Well, here we are again.
The University of Oregon is the latest cross country/track program lined up behind a string of others that have been called out for harmful coaching practices. In this case, the reported harmful tactics included a weight-, appearance- and metrics-focused approach to coaching athletes.
Is this emblematic of so-called toxic culture? Yep.
Is the problem complicated? Sure.
Is it deeply rooted in systematic issues? Yes.
But is there one simple short-term solution? Yes. And it’s one many people have suggested before. So, here it is, louder for the coaches and administrators and support staff and national governing bodies in the back:
Coaching based on these metrics could be called lazy and short-sighted. You know, “Putting the cart before the horse.” (Punishing according to these metrics? Amoral.)
Yet coaches cling to these old ways as if they are the only way or the winningest ways. (They’re not.) As if runners were machines. (They’re not.) As if physics and metabolism were the same. (They’re not.)
Ironically and unfortunately, coaching like this flies in the face of mounting evidence. That evidence includes peer-reviewed research, significant statistics, expert insight, and—yes— anecdote after anecdote.
A weight- or body-composition or diet-first approach to coaching is risky. It’s risky for performance. It’s risky for health. It’s arguably exploitative, especially of developing athletes at the high school and collegiate levels.
So. Stop it.
Coaches. Can we open up our ears, eyes, and hearts? Consider other ways to help our athletes reach their potential? (They exist.) Embrace curiosity and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to grow?
For the curious, see some resources below to get started. Then, read and commit to this coaches’ pledge, inspired by—but not limited to—the Girls Running book.
Girls Running: All You Need to Strive, Thrive And Run Your Best by Melody Fairchild and Elizabeth Carey
Time for a revolution in sports culture – British Journal of Sports Medicine
What is RED-S? – Elizabeth Carey for DyeStat
Running In Silence – Blog and resources from Rachael Steil
Sport Performance: Should weight ever be manipulated? – Opal Food + Body Wisdom podcast, The Appetite, episode 89
Coaches’ toolkit – National Eating Disorder Association
Collegiate athletes sounding the alarm – Elizabeth Carey for DyeStat
Running’s cultural reckoning is long overdue – Christine Yu for Outside
Lauren Fleshman’s feminist approach to coaching – Michelle Hamilton for the New York Times
How are you doing? – Drew Hunter, Tinman Elite
What coaches need to know about eating – Elizabeth Carey for DyeStat
How parents and coaches can keep girls running – Erin Strout for Women’s Running
How to avoid food and body issues – Melody Fairchild and Elizabeth Carey for PodiumRunner
6 eating disorder myths – Elizabeth Carey for DyeStat
How to fix girls sports – Cindy Kuzma for Runner’s World
Wildwood Running – upcoming clinic!
Athletes aren’t numbers – David Roche for Trail Runner
Photo: Steens Mountain Running Camp / Kevin Jantzer