Follow up to ‘The Lance Armstrong Defense?’

Posted by Latif Thomas



"It's not cheating if everyone else is doing it"

“It’s not cheating if everyone else is doing it”

So many comments came in so quickly to last week’s ‘The Lance Armstrong Defense’ article about submitting false seed times, I didn’t get a chance to respond to individual questions and statements as I normally do. But, it was such a hot topic I felt it deserved one more day of discussion.

So here are some thoughts on your responses before I move on to new topics next week:

1. While I appreciate all the positive sentiment and try to do the right thing as much as possible, no one should be pointing to me as a beacon of morality or integrity. At best, I am the same as most of you – just trying to figure out how to stay competitive against bigger and more talented programs while providing a fun, yet demanding experience for my athletes. At worst, I am a deeply flawed human being whose athletes often make me look more competent than I am.

2. Some people took exception with my use of language. And that’s unfortunate because I do truly enjoy pancakes. Even for dinner. Truth be told, my speaking/ranting/comedic style is much more Dave Chappelle than Bill Cosby. And my content is written for adults and not children. That said, I begrudgingly agree to keep things PG rated.

3. I have an extremely difficult time reconciling the logic and belief systems of the coaches defending the notion that inventing seed times and relay times based on what you think kids should theoretically be able to run/jump/throw based on some arbitrary equation you invented in your head. Sweet Jesus, what an asinine concept! If that’s what we’re justifying these days as legitimate means of entering athletes into meets, this sport should take two weeks off and then quit.

The only time this is acceptable is, as Len Harmon pointed out, when you are forced to compete on crap flat tracks shorter than 200m. I spent the first decade of my coaching career (and all of HS) competing on a 160y flat track where fast times were nearly impossible. As an example, I coached the MA D4 Championship Meet Record holder in the boys 300m (34.82) and the MA D3 Championship Meet Record holder in the 300m (34.98). The fastest time they ever ran around the basketball court they competed on during dual meets was 36.9h and 37.1h, respectively. It’s not fair to expect coaches/programs/athletes in that situation to enter kids with non converted seed times, especially when competing against athletes competing on the rocket ship known as the BU track.

4. I see that MSTCA members felt compelled to defend themselves and their system. And I feel bad my article cast them in a negative light or implied they were the root of the problem because that was certainly not my intention. While I think we need a better entry system that only allows *actual* times run in *actual* meets, I certainly don’t think the onus for checking and verifying thousands of entries falls at the feet of (in the case of my state) the MSTCA or the meet directors. They have enough to do with running the meet and they do an excellent job. I do think the language needs to be changed such that coaches are not allowed to invent times at all. But, the responsibility of being honest starts with the coaches themselves. And it’s a double edged sword. If you (the MSTCA/meet director) catch and punish one coach/team for cheating, that coach is going to point out the dozens of other cheats who haven’t been punished. So it’s all or nothing and a difficult spot to be put in if you’re the meet director living in a perpetual state of overwhelm in trying to get the meet organized and run.

5. You know who I respect? The coach who told me I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Why? Because he had the courage and integrity to voice a dissenting  opinion with his real name attached to it.

You know who I don’t respect? The Massachusetts ‘coach’ who made a sarcastic, troll style post with cherry picked statistics, but couldn’t muster the courage or personal integrity to post his real name.

Shame!

‘Coach’, here’s the difference between you and I:

When I have an opinion, even a controversial one, I say it loud and proud and sign my name to it. It’s not always easy and I often take pointed and personal backlash for it. But, I am a grown man and dissent is the cost of having an opinion that people pay attention to. You, sir, should feel great shame in the terrible example you set for your athletes and program in lacking the cojones to sign your name to your petulant reaction. I coach 14 year old girls who take more accountability for their behavior. Hopefully, after some reflection and a few self help books, you will develop the strength and personal character to stand by your words instead of lurking anonymously in the shadows. In the meantime, if you need a pep talk on personal accountability, I have some freshman girls you can talk to.

In the future, do better. “Coach”.

==-==-=-

So what is the moral of this whole story? As it is currently constituted, the sport of track and field cannot even decide whether or not *actual* performances are a requirement for seed time meet entry. While this is certainly not the biggest problem facing our sport, in my opinion, it reduces the validity of track and field as a viable sport.

One of track and field’s great selling points is the objective nature of our competitions. It’s not like football where you can rush for 250 yards against bums one week and then get shut down for 50 the next week against a real team. Fast is fast. FAT is FAT, no matter where you live or who you compete against.

But, when your athlete or relay *earns* the fast lane in the seeded heat and gets bumped because some self righteous coach felt entitled to invent a time and you have no recourse to have it amended, that’s not good for track. And it’s certainly not going to win over the kid you’re trying to convert from another season of club soccer or basketball or lacrosse. It’s not going to convert any casual fans, a demographic the sport needs to consider. And it’s not going to keep athletes interested in the sport once they graduate HS or college because nobody wants to pay attention to a sport whose competitions are rigged by dishonest coaches.

Think about it.

To your success,

Latif Thomas

Take a deep breath and then post your comments below.

 



Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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