Great Athletes Make Great Coaches

A few weeks back I wrote about my former teacher, Sam Ulano. In the piece I pointed out the many ways that his influence on me has carried over to what I do today, even though he ostensibly only taught me about music. When I studied with Sam, I would often tell him what a good teacher he was. Sam was (justifiably) quite confident in his methods and abilities as a teacher, but he was also quick to point out to me that it's a lot easier to be a good teacher when you have a good student. Similarly, as a coach, I try very hard to do the best job I can. And though I know I can get better, I think I usually do a pretty good job. But when an athlete performs well and gives me undue credit, I'm quick to point out that they're the one who brought the talent and the work ethic to the equation. Hopefully I helped cultivate it and refine it, but it's a lot easier to be a good coach when you have a good athlete.

As I follow the career of high school phenom, Mary Cain, I can't help but remember my teacher's words of wisdom. There's no doubt in my mind that young Ms. Cain is in incredibly capable hands with Alberto Salazar. He is both one of the greatest runners, and one of the most accomplished coaches in history. If I had a daughter with talent like hers, I would want Salazar to coach her. But people are talking about her as if she only became great when Salazar came around. As the good folks at Let's Run accurately point out, Cain was already running amazing times under her previous coach, Jim Mitchell of Bronxville, whose contributions seem to be getting lost in the shuffle. As Exhibit A, they showed a video of Cain splitting 2:03:74 (with a 58-second opening 400) two years ago as a freshman. So while last week's 2:01.68 is nothing short of mind boggling, it shouldn't be surprising, nor should Salazar's credit outweigh Mitchell's, or - more to the point - Cain's.

Check out her leg in the video from 2011.