Mini Blog: Expenses of an Amateur

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  December 20, 2012

Olympic sports and the word amateurism have a unique bond in media and the sports world.  This bond is cemented by 19th century ideals of nobility, chivalry, and many other outdated concepts that are hardly applicable to a 21st century audience.  Why these ideals are still herald is beyond me.  In the wake of economic recession, why should athletes be encouraged to maintain an amateur status?  Training, coaches, physical therapy, gas, food, sports drinks, supplements, competitions, travel, running shoes, imaging (MRIs, X-Rays, CAT Scans), icy hot, and spikes all cost money.  Do you really think athletes can cover these expenses and more as amateurs?

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Track Rant: Leave Out the Politics!

Written By: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  December 17, 2012

Enough is enough!  How many more athletes have to suffer at the hand of coaches and their personal politics?  How many?!  For over 30 years, talented young athletes from USATF who enter high school track & field have had to endure the egos, emotions, and superiority complexes of incompetent, male chauvinistic, power monger coaches who don’t give a damn about the dreams, goals, and lives of the athletes they coach.  And for over 30 years, many athletes have been forced to abandon track & field to escape politics, protect their physical development from inferior track programs, and preserve peace of mind during this period of adolescence.  Track & field is supposed to be about becoming your best self!  Exercising one’s God given gifts to the fullest.  Running the fastest or farthest.  Jumping the highest or longest.  Vaulting new heights.  Throwing further than anyone has thrown before.  Track & field is not about man (coach) asserting absolute rule over man (athletes) to become a god among sport by suppressing athletic development and achievement.

…especially at a stipend of only $800 – $3000 a season.  Not a month, but a season!

I’m tired of hearing about athletes fighting to cross the finish line because their coach decided to place a brick wall with an electrified fence to blockade the progress of young athletes.  Soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and tennis all encourage athletes to join clubs and camps or get trainers during and after the season to improve skills and conditioning.  Yet, track strongly prohibits athletes from even mentioning the idea of training with a club, personal trainer, or other track & field specialists.  Why?  Politics.

What has triggered today’s Track Rant?  I recently received news of the achievements of a local high school freshmen and her blind-sighted coach.  She was the only athlete out of her entire team to advance to state in cross country.  Yet, her high school coach denied her of a team MVP award.  To make matters worse, the award was given to a girl who came in second to last in CIF-Prelims and cost the team a bid to go to CIF Southern Section Championships.  The freshman athlete (whose name shall not be mentioned) entered high school from a club background.  She has worked exceptionally hard every day running across town trying to get the training she needs to keep her skills up.  Thankfully, the Sunshine League was wise enough to recognize her as League MVP.  But, if the league recognized her achievements, what does this action say about the coach?

For legality sake, not all high school coaches are guilty of exercising such politics.  Some have good intensions and care for the athletes they coach.  Still, far too many are guilty and have no awareness of how they affect the landscape of people’s lives each day.  In this era of change, this issue must be brought to the table.  How many more talents does the sport have to lose before this issue is addressed and examined?

In 30 years time, can you imagine just how much heartache, mental and physical pain, these athletes have undergone just to survive politics?   Look back at the record books.  Notice the names of all the runners listed at the top.  Now ask yourself, where are they today?  Are they running?  Did they ever get a scholarship?  Why did they stop running?  Do they ever look back and say what if?  Do they ever get caught looking at footage of athletes past and present?  Do they get excited when they see track & field on TV?  Do they have their children in track and field and live vicariously through them?  Are they ever sighted at meets gazing upon the track with eyes of longing?  Are they ever heard saying, “I used to run…But that was a long time ago.”

Road Running with Dave the “It” Man

By Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Written:  December 13, 2012

Trotting down the blackened roads of some unassuming metropolis is a mysterious fellow sporting super skimpy neon 80s looking distance shorts, a thin partially transparent worn out singlet, the latest Nike kicks valued at $150, and yellow and black Livestrong wrist and head bands.  Each weekday morning, this runner (we’ll call him Dave) wakes up religiously at 5:30AM, brushes his teeth, puts on his running gear, and jogs out of his front door into the chilled dark frosty morn with all the seriousness of a great Olympic competitor.

