So I missed attending the RRCA coaching certification clinic in August because the night I tried to drive to Ann Arbor, a massive storm was tracking the exact direction I’d be heading up through Indiana and Michigan. I tried contacting the organizers by email that night, letting them know I would likely not be able to make it. Truth was, I’d already blown it by them.
The terms of the contract in signing up dictated a no-refund policy. I got that. Understood it clearly. I’d blown it perhaps by not waiting until morning to depart rather than venture out into the driving rain on a Friday night after my art opening.
I take responsibility for my failure to take that option––which I’d previously considered––but decided against because there was too much chance of getting there late no matter what time I left. Waking at 3:00 a.m. to drive four hours in the dark isn’t all that great an option either.
Neither of these options was my original plan. I’d hoped to actually go to Ann Arbor on Friday morning. But when I signed up for the clinic, the opening of my art show at Water Street Studios was not yet determined. There are always a number of moving parts in preparing for a solo show. One must apply intense focus to paint and frame and hang all that art on a timely basis, and have it come out well. It’s a little like the focus one must apply in preparing for a big running event. As John Irving once related in the book Hotel New Hampshire, “You’ve got to get obsessed, and stay obsessed.” So I was admittedly distracted by my own self-absorption in that process. I can be an asshole that way.
So I was admittedly distracted by my own self-absorption in that process. I can be an asshole that way. It also wouldn’t do to open an art show and not be there for the opening event. So I attempted to compromise and calculated that by staying from 6-8 p.m. I figurd that I could still drive to Ann Arbor by midnight. That would give me a decent rest before attending the clinic that started at 8:00 a.m. I did not want to be overtired for a training session scheduled to last from 8-5:00 p.m.
In advance of the clinic, I’d watched the prescribed video about the history of coaching. It covered the likes of Percy Cerutty, Arthur Lydiard, and so on. I’d read and learned about all those guys years ago, and many more books on running as well. For thirty years I subscribed to Runner’s World and Running and Track and Field News. Even had my writing published in RW. Before that, I’d written for a publication called Illinois Runner, profiling coaches such as Al Carius of North Central College. But that was in the 1980s. Ancient history you know. Never mind that he was named Coach of the Century by the NCAA.
My own coaching history is pretty long. I coached a summer track and field back in the 1970s with 150 kids. Later I managed the indoor facilities at the Norris Sports Complex where coaching beginning runners was part of the gig. I still see some of those runners at races thirty years later. We wave hello, proud of our quiet little histories.
So my interest in getting an actual coaching certification was to get some of this experience validated. But that opportunity evaporated in the driving rain on a Friday night in August. Because there is not only a no-refund policy at the RRCA and also a policy that they don’t let you transfer your payment to any other clinic.
I’m going to be critical here. That last part seems like kind of an asshole policy to me. Granted, they have every right as a tightly managed non-profit to protect their interests and avoid getting caught up in dealing with special treatment for individuals. I know full well that people can be demanding assholes always looking for an excuse to squeeze things out of others. I worked as marketing manager for a newspaper close to a decade and saw people trying to scam us every which way. I sniffed out a cabal of moms who were signing up kids for the reading program we sponsored just to steal dozens of free meal coupons to Panera Bread. It was disgusting. People often act like that. There’s an entire world of folks out there who feel they’re entitled to all kinds of special dispensations. We all run into them every day.
I recently completed reading the book Assholes, A Theory by Aaron James. He writes, “We have suggested that the asshole is morally repugnant because, even when the material costs he imposes are small, he fails to recognize others in a fundamental, morally important way.”
Now you can call me an asshole for quoting that in context with this article. And you are probably right. I can be an asshole sometimes. I’m being an asshole right now. I’ll fully admit that. But that does not alter the fact that other people, and even entire organizations, can behave like assholes too. And I think it’s important to point that out when you can. That’s how change happens. Liberals are always being accused of being assholes because we care too much about how things work and don’t work. But it was assholes that worked to ban slavery, that pesky little institution so loved and cherished by the South. And so on, and so on.
As an editorial writer for a daily newspaper, I once wrote a couple columns about zero tolerance policies at local high schools. I made the point that zero tolerance does very little to address the problems created when kids misbehave. It punishes them after the fact by presupposing that a policy of threat will modify or deter their bad judgment. That’s fundamentally wrong in many cases because it ignores the important fact that immaturity by definition fails to calculate. Immaturity is the inability to grasp the relationship between actions and consequences.
I would argue the same brand of confused logic applies to the Concealed Carry laws now forced on all 50 states in America. If threat of gun violence is the problem, then encouraging even more people to carry guns out of fear for their own safety is absolutely the wrong response. A person about to commit a gun crime and the person carrying a concealed weapon around are engaging in the same brand of immature response to civility. And despite claims to the opposite and even some demonstrated evidence, the threat of being shot is in many cases no deterrence to a deranged shooter. Many of them commit suicide after the fact. Turns out they have zero tolerance for life itself. But Concealed Carry laws are a bold admission that society and civil law are clearly outstripped by the proliferation of guns in America. Case Closed.
