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Chasing Greatness

Why your sports program may be dying

577 10

It’s the beginning of the HS spring sports season and that means my inbox is filling up with emails from parents and athletes already frustrated with the workouts their coaches are running.

As I’ve watched the youth sports coaching industry (from a global standpoint) evolve over the past half decade, I’ve noticed parents and athletes are far less patient with bad coaching.

Today, sports are so competitive that athletes can’t afford to waste their time following the type of coaches who have their athletes do, for example, fly 40s, during the first week of practice.

Such coaches (and they are the majority) immediately lose any credibility they may have been trying to gain.

This just means our athletes suffer. And if we’re not interested in doing what is best for our athletes, we find ourselves in a morally ambiguous situation.

But, at the very least, we’re infecting our programs with the disease of reduced performance, injury, lack of commitment and general disinterest.

Kids simply don’t want to be a part of those types of programs or compete for these types of coaches.

Why? Beyond the obvious reasons (it’s not fun) parents and athletes have less patience with bad coaching because of:

1. The Internet

In 2010, qualified coaches, parents and athletes can go online and find out what successful coaches are doing.

Once they acquire this new information, they’re going to compare it to what their coaches or their kids’ coaches are actually doing.

So when these athletes have to go to a practice run by a coach who hasn’t learned anything new since the 1990s, if ever, they find themselves in a situation where they are better coaches than the adults in charge.

No athlete wants to be a part of a program like that.

No parent wants their kid to be a part of a program like that.

So the kids lose interest in that sport, lose interest in the program being run at the high school level, specialize in one sport, flee to club/AAU programs or seek out…

2. Individualized coaching

Some outdated coaches and athletic departments still endorse the ‘3 sport athlete’ model and believe this is the most effective method for building a better overall athlete and athletic program.

This would be true if athletic departments were run like businesses following a ‘Capitalist’ or ‘Free Market’ model where success and results are rewarded.

But high school sports instead follow a ‘Socialist’ or ‘Forced Parity’ model where the prevailing philosophy is:

‘We can’t let a kid quit soccer to play volleyball. That might help the volleyball team but it hurts the soccer team.’

The athletic department is saying, in essence:

‘The soccer team is too big to fail. So we’ll bail the team out instead of letting it go out of business due to a bad business model.’

Such a philosophy is why the ‘3 sport athlete’ model only works on paper.

Just not in the real world.

Why?

Most coaches in most sports at the high school level aren’t doing any athletic development.

All they do is practice their sport.

If you’re not in the weight room all season, running a Short to Long speed development program, doing a fully dynamic warm up, engaging in technical feedback with all technical skills, running timed intervals based on event/position and doing athlete specific energy system development as part of your training above and beyond running plays and schemes, then you’re not developing athletes and the ‘3 sport athlete’ model is simply a regurgitation of the status quo long abandoned by progressive coaches and programs.

The world is a far bigger place than the town you live in.

This is why my athletes volunteer to quit their other sports to train with me another season. Because when they compare the type of training and results they’re getting with me against the…stuff… they’re doing in their other sports, well, they want to quit their other sports because it now feels like a waste of time.

But I’m not their only option.

Here in 2010, athletes don’t have to listen to us. And there are often other options than their high school sports.

Athletes know whether or not their coaches are competent.

If we’re not continually improving and, at the very least, keeping our training in line with the approaches easily found with a 10 second Google search, than our athletes are simply going to hire a personal trainer, go to a sports performance facility or specialize in the sport where they’re getting the best coaching.

Your local high school athletic program may run on a Socialist model, but out in the real world, people are competing for your athletes under the Free Market model. This means athletes are going to go where they are getting the best opportunities and coaching. If that’s not you, it’s going to be someone. Coaches who live in the fantasy world where athletes are just going to show up to our programs, en masse, out of town pride are, well, living in a fantasy world.

But they’re not living in 2010.

When athletes ask me ‘Why?’ they’re running a particular workout I have one of two options.

1. Give them a good ‘Reason Why’ so they have faith in my coaching and want to give me their best effort.

2. Say ‘Because I said so’ (or some variation) because I don’t actually know the answer (and athletes know you don’t know) then give them a dirty look for having the audacity to question my authority.

