Coaches are encouraged and inspired by their mentors to develop a personal coaching philosophy which frames the structure and organization of their track and field program. While one’s philosophy may change with experience and life-long learning, the core of the coach’s philosophy should be constant as it speaks to the values and belief system of the coach.
As the coach of today takes on new challenges each day, the article below penned by Dr. Joe Vigil to the Adam State track and field athletes in the 80’s takes on a significant message. Dr. Vigil, USATF Legend Coach, currently coaches several of USATF’s elite athletes and continues to attest to the principles in the article. This article was recently circulated among the Bowerman TC athletes and coaches. This club led by Jerry Schumacher, the 2017 Nike and National Coach of Year for USATF, is producing world class times in the endurance events. Some things are timeless!
By Joe Vigil, with a Foreword By Terry Crawford, Director of Coaching, USATF
The combined Track & Field & Cross Country programs at Adams State College have been labeled as one of the most successful in the United States. There are probably many reasons for this acclaim, but one stands out more than any other; a strong belief in the philosophy that athletics are a true function of education. Those that become firm believers in this educational doctrine achieve high degrees of success.
Athletes that come to Adams State College must pay close attention to the qualities of mind that are needed for athletic success. Most athletes are ready to make an effort in a race, few are ready to carry their efforts through months or years of training and racing. One quickly realizes that these are not overnight sports. The enthusiasm on which such persistence is built, “the impassioned will”, is the possession of very few athletes. All that can be said is that it is necessary, and that it can be found but never imposed. Like Nurmi, Zatopek, Ryun, Viren and other great athletes: Each developed a degree of concentration and enjoyment, which was allied to a clear-sighted sense of purpose that reveals and creates the outstanding athletes that they were and are. These qualities also become inherent in the athletes at ASC. They achieve “All American Status”, or become members of many national championship teams.
The athlete must understand there can be no hurry. The fundamental condition of the body cannot be changed overnight, but it can be changed over a period of years, by intelligent, planned employment of all that is locked up in your personality. The athlete must listen, learn, persevere and perform. You must not turn back once you have started out. It is best described by the word decision, and it is not an easy thing to come by. It has to be part of the mind and character of an athlete.
If you decide there is to be no turning back you will have to be ready for many difficult experiences, simply because training and competing is at least very difficult and time-consuming. Many times, injuries delay progress; it does not stop it. Also, illness may prevent training; the training can be resumed under these conditions. Athletes don’t give up they work harder and dig deeper. One thing is certain, that the farther along the road you get, the more confident you become, and therefore, the more able to go on. For most athletes, there is one step back for every two forward. But this need not be so, the firmness of the forward movement will restrict the backward one.
In the beginning, our athletes do one thing; they take a long thorough look at what they wish to achieve, how they think it can be achieved and how long it will take them. The time that we spend surveying our ambitions is time well spent. We have to understand and study carefully the factors involved in long-term preparation.
Intelligent forethought is the foundation of success, and positive pride its creator; the thinking will map out a route and the pride will ensure progress along that route. Intelligence, seeking and using knowledge, is a necessary quality of an athlete. The more you know about training and competing, the better you will be as a competitor. The more self-respect you have, the more you will stay on the route that you have worked out. It certainly helps in all states of your training to have somebody to persuade and support you, but in the end you will train and race successfully because you want to, not because somebody else wants you to.
The strength of mind and character is perhaps best seen in those men and women who do essentially solitary deeds, or who carry out solitary responsibilities. The genuine athlete must have a strong spirit, vigorous and sane, not easily demoralized or defeated. The cultivation of this will power, or spirit is possible. It is capable of tremendous development under training and stimulus, or of near extinction under neglect. This development may not be purely mental. It is possible to train the nervous system, to nurture the reserves, to increase the body’s durability. It is also possible to deplete the nervous energy and produce a malnutrition of spirit as well as of the body. All defeats do this and unintelligent overexertion of the will can break down the physique, and in turn, demoralize the athlete; thereby he defeats himself.
It is necessary to accept the very severe limitations under which the animal body must work: need for sleep, rest and proper diet, capacity to function only within a narrow range of temperature, sensitivity to any heavy and repeated loads of chemical fatigue. He must disregard slight signs of discomfort, learn to judge when he has started to break himself down rather than build himself up. The history of the sport is littered with the bodies of men who believed that all they had to do was exert an even will in order to succeed. Their successes finally were not much greater than that of men who lacked the necessary will; their disappointments and frustrations were bigger.
Nature cannot be hurried. There are no crash programs in the preparation of an athlete, though the iron-willed athletes who lack intelligence think there are. Men like Viren, Moses, Ovett, Rono and their kind believed and lived by the notion that years of training was necessary for athletic greatness to emerge. Cultivate your physical resources; don’t try to thrash them into life, or you may end up destroying them.
The pride which has been mentioned as an integral part of the athlete’s character operates to make him, or her, want to carry through whatever plans have been conceived. It also operates to make athletes want to beat other athletes. This, after all, is what sports is all about. There is satisfaction in beating a watch, there is more satisfaction in beating other runners. While this kind of pride should not become an arrogance that sees defeated opponents as necessarily inferior people, it will be a pride which, though unobtrusive, remain nevertheless, stubborn and evident to its owner. Such lack of modesty will belong to the athlete’s nature. It need only function in training and competition, and even there, silently. The noisy athlete does well to remember that most of the world is not listening, and the interested public applauds the arrogant competitor who leaves his arrogance behind when he steps off the track.
Finally, the young athlete would be well advised to keep athletics in its place. Be passionately involved in the activity, exert yourself to succeed. Gain from competing the massive satisfaction that competing offers. Yet be a well-rounded, sensitive, literate human being. It is not the job of athletics to produce people who know, or care for nothing except athletics. Keep it in its place, behind your family, your concern for the general life of the world, and your education. There are athletes and coaches who prepare to act as if athletics were life; it is not. It is but a corner—and a rich one—of life, which will contribute immensely to the holistic development of the individual.