For 18 years, Dave and his knobby knees runs 10 miles before work sometimes with a group, but most times by himself.  At the end of each fiscal quarter, Dave runs in a major marathon.  He never wins nor does he expect to win.  His best time is 4hrs, 30mins.  Once a month, Dave drives an hour or two from his home to run a 5K, 10K, or half marathon.  Like the marathon, he has never won any of these races nor does he ever come close.  Dave’s best finish in the 5K is 350 of 600.  In the 10K he has finished 578 of 1000…and in the half marathon, he’s finished 3456 of 8000.  Dave does not care much for rankings.  He just watches his time and is happy to finish.  When asked if he competes, Dave emphatically and quite snootily responds, “No!  I do not compete!  I only run for charity.”  Then he turns his head and raises his stopped up nasally pointy nose in the air as if to say, “Run to race?  How absurd!  What do I look like some low class citizen?”  Then when told that the marathons he runs in are technically competitions along with the 5K, 10K, and half-marathon, he replies with a sneer.  “Humph!”  When asked if he’d ever consider running a shorter race, he rolls his eyes.  “Where’s the challenge in that?”

Dave is a strange fellow…one that I shall never quite understand.  There are millions of Dave’s out there in the world…perhaps not as snooty, but their attitude towards competitive running reflects Dave’s rationale.  The Dave’s enter competitive events not to compete, just to participate on behalf of a charity.  More notably, the Dave’s believe their cause is more noble and humble than a competitors.

I have run into the Dave’s on many occasions.  No doubt in my quest to find runners for events, I will continue to meet more…in which case, I will probably greet them with a friendly salutation, “Top of the morning to you Dave!” as I run past them with effortless ease.

To Dave:  Competition is good for the soul.  Nothing wrong with giving to charity.  No one pursuit is better than the other.

Profiting off the Olympics

Today’s blog feature a video of a news report found on YouTube.
Title: Who Profits from the Olympics

As you view this video, consider this. Many of the rules upheld by track & field governing bodies promote amateurism and discourage the exploitation of the athlete by private enterprise. Yet, major events like the Olympic Games have proven to be BIG business for the governing bodies, corporate sponsors, and local businesses and NOT the AP runner due to their amateur status. Question: Are the athletes still being exploited? Write your comments below.

AP Class of Runners

Written By:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  September 22, 2012

The Amateur Professional – In athletics, APs are individuals who are just one cent a way from being recognized as a professional.  These athletes train with great intensity much like a professional athlete and pursue similar goals, championships.  They’ll run ladders, quarter-mile pace-work, 20x200m, cross country, hill repeats, and weight train to build their bodies to compete amongst the best.  Many APs train with the prospect of upgrading their careers to professional status and compete to gain visibility in the sight of sponsors or college scouts.  Meanwhile, others train simply for the gold and what it represents.  Those who run under the philosophy of amateurism obviously have no intent to become professional athletes.  Yet, like their other half, they treat athletics like a career.

Here’s where things get interesting.  In track & field, amateurism is actually praised over professionalism.

Some of you reading may object and I would absolutely love to read your comments.  However, if you look at the history of the sport and the rules enforced by USATF, IAAF, CIF, NCAA, AAU, IOC, NAIA, NFHS, and other abbreviated governing bodies controlling the sport, it’s easy to understand why amateurism overshadows professionalism.  These rules favor amateurism and were mainly written by pro-amateurists like Avery Brundage back in the BCE of modern sports (that’s before the common era).  See link to view Brundage areas of influence.  These author’s personal biases and ideals are preserved by these rules.  The impact: 1) limitations on the AP’s ability to gain entry into the professional world and advance their economic status even after entry.  2) companies are limited in their ability to use runners for marketing purposes.

Why did the authors support amateurism over professionalism?  There are a number of theories we can examine including race, but for now we will stick to our subjects:   early elitist attitudes towards  sports as an activity of leisure rather than a career path resulting in economic gain.  These attitudes have survived the test of time and are now influencing the creation of new rules like Rule 40 of the USOC.  If you haven’t heard, Rule 40 is currently being contested by athletes for its impact on the athletes ability to be marketed before, during, and after the Olympic Games.  See website.

Below is a video discussing the Amateur Professional.   The principles explored in the video will be examined and applied to the AP runner in our upcoming blogs.  Take a look.  Fascinating information.

A Funny Thing Happened at the Track

Written by: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date: September 12, 2012

In case you missed it, for the past few blogs, we have been talking about how everyday people perceive runners.  Backtrack if you get a chance and catch up on the conversation.

Yesterday, I went to Rancho Cienega (Jackie Robinson Stadium) to assist my teammate at her practice.  Her strength coach was unable to attend and asked me to time her.  In between her warmups, drills, and recovery periods, I took the opportunity to complete my physical therapy workouts.  I hadn’t mentioned this before, but I am nursing a knee sprang.  I’m okay and will resume my regularly scheduled practice next Monday.  My teammate has an insane workout involving a 2 mile warmup, 10×110 windsprints, 12 drills, 6x500m, and so much more.  By the time she was finished, she could barely stand.  My workout was not as extensive of course thanks to my knee.  For 2 miles I would run 100m, jog 50m, and walk 50m.  Once completed, I joined my teammate in 1 lap of 2x150m.  This was enough to get my knee back in action (and a tad worn).

