Coxswain, Coaching, and Commending a Cyclist

Wouldn’t it be a sight if all sports had the same type of audience etiquette as that of golf or tennis? Imagine if the hundreds of spectators tailgating along the French or Italian alps sat in silence as their favorite riders passed by in the rain or in the snow. Talk about bringing a change of pace to the cycling community.  Imagine if all you heard as the pros pass by was just the sound of gears shifting, heavy breathing, and the teams cars passing by. No drunks yelling, “Ale! Ale! Ale!” No hecklers getting up close and giving the cyclist a push they think they might need, no running alongside the riders so close, they could whisper a secret in their ear if everyone else would just shut up. What if when all was said and done; once the point was scored, or the hole fell into the hole, the finish line was crossed, the crowd would begin to celebrate and cheer.

Not all sports need to be met with this much silence for concentration, but it’s a neat idea. I personally think the most respectful audiences are those who attend sports like golf or tennis. I was having a conversation with a co-worker of mine before she set out to run the LA marathon this passed weekend. We talked about training, and coaching approaches. This particular co-worker has an extensive background in rowing and uses rowing as her point of reference for all things athletic. She mentioned how most (if not all) boats contain a Coxswain, or a cox as she called it. That’s the person at the front of the point, guiding, and making sure the crew is safe and motivated through out the race. Most of us (myself included) would imagine that during the race, all this coxswain is doing is yelling at the racers to go faster; this couldn’t be further from the truth. She explained to me that although this may happen from boat to boat, but not all coxswains have the drill instructor attitude when in comes to competing. Their attitudes depend on what responds best with the rowers in that particular boat. Some prefer different approaches than others. Some like to be yelled at, while others (including myself) prefer the quieter, more concise coaching approach. Loud, & repetitious yelling will never get my attention, in fact (I’m not sure I should be admitting this) it makes things worse and causes me to lose both physical and mental momentum. The co worker on the other hand loved to be yelled at and although you could yell at her all day, you still had to choose your words wisely.

It takes a carefully timed  phrase to resonate in the most effective way with other. Like a well timed punch during a boxing match. It’s not good enough to be throwing punches all day but more that you have a well timed approach that is most effective. The same goes for the rider, the coach, (and in my honest and humble opinion) the spectator. Not only in the world of competitive sports, but for social experiences outside that field.

Everyone loves hearing praise and affection from others. This is very therapeutic in many different forms; forms I am sure most of us are familiar with. However, the more and more frequently use these words in everyday life, the less value they tend to have on the listener. My mom (as I’m sure most moms do) loves to commend me on whatever accomplishments I set out to do whether it be a bike race, or a blog post. I feel showered with praise to the point that those words have less value to me than they used to. She is throwing the same type of punch, coaching with the same phrase, and spectating with the same attitudes so much so that I don’t respond to them the same; if at all.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that parents not tell their children they love and care about them. All I am suggesting is consider the timing that you chose to give your praise (or discipline.) A well timed suggestion will be much more effective to whomever the recipient may be, whether it is a child, a teammate, or your favorite professional athlete you may happen to come across suffering up a nine percent gradient in a race. Not everyone responds well to the same commendations and encouragements. While in a perfect world I would love to see cyclists passing by spectators without having to worry about getting trampled by those getting too close to the riders, or having drunks screaming in their ear yelling at them to “Go faster!” and “keep up the good work!” To see spectators treat the athletes with the respect they deserve without endangering themselves, or the riders both physically and mentally would be a big step forward in the sport from the spectators end of things. I know it may sound boring to some, but just think how much faster and how less stressed the pros could ride if we all saved the yelling and screaming in celebration for the end of the race and kept our comments and commendation to a minimum when it comes time to put the hurt on the competition. But what do I know, this is coming from a sensitive soul with more emotional baggage than he cares to admit at this point in time. I know my intentions are good, I just feel like this new frame of thinking is going against a strong current of tradition and not many others will feel the same as I.

C’est la vie



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