Changing Fundamentals

I look at the world today from politics to sports to education to city building and somehow arrive at the same thought: When a generation is born, they are born into a world already in motion. The expectation for new generations is to simply go with the flow. Except, the direction of that current isn’t always right. Sometimes that current must be redirect. If redirection isn’t possible, then new ripples and currents must take form and take on a force big enough to create change.

What am I talking about?

I look at the rules that govern track & field from high school to NCAA to USATF, and I cannot help but wonder, is it time for a reassessment? Rules are written criteria for forming organization. Rules are guidelines to protect organizations from chaos. As I look back through history, it appears some rules were written based on privilege during a time of sociological upheaval. Other rules affecting the sport originate from Football and are loosely applied to track. My guess is that the authors got lazy and felt it would be too much of an imposition to write rules specific to each sport. Whatever the case may be, the effects certain rules have had on many track & field athletes have been dire. The question is…how do you change rules that have been in effect since the days of Avery Brundage?

I look at the view from my backyard. Hollywood Park is closing. Instead of visionaries creating some type of athletic complex reflecting the City of Inglewood’s motto, “City of Champions,” the city along with developers are building homes to pack in thousands more into a tiny city. Shopping centers will be built as well. My guess, based on the new complexes built on Imperial and Century, more discount stores to further deteriorate my beloved city. Wal-Mart owns the land and has for decades I understand. The question is…how do you stop it? How do you change the tide and generate currents that reshape the landscape for the better?

There are people in this world who have redirected the flow of rivers…Inspired changed…Taken ownership…Risen to become a powerhouse despite being born into a world in motion. Without money or power, how do you create BIG changes for the benefit of others?

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Who’s the Cheat? The Athlete or The Company?

Written by: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date: Monday, July 15, 2013
In recent news, Tyson Gay was reportedly caught using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). According to the article, Gay was unaware that he was taking PEDs. The supplements (or whatever) were said to contain traces of substances banned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Far too many track & field athletes have similar stories. When stories like this surface, the world shines the spotlight on the athlete and asks why? Why did you cheat? What’s interesting about a spotlight is that when it shines, it shines on one area and the areas surrounding that light are left hidden in darkness.

So we are asking, what’s in the darkness?

Who manufactures PEDs? Who distributes PEDs? Why are athletes the target market for these companies? How lucrative is this market? Track & field appears to be a niche for PED companies. If this is truly a niche, why? Why are track & field athletes pursued, when most elites incomes are relatively low compared to so-called revenue sports (Football, Basketball, Baseball). Are there other markets?

During the Bush Administration, a scandal erupted concerning a company called BALCO. Hadn’t heard of BALCO prior to 2004. In 2002, the administration lead investigations to, “clean up the sport.” By the Summer Olympics of 2004, guilty US athletes were embarrassingly ousted in front of the entire world. If you are unfamiliar with this case, you can read about it here. That year I asked, “why is the President of the United States and his administration getting involved in track?” Yes, Olympic athletes are often viewed as ambassadors representing their home countries; still, the government’s involvement in the investigation presented more questions.

I later looked up this BALCO. Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. “Co-Operative.” What does Co-Operative sound like? What does it mean? Why not just Bay Area Laboratory? Victor Conte, formerly of the music group Tower of Power, was a co-founder of this technologically advanced biochemical company. He was a bass guitarist AND biochemist producing technologies the world only imagined. The purpose of these technologies were to enhance human abilities or in sci-fi terms, create superhumans. He sought to make people faster, stronger, and more agile. He enhanced people’s ability to heal and recover faster after experiencing extreme physical distress (i.e. practice). His platform: the athlete. He used his products on the world’s best as a measurement and recorded the effects of his products on the human body. Why? Did he and his associates simply want to know at what lengths the human body could be enhanced?

For the most part, his PEDs were virtually undetectable by the USADA. This allowed him to sustain convert operations for 20 years. BALCO’s was eventually shut down in 2004. Conte however was not. After serving a sentence in 2005, he established another scientific company called: Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC).

At least this name sounds more athletic and nutritional.

If you want to know why athletes take PEDs, don’t look at the spotlight, shine some light on the darkness. BALCO was just one company known for “superhuman advancements” through biochemistry. To find more, follow who receives payment in exchange for the product. Research who funds the scientific findings of these biochemists. Most elite athletes are not biochemists, so why interrogate them with questions? Follow the money trail.

