Who are you with two fouls on the board?

Way back in 2006, I was a young, scrappy, green, interim head coach. I was blessed with an incredibly talented, hard-working team. And on it, we had a very talented pentathlete. So here I am, at the 1st event at my 1st championship meet as a head coach and our #1 seed opens up with Foul, Foul in the long jump.

nate scott 2

We talked. We made adjustments. But as he walked to the back of the runway waiting for his 3rd jump, I found myself thinking about myself. What does this mean about me as a coach? Am I a good coach? What does this mean about my future? Do I need this jump to keep this job? And so, as he tore down the runway on his third attempt, my heart jumped into my throat.

Fast forward to 2017, I was a less young, scrappy, little less green head coach. I was blessed with an incredibly talented, hard-working team. And on it, we had a very talented jumper (who was a less talented pentathlete). So here I am at my 34th National Championship as a head coach and our jumper opens up with two sub-par jumps. Nothing that will make finals.

32810530644_1f029bacbf_o

We talked. We made adjustments. But as she walked to the back of the runway waiting for her 3rd jump, I found myself thinking of her. How much she wants this jump? How much she’s capable of this jump? How much she’s earned this jump? How can I get her to trust that it’s there? And so, as she tore down the runway on her third attempt, my heart jumped into my throat.

Good push – Check.

Coach’s mark – Check.

Full board – Check.

PR – Check.

Begin breathing again – Check.

2006, 2017 – Same result, different me. I was the only major change. And I don’t know if anyone could palpably tell. I work to keep this hurricane raging below the surface and keep it all locked down. But does it trickle out? It can’t not, right. No one can keep it all bottled up. It has to affect who you are.

If a coach is worried about their livelihood…if they’re worried about keeping their health insurance…if they’re worried about their family while at the runway then what does that mean? Is the coach there to guide the athletes?  Or are the athletes there to protect the coach?

These days, I’m happy with who I am when life backs me up against a wall.  I feel I’m able to stay true and be who others need me to be.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t wonder what 2027 will bring?

On to outdoor track.

Ok, so that was exhausting. Without a doubt, I haven’t been that tired at a track meet since NESCACs in 2006. And back then I had just finished the Penn Relays turn-around going straight into the NESCAC Championships. This was just your standard 2-day track meet. Well, maybe not “standard” per se, but I didn’t expect to be that wiped afterwards.

But it was one of those exhaustions that you feel after a PR. Where you might not be able to stand, but you’re curled up on the ground with a huge ass smile on your face. I remember, literally, being slumped over a hurdle on the warm-up track after the women’s HJ finished. Luckily, I had a good 30 minutes to gather myself before Peter’s 3k.

Looking back, it should have been easy to foresee the mental rollercoaster ride that it was. Each event is its own slow build where you mutter to yourself “Alright, here we go with [insert event here].” Alright, here we go with the mile. Alright, here we go with the LJ. Alright, here we go with the DMRs. Each of these mutterings vocalizes the slow click, click, click of the rollercoaster as it notches its way to that first plunge.

But then you say something like “Alright, here we go with the SP, hept PV, and TJ simultaneously” and your rollercoaster analogy gets tossed out the window. Or else you’re on one of the nuttiest rides you can imagine.   Admittedly, even with the three concurrent events, I was still fine at this point in the meet. (This was actually when I reflected on how lucky I was to have such a great coaching staff.) I was able to turn my focus on the women’s TJ knowing that the PV and SP were under control.

I think it was the high jumpers that did me in. It was the last two heights, when all three were still jumping in the final 11. And Emma, Summer, and Helene were almost back-to-back-to-back in the order. It was a constant little spike in adrenaline each attempt. And it was my job to block it all out and stay steady amidst the storm.

image

I think I did ok. They crushed it and I kept my composure. But then came the hept 1000. Tobias was a bit down on the day. It was a “nothing to lose” kind of moment where you set yourself up for an epic PR and hope you hold on. In our case, we weren’t even sure if it would be enough.

He took it out hard, about 2-3 seconds harder than we planned. I think this hit him 600m in when he looked like he was fading. The chase pack caught up to him and started to pass him with 400m to go. But then something clicked and he got a second wind. After a gritty final 2 laps, Tobias had PR’d by nearly 9 seconds and grabbed the final All American spot. Funny, I was totally composed when the women went 2-4-6 in the HJ moments before, but I threw my hands up and screamed when Tob grabbed the 8 spot.

image 2

10 minutes later I’d be slumped over that hurdle like the sad Energizer Bunny.

And 20 minutes after that, I’d be screaming for Peter Hale as he closed down a national title in the 3k.

It’s almost as if there weren’t any lines at the park and I just kept riding the rides with no wait.  And the craziest part of this whole thing…I don’t even like rollercoasters.

