Coaches’ Blog

Ideas, ideals, and dealings from Tufts Coaches

18. (part 11)

Posted by on Saturday, June 27th, 2015

I thought about making this post an announcement about me deciding not to blog anymore for the foreseeable future.  Obviously this blog has been dormant for some time now.  I’ve consciously prioritized coaching and fathering over this so I’ve had little regrets.  However, I mentioned this to my wife and she metaphorically slapped me in the face with the look she gave me.  Very few words had to accompany the look she gave me.

Let me translate her look.  Ultimately, 99% of the decisions I make in this world are merely me trying to be the person that I want Echo and Tenacious to grow up to be.  My wife’s look very succinctly reminded me of this.  What would I say if Echo set out on a task and tapped out in the middle? Enough said.

So on to one Curtis Antonius Yancy III.

If you asked, and we both gave you an honest answer, Curtis and I would admit that neither of us actually expected him to ever suit up for Tufts Track and Field.  Fast forward all these years and Curtis has been an athlete, a school record holder, a captain, a national competitor and a coach for the program.  I’d say both our expectations were exceeded.

Why didn’t we expect Curtis to throw for Tufts?  Curtis came to Tufts to play football.  I didn’t recruit him.  One of the FB coaches gave me his email and I reached out.  This is entirety of what I got back:

“My best marks so far are actually 161.5 and 49.5. I am hoping for academics to go well for me so that I can continue throwing. Does Tufts do all of the throwing events?”

Verbatim.  No joke.  There wasn’t a heading like “Coach Barron” or even a signature.  And the PR’s weren’t even in the metric or imperial system.

After a few more odd exchanges, Curtis started using his Tufts email account and I get this gem.

“hey it’s Curtis. I placed 4th in discus last weekend with a throw of 157’8.”

Again, the full email and a full quote.  Hence the quotations.  What did I learn about Curtis?  First, he was a man who couldn’t be constrained by things like capital letters.  Capitals be damned.  Secondly, he’d mastered the imperial systems of weights and measures in a matter of weeks.  Impressive.

Over the next five years, I would continue to be impressed by Curtis, but for very different reasons.  Curtis had a fire, an infectious fire.  Not only did this drive fuel him to set school records and qualify for multiple national championships, but it motivated and inspired the entire team.

You’d feel he was approachable and hold you accountable all at the same time.  An underappreciated combination for a leader to possess.  He would accept nothing but his best and the best of those around him.  He helped us build a throws program that would take Tufts to its first outright NESCAC title in 22 years.

Indirectly, Curtis’ infectiousness brought us walk-ons Andrew Figueroa, Youssef Maguid, and Adam Aronson.  I’d add Matt Johnson to the list too, but I’m not 100% sure if that would be true.  Regardless, all four qualified for the New England Championships and beyond in 2013.

Read into that a bit.   First, Curtis cared enough about the program to find ways to make it stronger that go beyond his own PRs.  Secondly, he helped create a culture that made people want to come…and stay.

2013 NESCACs.  Home turf.  Anyone who knows will tell you that NESCACs isn’t just a marathon, it’s a marathon ride on a rollercoaster with all it’s ups and downs and twists and turns.  We took a major hit in the 10k that day.  Both Williams and Bates outperformed their seeds and we got out of the blocks with a stumble.

We were a different team back then.  We hadn’t truly evolved to take a punch and keep coming.  But we did that day.  Dejected, the majority of the team made their way over to the hammer circle where we were also underperforming.  But with final throws of trials, we put our third and fourth into finals.  It was the shot in the arm that the team needed.  Two of those would be walk ons Andre Figueroa and Adam Aronson.  Yancy would grab 3rd. Just like he would in the shot and discus that day.  A monster 18 points.

In the end, I watched Curtis grow up.  He went from being someone I wouldn’t trust with sending a responsible email to someone that I’d hand over the entire squad to if needed.  He was a gamer and a great role model for those around him.  He helped pilot in a new era in the program where each individual was willing to sacrifice a bit more for the good of the team.

I’d like to thank Curtis for coming out for day 1, oh so many days ago, but he doesn’t deserve that recognition.   I’d should thank my HS and college coaches for giving me the ability to dunk with ease.  That gave us Alex Gresham and, ultimately, it was Alex who dragged Curtis to his first day of track practice. (Inside joke, sorry)

That being said, I do thank Curtis for his endless dedication.  Especially, his jovial inanity that constantly reminds us not to take it too seriously and to enjoy the process.  His absolute refusal to let me power clean more than him.  His strong will and kind heart.  Thanks for knowing exactly when to be strong and rigid and when to kick back and play.  You’ll be a great father and role model some day because of that.  Thanks for everything Curtis.

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The one I never thought I’d post.

Posted by on Monday, November 24th, 2014

Well, I wrote this entry more than 7 months ago as a form of journaling or self-therapy.  I never thought I’d post it.  But it’s interesting how time can change your perspective.  With the start of another T&F season on the horizon it feels somewhat appropriate to rehash this for myself.  It felt important to revisit it.  And now I feel more comfortable putting it out there.

