It hangs above my desk in my own handwriting. “You have to earn the respect you are given.” It’s my constant reminder of the sheer magnitude of my position. My father who instilled in me the idea that you can spend 20 years building trust and destroy it in 20 seconds. The moment you stop earning it, it’s gone. And that’s unacceptable to me as a coach.
Over the past decade, I’ve found that some athletes will walk in the door and just hand me their athletic dreams – no questions asked. On the other hand, others need me to earn their trust. I have to prove myself. I have to prove that I care about them and that I have the knowledge to help them achieve their goals. Honestly, I’ve never understood why some coaches are insulted by the latter. Why they’re annoyed by the fact that they have to reprove themselves annually. Because you should feel like you have to do it daily.
Here’s a small admission, as an athlete, I’m one of the latter. I’m not quick to trust and I’m even slower to open up. If something is important to me, I’m not going to simply hand it off to an unproven commodity. I mean no disrespect, it just feels reckless. And as a coach who was a hurdler who put in charge of a top tier distance program, I know the feeling of having 30+ athletes look up at me and have their faces say “Your move. Prove to us you can do this. Prove to us we can trust you. ”
Trust. Without it, everything I do here is meaningless. It presence solidifies great teams and it’s absence tears apart weak ones. And it’s the reason why Vinnie Lee’s senior year was so meaningful to me. And why he was a major catalyst for everything we accomplished last year.
Just as I did to my coach, Vinnie needed me to earn his trust. He had plans. He was dedicated and he had a scary work ethic. I wasn’t insulted. It’s human nature. It’s my nature. And so I set out to earn his trust and respect.
Vinnie’s committed. He has an intensity and vigor with which he attacks every aspect of his life. Throughout his time at Tufts, I watched him become a 24-7 athlete. His training and growth was considered in every decision and choice that he made both on and off the track. Nutrition, sleep, work, and recovery became a regimen to Vinnie. Fuel, work, recover, rinse, repeat.
And that intensity and focus with which he approached his training, only magnified when he put on a uniform. An eight-lane track would narrow to one lane. His drive, his acceleration, his float, his finish was all that existed. And with the race run, the real work would begin. Where to improve? What could be better? Where were the weaknesses? Vinnie would set out to make himself bigger, faster, stronger.
And so, how did such an individual like Vinnie help catalyze the single most memorable track meet of my life. He did it in two ways. He galvanized our team with his trust. And then he backed it up every day.
I wasn’t there. It was a “player’s only” meeting early in the year. But it found it’s way back to me. “If this team is going to win NESCACs, we need to trust Ethan and the coaches. He’ll get us there.” I guarantee that isn’t even close to what was said, but the gist is there. (And there were probably more than a few profanities mixed in too.) I’m told it caught more than a few people off guard.
It was a powerful thing. Like the words of a silent man, the trust of those slow to give it is a compelling force. In my mind it was the impulse force that set us on our course. It overcame the inertia of 70 bodies and started them rolling toward April 27, 2013. And every day at practice Vinnie would keep that momentum rolling. He wouldn’t let up. He’d give the rolling stone a tap and watch it pick up speed. By the time NESCACs rolled around, I wasn’t even aware of the momentum with which we were moving. I don’t think anyone was, including Vinnie.
We hit NESCACs like a freight-train. Vinnie added his own PR’s in the 100m and 200m. He’d finish with a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finish. He helped spark the meet with the 100m trials and saw it through to the finish with the 200m and 4×4.
So no real list of thanks for this one. I don’t want to lessen the biggest one. Vinnie was a workhorse. He and I definitely didn’t start on the same page, but we finished there. And it made all the difference for me. Thanks for believing I could get us there, Vinnie. Thanks.