Saturday, September 28, 2013

Assert Yourself! Du musst dich behaupten!

I went into our weight room this week to check up on some athletes, and two were doing bench press without stands (with a bar) in the middle of the room. The spotter would deadlift the bar off the floor and hand it to the other who was lying on the bench. We have a small weight room, with one bench press station. There was one (yes, one!) athlete working out at the bench station. I asked them why they didn’t work in with the lone bencher. No problem, they were on their last set. I asked the lone bencher if he would share the bench and of course he said yes.

All they had to do was ask. Ask and ye shall receive. Modern English: if you don’t ask, you get nothing!

I have asked athletes how they behave at competitions: in the warm up area, in the changing rooms, start houses, ready rooms, etc. When I was a young coach getting my first taste of international bobsleigh competition, I was an English-only-speaking rookie coach in a sport dominated by German speakers. The buildings next to the start back then (early 90’s) were small and seating was limited. I noticed that many athletes and coaches would not voluntarily make room for others needing a seat. Just like a lot of people on subway trains or buses.  Sometimes I would even witness some guy sitting on one chair and using another so he could put his feet up. And he was usually German speaking and outweighed me by at least 20 kilos. 

I soon learned that in most situations I could get what I wanted by asserting myself. This was also a lesson I had to learn when filming video at the bob track or ski hill when coaches of other countries wouldn’t get out of the way when my athletes were on the track or course. If you say and do nothing, nothing will happen. You often have to fight to get what you or your athletes need.

If I am a shrinking violet in the presence of my competition, how do I plan on beating them? Ever wonder why the most common verb used to describe bettering an opponent is “beat”? In German the common term is “schlag”, which literally translates to beat.

I am not suggesting that I have to trash talk my opponents, or even say anything at all. But If I need something, and it is my right to have it, then I have to assert myself and see that I get it.

I really learned this with the Austrian ski team. They were the best, and knew it. They expected the best situation everywhere they went. Whether that was reserving tables in the restaurant closest to the start house when warming up and prepping for a race, or arranging dryland training when ski training was cancelled. Once we were having trouble getting gym space in a posh fitness club in an American ski resort and one of the skiers came up to me and said “Hey, Carson – we are the Austrian ski team!!” Ski racing is not huge in the States and I don’t think it made much of a difference, but he had the right attitude for what he wanted. By the way, the skier was Patrick Ortlieb, Olympic and world downhill champion. Patrick probably wasn’t the most popular athlete on the tour, but he wasn’t there to win popularity contests. I learned a lot from him.

I once was on a ski lift before a race with a Canadian racer and was trying to tell him that I thought that the Canadians needed to be more aggressive. I was talking about racing, but not just racing. His reply to me was “everywhere we go everybody likes us”. There is something to be said about that. It all depends on your point of view. If you are participating to have fun and party, that can be cool. But if you truly want to win, or get the best out of yourself, you will probably have to step on some toes along the way.

Usain Bolt once said in an interview that Tyson Gay probably hates his guts. 

Does he care? Probably not.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am NOT condoning bad behavior, or encouraging athletes to be *******s, but you have to learn to stand up for your rights, and assert yourself. If you are too timid to tell an opponent he has to share the track, or evacuate the spot that is reserved for you or your team, how do you plan on beating him into submission on the court, track or hill?

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