Well, it’s been a few months since I’ve last written anything.  Admittedly, I just haven’t had the words.  I’ve reflected on so many things, but nothing came out on paper.  And I never wanted to force it.  I know I’ll need to churn out 3 entries a week to honor last year, but so be it.

And then today happened.  First, I met some parents at the MIT Sean Collier Invitational for the first time and they commented on my blog.  (I guess you’re not the only one who reads this, Mom.)  And then we had an athlete get injured.  I don’t know how the two are related, but I felt the need to write again.

I don’t know if I have the words to describe what an injury feels like to a coach.  I don’t know if they even exist.  But I can say that I realized that this blog helps me purge the swirling hurricane in my stomach that festers when it happens.

It makes me feel small.  Powerless.  It makes me feel like a parent.  Any parent who tells you that they’re fully in control of a situation is lying to you, whether they know it or not.  You don’t control people.  It can’t be done.  We work with probabilities.  We take into account every possible variable and make the best decision we can.  And then we hope.  That’s all we can do.  Hope.

I wonder if mother birds feel anxious when they push their babies out of the nest?  Has one ever not flown?  Do they hope that each one flies?

So much of this profession is putting others in harms way.   But only by doing that do we put ourselves on the path to achieving our goals.  If we risk nothing, then what do we gain.

But that still doesn’t squelch the knots in my stomach.  Externally, I need to be the rock that any listing athlete would need.  The rock that I needed as an athlete.  What does this mean?  When will I be better? How long will it take?  Answers.  Answers.  Answers.  I need answers.

That’s all you want when you’re an athlete in that situation.  I remember walking the terrace of a hotel in San Diego after I injured myself in practice asking so many questions, with thoughts swirling in my head.  I never got any answers, but that didn’t stop me from asking the questions.  Because, really, there are no answers.  Only time.  You wait.  You wait and see.  You sit and you wait.  It’s agonizing.

The absolute worst thing you can do to a competitor is to tell him that he can’t compete.  Why do you think that every professional athlete cannot stay retired for more than a month.  We’re competitors.  We’re addicted to competing.

So now, I’m the coach.  I’m on the other side of the equation and it’s still tough.  It’s still filled with questions and waiting.  I mean no disrespect when I say this, but if you’re a recruit or an athlete reading this, you’ll never get it.  You can’t.  If you’re a parent, you know it in a heartbeat.

It’s when you care about another more than you really care about yourself.  Truly.  When you’d be willing to take on their pain, and more, if it meant that they wouldn’t have to feel it.  But it doesn’t work that way.  In the end we’re all made by the pain and struggles that life lays before us.  They callous us.  Or they break us.  One or the other.

I guess this athlete and I are both being calloused by different pains.  His physical pain that brings emotional challenges, my emotional pain brings physical discomfort.  But, in my case, I can never be calloused by this.  He’ll come out of this stonger.  And I need to fight to not be changed by this.  And that’s what leads me to the six-million-dollar question.  Why coach?

In order to be a great coach, I need to never be hardened by this experience.  The moment I do, I stop caring about my athletes as people, as individuals.  They’re relegated to mere PRs or seeds.  I never want that.  So, I sentence myself to a lifetime of vivid gut-wrenching, powerlessness.  And force myself to conceal it so well that I exude the confidence and control that every athlete needs.

Sometimes I wonder if the hurricane can ever break the rock.

As an athlete, I used to whisper to myself “power and speed” repeatedly as I backed myself into my blocks.  The mantra keep me calm amidst the chaos that was about to ensue and kept me focused on the basic building blocks of what I needed to do.

Power and speed. Speed and power. Power and speed. Speed and power.

I’m sure more than a few competitors thought they were racing against a mumbling psychopath.  Now, I take a deep breath and remind myself that when life slams a door in your face, it opens a window.  It lets me be the rock that I need to be.

 Doors and windows.  Windows and doors. 


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18. (part 10)

Posted by on Friday, October 24th, 2014

As a coach, I don’t know whether to call myself a doubter or a planner.  One definitely has a more negative connotation than the other.  Regardless, I’m the type of person who has back-up-plans for his back-up-plans.  There’s some quote about “best laid plans of mice and men” that would fit here, but I never remember the 2nd half.  Just that they never play out the way you expect.

Somehow Matt Rand is the personification of this fact while, simultaneously, embodying the complete opposite.  Let’s step into the Wayback Machine so I can explain.

Twinbrook, ME circa 2009 – Matt’s first XC regional championships.  4.5 miles into the race Matt is sitting All Region just as we drew it up.  But Matt had battled sickness in the 2 weeks that separated NESCACs and NE’s. Sadly, it would eventually jump up and bite him.  Matt did the dance that every distance athlete never wants to experience.  Matt fought for each place.  Running, walking, staggering, crawling – he was going to get to the line.  Not how we drew it up.  In the time it took me to get to the hospital, he’d already took 4L of fluids.  That’s not how we wrote it up.  But it did give a glimpse into the insane grit and drive of Matt Rand.