(Know any coaches like that????)

It’ll get me out of answering the question, but kids are going to hate playing for me. Or they’ll just hate me in general.

(If you’re OK with an average program, then keep doing the same things you’ve always done.)

But, as coaches, if we want run a successful program, provide a positive atmosphere for our athletes and keep them from defecting to a better coach running a better program (which may be outside of our school entirely), we have to put as much effort into our coaching knowledge as we expect our athletes to put into practicing and competing.

Otherwise, we may find ourselves immersed in a dying program.

And the only way to save a dying program is to cut out the disease.

Think about it.

 

Resources I recommend:

Complete Speed Training

 

10 Comments

  • Kim Chase says:

    Hi Latif,

    I would like your input on cross-training and it’s benefits or otherwise. I’m just starting to work with a running group who are training to run 1/2 marathons and I’ve gotten some mixed reviews on the necessity or non-necessity of cross-training. I am a personal trainer, and have not expanded into the coaching side of things yet, but I am very interested in it and want to do it right. I know you specialize in speed training and if you can’t answer this for me could you please give me a name of someone I can seek advice from. Thank you in advance.

  • Tim Graf says:

    Hi Latif,

    I’ve found that not only are there really bad coaches in the school systems who refuse to let their athletes come to me, but the sports performance centers are terrible as well! “high speed treadmills are the only way to get faster”!
    Or my favorite, run the agility ladder over and over until the kds puke! Latif, keep fighting the good fight! You have a friend in Il.

  • Greg Allan says:

    Hi Latif

    I won’t go into a lot of detail, but in a nut shell, I am an accountant who is looking to retire, and try to make somewhat of a living from coaching. I did purchase your CST & CPDS, and it has been quite helpful. I have been involved with track for over 25 years, and about 5 years ago started my own track club.95% of my atletes are HS and MS. I had one athlete attend the World Youth last year in Italy (400M) (member of the Canadian record setting relay team)Two more of my athletes are getting scholarships from US Universities etc. HOWEVER, I feel that I really need some help developing a program in order to do this properly and to give my ahtletes the attention they deserve. I realize that you don’t work for free, and I am willing to compensate you for what ever services or information that you can provide to me. Are you interested in expanding into Canada and looking for an affiliate or what ever. Anyway, just throwing some things out there to kind of give you an idea of what I am interested in doing here and I am open to any ideas or suggestiongs that you may have.
    Thanks
    Greg Allan
    P.S. Have you considered hosting a coaching camp this summer?

  • Nick S. says:

    I agree with everything you have to say, but I’d also like to add that some coaches in my program coach only for the title and not for the love of track. It seems strange to me, that a coach would tell his/her athletes to hurry up with a practice so that he or she may watch the basball scrimage across the field. They need a reality check and coach for the love of track not the title. The athletes will not respect a coach that knows less than them and still thinks he or she is correct.
    It’s all about the politics and unfourtanetly, nobody cares about the best intrest of the athletes who are over/under trained.

    >>>It doesn’t seem that strange to me that a coach would say that if you read my response to Dora Swipes. If a coach actually said that than you have a very arrogant coach who 1. Doesn’t care about you, your teammates or the team 2. A coach who thinks their authority goes above and beyond anything anyone else can do.

    I’m going to guess that this coach is not very good at their job. So read my response to Dora and follow that model. If your coach actually said that, write it down and go talk to the AD. If your AD has half a clue, it’s going to get very old having athletes continuously complain about bad coaching especially if you also get your parents involved.

    The truth is your coach doesn’t care if you respect them or not. These types of narcissists get off on being in charge. Because, usually, this is the only place they have any real control in their lives. If they only care about titles, again, they coach because taking credit for other peoples’ talent and hard work is the only way they can experience any success or feelings of value. I think it’s safe to say such coaches wake up in the morning and don’t like what they see in the mirror. Literally and figuratively.