Reshifting priorities

Priorities. By now, I hope you realize that life is never about “I only have time for X, but not for Y” but rather it is “I choose to prioritize X over Y.” That is nothing groundbreaking, but it was a huge step for me personally about a decade ago. It’s never that you don’t have time to exercise, it’s that you choose to prioritize other things over exercise. (That’s usually my big one.)

But this post isn’t about that. This post is about times in our lives when we don’t actually get to be the one’s who set our priorities.   In other words…jobs. When you’re on the job, your supervisor sets your priorities.  And sadly, your personal priorities may not always line up with that of your boss.

I love to coach. I think I’m halfway decent at it too. I love talking with someone figuring out how to overcome an obstacle or cross off a goal. I absolutely love sitting down with an athlete for a cup of coffee and discussing their life – past, present, and future. I love when there is a trust and respect that allows us to go far beyond the superficial. And we start to work on the foundational aspects that can truly make them a more comfortable, confident, consistent, and considerate citizen.

That’s why I got into coaching. And it was something I got to do on the regular when I was an assistant. It’s what drives me and motivates me. It’s what sends me home to my family feeling like a made a difference. But I kept chipping my way up the ladder and I eventually became a head coach. I became responsible for the entire forest, not just a few trees.

I became responsible for an entire program. It wasn’t just my event group any more. It was every athlete, the assistants, the schedule, the travel, the budget, the equipment, the recruits, the alumni, the parents – my plate got a lot fuller. And it all pulled me away from those quiet conversations with the athletes.

And as I made each decision, I asked myself “How does this make the team better?” That’s something I ask of every coach and athlete on my team, myself included. And sadly, it became more and more apparent that in order for me to make the TEAM better, I had to coach less.

My role evolved into a fundraiser, a scheduler, and a supervisor. It was what the program needed and so I became that person. My priorities had been shifted and dictated to me. Sadly, it moved what I loved too far down the list. But I did it, and the program got a little better. But it got a lot more infrequent that I went home to my family feeling like I really made a difference.

If you’re not doing everything you can to affect positive change, then you forfeit the right to complain.  ~ Me (circa So year of HS)

So I created the only change I was capable of at the time. I couldn’t change the job so I changed me. And now, as I rush through this blog post because I have a 10:00 cup of coffee with a first-year distance runner, I am excited that I get to do what I love again.  And it feels right.

What’s the take-away here? Personally, I think it’s that you need to know why you’re doing a thing. You need to know who you are and what you value. Without that, you’re simply crossing your fingers that you’ll get what you need from life. If you’re a young assistant coach, don’t go jumping at the next job just because it’s there. Make sure you know it’s taking you in the direction you really want to be going.

Here endeth the ramble.

I’m Ethan. And I can’t stop competing.

I think I’m just addicted to competing. That just has to be the reason. Not winning…competing. The sense of pushing myself to the limit in the pursuit of perfection. I just can’t seem to fill the void inside me that constantly craves it.

I’ve won plenty and I’ve lost just as much. I’ll continue to win some and lose my share. This is about something so much more. It’s that absolute rush of emotions that overcome you as you listen to the right song, take that deep breath through your nose, and feel the chills run down your spine. The feeling you get from the endless staring contest in the mirror wondering if the person in the reflection is good enough, hard enough, calloused enough to endure.

I’m 37. I feel 18 inside. And every year I wonder if this will be the last one. Is there an end to this fire? Will I ever outgrow it? I’m not that kid anymore. Why am I still so fired up for the next one?

How is it that I can still put on my headphones, feel a beat, and let an energy start to bubble? I’m old. I’m a dad. I’m middle-aged. Young me expected me to be sipping chamomile tea and reading the newspaper right now. How is it that I can put myself in the same state of mind as that 18-year-old who just shook with the internal scream of “Let’s GO!”

 

 

I really don’t have an answer for this. Maybe it’s my 2nd cup of coffee this morning. Or maybe I’m innately feeling the eve of XC Nationals. Regardless, I hope this never fades. I fear for if it does.

Sure, I’ll sip some chamomile and read the paper from time to time, but I also want to pound my chest and push my limits. Ironically, those who know me know that I’m never one to pound my chest or scream “Let’s GO!” But those who really know me see that twitch and drive bubbling below the surface. It’s the engine driving the whole thing.

Building Team: The chicken or the egg edition

Track & Field is a team sport. With that said, I do understand why some people either choose or are forced by circumstance to view it as an individual sport.  But as far as Williams T&F is concerned – it is a Team sport. With that said, the inherent nature of my sport allows for more flexibility with training, schedules, etc than other team sports. Personally, I see this as one reason it is an ideal sport for a school like Williams.

In my opinion, sports are not “individual vs team” sports. Rather, they either have X’s and O’s or they don’t. Teams that need to implement game plans or where one athlete’s positioning/timing can have a domino effect on another athlete, it is critical to have 100% attendance at practice at the same time. (Side note: XC fits into this category. Learning to run as a group and not a collection of individuals cannot be overstated.)