PEDs has a long history dating back to the 1930s and the World War II era. We’ll look into later. In the meantime, consider how these products come to be and you’ll find the answer is bigger than the athlete.

Train for What You Do

By Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Written July, 8, 2013

When athletes train, they train for their sport.  The movements they do from strengthening exercises to drills are performed within the context of their sport.  If a track & field athlete swims as a workout, they swim to reduce impact and improve strength/conditioning for their event.  If a football player like Herschel Walker takes ballet lessons, he does so to improve their agility, strength, flexibility, and timing on the field.  If a soccer player enters cross country, they run to improve their endurance and wind.  Fans have seen this type of cross-sport integration for decades.  I myself use gymnastics, bar calisthenics, and aquatic sports to work on my flexibility and strength.  The combination of sports and movements seems to be working pretty well for my body.

Lately, I have been thinking about athletes and employees.  Those of you reading may ask, what is the relationship?  Why the thought?  Well, take a moment to consider how the workplace is regarded.  For many, the workplace is just work.  However, from a business perspective, the workplace is a huge production.  Each employee plays a part and occupies a position that is linked to a team.  The owner/CEO expects each employee to perform at high productivity levels to maximize profits.

However, few workplaces are configured to encourage high productivity from people.  Most employees sit all day in front of a computer typing away their health.  Over time, their posture slumps and body becomes form fitted to the demands of that position.  Consequently, as their physical sustainability wanes, their productivity levels gradually fall.  Those who recognize their health is being impacted, are sometimes seen walking in the mornings or after work, in zumba classes or doing the latest workout fads.  While this move is fine, these workout attempts are not chosen within the context of their performance.  Let me explain:  If you are sitting all day, your work plan should be written to support that lifestyle.  Your workout should involve exercises to build your back, your abdominals, your glutes, your hips, and your groin to stay fit and reduce the likelihood of injury (i.e. back injuries and sciatica).  If you have to shelve papers, boxes, or books, your workout should include exercises that build your arms, shoulders, neck, quads, hamstrings, claves, and feet.  In other words, employees, like athletes, should train according to their performance.  If you do a lot of walking during or outside of work hours, you need to include strengthening exercises that support that type of movement.

Train with the mindset of an athlete.  The Insanity program, Herbalife beach runs, and Zumba classes are all great outlets.  However, to sustain fitness and a lifetime of good health, approach these programs knowing the shape of your body is also related to your performance.

 

Attitude Reflects Leadership: A Pre-Title IX mentality in a Post-Title IX World Part I

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By Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Written: June 17, 2013

It’s funny. I turn on the television to channel 171 (the get fit channel) and other cable stations and I see mostly women participating in aerobics, Insanity workouts, jogging, Tae Bo, yoga, zumba, and a variety of overly energetic workout programs. The reasons they workout seem to echo the same messages as those voiced in a Pre-Title IX world: “I want to lose weight.” “I want to get thin.” “I want to stay healthy.” “I want to look great.” “I want more energy.”

I suppose these reasons are good and all. Then again, I cannot help but wonder, just how sustainable are these goals? This is the 21st century. Why are women still talking like it’s 1950? Aside from the “Biggest Loser,” why is there such a low presence of competitive workout programs on television? How does this lack of competitive programs affect the psyche of women in a Post-Title IX World?

Then I noticed the age of many of the women on the screen. They hail from the Baby Boom and Generation X. Baby Boomers were born prior to 1972, 9-27 years before Title IX was drafted. At a young age, boomer girls were taught that dresses were the standard uniform of a woman and sports were reserved for men. This is a far cry from today where we see tennis greats, Serena, Venus, and Maria, demonstrating that women can play hard, sweat, and compete while looking beautiful and stylish in a dress. No, boomers were taught the same message as generations before them- to maintain their appearance for their male counterparts and society. Presentation is everything they say. Workout but don’t sweat.

