A college teammate and close friend posted an article last week about a new collegiate head cross country coach cutting six of the athletes (two weeks into the school year) that had been recruited from the previous coach. I felt resentment and anger bubble up to the surface immediately. One, the topic hit very close to home as after the coach that recruited me left, it was difficult for me to connect with the new coach. And two, the most important one is we are talking about 18 year olds. What?!
I am a HUGE advocate of athletics and firmly believe that whatever the outcome, huge growth will come from the experience. That being said- there are some big programs in which the egos eclipse the well being of the student athletes.
Eight years later, I am going to break the gag order (in the cliff note version) I was given when I decided to transfer colleges. I had met with my current coach, told him I was considering quitting, he was as kind as could be- super supportive (a side of him that was unfamiliar to me), that week I was approached by coaches from other programs prompting the idea to transfer schools rather than quit. I contacted my coach and asked for a release to contact other schools versus quit. I was denied. I was told at that time I was not going to be released from my eligibility and would not be granted a release to have contact other programs.
Strange--- I had had MANY conversations with this coach about how he believed it was in my best interest to throw in the towel. I left his office numerous times only to break down sobbing the moment I stepped out of his office, wondering how come he had no belief in me. NOW he was getting his way- I was ready to leave his program and couldn’t?!?
I met with him and the assistant coach a handful of times with no avail. My parents then came for a meeting with the coaching staff and a couple others to further pursue me being released from the program. After a looooong meeting I was released under two conditions- One) I could not speak to the media or disrespect his program (I wish I could say I was that important, however I am sure the media really could have cared less that I was leaving) and two) I could not transfer within the PAC 10.
My 21 year old self was depleted. I had fought for what I believed in for a long time, I was committed to running. What I wasn’t committed to was myself. I was not committed to the signals my body and mind were sending me. I fought a strong battle up front, I didn’t back down when the coaches asked me to, however little by little my spirit broke, my belief in myself shattered and my confidence was not accessible.
My hope by sharing this story is that we all broaden our perspective. We allow youth to develop into thriving adults with the support of those they trust. Are athletics important? Without a doubt of my mind. Are they worth the well being of a human? How is it that that question is even needing to be asked? Unfortunately, based on my experience, that of friends and reading that article- It is a fine line and a question that needs to be deliberated. Notice the pressure, notice how you, your children or athletes you coach are responding- whether it's at the pee wee little league level or that of a professional athlete. If one is cracking or having a challenging season, that certainly does not mean to throw in the towel. It does mean to tend to that fear the athlete is having, the relationships with the coaches, team members and a further exploration of what that root is for that individual. How do we begin to check the egos at the door and foster the development of athletes without compromising the person that they are?