    It’s unfortunate you have to deal with that kind of coaching because I’m sure there are competent coaches out there who are qualified to coach, would actually make the sport fun for you and don’t have an agenda other than making people successful *and* winning. If you want to get that coach out of there, like I’ve said many times, your only chance is to 1. Make them give you (and all your teammates) answers to every single thing they do. If they behave inappropriately, document it, go to the AD and get your parents involved. 2. Write it all down and take it to the powers that be with regularity.

    If you don’t force the people who are in charge of hiring and firing to justify why they have a mean and incompetent coach on staff, they’re not going to do anything about it.

    LT

  • Dora Swipes says:

    Latif-
    As an athlete I see the damaging effects of this disease. As an upperclassmen and having some running experience, I try to spread my knowledge to the younger athletes. It’s very difficult, and I feel as though it’s the schools job to provide the best coaching possible. I also don’t think some coaches realize that the sport of track and field is physical AND mental. Negative vibes are damaging, and can make kids not run to their full potential … or not want to run at all. Where is this cure to the disease?

    >>>Helping younger athletes is important, but you also need to be taught how to be a better athlete by your coaches. That is their job. It is the school’s job to provide the best coaching possible. But unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works. One thing I learned when I ‘grew up’ is this: Just because someone is an adult doesn’t mean they are any more mature than someone in high school. Adults have agendas and they play politics. Schools and/or coaches can say they want to do what is best for athletes, but what they *say* means nothing. You can tell everything you need to know about someone by what they *do*. People that *say* one thing and *do* something else are only concerned with one thing: What’s best for them.

    If a coach doesn’t realize or pay attention to the mental element of coaching, especially in an individual sport like track and field, I find it is almost always because they are simply not good coaches. They don’t realize it because they don’t actually learn anything about coaching because they are just there for the paycheck or because they have nothing else going on with their afternoon.

    If that’s the program you’re in (and it sounds like it) then I feel bad for you. If you have negative coaches or clueless coaches, it’s not going to be fun and it’s going to be hard to get better.

    There is only one cure for this disease. Cut the disease out of the program. The first thing is to organize your teammates and get them all on the same page. Then ask questions. Ask questions anytime you’re told to do something that doesn’t make sense to you. Ask what to do. How to do it. How many to do. At what pace? At what speed? In what time? Ask them to watch you and give you feedback. Ask questions about that feedback. If they’re not watching (aka ‘coaching’), ask them why they’re not coaching you. Be polite, don’t interrupt, but ask questions. Get everyone on your team to ask questions. Constantly.

    If your coach gives you an attitude, write down their response. If they yell at you, write it down. If they swear, write it down. If they say some variation of ‘because I said so’, write it down. Collect the responses and go to your Athletic Director. Regularly. Show the AD what a bad example and role model (and coach) you have. When your coach overreacts, tell your parents. Get them to call the AD. If a coach becomes a constant problem, then the AD will have to replace them with a qualified coach or the AD is not doing their job.

    The only way to get rid of an unqualified coach is to bring their incompetence to the surface at every opportunity. Because if your coach is good at their job, they’ll always have an explanation for everything you are doing and they’ll be glad to answer your questions. I always answer my athletes’ questions because I don’t want to be incompetent and if I’m doing something for no good reason, I’m not a good coach. If I’m not a good coach, I won’t have a good team or athletes who live up to their potential or athletes who want to try. I give my athletes answers because I have answers.

    The only reason a coach gets mad when they get a lot of questions is because they’re being exposed for not having any answers. But you have to make coaching not worth their while. If they know they can bully you and you’ll shut your mouth, then they’ll win and your program will suffer.

    That’s my suggestion. But if you sit back and let a bad coach give you dirty looks and just walk around with an attitude and not help you by doing their job, you have to take matters into your own hands.

    LT

  • Dora Swipes says:

    Latif-
    As an athlete I see the damaging effects of this disease. As an upperclassmen and having some running experience, I try to spread my knowledge to the younger athletes. It’s very difficult, and I feel as though it’s the schools job to provide the best coaching possible. I also don’t think some coaches realize that the sport of track and field is physical AND mental. Negative vibes are damaging, and can make kids not run to their full potential … or not want to run at all. Where is this cure to the disease?