Ellis Oval, MA circa 2010 – Matt’s first NESCAC Championships and first 10k – Two laps into the race, Matt got flat tired and lost his shoe.  For Matt, it’s no big deal.  It was a team meet and I’m confident that the thought of stepping off the track never entered his mind.  23 laps later, Matt was All NESCAC in the first 10k of his life.  Luckily it was the only one he had to run with 1 shoe.

What does this have to do with me being a doubter?  Everything.  Matt’s a rock.  In more ways than one.  But as it relates to me as a coach, in 14 year’s I’ve never had an athlete give me the comfort and confidence that Matt Rand gave me.  You’d likely have to ask my wife, but there is no trait or skill that I value and admire more than this.

As a coach…actually…as a husband, father, friend, and coach, I strive to be the rock.  My goal is to be the constant, confident, never wavering foundation that people can branch out from.  The more stable I am, the more comfortable they are to take chances knowing I’ll always be there.

Well, on Saturday mornings for three years, Matt Rand was our rock.  He was the dependable #1 anchored our program and gave us all the quiet confidence to attack a day.  Matt isn’t one to inspire you with words.  In fact, Matt isn’t even one to “use” words.  But actions, now your talking Matt’s language.

Day after day, week after week, season after season, Matt acted.  With the basketball shorts hanging below his knees, he’s head out for a quiet training run.  Silently he’d hit each split asked of him in workouts.  Saturdays were no different than Sunday through Friday.  Just another day at the job. Time to do work.

To Matt Rand, I not only say Thank You, but I silently bow my head.  It takes a lot to ease my doubts.  A lot.  Thank you for your commitment, your sacrifice, and the loyalty you brought to your teammates every day for four years.  Thank you for the quiet words you spoke to teammates instilling confidence as they attacked the unknown.  Thank you for never settling and always pushing the program to be its very best.  And thank you for proving that I’m not the most stoic man in the world.

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18. (part 9)

Posted by on Monday, September 1st, 2014

Two things you’re about to learn about me.

1. I challenge myself and abhor complacency.

2. I finish what I start.

Sometimes it can take me a while, but I finish it.  Life is about prioritizing things on the fly.  (Originally that sentence said “Being a head coach is about prioritizing.” but that would be pretty conceited.  All of us deal with juggling responsibilities.  Everyone.  I’m not special.)

Take this kitchen island for example.  My wife bought it.  Beforehand, she asked me “It’s unfinished, will you be able to stain and seal it?”  Me: “Of course, honey.  No problem.”  3½ years and two apartments later it finally got finished.  Actually, I think she was my girlfriend when she bought it and my wife when I finished it.  Lucky me.

Three years in the making.

Here’s my point.  Finishing that island kept getting cycled to the back burner.  Life happened.  Bigger fires kept creeping up…another conversation, another project, another meet.  It might have taken a while, but that island finally found it’s way back to the front burner.

Just like this next blog entry.  At the start of last year, this series sat firmly on my front burner.  I committed myself to a big project.  Then a couple things happened…

Decided to put defending our NESCAC title on the front burner.

Then this found its way to the front burner…and, admittedly, won’t ever leave it.

But we’re back.  Finishing what I started.

Fire.  Have you ever started one?  It’s a process and things change a lot from start to finish.  Things start off pretty calm.  Maybe a few logs, a little paper, a match just sitting there.  Then a couple of sparks turns grow and you have a raging fire.  It’ll completely change a room or a campsite.  Kyle Marks was Fire.

We’d tossed a few emails back and forth.  Nothing too special.  He came for an overnight.  Nothing too special.  Admittedly, I thought he wasn’t connecting with Tufts because he was so stoic and quiet.  I expected a pretty tacit car ride back to the airport after his recruit visit.  Needless to say, I was pleasantly shocked when his response to “How was your trip?” was “I had a great time.  I just want to talk to my parents, but I’d like to apply early decision.”

For Kyle and TUXC that visit was kindling.  And trust me when I say this, it didn’t take long to stoke the flames.  Sure, I could talk about NESCAC Rookie of the Year for XC.  I could talk about him telling me we would win NESCACs at his freshman Break Up Dinner.  Or how he monopolized my office computer to watch the Premiere League.  But that doesn’t epitomize Kyle.  That just a glimmer.  Kyle Marks is the final 400m of the 2010 NESCAC Championship 5k.

Dan Murner – Senior – All American – sub30 10k

Jesse Faller – Senior – All American – 8th at XC NCAAs that year.

Edgar Kosgey – Senior – All American – 4th at XC NCAAs that year.

Kyle Marks – Freshman – ????

NESCACs is a TEAM meet.  Kyle is a TEAM racer.  Home track, running for something bigger than himself.  Looking back, it was a special recipe.  He was a scrawny, undersized freshman in a battle with multiple time All American seniors.  He honestly didn’t care.  For his team, Kyle always had extra levels of pain tolerance to tap into.

Kosgey statistically a better miler, a better 5k runner, a better 8k runner.  Two strides in front of Kyle on the back stretch.  Most FR would sit and be excited about the PR and 4th place finish at their first NESCAC meet.  But Kyle always cast himself as Sampson.  And there was no giant that he wouldn’t take a swing at.  Marks was a fiery racer who didn’t care who you were or how big a lead you built.  It didn’t matter what you’d done in your past, if you toed the line against Kyle, you better bring your best that day.

