Why Lying To Your Coach Is A Terrible Idea

Whether intentionally or not, everyone lies to their coach. This is a terrible idea. Why do we do it?

What’s that? You’d never lie to your coach? Are you sure? Because there are a few different ways it can happen. You might not even be aware you’re lying!

There is lying by commission, such as:

  • Yes, that pace felt quite easy! When actually you were huffing and puffing.
  • My foot is fine. Well, there was that one little twinge, but I won’t count that.
  • I ran too far because I got lost. Which you knew would happen, but it was a beautiful day and you just felt like running further.
  • Strategically stopping and starting the watch to manipulate how the workout appears.

Then there is lying by omission, which is even easier:

  • Failure to mention that recurring hip pain.
  • “Forgetting” about a local 5K and racing it anyway.
  • Simply running too far (or not far enough) but not saying anything about it.

I suspect mostly we do this because we are scared. If we are honest about a workout feeling harder than it “should” have, maybe we are inadequate as an athlete. On the other hand, if we reveal that a run was “too easy,” maybe next time around the coach will give us something we can’t manage and we will “fail.” The incentives for lying – or at least miscommunicating – are strong, and the growing prevalence of online coaching makes it easy to “get away with” this practice. I “failed to mention” my plantar fasciitis for much longer than I should have because I didn’t want to de-rail my training for the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon. Which I ended up DNS’ing because of, you guessed it, a raging case of plantar fasciitis.

I learned from that experience, though, and two examples have stuck with me as reasons to prefer honest communication with one’s coach. First, in his book 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days, Dean Karnazes writes about concealing a blister from his team. He didn’t want to pester anyone with it and didn’t want to be seen as a whiner, so he didn’t say anything the first day the blister appeared. By the second day, it was much more serious, and he was “forced to confess” the blister. This experience made him realize that he had come very close to derailing the entire undertaking of running 50 marathons in 50 days, the quest described in the book. His team was naturally upset that he didn’t act more quickly to get the medical attention he needed, and he subsequently was much more forthcoming about any niggles that cropped up. Notably, he managed the 50 marathons and of course, also wrote the book about his success. The alternate title, 34 Marathons in 34 Days But Then I Got a Blister and Had To Stop, just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

My second example is from my own coach, who described online coaching as being like a football coach who gives out a play during a time-out, but then is required to wear blinders as soon as the players go back on the field. He has no way of knowing how a workout went except for what his runners tell him. That metaphor helped me understand just how little a coach might know if runners don’t communicate. Indeed, when I was interviewing coaches and Coach Mick told me communication was his forte, I knew I had found the right match for me. He has never complained about too much information, even when I write a paragraph about a plain vanilla four mile run – a hazard coaches of academics may just have to put up with.

I think about these two examples surprisingly often when I ponder whether to mention that niggle or consider how to describe the way the last interval of a track workout felt. I hope that reading other people’s training logs and listening to coaches talk and write about the kind of information they are looking for from their athletes is helping me get better at sharing the relevant information and thereby removing the blinders of online coaching. A good coach invests a lot of time and energy in an athlete’s success. We owe it to our coaches to move past our fears of inadequacy and failure in order to embrace honest communication.

Okay, fess up: Have you ever lied to your coach, accidentally or on purpose?


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