Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thoughts on the "World's Greatest Coach",Who it Isn't,and Who it May Very Well Be

As I have written previously,Runners World magazine performs a great service for thousands of runners and has been doing so for decades. Their website,to me at least,is far superior to the mag.However,they do often come out with what I believe are irrelevant articles as it relates to running. RW really stepped in it sometime in the 90's when they did a cover story on a certain U.S. exercise physiologist/coach and described him as  the "world's greatest coach." The outrage from informed runners was immediate.How could you say that a person who had never coached a world champion, a world record holder or an Olympic medalist,qualified for such a title? The controversy however, did cause me to consider who might be worthy.Not surprisingly,Arthur Lydiard readily came to mind but in all fairness, there are many other coaches who could also be considered.After awhile, I assumed that this was the type of discussion that could never be resolved.Then recently, I came across an article about a man who would have to be deserving of the title, "world's greatest coach." The reason? His athletes have produced the Olympic medals,world championships and the world records to validate such a claim.The man is Brother Colm O'Connell,an Irish priest who has his headquarters in Iten,Kenya. Now before you think,"well he has Kenyan runners to work with what do you expect?," let me add this point: there are dozens of other coaches from Europe and other countries around the world based in that same area.It's not like he has a lock on all the runners in the Rift Valley.
What makes this man special?What's different about him in comparison to other coaches? What follows are a few things I came across while looking into Brother Colm.
First off,he dismisses the thought that there are any secrets to his success,"people come to find what the secret is,but you know what the secret is? The secret is that you think there is a secret.There is no secret," he says.
The success of Kenyan runners over the years has led others in that country to follow suit hoping to find their way to a better life.Of course it doesn't hurt either that there aren't a multitude of sports the populace can engage in.
When former 1500 meter,mile,and 5,000 meter champion Eamonn Coghlan went to visit Brother Colm, he said that he was struck by the simplicity of it all.The simplicity of the training as well as the simplicity of the way they lived and the food they ate.Elliott's thoughts on simplicity and the athlete again come to mind. Coghlan also noted that the athletes train three times a day and that out of 18 or19 workouts in a week, only three could be described as all out.Building up the mileage is the focus.
The reality is,is that the Brother has no use for the technical aspects connected with the sport these days,measuring VO2 max, etc."Why must we analyze everything?" he asks. Colm's lack of rigidity in his training regimen is cited by one of his former athletes as being a reason for his success,"he understands people, their needs,their strengths and where they come from."
According to Brother Colm, what separates good runners from the world's best, is not just talent but mental strength. This is believed to be the key to his ongoing success, as one writer noted, he has the ability to spot the athletes "who have the right raw material and then help them hone it." From this point he works on the man,developing his confidence and psyche.
Sure, there are other things he does with his runners,like developing what we call the core and stressing the importance of a smooth,rhythmic gait,but,we keep getting back to a familiar theme, the keeping it simple and natural,avoiding rigidity in training,and the necessity of building aerobic mileage. All things we've brought up previously when referencing Lydiard,Cerutty and Van Aaken.Could it be that there is "nothing new under the sun" as far as training and running go?
With 25 world champions and 4 Olympic gold medalists so far,and we're not even counting silver or bronze winners here,it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Brother Colm O'Connell has the right to be called "the world's greatest coach." And to think,he refuses to collect any salary for what he does.

No comments:

Post a Comment