Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [1]

An experienced coach is an unrivaled asset when decision making is blurred by stress, fear, and conflicting priorities. Value comes from a coach who has a vested interest equally in an athlete’s short term goals, as well as their long term goals, their health and their overall well-being.

Why?  Because when athletes peak, when athletes are stretched to their limit seeking to deliver their potential, in pursuit of a peak performance in competition, they are not in a state of balance, they do not have a mindset of self-preservation.  Training performed by athletes to push past limits, to overlook discomfort and pain is a double edged sword: beneficial when it comes to pursuing peak potential, but devastating when not tempered with the ability to appreciate the long term detrimental effects of when pushing through is the absolute worst decision.

With athlete’s focused on the short term, the need exists for a coach who places the short term within the context of the long term.  In a way, athletes pursuing peak performance give up perspective, but you cannot live abundantly nor succeed consistently and honestly without perspective. The fact that so many pros, age group and masters athletes overtrain, become injured, fail to achieve their goals only proves the point that a coach is an indispensable asset for those seeking to explore their potential (in an healthy manner).

In 2007, the 6x Hawaiian Ironman World Champion Natasha Badmann crashed during the bike portion of the race damaging her bike such that a replacement bike was required, and injuring herself to the point that standing unsupported was an achievement all on its own.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann01Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann02With help, she remounted her bike as any World Champion would, she continued racing because quitting was eliminated as an option on account of the peaking training.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann03Her pain was palpable when she reached for a water bottle causing significant discomfort that Natasha had to take a few moments before trying to painfully bring it to her mouth.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann04

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann05Due to this programming – the do not give up, the do not quit mindset – it is the coach who bears responsibility of retaining perspective of the short term and long term in the midst of such moments to ensure that the athlete doesn’t compromise their future athletic potential by straining to cause or force success.  It was Natasha’s coach who after catching up with her on the bike course, pulled her from the race.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann06 Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann07How is it that minutes before Natasha could ride in competition mode, yet now requires arm slings bilaterally? In the heat of performance, athletes have been conditioned to deliver an all-out effort, there is no other thought allowed. Point is: athletes DO NOT make good decisions, rational, healthy decisions in competition, hence the need for a coach. What if Natasha had no coach to pull her out of the event? As an health professional, I cannot begin to imagine the permanent damage (worse than it already was) that Natascha would have inflicted upon herself.Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann08Natascha’s injury required surgical repair, a steel rode inserted to support the bone, and ligamentous repair, followed by months and months of rehab.  One year later, in 2008, she was unable to complete the Ironman in Hawaii due to the lack of a full recovery.

What if Natasha’s coach didn’t have the guts to do the right thing, and pull her out, out of World Championships no less? What if Natasha pressed on in 2007 causing further damage?  What if in a ridiculous narrative that to cross the finish line was imperative no matter the cost, Natasha did fight to finish?  What if her coach permitted Natascha to damage her body to the point of permanently losing function, not only in sport, but impairment in activities of normal daily living?

Where is the glory in destroying your body? In a destroyed body?

The importance of the kill-switch is critical to any attempt at a peak performance.  Whether it is in the test flight of a new aircraft, launch of a new manned rocket, an attempt at a land speed record, or any other record, there is a checklist which is followed and at any point where parameters are violated, the Chief Engineer shuts down the experiment.  It is no different in sport.  In sport, coaches are the Chief Engineers, the kill-switch to ensure that the long term goal is never sacrificed so that a short term objective can be achieved.

Plus, it is the kill-switch which lends confidence to the test pilot, the astronaut, or the athlete seeking a championship when pushing the limits. Knowing that there is someone looking out for you, ensuring that you do not push past reasonable pre-established barriers frees you to race with abandon, to leave it all out on the race course in an healthy way, a way that ensures that if anything does happen you are able to return and race another day.

If the long term outcome to training is health, then destroying one’s body in the process makes absolutely no sense.  Sacrificing your body on the altar of competition because it appears noble, is foolishness and nothing other than a display of immaturity both on the part of the athlete and coach (that is if the athlete has a coach).