Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If a tree falls in the forest……

If a coach isn’t there to see it, does the athlete still train hard?

For the Pioneers, the answer to this new take on an age-old question is a resounding YES!

I started writing this in mid-November during a particularly impressive training week.  Now that final exams are wrapping up and I have time to think, I’m giving it a final read-through…

Our kids work hard in training.  That cool November night in workout they were getting after it, every last one.  The team synergy of group training sessions was one of my favorite parts of my own collegiate swimming experience.  Racing your teammates and working with them.  Pushing them to be better and letting their fortitude pull you along to your own best performances.  Now I get to see that from a different (dryer) perspective every day as a college coach.

The afternoon before, our academic liaison for athletics had dropped by practice just to see what was going on.  He mentioned that when he came in, all the splashing and movement made him think of salmon spawning up a fish ladder.

The team had a laugh at this imagery.

I told him he was only seeing the end of warm-up and that he should wait until the next set.  We had an array of sprint 25s and some 50s at 200 goal pace that ramped up the pool action to a higher pitch.  John stuck around.  The salmon were really moving.  He was impressed.

As coaches, we are used to our teams feeding off one another and working at a high intensity.

What about when no one is there to see it and no one is there to race?

Hard workouts alone in the pool sometimes drags on a person’s psyche.  I’m speaking from personal experience, here.  But, if you have a high degree of motivation and long-term perspective, you get the work done and you give it your all.

Our kids are operating at this level now. 

I love it!

College schedules are nothing if not complex.  Every coach at the College knows the rigors their student-athletes face academically, as well as the intricate scheduling to get your team there all at the same time.  When your squad numbers over thirty, someone’s going to have a lab, a late class, a thesis seminar.  Something to work around.  This is the nature of the beast.

Coaches would prefer to have everyone in the pool together.  Some workouts this is what we get.  But, the intricate and imperfect nature of the college setting provides other growth opportunities, as well.  Our swimmers know the value of their hard work and we develop conscientious and determined athletes. 

We foster self-reliance and individual responsibility.

The view from our pool deck is of young men and women taking ownership of their training and their collegiate career.

Here is one example among many: 

Taylor has an Entrepreneurship class on Wednesday nights during workout.  She’s a senior, team captain, and economics major.  Taylor also owns her training and her goals.   Long before our season kicked off, she proposed a possible training plan for her Wednesday afternoons (and believe me, it kills her not to be there with her team).  Once a week she hits the lunchtime lap swim to get in her pool training.  I have her workout printed and stuck to my door with a magnet in case I’m not in the office when she comes by.  Usually I’m here to watch her approach from the direction of the library and the academic buildings.

Like clockwork. 

I see her walking across the patio out front and coming through the lobby doors to my office for her workout.  I provide the sets and she provides the fire.  We expect drive from our athletes, but I also know that swimmers feed off their surrounding teammates to excel in tough sets.  Swimming is hard.  She does it alone, streaking past lumbering faculty and staff lap swimmers in neighboring lanes, making them look like they’re standing still. 

Then Taylor goes to the weight room and busts out the afternoon’s strength, core, and functional routine.  Our swimmers buy in to the training and this buy-in most definitely includes what we do in the weight room.  Each teammate knows his or her own most diabolical lifts—the ones that you know are good for you, but you also know how hard they will be every single time.

She doesn’t blow it off.  She doesn’t bail because not as many people are watching. 

Business as usual.  The business of doing the work.  The business of commitment. 

Each season in our program, the returning athletes come in with a higher drive to put in the work.  More sense of what they are trying to accomplish.  Firmer ideas of how each training session will require their all and point them toward their goals.  That is one of my favorite things about college coaching; the chance to see young adults make tremendous strides across their four years in both personal responsibility and steely determination.

These are the joys of coaching.

Not making people do things, but fostering in them the tools to build, grow, and commit for themselves.

If a coach isn’t there to see it, a Pioneer still does the work.

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