Riffs On A Redundant Reality

Last week I got a phone call from a newly elected official of USA Track and Field. I was asked to consider some way in which I could be more conciliatory and colleagial with the new leadership clique of USATF. I was described as being too militant and divisive in my comments and criticism regarding the new leadership. Further, there were a number of people who had a negative knee jerk reaction to the mere mention of my name.  I was/am considered arrogant and overbearing, having trampled over the feelings and sentiments of some people. Regretably perhaps, I plead guilty as charged.  But,…despite all this, it was felt I had something to contribute to the success of the medal count mission of 30 U.S. medals for the 2012 Olympics, and would I consider coming back on board in some capacity.
My reaction was/is:
1. It was not more than a year ago that people were labeling and describing
the caller in the exact same terms,…..divisive, disruptive, and
dysfunctional. The question was/is, “What has changed in a year ?” ( Dinah
Washington where are you ? Girl,…can you hear me ? ). The answer I
happen to find in a quote from an article in the New York Times. It stated
that, “… very often where a person STANDS on a given issue is based upon
where they SIT.”. HUH !!!!!! Where they sit ? Yup you got it. When we were
both fighting for what we thought was productive and constructive
change within USATF, we held identical beliefs and took similar STANDS,
this resulted in us both sharing identical labels and the wrath of the
“haters”. Now that the caller SITS within, and is part of, the inner
sanctum there exists this extreme schism between us.
2. My other reaction was, do these people sign off on my pay check ? ( No, I
do. ). Do they give me that replenishing and special smile when I pick them
up from school ? ( No, my kids do ) Do I snuggle with them at night with
reassuring and regenerative warmth ? ( No, my wife handles that ). Then
why in the hell would I give a fat rat’s ass what they think ?
3. Overiding and most important of all the reactions I shared with the
caller was the thought that every time administrators and managers make
mistakes,… the net losers are the athletes . When the U.S. 4 x 100 relay
teams mishandled the baton at the most recent World Championships the
most important and significant focus and concern should be on the fact
that the relay team members just lost an opportunity to win $160,000.00.
This is what I felt in 2008 in Beijing when the 4 x 100 relays dropped the
baton. I had a sinking feeling in my gut because I knew how hard the team
members had worked, and just how much mentally and physically they
had invested in the whole process being a success. As the person ultimately
responsible for the relay selection, positioning, performance and execution,
it was not the lack of medals that went down with the baton that mattered to
me. For me, it was the amount of athletes’ money that went down with the
baton. These athletes deserved better and by all rights they should have
been rewarded for the hard work and sacrifice they made for the relay
teams. They have a limited window of opportunity to earn their living within
the sport. Dropping the baton is a false pride and political posturing point
for some adminsitrators, managers and fans,… but it is real money for the
athletes involved. When it is understood that the whole reason and rationale
for the mere existence of administrators and managers in this sport is to
serve the needs of athletes, and to protect their rights, then the mistakes
and mismanagement of those who are supposed to lead in the vested and
best interests of athletes need to be assessed and evaluated in that light.
Would you believe that the whole point of the above is to get to this one point ? Namely, where you SIT in life determines for what, and where, you STAND. I have often been asked what is the underlying basis and philosophy of the coaching methodology I employ and exploit in working with athletes. The closest thing I can come up with is that we almost all draw upon relevant and impressionable experiences that impact us in our formative years. For me, as far as coaching is concerned, it is the early and middle 1950s. It was during that time that I was exposed to and explored the fountainhead of what was then called “modern” or “progressive” jazz. It was composed of very simple and basic rules of conduct and values. It was a combination of rhythm and melody and emotion, enjoined by innovation, creativity, and most of all improvisation. It all unfolded in real time,….NOW, right before your ears and eyes.
People tend to fall into two types of mindsets. There are those who are delayed reward syndromed and they can be patient, work hard at something and enjoy the rewards much later down the road. Usually middle and long distance are possessed of this mindset. On the other hand we have people with an Instant reward syndrome. They are “now” oriented, and want and require gratification within the short term. Sprinters are usually of this midset. I am mostly of the instant gratification syndrome, so jazz that was able to produce the desirable product right now, on the spot, and in real time had a real appeal for me then and now. To be able to instantly create, innovate, and improvise within understood and prescribed rules to me held the quintessental challenge and opportunity.
The jazz I love, like track and field has basic rules of conduct within which the performer must seek out the very best way to express and develop their own unique and special talents. It is the coach’s job to work within the rules and find the best way for the athlete to improvise and improve their performances within the creative process. Activity without rules results in chaos and anarchy. Acting with complete disregard for rules is the height of egotism and self-indulgence . Being creative within an existing matrix and template and “getting
it right” before the others is an exhilerating and liberating experience.
For me art and athletics are mere opposite sides of the same single coin of human performance and expression. Since I can not draw, then jazz is the artform I draw from.
Draw from the above what you will.
Brooks T. Johnson
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