This story however is not about our workouts, but about a bystanders observations and attitude towards our workouts.  A guy (we’ll call him RJ) walked up to me in between my runs and asked me the most peculiar question.  After first asking, “Are you working with a coach? he asked, “can I run with you guys?”  RJ was not athletic by any means.  He even said so as he explained why he wanted to run with me and my teammate.  “I see you guys out here all the time and was just wondering if I can run with you.  I’ve never run track before and I have been slacking on my gym workouts for two weeks.  I figure since you come out here regularly,  I could run with you guys.  That’ll help me stay on course with my exercises.”

Run with me?  I thought to myself.  As he spoke, I could feel my ego rising.  I’m a sprinter by birth.  Quarter-miler/half-miler by specialty (don’t ask).  I could feel my eyebrows lifting and my face scrunch up to express confusion.

  1. If this guy watches us run, does he not know how much we run?
  2. Does he not see what we do as work?
  3. Does he not see us fall out after every practice in pain?
  4. Does he not see our coach yelling at us and getting on our cases about every little movement?
  5. Does he actually think that what we do is doable?

My first instinct was to become defensive but I digressed.  I remembered my research for these blogs I’m writing and realized this is the type of person I have been writing about for the past few weeks.  Instead of agreeing to his request, I gave him two alternatives.  “RJ, you know there are running groups forming all over the city.  They are really good and meet often.  You may want to consider running with them.”

He replied, “no that’s too difficult.”

My head was racing.  Too difficult?  What do you mean it’s too difficult?  Is he saying that these running groups workouts are MORE difficult than our track workouts??????  I smiled, nodded, and pointed towards a personal trainer working out in the stands with his weight loss group.  “What about working out with Coach Kenny over there?  He does an excellent job at…”  RJ cut me off.  “No no, that’s difficult too.”

I was thoroughly confused by this point.  So I just flat out asked him, “so you think what we do is doable then?”  He replied with confidence, “Yes.  I could just run along side you.  I’m sure I’ll keep up.  Just don’t try to run off and leave me.”

I’m…sure….I’ll….keep…up?  I’m sure I’ll keep up?  What we do is easy?  I could not believe my ears.  What we do is not work?  Right before my eyes my theories about the leisure runner were being confirmed by this random stranger.  He acknowledged he knew nothing about track, admitted to not having an ounce of speed AND a inconsistent at working out, and had been jogging in spikes all morning…not sprinting…jogging!  As a leisure runner he expressed his attitude and sentiments about track while categorizing our workout as leisure, not work.  That his workout similar to our workout.  That he could do what we do with ease.  What I also found interesting in his statement was that he felt what the running groups and personal trainers do is MORE challenging than any workout us track athletes do.

Perhaps the clash in lane 1 is much more severe than we thought.

More on this tomorrow post…we’ll be talking about the amateur professional next.

Track Rant: When Ideas Clash in Lane 1

Written By:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  September 8, 2012

Tracks everywhere are used daily by both competitive athletes and recreational runners & walkers.  This blend works well when both parties respect each others purpose and space using track etiquette and common courtesy.  Customarily, competitive athletes use the inside lanes and recreational R&Ws use the outside lanes.  However, the moment a member of either party steps out of their boundaries and disregards the others presence by stepping out of their lane, tragedy occurs.

Today, I had the opportunity to visit my teammate at Rancho Cienega aka Jackie Robinson Stadium.  She was practicing with her strength coach on the field.  On the track was a another team made up of half-milers.  These runners seemed to run non-stop.  They would run a lap or more for time, then jog a lap around the perimeter of the field.  They repeated this action for 30 to 45 minutes.  Each lap for time was run in Lane 1.  Their presence on the track was noticeable.  They looked athletic.  They dressed athletically.  Their speeds far surpassed anyone else on the track at that moment.  And yet, their presence was ignored by 6 individuals who casually strolled down the lane.

