Tony's Take: Coaches Are Soft, Not The Athletes

Conditions like this in Colorado are pretty typical during the early outdoor season (Alan Versaw photo)

Some things never change. It is Spring according according to the calendar but it has yet to feel anything other than the middle of January...  

While we are still waiting for the smell of Mother Nature after a thunderstorm we may have to wait another week or so. I so desperately desire the scent of rain mist that permeates the air followed by the birds chirping, and later bees and other creatures getting into their lanes.

Spring also reminds me of a time way back when I was a kid in high school. I can recall coming off of an already long cross country season followed by indoor track during my junior year that started in early January and ended in March.

My great high school coach Pete Jones was also my club coach who often stressed how essential indoor track and field was to becoming a great outdoor athlete. Like many Midwestern states, the weather is bad in Indiana from late December to early March. That means there is very limited opportunities to practice outside in the natural elements. The school hallways became prime destinations for our track teams as well as baseball and other spring sports.

I can recall once our last indoor meet was in the books, we were outside practicing on a daily basis, regardless of weather conditions. There was one meet that stood out in my mind in late March. Or was it the first weekend in April? Anyway, it was that home meet vs. Bloomington North and I had to run the 3200m for the first time in my career. I was not thrilled about running eight laps in what felt like sub-zero weather. The 10:11 that I ran was not great but I braved the snow, wind, severe cold and admiration of my teammates. My coaches simply said 'good job' and kept it moving. 

I don't remember a single meet that was ever canceled because of cold whether it was junior high school or senior high school. Maybe it was because we did not have smart weather reports at our finger tips. It seemed like too much trouble to get on the phone and call the news station and issue the order to cancel. The newspaper was the other mass communication source. But what I really think it was the sign of the times. 'Being tough' has a negative connotation today because it insinuates kids are bullied into giving maximum effort. In other words, it is said that self-esteem is compromised. 

The best way to mimic real race conditions is to practice in them (R. Dump photo credit)

School policy today comes from the top down with it rarely being questioned. If the athletic director says 'we are going to cancel your event', many coaches will not challenge the decision. The thought process often times is the policy may come from the board of education which is said to protect the safety of the athlete.

But does it?

There are other times when coaches are indoctrinated into making a hair trigger decision that may seem for the betterment of the team. However, in many instance it is for selfish reasons. No one likes the cold, windy, or rainy conditions of April more than coaches. It's even worse when the team they have is an un-enjoyable one. Cancellations are often times a way to remove themselves from the pain.

I would be hypocritical not to include myself into this affair. Recently, we canceled a meet because of what a pre-conceived weather report would bring. It was said to have packed extreme high winds and a chill that would effectively hinder performances and possibly damage timing equipment. However, the day turned out to be the one of the best days of the year. It was a lesson learned as the next competition occurred a few days later in typical "bad" climes and went on full speed ahead. The kids performed well and there was minimal complaints or issues.

Sometimes I think we need to get back to less dependence on technology and more emphasis on common sense. Perhaps taking a cue from the athletes that we train day in and day out to be tough is probably where we need to go moving forward.