells to prepare you to heal quickly.

In contrast, during a challenge response…you aren’t anticipating harm, the body feels safe maximizing blood flow to give you the most possible energy.  Unlike in a threat response, your blood vessels stay relaxed.  Your heart also has a stronger beat – not just faster, but with greater force.  Each time your heart contracts it pumps out more blood.  So, a challenge response gives you even more energy than a threat response.

…Your stress response also affects how well you perform under pressure.  During a threat response, your emotions will likely include fear, anger, self-doubt, or shame.  Because your primary goal is to protect yourself, you become more vigilant to signs that things are going poorly.  This can create a vicious cycle in which your heightened attention to what’s going wrong makes you even more fearful and self-doubting.  In contrast, during a challenge response, you may feel a little anxious but you also feel excited, energized, enthusiastic and confident.  Your primary goal is not to avoid harm, but rather to go after what you want.  Your attention is more open and ready to engage with your environment, and you’re prepared to put your resources to work.”

~ Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress

Challenge Response = Increased cardiac efficiency, vasodilation, favorable emotions, better accuracy, coordination

Threat response = Decreased cardiac efficiency, vasoconstriction, unfavorable emotions, impaired decisions, cognitive decline

And it’s iterative…

Believe it’s good »»» Physiological response to challenge »»»  Get stronger »»» Want more challenges »»» Rinse and Repeat

Believe it’s bad »»» Physiological response to threat »»» Stay neutral or decline »»» Want fewer threats »»» Rinse and Repeat

It’s a self fulfilling prophecy that begins with BELIEF.  It begins with a choice, a mindset.

So, I ask again…

If the only thing that matters is if your athletes BELIEVE the training is right for them, what would you do differently?

You’re never as good as you will be.

This post is about arrogance. In my opinion, it’s quietly destroyed more great coaches than anything else. Coaching, in its elemental form, is structuring another person’s time and giving them directions in how they can do a thing better. Leave someone in that position long enough and it’ll change them. You can see how a coach may start to take themselves too seriously. One may be inclined to think they know more than they do, control more than they do, or have more power than they do. That omniscient, omnipotent feeling in a coach is arrogant.

Personally, I try to regularly remind myself that I’m not who I can be. It helps me avoid this pitfall in coaching.  Here’s some history on my evolution.

After a couple years in college, I realized that high school Ethan didn’t know as much as he thought he did.

When I became an assistant coach, I realized that college athlete Ethan didn’t know as much as he thought he did.

When I became a head coach, I realized that assistant coach Ethan didn’t know as much as he thought he did.

When I had coached for a decade, I realized that newbie coach Ethan didn’t know as much as he thought he did.

Honestly, I exist in a perpetual state of sophomorism. I guess I always think I know more than I do. And I’m probably not alone.

At first, I took this to mean that I’m simply always an idiot…I just haven’t realized why yet. This is not entirely untrue. But I’ve since flipped that script and now believe that I’ve simply never stopped learning. I’m constantly evolving and learning newer and better tricks to use. I’m learning from my missteps and miscues. I’m leveling up.

Yeah, it would be great if I could simply pull a Cable and have 65-year-old me come back and tell me what mistakes I’m about to make. Help me avoid them and level up less painstakingly. Or better yet, have 40-year-old me go back and slap around high school me, that would probably be a better use of my time. That kid could really use a wake up call.

But, since that may undo the entire space-time continuum, I guess I’ll just have to keep plodding along, making my mistakes, evolving, and keeping all forms of complacency and arrogance at bay.

And, yes, this post was written by an idiot. I just haven’t realized why yet.



The other side of that workout.

My wife liked my last post. Yay, me. Honestly, sometimes I feel like her and my mother are the only two people on the planet that read this thing, but that doesn’t stop me from posting.

So after reading the post, my wife made a passing comment that really stuck with me. She said “Wow, you and T have really come a long way.” That is more true than you know. I’m about to pull back the curtain of Oz a bit and, admittedly, I’m not exactly sure how this post is going to turn out or where it’s going to go. But I feel the pull to talk about the other side of life – the side that we don’t really show people outside our closest circle of support.

My wife’s comment was one that very few people on the planet would or could have made. Externally, I imagine most people see my daughter and my relationship as rock solid. And it is, but it definitely didn’t start off that way. Not even close. After the fairly seamless and joyful addition of our first-born to the family, I can fully admit that I was caught off guard by some aggressive postpartum depression when T-Bone was born.