He started to role on Edgar.  Because every point mattered.  I’d love to sit here and tell you that the battled to the finish and Kyle outleaned him at the line, but that isn’t what happened.  In the final stretch Edgar recovered and ended up ousting Kyle by less than a second.

But it was symbolic.  It was a spark.  A Jumbo freshman not afraid to push the Williams senior All American.  It was a spark that got stoked and grew.  It became infectious.  That single move and every passionate race that followed turned hope into conviction.  Turned want into will.  Turned 2nd into 1st.

I really can’t thank Kyle Marks enough.  He found a home at Tufts.  He was a great teammate and our fire for 4 years.  He never stopped impressing me.  As a freshman he told me that every time he put on the uniform he raced to earn it.  Like every race was another try-out.  Sometimes I wonder if that was one of the biggest reasons we excelled as athlete and coach.  His repulsion of complacency equaled my own.  Thanks for your sacrifice, dedication, drive, grit, and emotion.  Thanks for tapping into those extra levels and racing for the T.

Coaches are motivated by athletes just as much, if not more, than the opposite. Four years of Fire did a lot for me as a coach and mentor. Thanks Kyle.

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Inside NESCACs (part 2)

Posted by on Sunday, April 27th, 2014

On top of all that, there are countless stories that the results just don’t do justice. You can’t look at the final results expecting to get the full experience. If you want to relive the meet, you have to go to the TFRRS list and look deep into the field series. You have to talk to some of the people who watched the races play out.
Here’s a little behind-the-scenes of what went down (from my vantage point)…I’m going to try to limit myself to what the final results won’t tell you.

Men’s Jav – For example, I’m not going to talk about Atticus Swett’s 4m PR, you can see that. More so, it’s Alex Karys who looked rough for most of the morning. F, F to open, including a toss that sent the jav careening into the light tower. It wasn’t pretty.  (I think they made a “safety around the javelin” announcement because of Karys)  But then he puts out a 3rd throw PR to grab the last spot to finals. And then again on his final throw, he unleashes a 3m PR and jumps into 7th place. (only a 1 point swing because he bumped Haneberg from 8th to 9th)

10k – Meanwhile, Greg Hardy likely PR’d in the 200m as he closed out his 10k to grab 8th place by 2/10ths of a second. Not hyperbolic here, he may have actually PR’d. (1 point swing)

Long Jump – Going into the final round, Ozzie and Ned sat in 5th and 9th respectively with Midd jumpers in 4th and 6th in front of them. The pair rose up, put together their best of the day and moved to 4th and 6th pushing Midd to 5th and 7th. It was a 6-point swing in the meet in less than 5 minutes.

100m – Blake Coolidge came to Tufts to play baseball. But more importantly he came to Tufts to be a varsity athlete. When JV baseball came calling, Blake decided to give track a try. 1 season of indoor in HS under his belt, he’s only been on the team for a few weeks. But a few weeks was enough to put up an 11.15 in the trials and grab 5th overall.

Pole Vault – Where to start? Rothaus tore his pec a year ago. I didn’t know if he’d vault again. Possenti hadn’t cleared a bar all spring, rolled his ankle on Tuesday in what was his best practice, and ended up a wild card into the meet. Sutherland, Rothaus, and Stallman were all coming off NH’s from the 2013 NESCAC Championships. What do they do? They make 1st attempts…all day. The vault was moved inside due to rainy weather. As a result, so were all the non-competing athletes staying warm and dry. It’s safe to say that the PVers indirectly fueled the performances outdoors by keeping the team engaged and focused with their performances. Nothing like 4 season bests (3 PRs) at the NESCAC Championships to fuel the fire.  Don’t believe me, take a look.  (my favorite part is the calm before the make)

Triple Jump – FR, Jarad Asselin followed in his seniors’ footsteps. Going into the final round, Asselin sat in 5th with Midd jumpers in 4th and 8th. Already having posted an outdoor PR in the trials, Asselin added another 25cm with his final attempt moving up to 3rd overall. Another 3-point swing in the final round of a horizontal. The Tufts horizontal jumpers created a 9-point swing in the meet with their final attempts alone.

200m – As of Thursday at 5:00pm, the plan was to not race Goins in the 200m to keep him fresher for the 4×4. But looking at winds and performances, he was a last minute add. Then we just had to hope that scratches moved Coolidge up to the 2nd heat as well. In familiar Tufts fashion, the pair went 1-2 in the unseeded heat and finished 5th and 7th overall. What was supposed to be a 0 became a 6 in a matter of 22 seconds.

5k – And then the 5k – admittedly my favorite stories of the day. So many subplots. A freshman leading the charge. Two captains doubling back. And the kicker (quite literally, the kicker) Brian McLaughlin. O’Connor went with the leaders from the gun, as was the plan. He executed a fantastic race and took down the FR record with his 14:56. Norton, may have had the race of the meet coming back from his 1st place 1500m performance to PR, finish 3rd and run 14:54. But my favorite part of the entire day is the back and forth between McLaughlin and Wallis that ensued over the final 3k of the race.

