After I posted my blog earlier this week, reader Bob G. from Illinois reached out with this response, which I have condensed:
"Saw your blog on dogfighting/overtraining. Having lived through the 70's and 80's when many of our bright young stars were buried by coaches who adopted the more is better method of training I can say the coaching profession is doing a much better job of protecting our young athletes. That is not to say that it doesn't happen.
More than often the cause of "overtraining" especially at the college level is caused by athletes not taking care of themselves. You fill in the blanks, late nights, bad eating habits. drinking and drugs. Also, you see athletes that have had success in high volume programs who try to train the same way they did in High School with less sleep and poor nutrition"
And you know what? Bob makes a great point that I didn't cover at all.
What is the athlete's responsibility?
I know that athletes can absolutely betray the trust of their coach because when I was in college, I did it myself. I ended up apologizing to my coach two years after I graduated, moved into coaching and realized something that should have been smacking me in the face the entire time I was at school. Nothing ruins a training plan like busting your butt Monday through Saturday, then spending the 48 hours you have to recover in a drunken stupor. I focus on alcohol here because it was how I sabotaged my own training and probably the most common betrayal that college athletes commit.
Coaches can't factor alcohol abuse into their season plan. And it is likely that a coach will only get any concrete information about swimmers "extra-curricular" activity when something bad happens, and the police/hospitals are involved. Any other information they get is purely hearsay and generally I've found swimmers try to band together and even protect their teammates' drinking problems from their coach.
Alcohol abuse is such a serious betrayal of trust from athlete to coach, or even teammates for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is actually a performance reducer. You are taking purposeful action to reduce your body's ability to rest, recover and grow stronger. As I said, I realized this all too late when a couple years out of school I had gone almost abstinent. All of a sudden, I could recover great workout to workout, my weight that I had battled for years fell off. I felt like a more talented version of myself. But the fact that alcohol abuse hinders your performance alone does not fully encompass what a betrayal it is. The fact that some athletes seem to take great pleasure in it, see it as a undeniable part of their existence as a college student, and fight tooth and nail to preserve it, makes it so weighty.
To sum it up, the true and most common betrayal of trust between coach and athlete is the belief that the pursuit of excellence stops at the end of a two-hour practice, that choices you make about what you do socially, what you eat and how much you sleep don't matter. An athlete can look at their effort in practice and really believe that they are doing everything in their power to become better. In truth, they may be working against themself in more ways than one.