I watched this scene carefully.   As I watched,  I heard the voice of a coach yelling across the track to his runners blazing through Lane 1.  “Go! Go! Go!  Keep it up!”  As they came out of the first turn, 20m ahead of them were four joggers jogging the slowest of speeds while talking and giggling amongst themselves in, guess what lane?  Lane 1.  The runners were forced to either run off the track or veer off into other lanes to get around them…all the while maintaining their speeds to make their time at the finish line.  This is no easy task.  Skillfully, the athletes swung around them to continue their run.   Once they passed this group, a second obstacle crossed their path- a woman in lane 1 walking.  This obstacle is more dangerous than the first.  If the R&W is made aware you are approaching but reacts too late, that individual can move into the path you have chosen to use to dodge them.  The result:  A catastrophic crash impairing the athlete and the R&W.  Luckily, the woman did not move and the runners were able to pass her.  Further ahead was a jogger.  The athletes were able to pass him safely as well.

This movement would go on for at least 10 timed-laps.  The entire time the athletes ran, these 6 individuals remained in the lane as if to say:

  1. I have every right to be in this lane
  2. What you [athlete] are doing is no different than what I am doing
  3. You [athlete] are no different than me.  You are an R&W and so am I.  We have the same goals and same purpose for R&W.
  4. I am here for leisure and so are you [athlete]
  5. You [athlete] are here for exercise and so am I

They couldn’t be more wrong.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen and experienced running into or barely dodging that clueless R&W chillin’ in Lane 1, listening to their ipods and tuning the world out…including the runner behind him sucking air and yelling, “Track! Track! TRACK!!!!!!! Move!!!!!” with every available breath…then crashing into the R&W knocking them flat on the ground.  Painful!

Why R&W?  Why do you R&W in Lane 1 while teams are practicing?  Aside from your premise of cheating your workout by following the misconception that Lane 1 is shorter than the other lanes, why do you ignore the rules of the track?   Where is your etiquette?

The Leisurely Run

Written By:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  September 7, 2012

Running for leisure is a great way to past the time.  Aside from swimming, running is the most valued low cost activity that gives you a total body workout and keeps your body fit and healthy while helping others.  At least that’s the perception anyway.  We’ll explore this thought process later.  For now, let’s examine this question:

Do all people who run, run for leisure/recreation?

Most, if not all of you reading, would more than likely reply, “no!”

However, if we were to ask, “do you regard all people who run as people that run for leisure/recreation?” a great percentage of you would find yourself conflicted.

The truth is we have more examples of running as leisure than we do of running as work or pure competition like the K-Trax Super XC *ahem.*  As we discovered last week, this ideology, “running is leisure.” or, “sports is leisure,” fits in line with the historic concept of conspicuous leisure- a concept that has framed contemporary attitudes towards running and runners of all types.

I’ve talked with quite a few people about this topic.  Family, friends, other athletes.  Finally, one among them summarized our conversation and presented the following breakdown of these attitudes.  Here’s a summary:

Contemporary Attitudes

  • Running is easy.  Anybody can be a runner.
  • Running is accessible to all.
  • Running is recreational.
  • Because running is easy and accessible, people create groups to socialize and share this recreational activity with others.
  • Aside from professionalism, running has no rules.
  • Running is boundless and can be conducted anywhere- on sidewalks, in the street, in neighborhoods, busy intersections, the strand, wherever.  Safety and containment are not strong factors.
  • When running in groups, it’s best to run free and out in the open rather than a contained environment like a park.  Freedom is the essence of leisure!
  • People who have time to run, have lots of free time on their hands.
  • Leisure time should be spent doing something for someone else.  Running should therefore be done for others, not for yourself.  Running for competitive purposes is selfish and conflicts with its true purpose- leisure!

These attitudes impact the development and growth of track & field on every level.  It affects how track & field athletes and other competitive runners are regarded at and between competitions.  It affects participation and spectatorship at competitive events.  It even affects the disproportionate number of competitive events to non-competitive events.  In the next blog we’ll see just how these attitudes play out on a track mixed with competitive and non-competitive runners.  Stay tuned!

Keeping Up With The Joneses- Leisure Time

Written by: Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  August 31, 2012

As most people amongst my social networks know, the Matrix Trilogy is one of my all-time favorite movie series.  In the Matrix Reloaded, there is a statement made by character called the Merovingian who questions the priorities of man in relation to necessity, willingness, and desire.  In a simple yet powerful inquiry he asks, “Who has time? Who has time?  But if we do not ever make time, how can we ever have time?”  I like this quote very much and find it instrumental to exploring the next topic of our blog:

Leisure Time:  Sports as Recreation, Amateurism in Sports, Professionalism in Sports

I am a track & field athlete.  I practice with my team 3 days a week and do a personalized workout promoting strength, endurance, technique, and posture every day.  Every once in a while a Curious George walks up to me asking my profession.  They either phrase this question as, “are you a professional athlete?” or, “What do you do [that allows you to be out here so often]?”

