The other day I got an e-mail from a sports mom in Nevada with a link to an article about her daughter’s cross-country coach. Seems he forfeited the team’s first meet of the season against the defending state champion out of concern for the runners’ long-term health had they run over a hilly 2.75-mile course consisting mostly of pavement in 90 degree heat.
The first time I read the article I thought, “Bravo! Bully for the coach.” The second time I read it some doubt crept in about the coach’s explanation for the forfeit, so I wrote the mom back and asked if was any reason to doubt that the reason offered by the coach was the true reason. Nope, she replied. The reasons he gave were legit. Relieved, I thought to myself, “Finally, a coach not willing to put his team in harm’s way.”
According to the article, South Tahoe High School coach, Dan Wilvers, pulled his girls’ team out of the race because he was convinced that running primarily on pavement (much of the grass portion from previous years had been replaced by asphalt, which is really tough on a runner’s legs). Wilvers told the Tahoe Daily Tribune, “I was just concerned about the kids' health because we have all of these kids who are always fighting nagging stuff that can really debilitate them throughout the season with the training. Those downhills on the pavement were just not going to be good.”
This country needs more coaches like Wilvers: ones who are child-centered, not adult centered; ones who put safety first. In my book, Home Team Advantage, I extolled the virtues of women coaches. One of the advantages I cited was the finding by evolutionary biologists that woman have an inborn instinct to protect children from harm, whether their own or others, while men, from the beginning of time, have been more inclined to value competition, winning and risk taking. Yet here was the rare male coach who had, dare I say it, instincts more typical of a woman.
Wilvers is the type of coach we all want coaching our children: he saw an unacceptably high risk of long-term injury from running down hill on hard pavement in a highly competitive cross-country meet and decided that beating the defending state champion simply wasn’t worth it.
For a list of ten signs of a good youth sports coach, click here.