"If that's the kind of quitter you are".
That's what my 10th grade cross country coach said to me in Apple Valley, Ca in the fall of 1980 when I told him I needed to cut a workout short due to my sore achilles tendon. I walked to the edge of the track crying and after sitting out one rep I rejoined the team and finished the workout. "What about your achilles" my coach asked. I told him that I rubbed it some and did a little stretching and it felt better. The truth is there was nothing wrong with my achiiles. It was hot, I felt like crap, and I was getting my ass kicked by the older guys on the team. Turns out what he said was exactly what I needed to hear.
I had a lot of admiration for Coach Lonsinger. He was a successful coach nearing the end of his career, a World War II veteran. I did not want him to think me a quitter.
But what if he had made the wrong call? What if I really had been injured and had ruptured my achilles? Then he would have just been a jerk. I wonder if there are guys out there who had the love of training and competition drummed out of them by the callous and insensitive Coach Lonsinger?
It's hard being a coach and trying to motivate dozens of different athletes. When to employ a little tough love and when a more compassionate approach is needed. Shifting gears from 14 year-old newbies to 18 year-old state champions. Adapting to the different natures of boys and girls. We all need to be sports psychologists.
I always go back to why we even bother to have high school athletics in the United States. Most countries don't. Presumably its because we believe that there are some lessons that can be learned through competition that can't be learned in the classroom. I actually believe this but only if we train and compete a certain way. That scene in Without Limits comes to mind when Bowermann says "If you can find meaning in the kind of running you'll have to do to remain on this team, chances are you'll be able to find meaning in that other absurd passtime - life".
We want our runners to approach it that way. We want them all to develop a little more grit. We want them to learn to pull things out of themselves they never thought were in them. We know this isn't easy and that a couple tears might have to be shed and some aches and pains dealt with along the way. I'm thankful to have had a couple coaches that taught me that.
We coaches make mistakes working with other peoples children. I know I have. We feel the same range of emotions our athletes do. We feel the triumph and the frustration, the anger and the elation. Sometimes we end up dealing with athletes at the same time we're dealing with those negative emotions. We make the wrong call. We have to remind ourselves that our interactions and decisions with our runners need to be guided by love and compassion even when we may come across as cranky and frustrated. Our runners need to sense this. I hope they're thinking, "man, Coach Murphy seems really pissed off now and is kind of being a jerk but I know he cares about me and has my best interest in his heart". Hopefully they will if we've taken the necessary time to build relationships with them.
But even with knowing all this and after 23 years under my belt, sometimes I fall short.