miércoles, 30 de abril de 2014

You teach what you need to learn

Now, I want to talk about coaches.

As an athlete, undergraduate sports student and assistant coach, I’ve been able to see this profession from different perspectives.

First, it’s not as easy as it looks. There’s a big misunderstanding in our society about this profession; many people think that the only requirements to be a coach are the following ones:

-           Jacket, sweatpants and sport shoes

-           Cap and sunglasses (optional, if you want to look a little bit more scary)

-          Whistle, chronometer and clipboard (must have or you’re going to look like unskilled)

-         You better get used to chew gum and spit thick

-          Be bossy and as far as possible shout louder than lion!

-          Remind to your pupils how weak they are

-          Impress everyone with difficult drills

That’s the typical stereotype of coach that has prevailed through all the times. And to be honest, most of the coaches fit that profile.

It’s really dangerous, because if being a coach is about looking like one, then anyone could be it. In that vein, I could wear a medical gown, some glasses, take a scalpel and say: “I’m a neurosurgeon, whom do I make the first incision in the head?”

Trust me, it’s that serious!

A neurosurgeon intervenes one patient at a time, a coach intervenes over 20, 30 or even 50 persons at a time in all the aspects: physical, psychological, emotional, social… as a coach you are modifying someone’s life.

So, being a coach it’s not looking like one, it’s acting consciously based on the effect that your activities and your behavior are causing to the people under your command. It’s being the right guide for them to raise their potential.

It’s also to be open to change the road and accept advices when is necessary, because as you will realize, no one has the last word, experts are also wrong and you teach what you need to learn. 
So, don't brag after a win, ego is too heavy to carry it on. Surrender your ego and be free.

Don’t look like a coach, be a coach. Be the right guide. 

viernes, 4 de abril de 2014

Elite sport, the ugly truth

We can’t help to look at elite athletes as gods. We are always overwhelmed for what they do. We wonder how far they can go and what it takes to get there. We live fascinated with their skills.
But elite sport, has another face that, like it or not, you are going to see in any moment.

First, nature does its own selection by genetic. Most of elite athletes have any particular biological characteristic that makes them adequate for their sport. Great height, long legs, exorbitant oxygen consumption, conveniently distributed muscle fibers and so on…

Those who are lucky enough to have any of those mutations, are the ones that we usually see on TV doing these incredible performances. Those are the gifted ones!

The problem lies in those who want to become elite athletes and they don’t have any outstanding biological advantage. My coach once told me: “you find two types of athletes. The gifted ones and the ones who must work harder to barely get to the level of the gifted ones”. He’s totally right!

To be honest, most of the athletes you see are pure hard-workers, they’re kind of stubborn with the idea of becoming one day the next world or Olympic champion. Others (much more realistic) conform to making state or national teams.

They spend long hours of training, energy, they make lots of sacrifices in their personal lives, they mortgage their health (because elite training is not healthy) and do anything for that dream. They may get some good results (if we consider that wise statement: “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”) but when they have to face a gifted athlete who has worked as hard as them (or even harder), they finally understand the difference.

It’s kind of unfair, because at the end of the day you’re nobody if you don’t have any relevant victory. As Bill Gates said in one of his life rules: “the world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself”. People won’t care how hard you train, they just expect you to do something remarkable. The truth is that the ones who get the front pages of the newspapers are the gold medalists.

So far I’ve talked about how unfair is elite sport for the non-gifted. Now let’s see how hard it is for the gifted ones.

It’s just summarized in one single word: interest.

Governments, Federations, Leagues, clubs… don’t care about the health of the elite athletes or their future, they only use their victories to flaunt about their politics, system or administration. And if you, as elite athlete, don’t obtain a remarkable result, you better find something else to make a living.

Doping is an open secret in elite sport.

In the context of the cold war, where USSR and USA had their fighting, sport was a perfect stage to prove who was better. The athletes were more like lab rats and as the drug testing was limited, there was an open field for creating performance enhancing drugs that won’t be discovered.   

East Germany government developed the most sophisticated doping program on earth. A system that made this country with about 16 million of habitants become a world leader in sports at the 70’s and 80’s. Men and women were given Oral Turinabol, a strong anabolic steroid that made them true machines. Women were seriously masculinized (just look at Heidi Krieger case). At that time, Marita Koch broke the 400m world record by a huge margin that won’t ever be touched by a clean athlete just as the androgen Jarmilla Kratochvilová at the 800m.  