Zero tolerance at large
Is it any surprise kids have elected to carry guns to school? Angry, defeated, isolated kids with immature brains seek to take out their frustrations in vengeance. Same goes for immature adults. America is trapped in these cycles of immaturity in which protection of self-interest trumps the common good. Concealed Carry is in effect the zero tolerance response to fears of other people with guns, or people of other races, or the government itself. And so on.
We’ve become an entire nation of immature assholes looking for payback against those we distrust. Being an asshole is almost an expected process in social discourse these days. Internet trolls and bullies specialize in being assholes to other people. So it’s no wonder that a flaming asshole is running for President of the United. He’s simply appealing to the millions of other assholes out there who think that granting other people civil rights is an offense to their own sense of liberty. They also claim that it is their right to go around calling people ugly, hateful names, and that to quell that instinct is to be “politically correct.” These brands of assholes are literally threatening to “take back America,” and it has a disgusting potential to succeed.
I would argue that civility starts with small actions. It is considerate. That has largely been the methodology of President Obama, who has been excoriated as “weak” for actually thinking about his actions rather than reacting in knee-jerk fashion. But when he does assert himself, his enemies brand him an asshole for showing some mettle.
Looking abroad, Germany’s Angela Merkel came from humble roots in communist East Germany and rose to authority as Europe’s leading politician through conservative, considerate decision-making. She deliberates to find the truth, then acts with a conscience. Some political leaders even consider policy changes when they learn more information about a situation. That’s how America and Japan and Germany are now allies, rather than enemies. All great leaders and nations learn to change.
Zero tolerance at home
The zero tolerance response that I’ve received from the RRCA is certainly within their legal rights. We all get the fact that the process of scheduling and handling money gets too messy when people ask for special treatments and exceptions. But I still do not think it is too much to ask for some tolerance when someone legitimately confesses their failure in advance of such a clinic, and then inquires about transferring their opportunity to another date, in another city. I did not ask for my money back. No money is lost to the organization in the process of a transfer. The gain would be another representative.
But perhaps after this blog, they won’t want me anyway. It’s rather like the moment when the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion show up at the Emerald City to get themselves a brain, a heart and courage. The Wizard of Oz, threatened at being exposed in the artifice of his authority, tries to threaten them away by demanding. “Go Away. Come back another time!”
Of course, we ultimately learned it was the symbolism of what the Wizard had to offer that mattered anyway. The diploma for the Scarecow… who needed a training plan. The plastic heart and love for the sport to the Tin Man (who needs to work on his flexibility, by the way) and the Badge of Courage for the Lion who suffers from pre-race anxiety. These are all things that running coaches do. We are all the Wizards of Oz, in that respect. People already possess all they need to succeed. It’s simply the job of a coach to bring it out.
Coaches give people confidence to proceed. They feel validated, just like Dorothy’s companions after all they’d been through on the Yellow Brick Road. They even dispatched the Wicked Witch of the West along the way, proving that you really can get overhydrated. I’ve been telling that to other runners for years. “There’s such a thing as drinking too much water, you know,” I’d sometimes offer during training sessions. I learned that lesson the hard way back in the 1980s, you know. Had a couple races where I drank too much and failed. Figured it out on my own.
Most of what runners need to know about running has not changed one whit in the last 40 years. That’s part of the reason why the RRCA had us watch that video about famous coaches before the clinic. The principles of training have not changed all that much. Some of the methodologies have.
Practical experience is quite valuable. I also worked in a running shoe store, fitting dozens of people with shoes, and that teaches you a ton. Then I illustrated a book on running biomechanics too. That was in the 1980s as well.
I’ve seen the world of running shoes come full circle from the adidas Italia all the way back around to zero elevation running flats today.
I did ultramarathon runs long before they were popular, and ran a 3:00 marathon in practice, for God’s Sake.
So this whole idea that getting a certificate to tell me that I know what I’m doing thing might not be necessary after all. I certainly don’t begrudge the RRCA for wanting to teach people how to be better coaches. I’m sure I could have learned a few things because I believe in lifelong learning. That’s why I signed up. To grow. And perhaps to continue to change.
So I’m an asshole
And maybe I’m just too much of an asshole to just take my lumps and move on. Just send them another $300 and show up another day in another city. But you know, people need to know how their policies work in force. America is confused in its constitutional law, its religious nature and its civic responsibilities. This “winner take all” atmosphere is killing a good thing. Anachronism and literalism and originalism and zero tolerance is responsible. It’s time to change.
My father once told me, “Never quit a job on principle.” And that is a bit of interesting advice. Because you never know if you’re the one that’s actually in the wrong. Stick it out some. Wait for things to change. Suck it up and dry your homebound tears. Then see what happens next.
But it’s also important to recognize that some situations in life are just the product of the world being an asshole kind of place. Even evolution plays no favorites. Eat or be eaten. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to eat what’s offered from an asshole.