McLaughlin has struggled with the middle portions of 5k’s of late. He’d look smooth for the first mile, struggle, fall back, and then unleash a thunderous kick like his 27 second last 200m at MIT the week before. Nothing was any different at NESCACs, except this time he had his captain bringing up his rear. Wallis, fatigued from his 9:10 in the steeplechase, held firm on McLaughlin’s heels. As McLaughlin started to fall back from the pack, a few choice words from Wallis would ensue a surge back into position. This cycle would repeat 4-5 times over the next 2k. Brian up in scoring position, fall back, Wallis right there to push him up. And the kick was still there in the end. McLaughlin nabbed an emotional 8th place for the jumbos as Norton, McLaughlin, and Wallis were able to kick down the top Midd 5ker in the final 800m.

On to the next one.

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Inside NESCACs (part 1)

Posted by on Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Always important to start NESCACs off in the right mindset.  You’re about to settle down into an 11-hour marathon, so you better know what you’ve signed on for.  With a little help from our alums, the guys had a little pick-me-up to go with their morning breakfast.  Maybe this will put you in the right mindset for this blog.  And in a meet that came down to hundredths and centimeters, I’m really glad we had it.

Now how close was the 2014 NESCAC Championships? Honestly, most people who were there don’t even realize it. Why don’t we enter the dangerous world of hypotheticals? Granted this hypothetical doesn’t ask you to stray too far from reality.

Let’s say for example that every single athlete at the 2014 NESCAC Championships had the exact same performance they just had. I’ve got you so far. Except in this reality, clean jumps and 2nd throws shake out differently. In that reality, Tufts only has a 2-point lead on Midd going into the 4×8, not a 10.4-point lead. Game on.

In my 17 NESCAC Championships, I have never witnessed a meet like this one. It was a knockdown, drag-out brawl. Tufts and Middlebury exchanged blows throughout the entire day without backing down. At times, I felt like I was watching the insane scene in Rocky IV when Drago and Rocky are just wailing on each other making no attempt to even feign defense. Blow for blow, NESCACs became a game of chicken waiting to see who blinked first.

As a Middlebury alum, I can easily say that I’m proud to be a Panther. But as the Tufts coach, I can’t wait to go to battle with these guys again.  The NESCAC Championships is a marathon.  Athletes are up at 6am and the final event doesn’t end until around 6pm.  It challenges you physically, psychologically, and emotionally. And I’ve yet to see two teams stay so engaged and in-the-present moment as these two.

Admittedly, I thought we could hit Midd early and get them discouraged. We had strength up front with the JT, SP, HT, and steeple. We did just that.  3 scorers in the jav (4 in finals), 2 scorers in the 10k, a win (plus 5th) in the SP and a runner up in the steeple.  We were up 60 to 26 before the 4×1, but Midd decided to hang in there. They had taken some of our best blows and looked at us and said, “our turn”.  Good thing our defense was on yesterday.  Their first swing was the 4×1, but we shook off that blow with Francis Goins stepping in for Graham on the anchor.  They kept coming.

They threw a barrage of haymakers at us with the 1500, 110h, 400m, 100m.  Even more if you were able to process the HJ going on simultaneously.  We defended it  and deflected it well.  Jamie kept the full force of their 1500m at bay with his win.  Francis and Woody marginalized their punch in the 400m.  And Blake did the same in the 100m.   Then we landed our own blow with the 800m and PV.  But even with our best defense, they chipped away.   Eventually, things were nearly knotted up going into the 200m.

4 minutes later, I gave myself a naive moment of comfort when Francis and Blake scored in the 200m.  Even though Midd came out positive in the 200m, I had a great deal of faith in our 5k and discus crews.  They were strong events for us and I knew we could cover the margin.  I failed to calculate just how much Midd wanted it though.  I walked to the discus circle where I was told that the Midd thrower (seeded 9th) opened with a huge PR and was sitting in 2nd.  Game on.  I might have thought we were in the driver’s seat, but Midd wasn’t about to let it go without a fight.  Atticus and Brian made their own throws and we came out +7 in the discus.

At this point it was just two cold, tired, banged up teams refusing to go down. Even with the 12-hours in the cold, driving rain, I’m happy that I was able to be a part of it.  Most of the time, college men are seen as children. Young, sophomoric boys living in a protected bubble. But this Saturday, I witnessed two groups of men carrying themselves with dignity, respect, and grit that few have seen. They took the best that each had to offer, stayed on their feet and kept their legs churning.

I still don’t think either team blinked.  Both squads still had plenty of fight left in them, but there were simply no more contests left to be had.  Tufts got in the last punch before the bell.

And I can’t wait for the rematch.

The victory is only as sweet as the competition is good.

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BU Seeds

Posted by on Sunday, February 9th, 2014

That time of year again. BU seeds. What to do? What to do? This has to be one of the biggest problems with our sport. It’s politics wrapped up in hopeful optimism. Whether you see it as lying or confidence in your athlete, it’s the same thing. It’s a seed time that they’ve likely never run before. But where does optimism stop and realism begin.

Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I haven’t talked to anyone who does. But I do believe in transparency. So here are my seeds from last weekends BU Valentines Classic. I stand by them. Was I accurate 100% of the time, no way. But I stand by them.

Name – Seed Time / Actual Time (Differential from Seed Place to Actual Place)
+5 = seeded at 10th but finished 5th

Graham Beutler – 21.65 / 21.91 (+5)
Francis Goins – 22.45 / 22.59 (+16)
Alex Kasemir – 22.95 / 23.36 (-8)
Andrew Osborne – 22.90 / 23.65 (-51)
Max Levitin – 23.60 / 23.72 (+22)
Jacob Isaacson – 23.75 / 24.28 (+6)

Graham Beutler – 47.50 / 48.31 (+3)
Francis Goins – 49.00 / 49.04 (+18)
Alex Kasemir – 49.40 / 50.14 (-4)
Nick Usoff – 50.50 / 50.75 (+22)
Woody Butler – 50.45 /51.03 (+9)
Max Levitin – 51.70 / 52.44 (+14)
Henry Zhou – 51.20 / 52.81 (-11)
Ben Sack – 52.90 / 54.01 (+10)
Fred Cobb – 53.50 / 54.18 (+15)

David Rose – 1:10 / 1:09.65 (+13)
Emery Reifsnyder – 1:08 / 1:11.73 (-9)

Veer Bhalla – 2:27.50 / 2:29.40 (-9)
Alex Apostolides – 2:29 / 2:31.24 (–)
Bobby McShane – 2:29 / 2:33.32 (-21)

Jamie Norton – 4:04.5 / 4:06.38 (+17)
Ben Wallis – 4:14 / 4:18.66 (-9)
James Traester – 4:18 / 4:21.12 (–)
Marshall Pagano – 4:19 / 4:21.22 (+17)
Sam Garfield – 4:22 / 4:21.50 (+37)
Luke O’Connor – 4:15 / 4:22.58 (-33)
Greg Hardy – 4:30 / 4:30.32 (+28)
Nick Adams – 4:28 / 4:32.49 (+9)
Joe Poupard – 4:29 / 4:33.67 (+6)
Brian McLaughlin – 4:22 / 4:35.63 (-85)
Michael Caughron – 4:39 / 4:44.55 (+15)
Joe St. Pierre – 4:25 / 4:48.24 (-73)

Henry Zhou – 9.10 / 9.11 (+11)

Was I perfect? No. Did a few athletes have off days? Yes. We all do. If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably make the same seeds. I stand by my choices and I’m happy to talk about them with anyone.

I don’t envy the BU coaches for their challenge of vetting the seeds each year. It is truly an art form rather than a science. My biggest “over-seed” was possibly Jamie Norton in the mile. On paper, he had a 4:10 PR, but I felt he was in 4:06 shape. I seeded him at 4:04.5 so he’d get in that race. Given his PR, his seed was changed to 4:08, justifiably so. As follows is the email exchange between meet management and myself inquiring about the bump. I would have been fine staying where we were put because it was still 2 seconds faster than our PR. We technically hadn’t earned anything better. You race your heat, no matter what.

Me: “…I understand it is brutally hard vetting all the entries for your meets. Thank you for the time that you put in. I understand moving our miler (Jamie Norton) down to 4:08. He is in 4:06 shape but I realize it’s an art, not a science… No need to reply. I’ll be at the track both Fri and Sat. If you get the chance, it would be great to hear why they got bumped.

BU: “…it is SO hard to weed through the layers of mis-representation and overblown seed times to actually compile the fields according to merit. There are just not enough hours in the day. We take a stab at it (I did for approximately 12 hours straight) and do the best we can, but I admit that the system is flawed. Going forward, I would love to find some process by which we could reduce mis-seeding… As regards to Jamie, I will tell you that I seeded him at 4:08 in part because I believe you when you say he’s ready to run under 4:10, but I also had to look at recent results – and his marks were not overwhelming there. You know a lot more about him than I, so you can judge better, but from my perspective, I have to go by recent results to some degree in order to be fair to others who have run well recently. There are a lot of very good milers in the fields… I’ll bump Jamie up a few spots, which will probably get him one heat higher up – which I doubt will be won slower than 4:07.”

Me: “Thanks for taking the time to respond. Definitely not needed. It’s a pain enough to host our meets, I can’t imagine what you go thru. Thanks for the help with Jaime. We won’t disappoint.”

The BU coaches have a tough job. They do an amazing job hosting such huge invitationals where our athletes get a chance to race against some great competition. I thank them for their correspondence, which was a very professional courtesy as it was not necessary. Again, I stand by my seeds and my belief in my athletes’ potential. (As we all do).

The hard part is knowing when blind faith needs to be replaced with realistic seeding.

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18. (part 8)

Posted by on Saturday, January 25th, 2014

And…we’re back.

Apologies for the delay.  But I’ll bring you up to speed.  XC Nationals became the holidays which became Echo’s pneumonia which became Early Return.  That brings us to now.  Gearing up for the Bowdoin Invite and the first (of many) trips across town to BU.  Same as last year, same as the year before that.

