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Why Do I Coach?

A realization of why I coach, plus a recap of the USATF Level 2 Jumps course in Ft. Worth, Tx and the USATF Junior Olympics in Eugene, Or.

 

The past few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind and I feel like I’m finally getting a chance to slow down and take it all in. I’ve had a major realization during that time about who I am as a coach and why I keep coming back to this sport over and over again.

When I was at Texas Christian University two weeks ago for the USATF Level 2 Jumps course, the very first thing we did was go around the room to introduce ourselves. A little icebreaker. We were asked to say our names and why we coached.

Why I coached. Why did I coach? It is a question that I have for a very long time thought I knew the answer to. I've always been drawn to athletics. I've never wanted to do anything else in my life other than to be athletic in any form or fashion. So I was drawn to coaching from a very young age. That has always been the reason for my coaching, because I’m an athlete and what else is an athlete supposed to do when they’re done competing? Someone (whom is not a coach) recently described coaching as a way of drawing out my own athletic experiences. It sounds a little narcissistic, but I know that's exactly why I (and many coaches I know) got into it. And for years that’s why I’ve coached because I couldn’t let go of who I thought I was. However, after the past few weeks I’m realizing that I’m no longer trying to hold onto my own successes as an athlete. I’m no longer living vicariously through the athletes I coach. It’s hard to let that identity go, but I think I finally have.


I completely botched the answer by the way.


We each were called to the front of the class individually to recite why we coached. I botched the answer because, this is a very thoughtful question for a coach and I only had a few minutes to think about it. So naturally, I panicked.


Why do I coach? As a track coach, there are a lot of very early mornings, long days and even later nights. There are days where you're so beat from running across the football field from sun up to sun down that you don't know if taking a shower at the end of the night is worth it. And yet, you keep getting up for it. So why do I do this? For the love of the sport? For the kids? For me?

I had all of about 4 minutes to think of an answer, which is simply not enough time. However, despite my feelings of anxiety I jumped up and confidently started speaking when it was my turn to share. For a split second I froze up, it's been a really long time since I've had to present anything to a group of people whom I wasn't telling to run. So I just started word vomiting with the energy of a month old puppy.

“I started coaching when I was 18 on summer vacation from college. My mentor had a track club in Plano. Oh, and at my last high school meet I said to myself that I wanted to be on the track for the rest of my life. Yea, and I want to help kids get into college with track, because that’s what I did. It was life changing. Like, life changing. The experience was everything to me and I want all track athletes to experience that. I coach for the kids.” Gah that was awful.


By the time I was done blathering I felt like I hadn’t gotten my point across, of what it meant to me to coach athletes. But I also wasn’t sure that I could articulate my reasoning. The other students went up to the front of the room one by one and mostly did the same thing as me. Got excited to share their why and word vomitted on the room about their own experiences as an athlete. Ending their 60 second monologue with, “I do it for the kids.”

Then a young man, an assistant coach from a private school in Houston, stood at the front of the room and with an air of great experience and deep wisdom he said, “For me, it’s the relationships in the track world.”


The relationships? I thought. It was not a word that had ever crossed my mind when I thought about why I do what I do.


Don’t get me wrong I have always cherished the relationships I’ve built with my athletes. I have a hard time explaining the joy I feel from seeing them grow up and accomplish great things, but most athletes leave your life as fast as they come and you’re left wondering if you even made an impact. What was he talking about? This coach wasn’t any older than me and he was describing something that I couldn’t grasp.

Class photo of the coaches who took the USATF Level 2 Jumps Course.

As the week went by I started to fall in love with the other coaches in my class. I sat between two men around my age, early 30’s. The gentleman to my right was from Chicago, the head coach of a high school in the burbs, his energy was infectious and full of positivity that I fed off of all week. On my left, sat a man who was just starting out his coaching career in NOLA, while at the same time holding a full time engineering job and raising a daughter. He had an innovative spirit about track and field that was exciting, inspiring, to be around. Another woman had a passion for athletes physical and mental health that is sadly hard to find in sports sometimes. It was extremely moving and it was something we bonded over the entire week.


I could have talked to them for hours on end about the intricacies of the sport we all loved and by the end of the week I felt as if I’d met some people who will be in my life some way, somehow, forever. It was bittersweet to leave.


Back in Austin I had a very quick 48 hour turn around before heading out to Eugene, Or for the USATF Junior Olympics with an athlete of mine that I’ve been coaching for just a few short months, Zander. We started working together halfway through track season at the end of March. If you’ve been following along on Instagram you know all about this athlete and his story.


Zander is a three sport athlete who played football, basketball and runs track and has a lot of raw athletic talent. He’d had high hopes of playing football in college, but got dropped by all the schools looking at him when he broke his collar bone during a game. We met at the first track meet of the season, a very cold 35 degree day, by the long jump pit. I’d never met him because he was currently playing basketball and hadn’t been able to make it out to practice yet. Although this was my first time meeting him the coach in me wanted to help just as much as I was helping the other jumpers on the team. So I did what any other jump coach would do and checked his mark. He wasn’t on the board and I asked him what his mark and step were. He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about. Upon further prying, he told me that he always just stood at 75 feet, ran and jumped on either foot. The kid was jumping high 20’s and had no clue how to approach the board. I couldn’t believe it! He had no idea how far he could go in this event.

I could sense hesitation when I tried talking to him. Unlike my other athletes he wouldn’t come over to me after his jumps for guidance or advice. I understood that he didn’t know me and I was aware that there’d never really been a jumps coach at the high school, St. Michael’s, until I got hired. So naturally, he didn’t trust me. I took a video of his jump then followed him over to where he was coaching up one of the younger athletes on the team and said, “I know you don’t trust me, but can I show you a video of your jump?”

