Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [4]

Training with the goal of competing should be about crossing a finish line by delivering your best possible performance.  Mark Allen calls it “tests of completion”.  Perhaps that is why so many pro triathletes return to Hawaii at some point, usually as an age grouper, a few years after their career as a pro ends. It may also explain why many masters athletes return to the sports they trained and competed as children or teens, as they too seek a redo.

Why the need for a redo?  Perhaps there is a need to return to race in a manner where we do it not for a quantifiable target (e.g. top finish, prize money); instead we race for ourselves, in a manner we always wanted to compete: where the quality of how we compete is the priority. We return to race, to race as we dreamed as children, as teenagers, when the spirit of training and competing was in the process of who we were becoming, not in what we would win, nor found in which competitors we beat. We return to race as we always imagined racing… free to have fun, freedom in self expression, in the inexplicable oneness we feel when uninhibited.

Unfortunately, wherever there are athletic competitions, there are athletic careers littering the sidelines where athlete’s failed to reign in pride and where coaches failed to bring an end to a moment which would have spared their athlete.

At the 1997 Hawaiian Ironman World Championships… pro triathlete Chris Legh collapsed within sight of the finish line, unable to complete the event he was taken unconcious to the med tent, laid on a bed of ice, and when finally sent to the hospital had to have a large portion of his colon taken out because it died due to a lack of oxygen. In that same year in Hawaii, pro triathletes Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham also collapsed and crawled to the finish line…

Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_01 Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_03 Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_04

Is this what we now define as healthy? This is competition amongst the healthiest athletes? Is this how pros envision themselves competing? Seriously? To me, it shows nothing that utter disrespect for our bodies, our minds, a willingness to gamble and sacrifice our health. For what?

Chris Legh and Wendy Ingraham were able to recover and continue to compete, but not all athletes are as fortunate. Worse, age group and masters athletes seem to have started to associate these types of efforts as heroic, with the media hyping these moments as tests of mental tenacity, determination. The “PR or ER” mindset has become a training and racing motto perceived not only as acceptable, but desired, as it has been falsely turned into some sort of perverted evidence of health. That the “PR or ER” mindset is emblazoned on t-shirts may explain why injuries and prolific use of drugs (e.g. NSAIDs, painkillers) are considered congruent with athleticism. It would also explain why athletes compete without training sufficiently, because if they do end up having to drag themselves across the finish line it will be applauded nonetheless. It also explains why athlete deaths are easily written off as statistical norms.

Where are the coaches?  Where are the kill-switches? Is there anyone left who possesses any limits? Are there any coaches with the guts to throw in the towel and pull athletes away from the ring, away from their own demise, from a preventable death? Or has the addiction to gambling with our health become so inescapable that the mere suggestion of ever slowing down or stopping sounds ridiculous?

Ask yourself… Why do I train?  Why do I compete?  For health or death?

An integral coach, one loyal to the well-being and long term health of their athlete, to the nobility of competition, and to the roots of sport maintains an objective perspective on the athlete’s training and racing, assists in the development of realistic goals, to balancing training and racing with the challenges that arise both in and outside of sport, and prevents athletes from taking on excessive risk, especially risks which unnecessarily place their health, their livelihood, and their life in jeopardy.

Without an integral coach, athletes seeking peak performance have to know when to call it a day themselves.  Without an integral coach, the athlete has to be their own rev limiter, kill switch, in order to prevent excessive over-reaching, to reel in ambition.  But this is where problems develop… athletes seeking peak performance train not to stop, train to an extent that they are not in a mindset of self-preservation and cannot be counted on to think rationally (hence the ease with which they can be manipulated into doping). Peaked athletes lack the ability to stop no different then Natascha Badmann during the 2007 Ironman WC. The end result of pursuing one’s potential without a dedicated coach is injury at best, and at worst, disaster…a medical crisis, doping, death.

Take the time, to research, interview and ensure that you have an ally, a partner in the form of a coach to join you on the journey to your peak performance goals.  It takes time to perform the due diligence to find such a coach, but for athletes seeking the best out of themselves and the best for their children, the value of a trustworthy coach is immeasurable.

Don’t look for a good coach, look for an honest coach, a coach with integrity, a coach who respects not only athletes, but the meaning of sport, and has an unwavering loyalty to the spirit of competition, and would walk away in an instant from a career in coaching then continue on in an environment where anything except athletic excellence is the operational standard.

Seek a coach willing to leverage every aspect of training – load & rest – so that your progress is consistent and healthy and focused on the long term.

Seek a coach willing to admit that they know less and less as discoveries in human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and peak performance reveal themselves on deeper and deeper levels.  Seek a coach who continues to believe that they are mere students, who continue to spend countless hours reading, studying, and learning.

Seek a coach willing to identify that they too have limits, and they will seek partnerships with other coaches, with health professionals, to navigate their athletes towards their potential.

Your coach must understand that they have the responsibility of Chief Engineer, as your Kill Switch both in training and in racing, and it falls to them to pull the plug on anything that poses long term risk to you, even if throwing in the towel comes with the risk of being misunderstood, even if it comes with the risk of being fired as your coach.

Take the time to invest in finding a coach who meets these standards.  When you do, then you will have found yourself not just a good coach, but a coach who you can trust with your goals, and most importantly your health, your well-being, and your life.