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Late Baby Boomers and GenX, the sons and daughters of the Silent Generation (1925 – 1944) and early Baby Boomers, were kids at the time Title IX was written. The statute was barely in effect during their developmental years. GenXers dealt with conflicting ideologies. Title IX gave them the freedom to engage in sport and a competitive atmosphere. Meanwhile, their female teachers, the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation, continued to perpetuate ideologies that constrained and discouraged women from sport. So, while Flo-Jo, Jackie Joyner, Evelyn Ashford, and Gail Devers were blazing the track getting gold medals, other women were out Jazzercising and doing Tae Bo.

On the one hand, it’s good to see women doing some form of physical activity to maintain their health. Still, I’d like to see more women above 35 engaging in sport. Perhaps my generation, GenY, will be the generation to profoundly change women’s participation and attitudes towards sport.

Life After Track

Written By: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date: April 28, 2013

Life After Track. Is there really such a thing? What do you do when you’ve reached the point when you say, “I’m done running. I’ve accomplished all that I’ve set out to do in this sport.”

CHOOSE ANOTHER SPORT!!!

The other day, I was looking up videos and images of Maria Mutola’s past performances. As I searched, I came across images of the powerful half-miler playing soccer for Mozambique. Mutola retired from track in 2008 but not from sports. This legendary athlete isn’t the only track star to consider other sports. LoLo Jones isn’t retired but on her off season she bobsleds for the US Olympic Team. Marion Jones returned to basketball after her dismissal. I’ve even seen a few track & field athletes on scene for Ninja Warrior.

Guess these athletes decisions to change sports shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, once an athlete, always an athlete.

So what sport will you consider joining? Me, probably gymnastics…that is if Béla Károlyi will coach me.

Hey Béla, 4’11” 105lb athlete, what do ya say?! (ignore my age).

If not, then the next best thing is parkour/free running.

Super Bowl Commercials – Everyday Man vs. Athlete

Written By:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  February 4, 2013

People watch the Super Bowl for three reasons:  1) Football, 2) Half-Time, and 3) Epic Super Bowl Commercials.  Yesterday, two commercials caught my eye featuring Sketcher running shoes and Mio, a sports drink.  Let us first take a look at the Sketchers commercial:

The Sketchers commercial shows a man chasing after a cheetah with all the quickness of Usain Bolt.  He attributes his speed to state-of-the-art running shoes made by Sketchers.  The commercial was humorous and random like most Super Bowl Commercials.  Anyone viewing could tell great thought was put into the commercial from the color scheme to the facial expressions of the animals to the memorable storyline.  Good commercial.  As I was watching however, three questions came to mind:  1) Who was the guy in the commercial?  2) Who does he represent?  3) Why wasn’t a track & field athlete chosen to market this product?

Now let’s view the Mio commercial featuring comedian Tracy Morgan.

Tracy Morgan’s delivery of the “Mio Sports Drink Anthem” was funny and random.  He added comedic value to the commercial which satisfies Super Bowl Commercial requirements.  However, Tracy Morgan is not an athlete.  He is not known for sports or fitness so why was he chosen?

So many athletes, especially in track & field, are overlooked for marketing sports and running-specific products.  Companies, for whatever reason, resort to using models with bad form and celebrity figures outside of the sport to market products.  Just think if track & field athletes were involved in the marketing process, perhaps track & field would have a bigger following.  Viewers would become familiar with the images and names of track & field athletes.  When competitions are shown on TV or local events are announced, maybe…just maybe…spectatorship would rise.

Why aren’t track & field athletes considered?  Why do we not see marketing images of Reese Hoffa, Carmelita Jeter, David Robles, Natasha Hastings, Angelo Taylor, Yelena Yelesina, Christophe Lemaitre, Walter Dix, Mitchell, Watt, and others?  Perhaps this inconsideration can be attributed to the topic of our previous blog:  how the rules of track & field favor amateurism over professionalism.

Every Generation Needs a New Revolution

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 31, 2013

What do you do when the laws of the land become outdated and the rulers who enforce these laws refuse to acknowledge this change in order to preserve the old guard?  History has shown that those astute to this change have risen in protest spreading awareness to all those negatively impacted by old world fundamentalism.  The collective efforts of advocates most often results in Revolution-mass movements recognizing the need to fundamentally upgrade systems, practices, and constructs affecting societal behavior, philosophy, and government to reflect the changing world.