But what’s new this year is the guy standing on the back stretch of BU clad in purple and black instead of brown and blue.  I’ve jokingly called him “traitor” at least a dozen times.  But it didn’t take Luke Maher long to add the titles of adversary and colleague to his resume where I’m concerned.  He’s going to be a great asset to Amherst College this year and any program that’s lucky enough to have him after that.

In four years at Tufts, Luke never broke a record and he never suited up at Nationals, but he did something indescribably more valuable as a person and a coach.  He stood up.  Every time.

As athletes, we all get knocked down.  But there’s getting knocked down and then there’s getting knocked down.  Luke went through both.  Off days, rough patches, tough injuries, Luke would weather the storm.  And he’d always manage to be a supportive teammate along the way.  Even after his toughest races, he’d muster the time, energy, and empathy to council a teammate who also had a challenging day.

In hindsight, it was probably all just training.  Because life has this strange way of preparing us for what comes ahead.  In this case, none of us knew what lay on the horizon.  It definitely hit me out of the blue.  Granted, it is something that we’ll all go through at some point in our lives – the long wait at the hospital.  Lights on 24/7, constant beeps and movement, pretending that you can sleep in two uncomfortable chairs pushed together, aimless walks, and the unwavering, yet strained, optimism.

Luke was Luke.  A rock externally.  Funny Instagram posts and a jovial personality.  Now I know that I’ve said this 1000 times in a 1000 different ways, the idea that you only see a man’s true nature when life has him backed into a corner.  But I think this might be the 1st time I’ve said this, I have the utmost trust and respect of Luke Maher and I will always have an opening on my staff for him.  Always.  He can mentor any of my athletes, or any of my children, anytime, anywhere.

I know Luke.  I know this because I’ve seen him at his lowest.  I’ve seen him get knocked down so hard that you don’t simply stand up.  You have to rise to one knee, take a deep breath, gather yourself, and stand up knowing full well that life is going to knock you down again.  But the alternative is unacceptable.  I dream that I can give my children a fraction of the resilience that I’ve witnessed in Luke Maher.  I’m a stronger, more patient person for having crossed paths with Luke.  And most people can say that.

Luke now embarks on the most daunting challenge he’s undertaken as of yet.  He’s going to try to council others through their own rough patches.  To help them, help themselves.  He has to motivate them to take risks, just to get knocked down.  And then he’s going to reach out a hand to help them stand up each time.  As a coach, Luke is infinitely more prepared than someone who just suited up at a pesky National Championship.

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18. (part 7)

Posted by on Thursday, October 24th, 2013

It hangs above my desk in my own handwriting.  “You have to earn the respect you are given.”  It’s my constant reminder of the sheer magnitude of my position.  My father who instilled in me the idea that you can spend 20 years building trust and destroy it in 20 seconds.  The moment you stop earning it, it’s gone.  And that’s unacceptable to me as a coach.

Over the past decade, I’ve found that some athletes will walk in the door and just hand me their athletic dreams – no questions asked.  On the other hand, others need me to earn their trust.  I have to prove myself.  I have to prove that I care about them and that I have the knowledge to help them achieve their goals.  Honestly, I’ve never understood why some coaches are insulted by the latter.  Why they’re annoyed by the fact that they have to reprove themselves annually.  Because you should feel like you have to do it daily.

Here’s a small admission, as an athlete, I’m one of the latter.  I’m not quick to trust and I’m even slower to open up.  If something is important to me, I’m not going to simply hand it off to an unproven commodity.  I mean no disrespect, it just feels reckless.  And as a coach who was a hurdler who put in charge of a top tier distance program, I know the feeling of having 30+ athletes look up at me and have their faces say “Your move. Prove to us you can do this.  Prove to us we can trust you. ”

Trust.  Without it, everything I do here is meaningless.  It presence solidifies great teams and it’s absence tears apart weak ones.  And it’s the reason why Vinnie Lee’s senior year was so meaningful to me.  And why he was a major catalyst for everything we accomplished last year.

Just as I did to my coach, Vinnie needed me to earn his trust.  He had plans.  He was dedicated and he had a scary work ethic.  I wasn’t insulted.  It’s human nature.  It’s my nature.  And so I set out to earn his trust and respect.

Vinnie’s committed.  He has an intensity and vigor with which he attacks every aspect of his life.  Throughout his time at Tufts, I watched him become a 24-7 athlete.  His training and growth was considered in every decision and choice that he made both on and off the track.  Nutrition, sleep, work, and recovery became a regimen to Vinnie.  Fuel, work, recover, rinse, repeat.

And that intensity and focus with which he approached his training, only magnified when he put on a uniform.  An eight-lane track would narrow to one lane.  His drive, his acceleration, his float, his finish was all that existed.  And with the race run, the real work would begin.  Where to improve?  What could be better?  Where were the weaknesses?  Vinnie would set out to make himself bigger, faster, stronger.

And so, how did such an individual like Vinnie help catalyze the single most memorable track meet of my life.  He did it in two ways.  He galvanized our team with his trust.  And then he backed it up every day.

I wasn’t there.  It was a “player’s only” meeting early in the year.  But it found it’s way back to me.  “If this team is going to win NESCACs, we need to trust Ethan and the coaches.  He’ll get us there.”  I guarantee that isn’t even close to what was said, but the gist is there. (And there were probably more than a few profanities mixed in too.)  I’m told it caught more than a few people off guard.

It was a powerful thing.  Like the words of a silent man, the trust of those slow to give it is a compelling force.  In my mind it was the impulse force that set us on our course.  It overcame the inertia of 70 bodies and started them rolling toward April 27, 2013.  And every day at practice Vinnie would keep that momentum rolling.  He wouldn’t let up.  He’d give the rolling stone a tap and watch it pick up speed.  By the time NESCACs rolled around, I wasn’t even aware of the momentum with which we were moving.  I don’t think anyone was, including Vinnie.

We hit NESCACs like a freight-train.  Vinnie added his own PR’s in the 100m and 200m.  He’d finish with a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finish.  He helped spark the meet with the 100m trials and saw it through to the finish with the 200m and 4×4.

So no real list of thanks for this one.  I don’t want to lessen the biggest one.  Vinnie was a workhorse.  He and I definitely didn’t start on the same page, but we finished there.  And it made all the difference for me.  Thanks for believing I could get us there, Vinnie.  Thanks.

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18. (part 6)

Posted by on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

He missed 100% of captains’ practices his freshman year.  And on top of that he only made it 200m on Day 1.  That’s how long he lasted before he got an up-close and personal look at a Gantcher trashcan.  I went up to him and told him it would get better…mainly because it really couldn’t get any worse.  Admittedly though, I turned to Coach Arak and said I’d be surprised if he showed up on Day 2.  23 hours later he rambled through the door (most likely with his collar popped).

23 hours and 300m later he was chin deep in a different trashcan.  I remember thinking that there was no way he’d be back for Day 3.

Those of you who know me, know that I value actions over words.  The smallest deed will always outweigh the grandest intention.  But up until this point, actions had told me to protect myself from getting too invested in Gbola Ajayi.  No summer communication, no captains practices, no fall lifts, max capacity of 300m.  Not the typical precursors of an All American.

But if I’ve learned anything in this job, it’s to not judge someone by the choices they make when they’re 18-years-old.  I’m incredibly thankful my coach didn’t.

People change.  People grow.  And people surprise you.

This one did.  He kept coming back.

And there in lies the smallest deed.

Over the next four years, Gbola grew from a soccer player who occasionally jumped into a student of the craft.  He embraced both the science as well as the art of his events.  He and I worked to get on the same page and talk the same language.  He grew to trust me and truly believe that I had his best interest at heart.

I can’t say enough how much that means to a coach, to anyone.  To be trusted.

On top of all that, in his senior year, I challenged Gbola’s trust more than any other athlete I’ve ever coached.  I asked him to do the single hardest thing for a real competitor.  I asked him to do nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  No work.  No lifting.  No running.  To forfeit the feeling that you’re making yourself stronger.  And at a time when he really needed to be feeling stronger.

Gbola is a competitor.  Tell him it would make him better and I could ask him to do anything.  Any lift, any plyo, any workout.  We know he’d run himself nauseous to accomplish his goals, but it went deeper than that.  You’d only have to spend 20 minutes around the runway and you’d likely here me say,  “Good…again.” numerous times.  Gbola would nod, walk back down the runway and continue to perfect the jump.

But that changed after NESCACs and DIII New Englands his senior year.  Gbola was struggling.  His runways looked forced.  He looked heavy.  And most importantly his mischievous smirk was becoming a rare occurrence.  The sum of a senior spring, the emotion of a NESCAC title, multiple trips to NYC to find a job and apartment, etc all began to take its toll on him.

There was a noticeable pause when I told him.  It was the first time in four years that he paused.  I could see it on his face.  “You want me to do what? Nothing? I don’t have my plane ticket yet.  No f#@ing way I’m sitting on my hands and missing my chance.”  It only lasted a second, but there was definitely a pause, one that was immediately followed by a quick nod of agreement.  Obviously he trotted off to mockingly brag to the rest of the sprinters that he didn’t have to do anything.

One week turned into two.  At most, he was allowed to warm up to stretch.  But it stoked his fires.  And with the drive rekindled, with that confident (verging on cocky) grin brimming again 14.23m became 14.47m.  And then 14.71m.  Adding the energy of Nationals to Gbola’s fire was the equivalent of throwing gas on it.  And when he unleashed his 15.00m PR, the first thing I heard was “Ugh, damn, he is feeling it today.”  It’s nice when you hear other coaches say that about your athlete…at Nationals.

So, to Gbola, I thank you for coming back.  For doing all the little things that add up to be big things.  For letting me ‘guinea-pig’ new drills and theories.  For the give and take of talking to with student of the game.  But more than anything, thank you for the pure belief and faith that we were doing the right thing.  It’s easily the hardest thing for an athlete to do.  To hand the control of some of your life goals over to another person.  I appreciate the difficulty in doing that and greatly appreciate your trust and respect.

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