He seemed taken aback by this. I'm blunt by nature and I can't help it, but I've found that sometimes it's a good way to get athletes to let their guard down. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. He was hesitant but said, “Uh. Sure.”


I’ll admit that I am very new to coaching long jump, so at first I didn’t say anything. Just let him watch his jump in slow motion then asked him what he thought. He said he didn’t know and then asked what I thought. He looked decent in the air, but his approach was off because he didn’t really have a mark or steps. He was stuttering to get onto the board. So I asked him to move back two feet and then

run again without being afraid of missing the board. He ended up winning the meet and walking away without a word.


I got the feeling that Zander felt a bit jaded about sports and my hunch was realized when he opened up about his senior year of football and his previous experience with track. It always breaks my heart when I met an athlete who had a coach for track who’s first priority wasn’t track. Example, a football coach who is also the jumps coach because the school just needs coaches. It’s usually never a good experience. This is not to say that there aren’t some amazing football coaches out there who are also amazing track coaches. I’ve met plenty, but there are also plenty that are just there for the extra income and don’t care to learn how to coach the event they oversee. Athletes can tell when you do and don’t care.


It wasn’t until about halfway through the season that we started private lessons. During our 1-1 sessions he was a little stand offish but nonetheless ready to work. However, when he would show up to school practice he had an arrogance about him, like the school practices were beneath him and a waste of time. He would also ignore me from time to time and not communicate with me. This didn’t phase me though, the coach to athlete relationship was still new so I assumed it was a comfort level thing. He still didn’t trust me. When it comes down to it I whole heartedly believe that when an athlete doesn’t find value in what they’re doing, or is fading away from a sport that they’re good at, it’s my fault as the coach for not providing them with the environment they needed to feel loved and cared for from an athletic and personal standpoint.


So at our next meet after he was finished competing for the day, I pulled him aside to chat.


“I’m a little concerned in the way you’re acting about your training lately,” I said with a gentle tone, “In practice you seem as if you don’t really care to be there. What’s up with that? I thought you really wanted to break the school record?”


I get a lot of athletes who’s parents sign them up for personal training without really discussing it with their kids, so sometimes they start working with me and their attitude towards the training is less than enthusiastic. I mentioned this and asked if it was his dad who wanted it for him more than he did. He responded that he did want to break the school record and that he just felt like since he was getting 1-1 training school practice wasn’t as helpful. There it was. I was failing to explain to him the importance of repetition. This wasn’t about his attitude. This was about him not understanding the physiological aspect of what he was trying to accomplish. Most athletes respond well to training when you explain to them the what and the why. Why do they need to do something exactly like this, what is the purpose of the program you’re asking them to follow.


Our conversation at the track got cut short so I opted for sending him a text later.


It read: Hey I hope you know I’m not mad at you. I just know what it takes to accomplish the things you say you want to accomplish and I’m not talking about attitude or anything like that.


I mean from a physiological standpoint. We need to get your body prepared to jump farther in a very short amount of time. If you’re being diligent and consistent it takes the body 4 weeks to see a change in performance levels and that’s exactly what we have. 4 weeks until state.


I do believe that we can get you there, but you’re going to need to be locked into every training session, getting in lots of quality reps, and communicating with me on how your body is responding to the training. Including track practice.


I was working on your lifting regiment for the next 4 weeks on the bus today. I’m going to have it finished tomorrow. There is a workout for you to do in the weight room. Do you have access and time to get into the gym tomorrow?

It was like something immediately shifted in him. He needed to hear that I not only knew what I was talking about, but that I also cared enough to have really given his training some thought. But not only that, he needed to know that I cared enough to challenge him to work.


Zander responded: yes I understand everything your saying and I’m down to put the work in. Sorry for Tuesday’s practice. I should be able to hit the gym tomorrow. Thanks for taking the time to do that.


This was a pivotal moment in his training. After that day he was locked in and it really showed. He went on to break St. Michael’s high school record, place second at the state meet, qualify for the USATF Junior Olympics in Eugene, OR and (this is definitely the highlight of the entire season) a month after graduation he received a division 1 offer that would cover half the cost of school. When we started training together he had almost all but given up on the idea of playing sports in college.

This past week in Eugene was so much fun. Throughout the short time that we were there, I ran into some coaches from the USATF Level 2 course. I also had numerous others text me to say that they were watching my athlete compete and update me on their own athletes who were also competing. I got to watch this athlete grow into a self assured and confident young man who was having the time of his life competing in front of the massive crowd at the University of Oregon. It was an incredible experience to share with Zander and his father and it was a blessing to get to know them on a deeper level.

At some point during that trip it finally clicked for me. The reason that I coach. My why. I think it’s always been there, but the realization was breathtaking. I was hearing the coach from day one of the course say, “For me, it’s the relationships,” over and over again in my head.


The relationships that I’ve built over the years as a coach are what keep me coming back. I follow many of my athletes on social media and I’ve more than once been brought to tears when I see them go on to accomplish incredible things in their lives. I know that the work they’ve done on the track sets them up to better overcome the challenges that they’ll face as adults and I’m so humbled to have had a small role in their success.


The photo above was taken at the Portland airport right after the JO's. I legit teared up when Z sent it to me. I'm so proud of how far he has come as an athlete and honored to have played a small role in his athletic and academic journey. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter in Zander’s life brings him and where my fellow coaches end up in the years to come.


The past few weeks have really opened my eyes. The relationships with my athletes and fellow coaches truly are what keep me going.

 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this read please take a minute to leave a comment or share with a friend. To see more photos and videos from the past few weeks at TCU and the JO's check out my Instagram CLICK HERE


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