Americans had to step it up a notch too. Flo Jo case make you lift your eyebrows. With 28 years she went from a discreet mark to a stratospheric 100m world record in just some few months (don't tell me that after breaking a WR in 100m by such a margin you end up smiling, hugging and waving). After that, when the surprise drug tests begin in 1989, she immediately retired. Bob Kersee is a genious!

Another case to consider is Carl Lewis. We all know the story of the 1988 Olympics when Ben Johnson beat him but it was found that Johnson was doped so Carl Lewis was the “real” winner. What most of the people ignore is that in April 2003 Sports Illustrated published USOC official documents that prove that Lewis and other 11 American athletes tested positive by ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenilpropalamine but they argued that they did it with no intention. So case was dismissed. Today, Carl Lewis is still a respected retired athlete, he keeps going to all kinds of events as a great personality and American media seems to ignore what he did.

Not to mention recent cases like Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, Veronica Campbell Brown and long list of recognized elite athletes that have been discovered.

Elite sport is a dirty business and we are being constantly cheated by these gods of sport. It's humanly impossible to get to certain levels without the use of performance enhancing drugs and it seems that those who are smart enought to cover it, are the ones who succeed. 

martes, 18 de febrero de 2014

Life, Track and its comfort zones

We all live inside of a comfort zone. We know it very well: its shape, its width, its edges… We feel safe inside of it. It’s that place you trust in.

But sometimes we go out of that zone. Maybe because we decided to do it or because we were pushed out of there.  And so we face the battle field: that situation we’ve got to struggle with. That issue that make us feel scared.

After that, we comeback immediately to our comfort zone because we've got scared with everything we saw there. But now we’re familiarized with it. So maybe we will dare to do it again.

The truth is that, as the time goes by, we get so bored in that comfort zone that we are willing to go out and deal with it. When we finally win the battle, we make of that place another comfort zone (much bigger, of course), because now we own it.

And we repeat that cycle over and over again through our lives.

The problem lies in those who don’t have the slightest intention of going out of their comfort zones. They need someone or something to push them out of there. If not well, they’ll get stocked in there for the rest of their lives. They won’t go anywhere. They won’t know who they are.

Track and Field has shown me that.

As a runner you have to be going in and out of your conform zone. You must go out of your well-being state to face fatigue, pain, rivalry and sometimes disappointment. But once you’ve gone through all of that, you get to another comfort zone in which you’re stronger, endurable and you’re able to do things that before you couldn’t even think that you were capable of.

Competitions are those perfect opportunities to advance to higher and bigger comfort zone. You don’t only have to beat others, you have to struggle against the time, space, fatigue, fear…
Yes, the fear. We all feel it and it’s a good sign because it means we are leaving the comfort behind and we are about to face the battle.

Life is about constant flux, change and battle. You better get used to go out of your comfort zone!

sábado, 18 de enero de 2014

We’re all naked on the track

Yes, the track shows all you are. Like it or not.

Running isn’t just about taking a long ride showing your expensive last season sneakers, boasting about your personal best, making state or national teams, getting a scholarship and winning any medal. There’s more to this than meets the eye.  

Running is what helps you to discover who you really are.

How we run, it’s exactly how we are. There’re many things in our personal lives that we don’t handle as it should be, so we just decide to ignore them or even worst, to hide them. But, the river has to run: somehow you have to let it go, consciously or unconsciously. 

It’s there where running appears as that catharsis technique that you need to take that out of you.
So when you, your coach or the people around you identify any problem with the way you run, don’t blame the shoes, don’t blame the track, don’t blame the size of your shorts…Go and look what is wrong in your daily life!

Try to find what is making you raise your jaw when you shouldn’t, what is it that makes your neck to be tensioned, why your steps are shorter or longer, why you’ve got a hump while you run, what keeps your mind so busy that you can’t react on time, why it’s so difficult to get ahead of the race, why you hold your pace to avoid fatigue, why you look so forced?

You don’t need to have vast knowledge in Psychology to know what your mind is expressing through your body language. And what a better way to do it than running!

When you decide to look at running as a liberating experience, you start to see things that you didn’t ever imagine to have.  And when you finally start to see yourself, you can see others. You start to understand all the different kinds of personalities: the ones who wait until the end to attack, the ones that start so fast that they can’t even finish, the ones who hide among the others, the ones who grind down the others, the ones who make themselves unattainable, the ones who would rather retire than being last, the ones who don’t have any idea of what they’re doing…

Don’t be shy to be naked. We all need it to know who we are. WE’RE ALL NAKED ON THE TRACK!

Image: Body Issue ESPN.