MILES AHEAD II

Let’s hope this font stays with us longer than the last one. Please note that I have selected “ARIAL BLACK” as the font to show my mastery and control over a machine that thoroughly intimidates and manipulates me,… almost at will.
We were talking about the mental aspects and properties of training and coaching peak performances. Quite frankly, since the loss of the original font I have lost the stream of thought associated with the topic and so will continue with a less cogent effort that hopefully will make sense as I offend some people in what I am about to present.
In many instances the ultimate success of an athlete depends upon the science and detached judgments employed by both athlete and coach. It is my feeling that if a coach has an athlete as his/her best friend, then one, or both, is seriously skewed ans screwed. It disturbs me when I hear a coach refer to “MY Athletes”. The same applies when I hear athletes refer to “My Coach”. The degree to which the first person singular possessive is used and abused, often determines the degree that dispassionate and scientific decisions are compromised. The same can be said about athletes that refer “My Training” as opposed to “My Racing”. If there is too much emphasis and centering on “training”, then there is a lessening of the focus and drive toward competing and competition, which, after all, is the ultimate goal and objective of competitive athletics. I have often heard athletes and coaches express reluctance to  attend a competition because it will interfere with “training”.. What can be more specific to competitive training than attending a competition to see exactly where you are in the scheme of things, and with that knowledge, return to workouts with a more certain sense of what is needed for further improvement ?
While I am on the topic of pet peeves, let me share another one that is mental and psychologically centered. Coaches and athletes constantly talk about the need to “focus”. To a degree this is necessary, but in actual competitive situations, it is more critical that athlete and coach have the ability to “refocus”. Very rarely will things go according to the manner and mode we have been told we need to focus on in order to optimize results. All too often “stuff happens” that requires a last minute, second, or nano-second modification or adjustment . I have seen great athletes make these changes and adjustments, and less flexible and adaptive athletes cave in and falter. The same can, unfortunately, be said for coaches as well.
At major international meets like the Olympic Games and World Championships, where there is a monitor in the warm up area, I never venture into the stadium for running events. The reason being, as long as I am in the warm up area, I pretty much remain a coach, somewhat dispassionate and science centered. When I enter the stadium and join in with the electricity and excitement, I become more of a spectator and fan than is good for making the necessary judgments and decisions necessary to really help the athlete through the next round. What is really revealing is the number of coaches who coach athletes to the podium who are fighting me for optimum positions with which to view the monitor in the warm up area.
I guess the thrust of what I am attempting to convey is the fact that coaches need to be coaches and teachers, and in order to do that effectively there needs to be a certain physical and psychological distance between coach and athlete. In order to make the mental decisions necessary to maximize training and competitive results, there has to be a certain delineation and separation. I take great and unusual pride in the fact that athletes that I have coached have achieved their best results when I was a continent and ocean away. Jeff Atkinson and Patti Sue Plummer both were Olympic finalists in Seoul in 1988. This was the very apex and pinnacle of their athletic dreams and drive up to that point. They were in Seoul, Korea and I was in Palo Alto, California. Last May David Oliver ran 12.95, his PR and best performance ever, for 110 hurdles in Doha, while I was in Orlando, Florida, a continent and ocean away. Let’s face it, there are too many coaches who want athletes to be totally dependent upon them, rather than have the athlete rely upon their own skills, talent, and ability that they a possess. At the Olympic Games in Beijing I witnessed an athlete come totally unglued because the coach did not have a pass to get into the warm up area. This kind of dependency builds up a real and/or perceived need that is not only counter-productive to maximizing performances but is self-defeating and causes a form of self-denial and self-denigration within the athlete that is not healthy for either party.  A marathon athlete was advised by the coach that attendance at a seminar of other athletes in the same event to get the latest insights and knowledge provided by USOC scientists and successful USATF coaches about how to handle the topography, heat and humidity factors of the Beijing course, would result in a permanent separation between coach and athlete. The athlete did not attend.
It is obvious from the above, that coaches are just as susceptible to making major mental and psychological errors as athletes. Those, athletes and coaches, who find the ability to successfully negotiate the distance between their left and right earlobe, will find themselves “Miles Ahead” of those who do not.
Brooks T. Johnson
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