Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Where can I find a coach when I need one"

Mr Canada Dry (aka Shaun Adamson) pictured above posted a link up on his twitter feed a while ago. It is from a blog post titled: Where can I find a coach when I need one. It is long and in small reverse type (note to bloggers if you want someone to read your blog make it readable) which I personally cannot stand but it got me thinking. I won't presume to take a guess as to what resonated with Shaun about the post but it got me thinking a bit. I don't totally agree with all the blogger wrote but it is worth reading. Ok I will admit I skimmed it a bit but did read the salient points of the post and understand what he was saying and the reasons why. It is a well thought out post. Read it and see what you think. I have heard some friends state similar things about the business side of coaching over the last year.

But to me it was more a launching off point. I have been thinking about coaching a lot lately. And the amature side of the sport. For some reason the topic is even more polarizing than my love of all things Campy and Italian. I am still taken aback by the blind devotion people heap upon SRAM. Its not like their shifters have a bad habit of just randomly exploding at any given time because they were made in China but I digress, anyhoo back to the post. The two things that struck me are calling what we do (we as in all us non-payed racers racing cross) a hobby and the issue of what a coach is. Let's start with my utter hatred of calling cross a hobby. Cross is NOT a hobby. I think maybe people who haven't participated in an endeavor that elicits such an all consuming passion feel more comfortable calling cross a hobby.

It probably goes over better with the in-laws or girlfriend when explaining why you go race to just say oh its my hobby. End of conversation and no one thinks you are a freak. I get it I really do. But once you cross the line of potentially getting hurt every time you click into your Time pedals and get to the start grid with 90 other jacked up bike racers intent on killing each other it is no longer a hobby. When another racer would try and win or gain a spot or two by putting you at grave physical harm it is no longer a hobby. When you break bones and lose flesh it is no longer a hobby. When it is all you think about 24/7/365 it is no longer a hobby. Scrap booking is a hobby. Yahtzee is a hobby. Cross is not a hobby.

I don't buy the if you spend thousands of dollars a year on something its not a hobby because plenty of hobbies are outrageously expensive. Damn the old guys with their remote control model racing sail boats probably spend double what your average Masters racers spends a year on cross and that is saying something cause those dudes do not mess about. To me cross is much more like MMA or any other eastern pursuit. The ritual alone separates cross from a hobby. Is the Japanese tea ceremony a hobby? No I don't think so. It is a life changing ritual. Cross is that for me. And I think it is that way for lots of other crossers. So can we please stop calling cross a hobby? Thanks. Ok on to the coaching business.
Saying you have a coach is like saying you just cycled through a series of epo injections and filled your veins with the blood of a thousand virgins. Why is it so wrong for an amature cross racer to have a coach? Seriously. I think part of the problem is the sport is so young. We are talking about 100 years right? Let's take yoga. Yoga has been around for maybe 2,000 years. People have no problem putting the guru label on even the most pedestrian of yoga teachers. A yoga teacher commands a level of respect unheard of in our society that seems to have lost the whole meaning of respect for someone more enlightened/knowing than we are. We are all peers and special little snowflakes. Guess what no we aren't. There are people who are way more talented than we are, know metric tons more about cross than we ever will and can eek speed out of even the most talentless individuals on terra firma. That is what coaching is about. I hated traditional sports when I was young. I endured them but hated them. Coaches back then just yelled and screamed at you and played the most talented people. That isn't coaching. Coaching is teaching. Coaching is making someone a better/stronger person as well as an athlete.
That is what a good yoga teacher does. It is a physical practice but the lessons go way beyond the physical. I guess that is my whole problem with the article Shaun linked up. I get that coaching needs structure and guidelines. Adam has fought for years to bring credibility and professionalism to coaching making it a business instead of some dark art. And yes coaching should and can be very scientific and structured to make the athlete faster. I get that. But to me that is not the kind of coaching I am looking for. I have no interest in a power meter. I went over a decade without any cycling computer of any kind attached to my bike. I bought a Garmin edge this year mostly to be able to track interval time. A 30 dollar timex watch would be just as effective.
I have always jokingly stated that I am "uncoachable." Which may be true as it is described in the linked article. What I have always been from my days playing hockey and training in martial arts and now practicing yoga is willing to learn. I have always been a sponge. I have always been open to new ideas and very interested in the technical and mental side of sport. I have never been a workhorse that could train themselves into the ground and stare at numbers to support my supposed performance growth as an end all. The coaches I have gravitated towards are more friends/mentors than traditional coaches although I have benefited HUGELY from their traditional coaching methods. I have also hugely benefited from being surrounded by such talented racers who happen to be coaches.
My first foray into coaching was at last years Cycle-Smart training camp. What Adam and Al do at that camp is nothing short of incredible. It was an exclamation point about how important the technical aspect of cross is. Its fine to be fit and be trained to the gills but if you don't know how to race cross, don't know how to drive a bike and don't have the mental toughness to race cross you won't last. And you won't do well over the course of a season. I haven't lasted in cross because I was naturally gifted or talented. Let's face it I am at best a mid-pack masters racer who just makes up for a lack of talent because I have really fast friends who help me out. After that camp I worked with Al Donahue from Cycle Smart for the season. He brings so much experience and such a calming effect to such chaos that helped me immensely through a really hard season to get to the point where by NBX I was experiencing what Matt Kraus so beautifully calls "Zoom, Zoom time." Both Al and Adam are amazing coaches. What Adam has done for the business of coaching can't even really be measured. What is also so great about Adam and C-S is it is an open model. Adam is not afraid to post up numerous articles for free for any seeker to read and use. Frankly I used those articles and the prescribed workouts a solid year before I went to camp. I still refer to the articles now.