With Tenacious, there was absolutely no connection what so ever. I can now say that. It doesn’t make me feel good to, but it’s the truth. On some level, I thought she hated me. When I type that, I’m actually shaking my head at the idiocy of that thought. But even more so, at the scariness of the situation. She was days, weeks, months old. And I was convinced she loathed me.

I really do wish I could laugh at myself for having those thoughts. But it scares me more than anything. It scared me then and it still does now. My brain lied to me. That’s the only way I’ve come to describe it. My brain lied to me. It is the medium and filter with which I view the world. It takes in all the information from my environment, processes it, and then shoots out thoughts and emotions that it deems appropriate and accurate.

And somehow, my brain decided that my 1-week-old daughter hated me. What the F? That’s even worse than when your computer flashes the “blue-screen-of-death” because then at least you know how screwed you are. (Tangent: Do computers still do the blue-screen-of-death or have we evolved passed that? I have haven’t seen one since college now that I think of it.)

My brain deceived me. And it did a good job of it. It did so for an entire summer and some of the following fall. It sucked. And still does to think of it. I’m embarrassed that my daughter and I started that way. But honestly, the depression wasn’t the most difficult part for me. The worst of it was the moment when I became aware of it. The moment when I started to turn a corner and became cognizant of the fact that my brain was feeding me untruths. It was, hands down, the greatest betrayal that I’ve ever felt. My mind, my own mind, was unfaithful to me.

It was isolating. It was humiliating. It was emasculating. It was scary as hell.

In that helplessness, I had the oddest response. I felt the urge to connect with two people that I hadn’t spoken to in almost 10 years. One was someone that overlapped with in college for a mere 9-months. She was a senior, captain when I was a first-year. And to this day, I don’t know why I felt she was the right one to talk to. We hadn’t spoken in years, almost decades. But our conversation was a catalyst that I needed.

I think I’ve always been comfortable putting my faults on display. As a coach, I don’t claim to be omniscient. I have an array of experiences, but I’m not perfect. But, this was a whole other level. This was the hardest admit that I’ve ever had to make. However, with each person I talked to, it got easier. With each conversation, its hold on me lessened. With each telling, I regained myself.

And over the past four plus years, I’ve spoken with many fathers who have experienced similar lows with their 2nd born. Not all have gone as far down the rabbit hole as I did, but it seems like a more common experience than any of us realized.

Personally, I blame expectation. When Echo was born, I knew nothing of kids. So from day 1, he and I had the best father-child connection that I ever knew. And it grew with each interaction. As he aged and was able to smile and interact more, that connection took off.

Enter Tenacious. No connection. But that wasn’t her fault. She was no different than Echo had been. It was I who was different. I had experienced what it was like to have the deeper, more interactive relationship that you get with a 5, 6, 8, 12-month-old. A connection, that is harder to have between a father and a 1, 2, 3-month old. That young of a child only has a true connection with one person. Because only one person has what they need and I don’t have the requisite equipment to give it them.

So I wrongly expected the deep connection that I’d developed with Echo. The one that exists after half a year. That was an unfair expectation to put on T-Bone. And when it wasn’t there, it rocked me. Hard. It took me to a dark place that took some time and effort to walk myself out of.

Enter Arrow. He’s no different than Echo and Tenacious were before him. But I am. I no longer have undue expectations for our relationship right now. I’m still hopeful for what it will grow into. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s still incredibly emotionally challenging when he needs something that I can’t give him. But now I’m a little wiser and able to see a fuller picture.

And like all things parenting…these experiences have made me a better coach. I now spend significantly more effort removing the stigma around mental hardship.

Not to minimize the seriousness of depression in any way, but I believe in approaching it as the flu of mental illness. I assume it is something that each of us will endure at some point. And its length and severity will depend on both our response and other individual factors. Just as we get flu shots and talk about hand washing, I now try to get out in front of this thing that is a part of all our lives.  Personally, I’ve never talked to a single person who felt embarrassed or “less than” because they got the flu.  Someday, I’d like to see that same approach brought to mental illness.

And again, like all things parenting…this stuff is always easier to navigate with help. I had friends and an amazing wife. Talk to people. Be open and honest. Be human. Be vulnerable. Be you.

College is hard. Training is hard. Life is hard. Surround yourself with the right people. Reading this…If you’re an athlete, surround yourself with individuals who care about you.  If you’re a recruit…search out these people at the next level. They’ll make all the difference. If you’re a parent…help them do that. If you’re a coach…be that.

