A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts - April 11 - Good Coaching is Hard to Find Nowadays


I see it everywhere, not just in endurance sports.

I am quite disturbed of the quality of coaching these days. From endurance sports to baseball to even "life coaching", the trend has been ever spiraling downward in recent years. I cannot pin the blame on any one thing that contributes to this degradation, but the trend is definitely there.

Let me backtrack and explain where I am coming from.

Several weeks ago, I was talking to a runner who had visions of doing a marathon this fall. Now this person has just started getting into running late last year, a real coach would figure this into his training and be careful with him.

Several questions later and I knew the person was overtrained. The poor person was trying to stick to the coach's prescribed system that, "worked for everyone else under him and is documented as a success in several running magazines."

Hmm.

A saw an interesting parallel in an unrelated sport this past weekend. Major league baseball. Now I normally don't watch much baseball but what I do know is that major league baseball managers have a sort of "system" also that they adhere to when it comes to pitching.

I've seen this system in action in two games.

The result? Both teams were winning...but they lost.

I guess you can say that they snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory!  

The first instance involved The Yankees vs. the Twins. CC Sabathia, the Yankees' starting pitcher had 7 strong innings against the Twins. In the past, a coach would figure to leave the guy in there

But no. The "system" must be adhered to. Seems like there is an accepted practice among major league coaches to pull their starting pitchers if they throw more than 100 pitches. Even if they are on their game. Somehow, they have to "preserve their pitchers for the entire season". That's the accepted explanation.

Funny though how managers still pull their pitchers after 100 pitches in September, when the season is almost at an end.

The coach promptly puts in Soriano in the 8th. He bombs and the Yankees lose.

The second instance involves the Mets in yesterday's game against the Nationals.

This Mets pitcher Young goes 7 innings and only allows one hit. This guy is also having a good day on the mound.

But no. Again, we must adhere to the system. 100 pitches? Young's outta there! 

It was now up to the bullpen. They bombed, of course, and the Mets lost.

Guys, coaching is an art. In baseball a real manager will get to know his team's strength and weaknesses, and base his decisions on both the feedback from his team and the situation that they are currently in. To actually defer the tough decisions made to an accepted "system" is no way to coach a team.

It is likewise similar to endurance coaching.

I've seen way too many online coaches follow a "cookie cutter" plan that might work for 80% of his athletes.

But there is that 20% that the plan might not work for, and that's a pretty significant number of people.

Nevertheless most coaches nowadays try to shoehorn these people into this plan, telling them that "you'll start seeing results soon, I promise." (most online coaches are guilty of this).

Most of these athletes won't improve. Either they become injured or discouraged. Not a good way to lose an athlete.

The art of coaching is actually LISTENING to the person, SEE how they react to your questions or training, and prescribing a plan that will work for HIM or HER. The plan that might work for this person might not be generally accepted, but if it improves the athlete, THEN IT WORKS!

Sounds like a lot of work for the coach to do, right? Most of these coaches get paid in excess of $200 per month, so it's the least they can do for their athletes, don't you think?

I had an athlete in the past that had a huge problem with a triathlon training schedule with workouts on set days. What was surprising was that she felt tired on days she was supposed to run her key workouts of the week while feeling refreshed for the recovery workouts. After several sub-par weeks I decided to think outside the box and implement a very flexible system. It was basically a list of workouts that I needed her to do; each day she would pick from that list what she wanted to do that day.

To be honest, I really didn't think it would work for her.

But it did!

She started doing very well in her training and went on to have a fantastic season including her first Ironman finish.

That is why coaching is an art. To actually try to develop an accepted "system" that might work for most athletes and adhere to that system is not coaching. And any coach who tells you that his system works because "it worked for your friend" or "it worked for this other guy" is not really listening to you. Get rid of that coach, quickly.

And find one that will actually LISTEN to you.

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This Saturday and Sunday are both High Rock Training Runs in the Greenbelt! Come on down. It'll be only 2 weeks until the race, so make sure you're familiar with the trails. We group at the High Rock Parking Lot at the end of Nevada Ave., off of Rockland Ave at 8AM on both days.

This past weekend I took the group up Moses Mountain to see the gorgeous views. Next week I'll promise to do that again. :-)

Both the Greenbelt Conservancy and I are trying to see whether we can hash out a plan to continue trail running after the High Rock Challenge. I'm always on the trails and the next trail race for Staten Island will come in May, the Bad Ass 6 Hour Trail Run at Wolfes Pond Park.

I will attempt this race even if it's just a week after my 100 mile ultramarathon, but I can certainly show you how to handle a 6 hour trail run in the woods.

There are also some trail runs in the fall, so hopefully we can make this work after the High Rock Challenge.

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By the way, Easter Sunday (April 24) will be my last long run before the Massanutten 100 Ultra. I'm hoping to make 30-40 miles along the 4 mile Greenway along Latourette Golf Course along Forest Hill Road between Rockland Ave. and Richmond Avenue. 

If I can get 8-10 loops of the Greenway done that'll be great! I would certainly love some company to talk the miles away. I'll be there all morning between 5AM and 12PM, so even if you only have 4 miles to do, come on down.

The pace will be understandably easy. Trust me on that!

I'll have water and goodies in my car for everyone.

This is a very important run for me, so I'll definitely need the help. :-)

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