Be Good Not Great
Mike Smith, Head Coach of the back-to-back NCAA Men's Cross Country National Champions at Northern Arizona University, is a long time listener and recent guest on the On Coaching Podcast hosted by Steve Magness and myself. He is also a dear friend. On occasion, one or two of the professional athletes I coach will have a month long altitude camp in Flagstaff. I don't go to the camps save for a short 4-5 day span to check in. Instead I leave them under Coach Smith's watchful eye. I know he'll coach them with the same spirit, enthusiasm, and vigor as me. He'll do what he can to help make them better. He is a true coaches coach.
During my last trip to Flagstaff, Mike and I sat in his office at NAU discussing the illusion of perfection and it's crippling impact on the modern athlete.
Today, the perfectionist impulse is more rampant than ever. One can filter, edit, repost, re-edit, polish, groom, etc. to no end. And it is paralyzing. Many are so steeped in an anxiety to be perfect they never bother to take action or create. Athletes are not immune. If you accept that racing is a performance and a form of (artistic) expression of the physical being, then you can view it as a creative enterprise — which I do.
Many well intended athletes desire to run the "perfect race." This is wrong. It doesn't exist. One can only hope to run a "good race" which in hindsight may be deemed a "great race" years later. But in the moment, good is all you need to be. Mike reinforced this sentiment to his harriers this past fall. He constantly reminded them all they needed to do was be good. There would be imperfections, errors, and flaws. But if they could commit to a behavior of showing up and being good, then they just might achieve something great — which they did.
Congrats again to Coach Mike Smith and the Lumberjax Men of NAU Cross Country on your national title!
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm