The more I learn about the virtually unlimited vastness of the computer, the more intimidated I become. An example on a mini-micro level is the number and diversity of coaching inquiries I get via the internet. For example, last week there were questions from Germany, Turkey, Norway, Italy, Jamaica, and California ( Yeah,…California is a foreign country. ). From the questions and comments I get, it is obvious that there exists out there more national and international podium level athletic talent than there is podium level coaching talent and ability. The fact that the simple ramblings I sporadically share on this blog can reach so many people, in such a widespread area, in a matter of minutes,…. simply stresses my comprehension levels. But the confusion that I see when it comes to coaching track and field is even more startling. It is amazing to me how we coaches can take such simple factors of barnyard science and physics and twist it into such confusing and counter-productive knots.
The following is a quote from the NEW YORK TIMES , April 4, 2013, ” The dark side of the universe is whispering, but scientists are not sure what it is saying. “. There is a certain aspect and area of coaching the sport of track and field that exists on the dark side. For many the “dark side” of track and field was the drug and illegal performance enhancing elements embedded in the sport. That is NOT what I am referring to here. What I am referring to is the core coaching issues of the sport that ” are whispering, but coaches, are not sure what it is saying.”. That is basically what I am gathering from much and many of the inquiries and questions I get on a daily basis from all over the wold. On one hand I am flabbergasted because of the mixture and magnitude of the queries. On another level I am certainly flattered to be seen as a person who might have some answers. On the other hand, I am totally humbled because of the lack of satisfactory answers I have to many of the questions.
In the 1930s, according to the NYT, Fritz Zwicky, an astronomer from Cal Tech, posited, that some invisible “missing mass” was required to supply the gravitational glue to hold the clusters of galaxies together. This “missing mass” was dubbed DARK MATTER. Quoting directly from the NYT, ” According to recent measurements by the Planck spacecraft, about 27 per cent of the universe, by mass, is composed of some unknown form of matter unlike the atoms that make up us and everything we can see. Astronomers can not see it, but they can detect its gravitational tug pulling the galaxies and stars around.”. It is in our own area of DARK MATTER that the most successful coaches in the sport have the upper hand.
I generally, for the purposes of analysis and evaluation, break down the track and field coaching cadre into three categories: Level I, Teachers. Level II, Trainers, Level III Coaches.
Teachers are people with a basic knowledge and approach who layout the basic stuff they want athletes to access and apply. They are generally good lecturers and presenters of material. If they have good athletes who have an innate ability to apply what they are being taught, then these people will enjoy a limited amount of success, even up to the “one-off” Olympic or World Championships podium. But the ability to produce a succession of successful athletes is greatly limited.
Trainers are people who have the ability to work out physical, and even mental methodologies, necessary to apply the given science and expertise required for ultimate success. Usually their approach heavily involves drills and exercises as coaching aids . Like some teachers, they are good lecturers and presenters. They can quote verbatim long tracks of science and pseudo-science supporting their approach and often convince talented athletes, and others, that they are “gurus” and have the real answers. Each case of success, however limited, serves to support their claims, but the failures are laid off to “extraneous” factors and do not seem to count in the eventual equation to determine who is really good or not.
Coaches are people who are aware that DARK MATTER exists out there and have the courage and character to pursue it, even when and where there is no absolute certainty. They have much of the best of teachers and trainers in their make up, but have a creativity and drive to delve and dive beyond what is presented and given. They do not need absolute certainty before they boldly bolt forward. They are not surface feeders. They are not adverse to taking risks ( risk is a calculated action, unlike gambling which is compulsive in nature ). What distinguishes them from teachers and trainers is the ability to see what is really not there. They are aware that some invisible element ( DARK MATTER ) is in play, and despite not fully understanding it, they are willing to venture and vie to go to a level above and beyond where the rest of us are comfortable in going. But the most differentiating factor between a coach, a teacher, and a trainer is the fact that the coach can convince the athlete to take the “leap of faith” necessary to stay the course and pursue true greatness. The people I place in this hallowed category of COACH are all people who have the ability generate the DARK MATTER glue that holds the athlete with them even in times of disaster and disappointment. Michael Johnson was Olympic level in 1988. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot and did not make the U.S. Olympic team. In 1992 he did not make it to the finals in the 200 in Barcelona. It was not until 1993 when he finally broke out and established himself as a dominant internationalist,….five years after he was obviously internationally elite, he finally manifested it. All that time Clyde Hart was able to create and generate the DARK MATTER glue to hold the relationship together. In 1982 Jackie Joyner fouled three times at the NCAA Championships in the long jump. In 1984 she fouled her first two jumps in the heptathlon and had to take a “safe” 3rd jump and this cost her the gold medal at the L.A. Olympics. Within a few of years she was the world record holder in both the long jump and the heptathlon. Bobby Kersee never waived in his faith and belief in himself and Jackie. The DARK MATTER glue is what John Smith has, and in a very different way, Tom Tellez also. Tom Tellez should be credited with what he did for Carl Lewis over almost two decades, but Carl was not the only Olympic medalist Tom coached. The sheer weight of their respective records and body of work, at and around the wold record, make John Smith and Tom Tellez track and field coaches.
DARK MATTER has been defined as being, ” WIMPS – weakly interacting massive particles – left over from the Big Bang.”. In our sport, the WIMPS are not the ones we identify most with the DARK MATTER phenomena.
Brooks T. Johnson
( 407 ) 758 – 0755