    >>>Helping younger athletes is important, but you also need to be taught how to be a better athlete by your coaches. That is their job. It is the school’s job to provide the best coaching possible. But unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works. One thing I learned when I ‘grew up’ is this: Just because someone is an adult doesn’t mean they are any more mature than someone in high school. Adults have agendas and they play politics. Schools and/or coaches can say they want to do what is best for athletes, but what they *say* means nothing. You can tell everything you need to know about someone by what they *do*. People that *say* one thing and *do* something else are only concerned with one thing: What’s best for them.

    If a coach doesn’t realize or pay attention to the mental element of coaching, especially in an individual sport like track and field, I find it is almost always because they are simply not good coaches. They don’t realize it because they don’t actually learn anything about coaching because they are just there for the paycheck or because they have nothing else going on with their afternoon.

    If that’s the program you’re in (and it sounds like it) then I feel bad for you. If you have negative coaches or clueless coaches, it’s not going to be fun and it’s going to be hard to get better.

    There is only one cure for this disease. Cut the disease out of the program. The first thing is to organize your teammates and get them all on the same page. Then ask questions. Ask questions anytime you’re told to do something that doesn’t make sense to you. Ask what to do. How to do it. How many to do. At what pace? At what speed? In what time? Ask them to watch you and give you feedback. Ask questions about that feedback. If they’re not watching (aka ‘coaching’), ask them why they’re not coaching you. Be polite, don’t interrupt, but ask questions. Get everyone on your team to ask questions. Constantly.

    If your coach gives you an attitude, write down their response. If they yell at you, write it down. If they swear, write it down. If they say some variation of ‘because I said so’, write it down. Collect the responses and go to your Athletic Director. Regularly. Show the AD what a bad example and role model (and coach) you have. When your coach overreacts, tell your parents. Get them to call the AD. If a coach becomes a constant problem, then the AD will have to replace them with a qualified coach or the AD is not doing their job.

    The only way to get rid of an unqualified coach is to bring their incompetence to the surface at every opportunity. Because if your coach is good at their job, they’ll always have an explanation for everything you are doing and they’ll be glad to answer your questions. I always answer my athletes’ questions because I don’t want to be incompetent and if I’m doing something for no good reason, I’m not a good coach. If I’m not a good coach, I won’t have a good team or athletes who live up to their potential or athletes who want to try. I give my athletes answers because I have answers.

    The only reason a coach gets mad when they get a lot of questions is because they’re being exposed for not having any answers. But you have to make coaching not worth their while. If they know they can bully you and you’ll shut your mouth, then they’ll win and your program will suffer.

    That’s my suggestion. But if you sit back and let a bad coach give you dirty looks and just walk around with an attitude and not help you by doing their job, you have to take matters into your own hands.

    LT

  • Jay C. says:

    Latif, I agree will all you said! I started following your postings and gathering your information about a year ago and looking at Coach Shaver’s work as well as Coach Henry’s work and have seen our girls school sprint records break this indoor season. Meanwhile there are coaches in our district who smile and laugh at what we are doing. I’m sure they are thinking what a waste, but the truth of the matter is, our team has grown this outdoor season and the kids are leaving the other sports to come with us. We haven’t done any thing fancy, just back up our training with facts, not opinions… science. Training the body’s different systems.

    Latif, thank you and keep on doing what you do!

    >>>Coach Condon – Keep up the good work. The best coaches gather information from a variety of sources, look for the patterns and commonalities in the philosophies of their favorite coaches and put it to practice with their athletes. Sounds like you’re doing a great job. Coach Shaver was one of my USATF Level II Instructors and his information is awesome! Good luck this spring.

    LT

  • Chuck N says:

    While your suggestions to athletes and parents to report to the school AD would seem appropriate, it simply is futile. Many local high schools are not run like a business model; they are run by the “good old boy” network. I am quite sure that as municipal employees they are breaking the conflict of interest law. Unless you have a particularly interested attorney, I don’t think they will listen to anyone. The powers that be will pretend to care and then wait for the situation to blow over.

