Monday, April 11, 2011
Is Cerutty Still Relevant Today?
Invariably when I talk to people regarding the legacy of Percy Cerutty I get one of these three responses: #1.Percy who? #2. A great coach who taught,inspired and motivated athletes. #3. A colorful eccentric from years gone by but someone who's hardly relevant in this day and age. It was after reading a brief article I found in a 1975 issue of RW written by Joe Henderson commenting on the passing of Cerutty that I decided to write this post.Some of the following quotes that you'll read are by author Gary Walton regarding what constitutes a great coach. They are most interesting and insightful. Getting back to Joe Henderson's article, it was for the most part complimentary but he made it clear that he thought of Percy along the lines of #3 listed above when he said: "We dutifully ate our oats raw,ordered sets of weights and drove miles in search of sand....then we moved on to other coaches and tried their theories for awhile." I couldn't help but think that Joe had missed the whole point about Cerutty if he thought all he was,was eating natural foods,lifting weights and training hard. Had Joe read the books by Cerutty that he said he had? Cerutty's teachings were more than just telling you how to train; they were about recognizing what is truly important in this life,understanding yourself, achieving personal success and how to live long,healthy, happy lives.I'd be remiss not to add that he was also an incredible motivator. In the excellent book,Beyond Winning--The Timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches by Gary Walton,the author asserts that Cerutty and a handful of other coaches possessed qualities that helped people become more than just good athletes. He states that these coaches "provided a special arena of learning about oneself and life." Walton believes that due to the increasing complexity of sport and the pressure to win these coaches are becoming less common. Let me interject here,Walton is right on the mark with that last sentence,the pressure to win now extends down to high school athletics as well as college and pro sports.When I wondered the other day why there weren't more "old school" coaches like Wooden and Cerutty,Gary Walton just provided the answer.He lists the ten characterisics of philosopher coaches: 1. Committed to individual integrity,values and personal growth. 2. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators not coaches. 3. Well educated(formally and informally).4. Long-run commitment to their athletes and their institution. 5. Willing to experiment with new ideas. 6.Value the coach-player relationship,winning aside. 7. Understand and appreciate human nature. 8. Love their sport and work. 9.Honest and strong in character. 10. Human and therefore imperfect. Readers familiar with Cerutty can see him in each of these ten characteristics. With the above in mind what follows are some of the reasons why he is still relevant today. I'd like to add that the following is not intended to be a definitive overview of Cerutty's teachings. One aspect of his philosophy that doesn't always get adequate attention was his belief that a focus on money and possessions should not be a priority in someone's life. He recognized the seduction and danger of believing that having things were THE key to happiness. Cerutty's belief in training in the most natural of surroundings is what he might be remembered best for. The trails,the beaches,the parks and hills were his training venues. He deplored the strict regimentation of training schedules and the reliance on hard tracks to train. There were three training "landmarks" of Cerutty's camp at Portsea: 1. The 80 ft sandhill. 2.The one mile and 285 yard sandy trail winding up and down. 3. The Stewart Circuit which was a quarter mile undulating course that finished at the top of a steep hill. Since Cerutty was no fan of regimented styles of training, he refused to write training schedules for runners. He said: "Athletics should be the prime reason to escape the imprisoning conditions (of ordinary life); to be able to exult in our liberty,free movement and capacity to choose." He believed in trying to build an attitude of finding your own way, knowing yourself and building from there. Each runner set his own goals and training schedules."The mastery of the self and the refusal to permit others to dominate us is the ultimate in living and self-expression in athletics," Percy wrote. He recognized that with strength of body came strength of mind leading ultimately to strength and confidence in racing as well as life. The type of training he advocated is needed now more than ever,especially among our young athletes. We can't forget to mention Cerutty's teachings on the need to eat foods in their most natural state and avoidance of those that are overly processed. His views on food and nutrition dating back to the early 50's are what the health advocates are preaching today. Cerutty believed that an essential ingredient to an athlete's development was the stimulation of his mind through reading plus becoming familiar with the classics of art,literature,music and philosophy. He said: "I raise the spirits of the athlete and inspire the soul to a higher state of consciousness. As the athlete grows spiritually as a person,his person in the physical will gradually unfold to new heights." Perhaps the most important message that came through Cerutty's extensive writings weren't intended only for the serious athlete but were meant for everyone. He believed that by maintaining a connection with nature through our living and exercising, in addition to eating the right foods in moderation, our daily responsibilities could be more easily accepted and dealt with. Consequently our thinking would be clearer, fears and cravings would either diminish or vanish thus leading to a life more fully lived and enjoyed. When I look at the astonishing figures of the millions of people who either drug and/or drink excessively in an effort to cope with life, I realize that Percy's teachings,again, are needed now more than ever. I don't know,it all seems simple and logical to me.Maybe it's too simple and logical for most in this increasingly complex age to accept and put into practice. It is not a quick fix but ultimately it is the most satisfying way to go.