Why talk about revolution in a track & field blog?  Well, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution,” in order to progress and fulfill ideals projected by each generation.  The 21st Century ushered in a new generation of athletes.  Thanks to the phenomenal athletic and business efforts of athletes such as Michael Jordan, A-Rod, Magic Johnson, and David Beckham, the new generation has come to understand that Athletics at the elite level is a Profession, not a hobby.  Now, when this same generation looks at track & field and views the rules governing the sport, their understanding is suddenly confounded.

Allow me to explain.

Many of the rules governing the sport still favor amateurism over professionalism.  I say “still” because the rules were written at a time when amateurism reigned as the supreme doctrine of sport.  Take a moment one day and look back through time.  Back, back, way back to the 1880s.  There, you will find a great and noble man named William Buckingham Curtis also known as THE FATHER OF AMATEURISM.  This is the guy who established an organization called the Amateur Athletic Union.  To establish this association, Curtis wrote a set of rules reflecting his views on sport, socioeconomics, and well…the ideologies of his class.  If you recall, economist Thornstein Veblan explained sports as an unproductive demonstration of status and wealth already attained through productive professions.  (See past blog).  Translation:  Sport then was (and still is in many ways) regarded as a leisure activity reserved for the upper-class.  This activity was designed to flaunt social status.  Sport, at the time the AAU was established, was not a socially acceptable means to acquire wealth.  For athletes to demand compensation for engaging in an “unproductive” or leisure activity was frowned upon and greatly discouraged.  Curtis shared these sentiments like most noblemen of his time.  The rules he wrote reflected this ideology and defined the infrastructure of many sports including track & field.  Consequentially, track & field can be said to be a sport originally designed for nobility.

Let’s now speed up time and look at the 1960s.  By the 1960s, the participants in track & field in the US had changed.  Track was made available to people of all classes, races, and sexes.  Although track grew in diversity, the rules of the game still reflected the philosophies of 19th century aristocracy.  Amateurism was a belief strongly upheld by governing bodies under the direction of leaders such as Avery Brundage.  The well-to-do Brundage fought to preserve the ideals of amateurism to…well…exclude non-noblemen (to put it extremely mildly).  The rules they upheld were not adapted to the socially changing world.  Consequently, many athletes who had not yet acquired wealth through “productive professions,” had to begin thinking about turning track into a profession in order to finance their athletic pursuits.  The time and costs it took to train, fuel, and compete would impact their pockets.  Unfortunately, emerging governing bodies that adopted AAU rules as their own would make it difficult…That plus the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.  Just look at the stories of Wilma Rudolph, Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Lee Evans and other athletes of the 1960s, 70s, 80s…

Today, the philosophies of Curtis and his 19th century associates can still be read to some degree in the rulebooks.  The definition of amateurism has changed a bit to include people of all classes but the idea of sports for leisure, sports for fun still remains.  For athletes who wish to make a career out of track & field, this philosophy impacts their livelihood.  To accommodate career level athletes, a change must be made.  Rules must be added to support the purity of professionalism.  As history shows, this change will not come easy.  As long as governance values amateurism over professionalism, many competitors will struggle to start, keep, and build a career in track…and if the athlete struggles, the sport struggles.

So, perhaps the track & field world should follow the advice of President Jefferson.  A little revolution is good every now and then.  Amateurism is fine and has its place, but so does professionalism.  In order to progress and grow as a sport, rules must be updated and reassessed to determine how they impact the athlete especially if there’s athletes who wish to have a real career as a professional.   Given recent events with pro-runners fighting to gain visibility, marketing opportunities, contracts, etc, the governing bodies can no longer take an, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach to managing the sport.   It’s time for an upgrade.

Many Questions – No Answers

What is the reasoning behind:

…someone who is unwilling to run against others in front of a crowd but is receptive to the idea of running at a gym showing off on a treadmill as they workout with others in front of a crowd?

…someone who wakes up religiously to run with relentless dedication and vigor in the dark of morn at 6:00AM but refuses the idea of training?

…someone who runs in competitive marathons year after year but rejects the idea of competing?

…some young/old track star who quits track and looks back at the sport eyes of longing?

…that same track star who becomes defensive or fearful when asked to return to the sport?

…people who do not like running or feel you must like running to run?

…RUNNING for charity rather than simply giving from their pocket?

