Monday, November 11, 2019

'We knew we were in the hands of a genius'

Jack Armstrong, my track coach at Abington, was medium height, medium build, with gray hair swept back behind his ears. Every day, he wore the same maroon sweatshirt and windbreaker, the same stopwatch on a lanyard around his neck. And every day, he brought the same positive, cheerful demeanor to work. He never shouted or got angry, just raised or lowered his voice within a narrow range, the slightest change in cadence to get his point across.

“Look at what those guys have just done. And you’re making pretend you’re working out!”

There wasn’t a day I didn’t throw up after practice, sick from the effort.

One day, he’d make the sprinters run a mile, far more than we liked. We’d tell him what we thought, but we knew we were in the hands of a genius. We wanted to please him.

Even during winter, he didn’t let up. He’d make us run lap after lap around the school parking lot, set on a hill and whipped by the wind. We kept our heads down to make sure we didn’t slip on the ice. He stood against the wall, bundled up in his coat, hat, and gloves, smiling and clapping us on.

Our high school had no special facilities, but while our rival teams were doing nothing during the winter, we were training in harsh conditions. When spring came, we were ready. We never lost a meet.

Whether he was coaching future Olympians or boys joining in from the bench, Coach Armstrong treated all of us the same, communicating a simple and consistent message, “Run as well as you can,” to satisfy the demands of the training schedule he designed.

He didn’t terrorize or cheerlead. He let us figure out what we wanted.

In his entire career, his teams lost just four times: 186–4.
Source: What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence by Stephen A. Schwarzman

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