A Frustrating Listen: What Comes First

Yesterday, I took a listen to the Gutter Lane podcast's return. Zac Adams, the host, had one of the most well-regarded coaches in the country on. Todd DeSorbo has received a lot of well-deserved praise for his outstanding work with sprinters at NC State.

But I couldn't help but get frustrated very early on in the podcast. As both men admitted, they were recording just after the funeral of Jason Turcotte, a coach admired by so many in the swimming community. The issue of work-life balance in swimming could not be more topical at the moment.

Adams tried to engage DeSorbo on the topic. Surely, on a staff with multiple coaches at the age where they have young children, they must have discovered some secret sauce for work life balance. If they have we didn't hear it.

Instead, DeSorbo demurred (all that follows are not direct quotes and paraphrasing:.. "I could certainly do better, we could certainly do better" he said. "Our goal is to outwork everyone" was almost a defensive response to any suggestion that they were taking less time to do an outstanding job. Finally, I heard the same old tired story I've heard a hundred times before "my/our wives are very understanding".

I'm sorry, but screw that. I got angrier and angrier the more I listened to the podcast. DeSorbo had plenty to say about recruiting, training sprinters and the professional career of Cullen Jones. Family? We'll figure that out later. I totally understand that many people would like DeSorbo to "stick to swimming", but it clearly seemed like Adams knew something really great about how they do things at NC State but never got DeSorbo to get it out.

As pretty much everyone knows, "we'll figure that out later" almost always turns into "never". It shouldn't be a pre-requisite to high level success in the swimming world that your spouse just "knows how it is" and accepts a lesser standard from you.

As coaches, we have a higher calling. We talk about coaching people first and athletes second. We need to walk our talk. Our athletes need to see us leading healthy complete lives. They need to see us putting our families first, and asking our work to understand that.

The coaches that look up to us need to see that the path to the top is not paved that way.

I have to imagine DeSorbo's family life is better than it sounded. If this post makes me sound angry at him, I'm not. I'm angry at the culture he describes, but for him I feel great sadness. Having met Todd many times, I've found him to be a kind and humorous. I have no doubt that he loves his family very much. 

When people are dying, no one thinks to themselves "I wish I'd worked more". But you can bet they do think "I wish I'd spent more time with my family". I truly believe that you don't have to change your measures of success to live that way. I think there's an even higher level of athletic success we can find when we as coaches start living a healthy, full life.