Monday, June 15, 2009

A Weekend of Triathlon: Sportsmanship, Hard Racing, and Fun

This weekend I was a race marshal at two USAT races. One was a US National Championship qualifier and the other was a sprint with some strong competition trying to get to the US Sprint Championship. Triathlon coaches need to do a better job teaching rules and sportsmanship is my premise for much of this blog entry today.

Friday night we made into central Wisconsin very quickly. Traffic wasn't that bad for some odd reason. We had three pre-race briefings to give. I know that a lot of people think these are a waste of time, however, if you get a very detailed "view" of the race course in the briefing I think it is a great thing. I know that as a marshal I knew what locations on the course would be tough and which ones would be dangerous. Missing from the race briefings were all of the IL and IN members of Team in Training. Not good.

Saturday we awoke to light rain. I put on the "magic rain cape" and by the time the bike started the rain had stopped. By the end of the run it was sunny and warm. 85% of the penalties were people who did not attend the pre-race briefing and the majority of those were Team in Training. We had one guy unbuckle his aero-helmet on the bike (an instant DQ - not called by me). This guy was 2nd in his age group and wanted to protest the DQ. Unfortunately for him, two other refs (Stew and I) got him for drafting and blocking as well. Three penalties is a DQ also. He gave up his protest when he learned that all four officials had penalized him for something. That is actually really hard to do but this guy got it. He'll have to try and qualify for nationals at another race.

Most of the penalties called on Saturday that I recorded were just silly fouls. Most racers didn't know the rules. X equals a penalty. Y does not. Most racers didn't know that no CPSC sticker in the helmet may mean that your helmet is not legal in US racing, and that this is a safety concern. This year all USAT officials should know what to look for. Unfortunately, a friend found one official who didn't know what to tell her in time before a race about a year or two ago. That means that YOU as a racer should know OR YOUR COACH should know and inform you. If the average coach is getting paid $240 to $360 a month... you better know the rules and advise your clients in my opinion.

Let's take that one step further. Do you know how to use the rules to your advantage? I'm not just talking about "pimping" another racer when the marshal is next to you and you accelerate at the last moment and the other guy or gal gets a penalty. Do you know what do to when there are two lanes of slower traffic and you need to pass? Do you know how many seconds you can stay in the draft zone as an amateur at a USAT race? WTC race? Do you think that might help you? Is your coach reviewing this with you as one of the pre-race details? I do.

The most embarrassing thing from Saturday was for Team in Training. TNT is a great cause and I have worked and participated in their events. Saturday was not a day that they will look on fondly. The TNT people were 86% of all the penalties called Saturday and the group that blew off the pre-race talk. Just before the finish, with children and other spectators looking on, they handed out cans of beer for a "photo op" at the finish line. Not until race management had a talk with them did this stop. The head ref, and very tactful and nice Lucy, had a conversation with the head TNT person but was treated pretty rudely. (A major understatement.) The conversation was like this, "Hi, who are the leaders of TNT here today?" Response, "What do you want? What now?" Later, I told Lucy she should have responded with, "I just won the lotto and didn't know if I should donate money to TNT, but you confirmed my initial decision. Thank you." I'll let my readers comment on this. It was really disappointing and misrepresented a lot of really good people who are their teammates.

We did have three disappointing, maddening and sad situations Saturday. Disappointing - one woman didn't know the course and rode 2/3rds of the course in the wrong direction (in spite of the well laid out signs). She did go back to where she left the course and finished - with really long bike ride. I credit her for finishing when she could have said "screw it". Maddening - one racer showed up to registration on Friday and said, "So are you guys going to f*ck up the race again this year" to the volunteers. Saturday morning he showed up at 7:25. Transition closed at 7. Tells the volunteer, "I've already paid my money. I want to race. Call to race director (RD). He asks me and I tell him this is a race management decision because the race has not started yet. RD lets him in. He goes off cursing us out after we helped him. I ask him his number. He says, "Write it down pal. Go ahead." He got a penalty from Stew for drafting later. Sad - we had a fatality on the beach after the swim. A woman staggered out of the water and collapsed. They took her to the hospital but I believe she died right there. Water temp was 61 F, but I don't have the details. Either way, someone came to a race for fun and died.