Training Partners

Last Saturday, I easily had the most enjoyable athletic experience of the last decade.  Hands down.  I got to do a partner workout with my 4-year-old daughter, Tenacious (aka T-Bone). For almost a week now, I’ve been searching for the right words to describe how much fun it was, but anything I put to paper just seems to pale in comparison. There were simply too many different layers of joy.

First the workout:

It was an 18-minute partner workout.  While Tenacious ran an interval, I would continuously do 10 overhead press, 10 pull ups, 10 sit ups until she returned and tagged me in. Then I would run a 300m loop while she did something. I have no idea what she did.  Maybe she was swinging on the rings or doing step ups, or just waiting for me. It was her choice.

First, I reflected on simply how much fun the workout was. I had absolutely no idea what T-Bone was going to run. Maybe she’d do a lap around the barn and I would start running 300’s with 15 seconds rest. Maybe she’d stop and pick some flowers and never come back to the barn at all and I’d just be doing overhead press, pull ups, and sit ups for the full 18 minutes. Who knows?

Once we got started, the exchanges were nothing short of pure joy.   Her smile as I ran up the driveway to her. Her cheering me on and clapping.  I smile now as I think back and see her standing there. Our parent/child relationship evolved into something different. I wasn’t telling her to brush her teeth, or put on her PJs, or even asking her why she put on her 18th outfit of the day. We were teammates, pure and simple. And we were both loving it.


And then 12 minutes in to the workout, I slapped her five and she just started dancing. She decided that she’d had enough fun running laps and just wanted to dance. Who am I to tell her to run? Looks like I’m done running too and just doing 6 minutes of circuits.

For the next few minutes, we both simply basked in the endorphins of the workout.  Her dancing and me working through push-pull-core.  Maybe it wasn’t the workout, but simply the fact that we were playing together.  And then, as I approached the pull up bar, she asked me to spin her.

I can definitely admit that there was once a time in my life when I would have said “no” to her. I would have taken my workout too seriously to take the 45s off. Happily, that is no longer me. Spinning Tenacious was the exclamation point on this 18 minute memory. The smile on her face as she twirled away from me and then back in is something I hope made an indelible mark upon my brain.  With each spin, her smile grew. And mine did in kind.

She may only be 4-years-old and randomly stopping to pick the zinnias as she ran laps, but she was my teammate and she put a smile on my face which makes any workout better.  Go put a smile on someone’s face.  That’s what I’m going to do.


When my wife reminds me to put my phone down.

Honestly, I’ve been way too plugged in lately. It’s Arrow’s fault really. When you have an infant sleeping on your chest, it’s so easy to reach for your phone and read some news. At least I deleted twitter and instagram from my phone, but google mail is still a never-ending stream of content.  And I had to go on twitter after there was a new decathlon WR.  I’m a man…not a robot.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on what relationship I want to have with my phone. It would be really easy to say that I want to totally unplug and do away with it. It would probably be pretty healthy too. But I don’t know if it would make me a better person.  Healthier maybe, but not better.

My phone has made me a far more socially conscious and aware person.  It keeps me connected in a way that nothing else can.  Movements, events, news stories, etc – my phone really is what enables me to access it.  Yet I know that there is an upper limit to how much technology I want to consume.

How often do I want my children to see me on my phone? Is connecting with the outside world inhibiting myself from connecting with what’s in front of me.  Or inside me. (No, I am not trying to start a conversation about globalization here.) What I’m trying to express is what should be the vector of my mind?

I can either point it internally – where I get to accentuate my introspection and meditative perspectives – or I can direct it externally – and educate myself about the lives and pursuits of others. I know that I need to find an equilibrium between the two. I want to believe that a homeostasis is possible. But I’m sure.

Maybe my life is just a swinging pendulum between internal and external foci. Maybe a state of being doesn’t exist where I can simply be. The internal keeps the external in check and vice versa. They’re more of a tug of war than they are a balance.

I’ve somewhat given up trying to find that utopian state of being that I can hold for any length of time. Instead, I’ve turned my efforts toward awareness and non-judgment. Those concepts are far from ground-breaking, but they are new for me with respect to my phone.

Yes, I will find myself too plugged in at times. Grabbing for my phone when I don’t need to be. Reading some idiotic article on Mashable about the Emmys. (However, can you believe that John Legend already has his EGOT…that’s nuts) But I’m no longer judging that action. I’m bringing some awareness to the fact that my pendulum has swung too far to the external and I work to swing it back in the other direction.