So what is the point of this long winded post. That point blank saying having a coach is a waste of time or money is crazy. Adam, Al, Sara and Cort have done amazing things with their clients. I could go on and on about individuals who have benefited hugely from their help. I have benefitted hugely from all of them. They are all so open and available and willing to help. Thinking you don't need a coach or don't deserve one is not fair to yourself. Cross is hard. It is chaos. The season is over in a blink of an eye. All these coaches know what it takes to race cross in New England at the highest level. You need to know where to find a coach? There you go pick one of the above and you will be all set!


  1. Great article, but what I really want to know is if that photo of Shaun Adamson is sincere? Because if it is, he looks like a total douchebag. Which is not to say he is one, because I don't know him so have no opinion on that. He just looks like one in that photo.

  2. Shaun is the coolest guy ever. The photo is obviously a joke based on how a lot of the euros do their sponsor ads.

  3. ripping article Chip, fucking awesome! (can I use that word here?)

    tweak it and submit it to Cyclocross Magazine man - it's good...

    (you know it is because it has THE valid stamp of approval - a tweet from Myerson himself).

  4. I have had Alec as a coach for about two years now... im the guy hes throwing to the ground in the 3rd picture in this blog...

    The amount that i have improved cant even be measured since ive had him as a coach. Hes invested so much time into me and is the nicest guy in the world.

    Last year i was terrible at cross. then i worked with Alec and Adam at cross camp and now i have UCI points! Cycle-Smart is a great coaching company and Alec is the best coach i have ever had. Thanks for writing this article, its really important for people like me to read this because i never thought i needed a coach when i started racing. and now that i have had one for 2 full season, its obvious that having a coach was the right decision for me!

  5. Seriously though, if he wanted to be real Euro he needs to be at a posh beach resort wearing a really small man bikini and riding on the back of a dolphin with his two team mates. You need 3 things for a totally euro pic, sea animals, gratuitous skin(Heavy tan lines must be present to show that you have been training), and uncomfortable closeness.

    But that being said, that picture is quite good.

  6. Chip. Great post. Hope to see you at Noho.