    I am a parent of a child who decided on his own, completely out of the blue to give-up basketball so he could concentrate on 2 seasons of track. Now, one would think he could do that if he wanted, since he wasn’t under “contract” or anything. I was a little disappointed in his decision but it was what he wanted to do so I supported it. The basketball coaches never spoke to him again. What’s wrong with this picture? Are our kids not free to make choices without fear of retribution?

    Fear by parents and student’s is a BIG problem. This is why things don’t change. Who knows, if the coaches listened to the parents they might learn something. It could be the biggest fund raiser ever.

    >>> Yes. I understand your viewpoint, feel your pain and can completely relate to your situation. High schools do hide behind poorly thought through policies and their allegiance to the ‘good old boy’ system that allows them to remain incompetent with no penalty. This is the case anywhere you go and is not just specific to athletics. It is the case in any business, governmental agency, etc.

    The truth is that kids aren’t free to make their own decisions. No one wants to talk about the fact that coaches are competing for a finite number of quality athletes. Once you get one into your program, the kids are only allowed to make decisions that are in line with previous decisions, i.e, once you start playing basketball your only option is to continue playing basketball. To stop playing and CHOOSE to do something else is taken as an affront to the entire system. On the one hand, as coaches, we are supposed to provide guidance and serve as role models to our athletes. But, in the same breath, are penalized for being *too* influential if it *steals* someone from another sport.

    But you’re absolutely right. It is about fear. ‘Good old boys’ coach because that’s what they do. It’s a large part of how they define themselves: as Head Coach of X Sport at X School. Without it, they lose a part of themselves so they will do absolutely anything to prevent that loss. Unfortunately, this is always at the expense of the kids they falsely claim to want to help. Bad coaches fear good coaches, they get intimidated and jealous and react like a cornered animal.

    But parents and athletes are also afraid. Afraid to be the first to speak up. Afraid to fight a firmly entrenched system. Afraid to be ostracized and blacklisted. Afraid to speak against the local Coaching Mafia Don. But without struggle, there is no progress.

    Which brings me to my ultimate point here:

    Change is not easy. It doesn’t always happen right away. We can’t give up just because we don’t get our way on the first try. Change is a process. Sometimes you have to take a wall down brick by brick. It’s a war of attrition and the only way to win is to keep plugging away. I know it is hard to fight City Hall when they appear to have all the power. In truth, what the world needs is an organization whose purpose is reforming youth athletics and serving as a rally point for mandating coaching education and certification, as well as backing those coaches and parents who no longer accept the status quo. There is strength in numbers, but nothing is going to change unless people force the system to change

    LT

  • The problem is that there is a lot more at stake out there. A college scholarship is gold. Parents and athletes do go coach “shopping” and program “shopping”. Which is not good for the new and/or yet to be proven program.

    >>>Fair enough. I know many parents live the scholarship pipedream. But, I don’t blame a parent for coach shopping. I’d do the same thing. Most coaches are only coaches because they teach at the high school they went to, not because they are good coaches. Or because the school couldn’t find a coach, so the math teacher (or whatever) took the job babysitting to make a few bucks and give the kids some sort of adult in charge. Part of being a successful coach and having a good program is doing a bit of marketing. Results will speak for themselves, they always do. Of course, haters will get jealous and try to come after you once you start getting their athletes to defect. But that’s fun and it means you’ve made it.

    LT

  • The problem is that there is a lot more at stake out there. A college scholarship is gold. Parents and athletes do go coach “shopping” and program “shopping”. Which is not good for the new and/or yet to be proven program.

    >>>Fair enough. I know many parents live the scholarship pipedream. But, I don’t blame a parent for coach shopping. I’d do the same thing. Most coaches are only coaches because they teach at the high school they went to, not because they are good coaches. Or because the school couldn’t find a coach, so the math teacher (or whatever) took the job babysitting to make a few bucks and give the kids some sort of adult in charge. Part of being a successful coach and having a good program is doing a bit of marketing. Results will speak for themselves, they always do. Of course, haters will get jealous and try to come after you once you start getting their athletes to defect. But that’s fun and it means you’ve made it.

    LT

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