The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

As a long time high school coach (some people say that I coached Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez), I have used that expression ad infinitum. It is usually in reference to a youngster who wants to run too many miles, or one who goes out too fast in a race in an attempt to beat a superior opponent. In recent years, the expression seems to fit more and more parents who want the best for their young athlete, but in reality end up creating a negative situation.

I’m specifically referring to parents hiring an outside coach for their young runner because they think that the coach at their child’s school is not pushing their child hard enough, or simply that their child is not progressing to the parent’s satisfaction under the school coach’s tutelage.

This seems to be prevalent in schools that have an affluent student body. Some parents believe that if you are not paying a significant amount of money for instruction that it cannot have any real value. Some also fall prey to a resume that would have them believe that the hired coach is superior to the school coach.

Granted, there are many schools in the area where coaches were selected by default (“Is there anyone in here who runs? O.K., you have the job.”). AT best these people are nice, and harmlessly inept, at worst they are damaging and dangerous.

However, there are some coaches in the area who are superior in knowledge, pedagogy, work ethic, and most importantly, CARING, about the well-being of their charges. These coaches are EASILY IDENTIFIABLE in the community.

When parents bring in a “supplemental” coach, at best it creates confusion, and at worst, a disaster. Visualize two doctors, independent of each other, treating and prescribing for a patient. Visualize two pharmacists, independent of each other, filling prescriptions for the patient. Visualize two engineers, independent of each other, working on the same bridge. It cannot work, to say nothing of being an insult to the team coach, and potential disruption to the team morale (and TEAM is the most important).

Middle and high school runners need to be “eased” into their running careers. They need to be taught proper habits (war-up and cool-down, etc.). They need to be taught a proper appreciation of the history of the sport. They need to learn the basics of the principles of training. And, most importantly, they need to be trained by ONE person. To reiterate: they competent (superior?) coaches in the area are EASILY IDENTIFIABLE!

Oftentimes, the “supplemental” coaches can indeed create a leap in performance. Anyone can throw a bunch of intervals at an athlete, and show a quick spike in performance. Usually this is akin to glugging one of those caffeine-laced energy drinks available today, with the resultant “spike,” and the subsequent “crash.”

The (competent) school coach has a long term plan. There is no “quick fix,” or immediate gratification in the sport of running. The (competent) school coach is cognizant of all the peripheral influences of an adolescent athlete. For example, the female triad, academic load, high school “romances,” anticipation of upcoming homecoming activities, team rivalries/jealousies, etc. And the coach is able to factor in these environmental influences into the plan. The “supplemental” coach is not usually privy to all of the influences on the adolescent mind and emotions (hormones?).

Parents, of course, are the ultimate “deciders” of what is best for their child, and any school coach would have to defer to the wishes of the parent. However, it would probably (and should probably) preclude that child’s participation on the school team.

The competent (and caring) coach would know full well the potential disaster of “too many cooks stirring the broth,” and would not want to endanger the child. The “supplemental” coach SHOULD know of all the potential negatives, and if legitimate, should decline to be the extra “cook.” The fact that they do not, indicates an agenda NOT in the best interests of all concerned.

They won’t starve, as there are plenty of adult runners for them to ply their trade on that are not members of any school team. Then again, these “supplemental” coaches, if pure in their stated intentions of helping young people, could easily obtain an adjunct position at many of the high schools in the area. After their BACKGROUND CHECKS, DRUG TESTS, CPR TRAINING, AND PAYING OF THE NUMEROUS FEES, many schools would be ecstatic to have them.

They could proceed to recruit (within the school, of course) athletes, create training plans for a multitude of youngsters with widely varying abilities, process the physicals and parent permission forms, check academic eligibility, find an appropriate course to stage a meet on, recruit dozens of volunteers to help at the meets they host, create a schedule, raise money, issue and collect uniforms, design team t-shirts, beg for time in the weight room, arrange for transportation and hotel rooms for overnight trips, and, of course, collect those pricey sums doled out by their athletic departments for their efforts (25, may 50 cents per hour?). But then again, we know that these “supplemental” coaches are just in it for the kids, just like the school coaches.

The road to hell was paved in good intentions!

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