Off the Track and Onto the Trails

I recently listened to a good conversation between podcaster and athlete Rich Roll and Matthew Futterman, Deputy Sports Editor for the New York Times.

Futterman’s new book is about Bob Larsen, a legendary running coach and the driving force behind some of the most lasting innovations in the sport’s history.

At one point, Roll and Futterman talk about the way Larsen helped his athletes to move away from the daily grind of training that was the dominant ideology at the time. In short, he moved his athletes “off the track and onto the trails.” He taught them to run based on feel and to perform what, today, would be called “tempo” runs.

Surely, at the time, Larsen’s methods must have been questioned by both onlookers and perhaps his own athletes. He was cutting against the received wisdom of the day. (I’m looking forward to learning more once my copy of the book arrives.) When Futterman looks back, though, with the gift of hindsight and an inquiring mind, he is able to unpack exactly what made Larsen’s methods so useful for his runners.

The track and the pool are really, really good for one person. And that’s the coach. Because the coach can stand in the middle of the track, or can stand on the pool deck, and can have the watch and can monitor everything. But he or she is not the one going around in circles like a hamster all afternoon or going back and forth in the water all afternoon, slowly going mad. But when you get off the track or you get out of the pool it’s just, for obvious reasons, liberating. You feel free.

Source: Rich Roll Podcast

Of course this makes me think about the classroom . . . about teaching . . . about teachers.

If you’re a teacher, have you thought through your teaching methods or are you simply doing what you’ve always done? Are you simply teaching the way you, yourself, were taught or according to some form of received wisdom? Is the received wisdom even right?

One level deeper: Is what you’re doing in your classroom serving the needs — and instincts and intuitions — of the students in your care, or is it simply giving you a feeling of control. Is your practice serving you (or your administrators) or is it serving your students?

And, most important: is your teaching making your students feel more liberated, more free?

The classroom, it occurs to me, is often really, really good for one person. And that’s the teacher. Because the teacher can watch and monitor everything. But he or she is not the one going around in circles . . .

I can’t wait to read Futterman’s book because I know it will not only teach me about a sport that I love, but also broaden my perspective about teaching and learning. More on all of that later!

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