And then, some time later, I find myself overly pensive and too introspective.   Again, simply bring awareness. Granted it’s much harder this time. We’ll see how long I can actually hold on to this maturity and limited self-judgment. I’ll likely slip up soon and fall into the trap of criticizing my phone usage. And in that moment, hopefully I’ll have the awareness to not judge me for my self-judgement. That would just be sad.

Summer Recap

Well, I obviously haven’t put anything up here since my post-NESCAC rundown.  And typically, I would feel remorseful at such a lengthy gap in posts, but I don’t feel that way in the least.  It has been an incredibly eventful summer.  One that didn’t just push this blog to the back-burner, but realistically, off the stove entirely for a few months.

The summer began like this…


My wife was constantly smuggling watermelons all over town.  She was also an absolute beast, hammering out her dissertation before #3 joined the world.

I decided to use this as my checklist for the summer to ensure that things went well.  We’re definitely nearing the end.


Without a doubt, we prioritized Echo and Tenacious big-time given that they’d be having to share our time with #3 soon enough.  Tenacious and I went to a tea party to listen to some Disney songs.  And Echo, T and I managed to summit Pine Cobble after a few attempts that turned around before the top.  Deciding to bring some friends and some cookies (that can only be eaten at the top) made all the difference.



And then it was Go Time.  As usual, my wife continued to amaze me.  And we welcomed Arrow into the world.  Nearly four weeks in and he is definitely an incredibly chill baby.  He may just be mesmerized watching his older siblings, but he hasn’t really figured out how to cry yet.  He’s just enjoying the show.

IMG-1952 (1)

Obviously Arrow had to spend some time in my Eat-Sleep-Track & Field onesie that a friend gave us almost 8 years ago.  They’ve all spent a little time in it.  I guess it’s mandatory at this point.


We’ve even ventured out into the real world from time to time.  One of the highlights was some all-you-can-pick-for-$5 blueberries where we got photo-bombed by Killian (son of the golf and volleyball coaches).  Arrow’s hiding in the baby carrier.


Oh, I also tie-dyed for the first time…and killed it.



Respect the CAC

Between you and me, there is one thing in this world that annoys me more than it probably should – lazy, pick-up basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys who treats pick-up hoops like it’s the Celtics-Sixers, but I do like some hustle. It makes it more fun. Get your butt back on defense. Hit the boards. Call out the screens. Generally…just care.

And probably for the same reason that I hate bad pick-up, I…LOVE…NESCACs. Everybody brings their absolute best. Everybody cares.


The victory is only as sweet as the competition is good. And in NESCAC the competition is epic.

In some ways, I’m offering this up as a personal thank you to each athlete at Middlebury, Bowdoin, Bates, Tufts, Hamilton, Wesleyan, Conn, Trinity, Amherst, and Colby. Everyone scrapped this weekend. And that made it all the more fun.

It’s the communal drive to be our best that makes NESCAC great. It’s more than the team’s going for the win. It’s the squads battling for their school’s best finish. Or even an individual chasing a PR. Regardless, every single person at that meet is absolutely bringing it.

In my youth, I was myopically focused on winning it. Now, I’m driven by something bigger.  My obsession with just throwing down. And that’s NESCACs. It’s both. We all want it. And we demand each other’s best. You better absolutely bring your A-game on the last Saturday in April because people are willing to do some pretty incredible things to have their teammates’ backs.

When I was a senior, I convinced myself we could win. I begged my coach to enter me in seven events. He did.  And, as a squad, we threw down from the first event to the last. Sure, we got trounced by 100 points. But, I’ll tell you this, it was a successful NESCACs. And I’ve never regretted that day for moment.


Since then, I can’t say that I’ve entered anyone in 7 events, but I have witnessed some even more impressive performances. Individuals and teams that I tip my cap to. People who’s selflessness allowed them to truly challenge their limits. Men and women who appear on the brink of absolute exhaustion, seemingly fueled by nothing more than the screams of their teammates, mustering one final PR after 8 hours of competition.

This year marked my 20th NESCAC T&F Championship. And I can say that we’ve thrown down at every single one of them. I’m proud to say that. By the points, I’ve lost more than I’ve won. But NESCACs isn’t about the W.  It’s about pursuit and passion. Winning has never been, nor ever will be, the metric by which I measure a successful NESCAC.

A successful NESCAC is something you feel. It’s the knowledge in your gut that you left it out there. That you threw down with every fiber of your being and made them take it from you. If someone wants to take the title from you, that’s fine, you just better make them pry it from your clenched hands.

Otherwise, it’s just lazy pick up. And, at Williams, we always get back on defense.

Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving