Monday, March 5, 2012

Culture and Infrastructure

Recently, I saw this great commentary come up on twitter:
Methodology is what matters.  This is consistently proven true and there are obvious examples of this in any sport on any level.  The best coaches surround themselves with the best people, both the athletes as well as the assistants, administrators, and consultants, and relentlessly explore to find the best methods and strategies to put their athletes in a position to improve and succeed.  Good facilities and equipment are nice, yet do little to foster improvement and success in and of themselves.  Good coaches and quality people can attain improvement and success despite lacking facilities and equipment; glitzy facilities and fancy equipment will not achieve consistent success in spite of poor coaching and dysfunctional individuals.  The best programs and teams maintain success from the top down, keeping in place key individuals who can find the right people with the right qualities when it is time to retool and reload talent.  Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots, LA Lakers, Green Bay Packers, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  None of those have facilities, equipment, or location that are any better than those of their peers.  Yet many others that do have locations, facilities, and equipment (and even payroll) on a par or better somehow struggle to find similarly consistent success.  The real difference, then, would be the culture ingrained by the component individuals and their sum within each organization.  

It is evident in collegiate track and cross country, too.  Colorado, which has fine facilities for cross country training (generally speaking, the facilities for cc are often chiefly found outside of a college campus rather than on it), was about at the bottom of the basement in terms of track facilities in the Big 12 when they won their conference track team title against powerhouses that spend exponentially more on track facilities, like Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, and others.  Colorado has typically not finished within the top five at the Big 12 track champs.  This triumph happened because the entire coaching staff and the athletes collaborated closely and implemented the right peaking strategies to get the most out of their talent at the right time.  They were on the same page and executed their plan with excellence, even if to that degree just for that season.  

Few top distance runners would consider Stillwater, OK a destination for training over prime locations such as Palo Alto, CA; Eugene, Oregon; Boulder, CO; Madison, WI; or even Fayetteville, AR.  Yet the coaching staff at Oklahoma State, headed by Dave Smith, has been able to lure talented prospects to campus and once there has trained them to run together well enough to upset traditional powers from those other locations - locations with ostensibly far better facilities for distance running training - to win a pair of national team titles plus a runner-up in cross country recently.  

An example in professional running in the USA would be the Hansons ODP in Michigan, another location which few would readily head up a list of ideal training spots.  The Hansons program has routinely brought the best out of many of their athletes to make them competitive in the marathon on both the national and international levels.  There are teams based at altitude and on the west coast which have rosters boasting talent with far better credentials coming in and often have expensive equipment and facilities that the athletes use yet have much spottier success in producing marathon performances on a par with said credentials.  Additionally, two of the best Japanese men in the marathon in the past couple of years, Yuki Kawauchi and Arata Fujiwara, have not found their ultimate success within the traditional infrastructure of the sponsored corporate team but are instead considered amateur outsiders.  With the right environment (support network) in place, you can make it happen pretty much anywhere.  Without it, success is going to come inconsistently, if at all.


  1. Great read, but you forgot to mention the lovely town where I train; Albuquerque, New Mexico. Keep up the great blogs, I look forward to more of them.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! UNM is well on its way to being a distance running power in the NCAA.