…people who regard all professional athletes alike when it comes to income when K0be Bryant’s net worth is 6 times greater than Usain Bolts and Bolt is track’s highest paid athlete?  (Kobe- $200M, Usain- $30M…most T&F prof- athletes $50K to $1M)

…the vision of 1950s track & field rule makers when they drafted the rules that set up the infrastructure of track governing bodies and track & field today?

…applying rules clearly intended for team sports such football, basketball, and baseball to track & field when track is an individualized sport?

…track policy makers today as they continue to uphold those 1950s ideals and apply them to a 21st century audience?

…Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and other athletic gear manufacturers when companies opt to use everyday models to market their running shoes & gear instead of track & field athletes?

So many questions…are there any answers?

What is a Runner? Who is a Runner?

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 7, 2013

What is a Runner?
The answer may appear obvious, but if you take into account target markets, products, literature, media, sociology, economics, and other non-athletic factors that define what a runner is, you’d be surprised at the complexities of such a question.

I know I was.

I consider myself a runner.  I’ve been involved in organized Track & Field for over 19 years.  I’ve competed all over the US among the best.  I have a cabinet full of trophies, medals, and plaques.  I can read a runner’s style and determine what areas of their body are weakest and how they can improve.  I coach track. I train people who run.  I am currently running on a team and plan to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games.  Yet, I am not considered a “Runner” according to business and socio-economics.

Apparently, the title “Runner” has been attributed to those individuals who run 5K or more.  Runners run long distances.  Runners do not have to be athletic, they just have to be willing to run for long periods of time.  Runners participate in competitive events like 5Ks or the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon, but never intend to win or compete.

Runners run for leisure and uphold the philosophies set back in 1896 by their Yale elitist forefathers who propagated sports are a leisurely and charitable activity.  Those who have leisure time are part of a unique prestigious group of upperclassmen.

Business loves to cater to this group.  If you go into a sporting goods store, most of the shoes are cushioned at the heel for long distance running rather than mid or short.  If you go into Barnes & Noble, most of the books featuring running are written for non-competitive long distance runners.  If you Google running, you’ll run into articles targeting the needs of long distance runners.  Leisure runners make up well over 90% of running.  Of the runners who compete in the LA Marathon only maybe 20 men and women combined actually compete for the gold.  The remaining 1,000,000+ run just to run.  As the powers that be say, the majority wins.  The majority defines who is and who is not a runner.

So what am I according to the Majority?  I am a track & field athlete that runs.

Sigh…

(No matter how much I study the leisure runner, I may never understand him/her.  The impact of the leisure runner is powerful and affects the composition of track & field.  Yet he/she does not understand his/her relationship to the sport or why he/she runs long distances under an ancient Ivy League philosophy.  My objective is to build spectatorship, increase athlete retention, and boost the marketability of track & field.  To meet these objectives, I need Runners- track & field or otherwise- to help build the sport.  The task ahead is great).  

We Need A Resolution

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 3, 2013

At the beginning of each year, people around the world set what’s become known as New Year’s Resolutions.  Resolutions are about resolving some unmet desire/need to improve one’s life or as Joel Osteen writes, “Becoming a better you!”  Track & field believe it or not fits this progressive concept.

Becoming a better you.  Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?  When spectators and novices first view the sport, they see competitors competing against each other and assume the sport is about comparisons.  Beating others.  Conquering man! To some extent the sport does reflect these perceptions.  However, for the most part, track & field is about self-improvement.  Usain Bolt is presently ranked as the world’s fastest, yet he continues to run.  If the sport was just about beating others, his mission would be fulfilled, and he would no longer feel the need to run.  So why does he continue?  Aside from contractual agreements with Puma, he runs to better himself.  Realize his best!  Track then behaves as a chisel sculpting his life (his person) day by day to fulfill his vision of “becoming a better you.”  Track is a lifestyle not an event or activity.  With track, Usain Bolt, Alyson Felix, Nick Symmonds, Dawn Harper, and countless athletes worldwide exercise their mind, body, and spirit to PR on the track and in life.

So runners, let’s start the year off on a new foot by rethinking track.  As Aaliyah once said, “We Need A Resolution!”

For this 2013 and beyond, may our resolution be to “Become a Better You” through track & field.