IMG_8384

However, track & field is not one of these sports. We are spread across the campus, the city, or even the globe. Our throwers aren’t on the roads with our 10k runners. Our jumpers aren’t running intervals with our mid D crew. Athletes often struggle and strive, silo’d in their individual event group, honing their craft.

But within that silo, they battle for the betterment of the team. They do so with blind trust in their teammates. Having faith that, although they do not personally see the tempo runs or the sets of squats or the bounding, their teammates are doing exactly what they need to do to make the TEAM stronger.

And so, when life occurs – in the completely individualized and unique way that it does – I, and my sport, can adjust. The entity that is the “team” can understand and adapt to accommodate for the individual. This actually happens with minimal sacrifice to the whole.  Workouts can be modified or moved. Intensities and volumes can be amended.

The stress of life ebbs and flows. And it does so with the randomness of a coin toss. However, I write my workout progressions in a vacuum. I do so with relative ignorance to the twists and turns that lie ahead. Therefore, it is critical that I adjust my original plans daily in order to make the progression fit the person, not the person fit the progression. Any coach or team that attempts to “cram a square peg into a round hole” is truly setting themselves up for failure.

In fact, when an individual in the midst of struggle and strife feels supported and valued by the greater whole, they will typically redouble their commitment once their temporary battle has been endured. They will stand steadfast, shoulder to shoulder, when a fellow teammate’s time of need arises. They will have elevated empathy, compassion, and pain-tolerance knowing that the support of the many is always there to prop them up in their time of need

And so, it is not the act of forced self-sacrifice that creates the essence of team. It is in fact the opposite. The nucleus of a team is found in the flexibility and understanding of the masses. It creates the hard-packed core that snowballs into an enormous, unstoppable force.

dcc18c11b24fa13a418971ede8b95ac5

NESCAC Rundown

November 1 is right around the corner. You know what that means, the 2017 NESCAC Championships might as well be next week. Seems like a good time to revisit the 2016 meet and see what we can learn. So much has changed in this conference since I joined it back in 1997, but it seems like only recently that the depth of this meet reached a whole new level.

cropped-dsc_0745-21.jpg

Here’s a quick rundown on last year’s championships.

SPRINTS/HURDLES

– 1st time 4 sub49 in NESCAC history

– 1st time sub50 to score (11 sub50)

– 3rd time – 2 sub22

-2nd fastest time to needed to score in 200m

– 2nd time multiple sub54 IHers

– 1st time 3 sub54 IHers

MID D/DISTANCE

– Fastest time to needed to score ever in the 800m (1:52.75).  (previous record was a 1:54)

– 1st time 4 sub1:52 in 800

– 9th place would have won 6 of last 12 years

– 2nd fastest time needed to score ever in the 1500m.

– 1st time a team has scored 4 in 5k (7 teams have scored 3 in last 15 years including 2 separate teams in ’04)

– Fastest time needed to score ever in the 10k (31:35).  Only 2nd time sub32 to score.  (previous record was 31:52)

JUMPS

– Best 3 jump showing in LJ (6.92, 6.92, 6.81) in NESCAC history

– Farthest 3rd and 4th place long jumps in NESCAC history

– Farthest LJ to score (6.53m) in NESCAC history.  (Previous record was 6.50m)

– 3rd time 4 over 14m in LJ

THROWS

– Farthest mark (13.98m) needed to score ever in the SP. (Previous record was 13.65m)

– Most 14m SPers in NESCAC history.  (previous record 6 in ’11, ’04)

– Farthest mark needed to score ever in the Jav (54.44m).  (beat previous record by 3m+ and they threw off grass)

RELAYS

– Tufts tied NESCAC meet record 4×1

– Midd broke NESCAC meet record 4×4

– Bowdoin, Williams, Bates broke meet record 4×8

I wonder what the encore is going to look like. 2017…here we come.

Goal Talks

Goal meeting time. 65 men and the seven women. Overall, anywhere from 70-100 hours of conversations. By far one of my favorite parts of the job. Nothing stokes my fire like the daily string of chats with passionate, hungry athletes.

It’s true. Everyone thinks I’m the one who motivates the team. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. They motivate me. They’re not here to help me achieve my goals. I’m here to help them achieve theirs. The more heart they pour into this team, the more they invest in each other – the hotter my fire burns.

It’s completely iterative. They want it, so I want it. I want it, so they want it. The relationship has to be codependent. Think about it. If this were a one-sided relationship, there is no way it would survive. I’m not physically or emotionally capable of motivating and driving a full team year round. I’d burn out in less than a season.

And no team can function if the athletes are constantly propping up their coach or the athletes are making all the decisions. It’s the athlete’s responsibility to be the emotion, the heart, and the fire. It’s my job as coach to balance that with logic, rationality, and planning. We’re two sides of the same coin.

I’m sure that my yoga-instructor wife will have so many better metaphors around balance, homeostasis, and peace, but this is the best I can do right now.