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.

Mealtime Banter

I miss the conversations. As I think back, that’s probably the only thing that I truly miss about college. Please don’t misconstrue that to mean that I didn’t have an amazing four years of college. I did. But, in most cases, I’ve been able to improve on any college experience post-collegiately.

Conversations, however, are harder to come by. They’re everywhere in college. Meals, classes, workouts, dorms, and anytime you’re walking between. You’re surrounded by people in the same phase of life as you with so much time to sit and talk. In fact, that’s your purpose most of the time. To just sit and talk.

Nowadays, my wife and I have to find an evening that is also free for some of our friends, invite them over, corral the kids, cook, and then hope that the kids permit us to have 10-15min of conversation time at some point throughout the evening. It probably happens once or twice a month if we’re focused on it and lucky.

In college, all you have to do is walk to you neighbors door and say, “Hey, you wanna grab dinner?” Done and done.

I don’t really have a solution for this. And I’m honestly not complaining. My current situation makes me value the real conversations that I get to have all the more. I just wish I really knew what I had when I was in college. I would have enjoyed the moment a little more.

When I’m eating in the dining hall these days, I look around at everyone immersed in conversations on everything from Machiavelli to fantasy football. Being surround by people who push you and challenge your way of seeing the world is something I miss.

Granted, maybe I have it more than I think. It just isn’t so overt as deep philosophical conversations. Echo and T-Bone definitely challenge my way of seeing the world. They’re stripped-down view of the world with happiness as a #1 priority helps keep me in perspective. And I’m sure I constantly push their views of the world too.

Seems odd that I replaced a campus full of people my own age with a 2 and 5-year-old. Yet the effect is similar.

Locker Room Talk

Many men talk like Donald Trump in private. And only other men can stop them….it takes men like me to hold our friends accountable for things they say and do to objectify women. We must challenge their values, language and actions.

– Shaun Harper, The Washington Post

I am going to be succinct so that my message doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Obviously, locker room culture is and has been a huge part of my life. And yes, on rare occasions, I have overheard inappropriate and crass statements in locker rooms. These absolutely have to be teachable moments.  Admittedly, I didn’t always have the courage to speak my mind. But with practice you find your voice.

“Not here. That’s not us. We don’t think like that. We don’t talk like that. And we don’t act like that.”

End of teachable moment.

In my locker room, this isn’t a discussion. And this isn’t open for debate.

Like many other situations, there is no such thing as tacit disapproval.   There is no abstaining here.  You always make a choice.  You either silently or vocally support it, or you vocally reject it.  The cost of silence always outweighs the cost of speaking up.

And it shouldn’t matter if you’re talking to a sophomoric senior in high school or a potential leader of the free world, “Not here.  That’s not us.  We don’t think like that. We don’t talk like that. And we don’t act like that.”

My rock

She is going to be so mad at me for this.

Coaching is a pretty thankless profession. And I’m fine with that. That doesn’t make it, or me, very special. Most jobs in education are that way. But that’s beside the point. What I’m trying to say is that if you think being a coach is thankless, that’s nothing compared to being a coach’s wife.

fullsizerender-6

All the time commitments – long nights and weekends, trips to Nationals, training trips – it all dominoes onto her. Here I sit, managing another VB match. And she’s at home corralling two little ones, getting them fed and into bed, feeding the dog, and countless else.

I’ve always believed that it’s critical that I be the rock for my teams. I need to be a steady, predictable force. An athlete needs to be able to walk in my office and know that they can tell me absolutely anything and my reaction will be rational and respectful.

How do you think I’m able to do that? If I didn’t have her propping me up half the time, I’d slowly unravel. She’s my sounding board. She’s my proofreader. (Not this post though.) She keeps me in check.

Typically, she gets her 15 seconds of fame at our season ending banquet where I embarrass her and thank her in front of the entire team. That really isn’t enough for what she does though. She deserves to be embarrassed in front of the entire internet. I’ve been a head coach for 11 years now and she’s been with me the entire time. I can’t thank her enough.   That is so many nights where I stare off aimlessly thinking of how to fix an athletes technique or get them healthy. So many 10pm phone calls about everything under the sun.

And there she is, towing our two little ones, taping Go Williams! billboards on their back for the NESCAC Championships, baking cookies for the team BBQ, and teaching everyone to shut their phone off when they come over for dinner.

img_2828

I have so much more to say, but I think it’s smart to stop here. I’m not joking, I may get in trouble for this. I love coaching. I really do. But, honestly, I don’t know if I could have done this last 11 years without her. Thanks Mar.

2016 Purple Valley Classic

Year Two. And like a sophomore reflecting back on his freshman year, I’m absolutely blown away by what a year has done for me. This weekend’s Purple Valley Classic was eye-opening for me. After a full year, I now feel comfortable admitting that last year’s PVC was tough for me emotionally. Not only were my former athletes there competing, but it was my first ever instance cheering for the Purple & Gold.

I’d been on the other side of the aisle from Williams for nearly two decades and for my entire adult life. In hindsight, it does seem somewhat understandable that I might struggle to immediately cheer for the uniform. I’d been conditioned to have a vastly different emotional response to that singlet. They’d been my competition since I was 18-years-old.  But I expected more from myself.

And so, when the “Go Ephs!” chant didn’t instinctually roll off my tongue, I felt like a bad person. In that moment, it hurt. I felt like I wasn’t up to my job, like I was disappointing the guys. I felt disingenuous.

Honestly, I didn’t “enjoy” the 2015 PVC. I wanted it to be this cathartic, liberating experience. A fresh start for me and my family. Instead it was simply incredibly draining.

I forced myself to focus on faces. I told myself that it wasn’t about the uniform. It was about the person wearing it. I’d already made connections with the team. I’d been impressed watching the squad summit Mt. Greylock. I knew them and what they wanted to accomplish. I wanted it for them. I wanted to help them get there. They were a great group of guys and I wanted to be a great coach for them.

By the end of race, I was much closer to where I needed to be.  I was doing all I could to help propel Bijan to the finish line against an Amherst runner. Then Noah, Ben, Griffin, Kyle…my voice did what it could.

fullsizerender-4

Purple Valley Classic 2016

And now, just one year later, the chants come easy. Because we’ve strived together. I’ve worn the colors. I’ve been brought into the fold. 2016 PVC was fantastic. My kids knew the teams. They got hugs from Williams coaches. They remembered the course and where to run. I met some Williamstown parents because our kids already knew each other. I wasn’t the outsider anymore.

Although it came a year later than I hoped, I finally got that catharsis I needed. And I feel like I now have a new home course to defend.  And a new home.