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Caring is Cool, How Do You Define Success?

July 19, 2017


Interesting Thought: Caring is Cool

A recent article, written by our friend Amby Burfoot and published in the Washington Post, made a compelling case that amateur American runners are getting slower. What’s interesting is that this slowing cannot be attributed to the growth of the sport, at least not solely. Even when you adjust for new runners, who are inherently slower, the finishing times of American runners are still worsening.
The elitists were immediately up in arms. I can’t tell you how many email chains and twitter conversations I (Brad) was a part of that centered around some version of: “This is pathetic…American’s are getting weaker…The Millennial generation is an extra-special case of bad—they just don’t give a crap about being good at anything.”
First thing is first: all running is better than no running. It’s better for the health of the nation and better for the health of the sport.


  • RE: health of the nation: Even if you are walking a marathon that’s still a helluva a lot of walking, and likely a helluva lot of walking that got you ready for it. Vigorous walking (the kind needed to complete a marathon before most mandatory cut-offs) is quite healthy.

  • RE: health of the sport: Give me a f-ing break. That’s akin to the NBA or NFL looking down on sloppy neighborhood pick-up games. Running is a sport rife with problems (i.e., doping) to begin with. It would be wise to cultivate fans of all speeds, shapes, and sizes.


All of that said, one can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some truth to the criticism, too. As a member of the Millennial generation, I can attest to the “hipster” vibe that all too many of my peers strive for. Strive is probably a poor word choice, however, since the very essence of this vibe is being too cool to care, to cool to strive for anything. Better to dress-up (sometimes literally) and not really engage than to actually make oneself vulnerable, step in the arena, embrace discomfort, and risk failure.  Perhaps this is also a contributing factor to the slowing of American running. Even more worrisome is how this attitude may be contributing to the slowing of far more than just running.
There are, of course, exceptions…a generation is an enormous sample with a lot of variability, and my guess is that it’s not just the Millennial generation that is shifting to a comfort-first mindset. Which is why it’s worth ending with a reminder that those who do care not only push society forward but also reap vast personal rewards. In the words of the graffiti artist, political activist, and filmmaker Banksy: “Our generation thinks it's COOL NOT TO CARE. It's not. Effort is cool. Caring is cool. Staying loyal is cool. Try it out.” 


Coaching Corner: Defining Success

After watching an athlete finish a good race, I can't help but be filled with excitement. But, sometimes, when I approach that same athlete, I'm met with a dejected young man or woman. At first, I'm puzzled: they competed well, but they are standing in front of me appearing as if the world has ended.

While not frequent, this situation is one all coaches (as well as managers, teachers, and parents) encounter. Why the disconnect between our reaction to the race and the athletes? 
In many events, how we define success seems simple: did I win or lose? Winning means happiness, and losing equals sadness, and perhaps even questioning our training and coaching. But dig a little deeper and success could be something else, like did I set a personal best or improve my place from the last race? Did I execute my race plan to perfection, or did I feel better during this race than the last one? In other words, there’s a myriad of ways we can define success, and each one shapes the post race reaction. If you don't have the same definition of success as those you lead, you're setting yourself up for trouble.
When working with a team, it’s important to first understand how each member defines success. It doesn’t matter if I think they did well or not, if we have different definitions of "well" in the first place. As a coach, I need to be clear in understanding my athletes' expectations, then acknowledging and shaping them in ways that ensure a healthy view of competition, success, and failure.

Whether you are leading a sports team, classroom, or business unit, walk yourself through these four questions to make sure that everyone's definition of success is a productive one:

  1. How do your team members define success?

  2. How do you define success for them?

  3. What’s the mismatch?

  4. How can you both align on a definition that is productive and healthy?


More Good Stuff


Sometimes, not working *is* the work. How reframing rest as something not separate from but rather part of doing good work is hugely beneficial. Brad's latest column with New York. 

Are elite sports "healthy"? It depends! Brad's latest column with Outside.

Is what you are thinking harming your race performance? Steve's latest on Science of Running.

The less we think about ourselves, the better we become. A wise and well-written piece on the incredible power of purpose by Cindy Lamothe (appearing in Quartz).

Gabe Grunewald is a hero. Her story is an inspiration during a time where inspiration is sorely needed. Tim Layden tells it here, in this Sports Illustrated piece.


Support Gabe


Gabe Grunewald is raising money to help in her fight against cancer. We strongly urge you to donate!


As a show of support, we are also donating proceeds from sales this week of our books, Peak Performance and The Science of Running.

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