These questions may appear simplistic but they are drenched with historic value.  Their phrasing is interlaced with sociological, capitalistic, and political undertones.  (See previous blog for definition and usage of sociology, capitalism, and politics).  What they imply is that I am a person with time to spare- I have reached a socio-economic status through a high class profession that affords me the time to spend gallivanting around the track.

From a sociological perspective, what they are saying is that…

  1. I have leisure time
  2. I spend my leisure time doing sports
  3. They classify sports as leisure- a recreational activity

Recreational activities are, by definition, activities designed for entertainment purposes. Ergo, despite my panting, the uh…sweat dripping from my brow, the soreness, the excessive drills, wind sprints, and laps around the track, and a coach yelling across the field, “Knees up! Keep your arms in! Chin down!” they imply that I am engaging in the leisurely activity of sport for my personal entertainment.

(British accent) Yes, *ahem* a 2-mile warm up, 6×20 yard drills, 12x400m w/150 jog in between each, and 1-mile cool down is quite entertaining.  A great way to pass the time.  Indeed.  *looks away* Chip chip cherrio! And all that falderal!

This perspective presupposes that even professional athletes, while on the field, the gym, the court, or the track, are looked upon as individuals engaging in leisurely activities to entertain themselves and those leisurely viewing their performances.

Shocking?  Yes.

Outlandish?  Seemingly.

Accurate?  Sadly yes.

Again, we are dealing with history- old ideas, old perceptions, surviving the times.  The concept of leisure has deep historical roots dating back to the days when the lines between social classes were more rigid.  Ever hear of conspicuous leisure?  It’s a concept created by 19th century economist Thornstein Veblan.  Accordingly,

“Time is consumed non-productively…as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. But the whole of the life of the gentleman of leisure is not spent before the eyes of the spectators who are to be impressed with that spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life.”  Read on
Thorstein Veblen, (1899; Ch.3).

Sports according to him is a form of physical exertion and, “all physical exertion that did not lead to an economic end was waste. Therefore, sports were a way for people to display conspicuous leisure, while buying the equipment needed was conspicuous consumption,” (Wordiq.com, 2012).   Translation:  Sports is a waste of time and does not contribute to the advancement of society nor the economy.  Harsh no?  A tad out-dated economically, but still very much relevant sociologically.

Why are the thoughts of some old classical dude important?  Because it’s his thoughts and the ideologies of elitist during his time that laid the foundation of sports as leisure and influenced the creation of amateurism and in sports.  It’s these principles and more that conflict with the integration of capitalism in sports.

So who has time?  Who has time?  If we do not ever make time, how can we ever have time?

Veblan would say, time is given to the privileged.  But, in the grand scheme of things, privilege still applies to an elite few.  Many of today’s athletes (myself included) are not given or afforded time.  Most are making time to pursue a profession or fulfill the duties of their attained athletic profession.  So when you see an athlete on the track, they are at work not leisure.

To be continued…

Amateurism vs. Professionalism: A Surfaced Debate

Written By:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  August 25, 2012

If you lived any length of time in this world of sports stars and legends, you’re more than likely aware of the never-ending debate between amateurism vs. professionalism.  Advocates of amateurism generally argue that money taints the purity of sport.  Whereas advocates of professionalism argue that without an income, athletic performance cannot be sustained. Consequently, if athletic performance is not sustained, athletes must abandon their sport and seek income elsewhere.  Result:  No athlete.  No sport.

Instead of determining who’s right, we should consider this question:  How has sociology, politics, and capitalism impacted sport, particularly track & field?

Why focus on sociology, politics, and capitalism?

  • Sociology = human behavior
  • Politics = human emotion
  • Capitalism = human survival and preservation

At the root of nearly every issue concerning sport, especially track, lies these three elements. If we dig deep enough, perhaps we’ll discover:

  • Why track & field is under-marketed
  • Why some athletes are underpaid or not paid at all
  • Why certain athletes get the spotlight while others do not
  • Why track is rarely televised
  • Why spectators fill the stands every four years rather than every weekend
  • Why so many restrictions are placed on athletes (i.e. rules affecting the use of social media during the Olympic games)
  • Why so many athletes, passionate about track & field, suddenly become disenchanted with the sport and quit to pursue other interests
  • Why some athletes use performance enhancing substances
  • Why the number of youth athletes in USATF far out-weigh the number of masters athletes when masters has more age divisions
  • Why so many people flock to road running events leaving track & field almost barren

Perhaps then we will begin to understand the direction track & field is headed and the prohibitions affecting its growth.  Finally, we will see how the debate between amateurism and professionalism is fundamentally tearing the sport apart.