I think Saturday's race was exceptionally well done. I would love to do that race as a participant one day. Well done by the race staff and volunteers.

Sunday, the race went really well. A sprint which had some high end folks. The race went fast and I saw really good racing by a few members of one local team. You bet I'll email their head coach and tell him what I saw. Good sports. Good racing with the rules. A tip of the cap.

Lastly, I am very happy with my athletes! Nice work this weekend! Great sportsmanship exhibited by you guys was noted by several race directors. One of my athletes gave another guy in his age group an extra pair of goggles. He didn't know that the race director was right behind him and that the RD is a friend of mine and knew that guy is coached by me. Another female racer, said thank you to the race staff all day and was known as "the friendly racer". RD knew that she was coached by me too. Neither of them had any penalties AND they finished on or near the podium. See, it can be done. Good racing and be a lady or gentleman; a sportsman or sportswoman. Thank you for representing yourself, your family, and your coach well at the races this weekend. Yes, all three race directors called me to say "thank you" for my racers being so cool to everyone - it was noticed! Triathlon is a "small pond" at times. I'm glad that my folks are such good people as well as good racers.

Triathlon coaching needs to lead the direction of education and coaching. Right now, it is just physical training. Any monkey or plate head can coach the physical part, can you coach the mental part - good sportsmanship or the lack there of - will make this sport great or "just a fringe/extreme sport". Last year in Kona, most of the racers looked like they were headed to a funeral or a meeting with human resources instead of what they do for fun. The people with smiles on their faces were standouts. My folks, who are great racers, are the smilers or at least the friendly folks. Two punched their first tickets to Kona this weekend and they did it with a smile on their faces and no penalties issued.

I'm so happy I could just bust! Well done folks.


  1. Four penalties from four different officials in one race? Impressive. That must have taken some real effort.

    I laugh at the comparison of "a meeting with human resources" with a funeral. Nice. As an HR Consultant, it's well known that Human Resources has a perception problem that's partly driven by management saddling the team with delivering bad news a lot. When it comes to delivering GOOD news, what manager is going to delegate that to their friendly HR professional? Oh well...such is life.

  2. Hey Bob, good post today. Which of your two athletes qualified for Kona this weekend? We should congratulate them by name!

  3. Bob, good post today. Which of your two athletes qualified for Kona this weekend and at what races? Would love to know who they are so we can congratulate them.

  4. Very telling blog here Robert.
    I plan to pass it around to a few coaches/athletes I know of who are influential and or work with new athletes.

    It never ceases to amaze me that athletes do not realize the volunteer state or goodwill efforts of our sports.
    Usually these are the people who rarely think to volunteer or assist with much unless it directly benefits the amount of $$ going into their pocket.

    Thank you for your work on the course!

  5. Hi,

    We have just added your latest post "A Weekend of Triathlon: Sportsmanship, Hard Racing, and Fun " to our Directory of Sports. You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory and get a huge base of visitors to your website.

    Warm Regards Team

  6. Hi Chris -

    I will post their names if they agree. Since blogs are public places and these are private people - I'll let them decide if I can publish their name. As a coach, I must respect my athlete's wishes.

    Of course, I will do everything HUMANLY POSSIBLE to get them to let me shout their name from every hill top. I'm positively floating today.


  7. Sportstrove -

    Thank you for the honor of posting my blog on your site. I appreciate it sincerely.


  8. Hi Ashlee,

    Yeah, there are some great coaches out there but like any biz there are some losers too. I'm hoping that sportsmanship gets noticed and the coaches these folks come from get pressure to change their ways.


  9. Alica,

    Sorry about the slam on Human Resources. Just like coaches and athletes, there are good people in HR. I know of at least seven who I talk to a lot!


  10. Great post Bob! I completely agree: people SHOULD go to the pre-race meeting, no matter how large OR small of a race. Shame on the folks who represented TNT - they make a good cause look bad. As a competitive racer, I try to avoid people who don't know the rules (ride to the left...litter...hop on my wheel...speed up when I pass them....) as much as possible. But its tough sometimes - especially since there are SO MANY of them. Sadly, not enough people attend the mandatory meetings. And good lord - 4 penalties!?! I thought that was impossible. Clearly - I was wrong.

    Congratulations to your Kona-bound athletes! That's a real accomplishment for them AND for you! Kudos Coach! :)