The Gauntlet and Becoming a Zen Coach

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 6 Comments

Summer is a good time to reflect.

It’s also a good time to read.

If anyone has read my previous blogs, it’s probably apparent that I strive to be different.  I have roots in counter-culture thought.  Just because everyone does it a certain way doesn’t mean they are right.

“Without deviation from the norm, ‘progress’ is not possible.”  -Frank Zappa

I am attracted to Track & Field because it’s not a zero-sum game.  In the ball sports, if a team wins by 10 points, the other team loses by 10 points.  The algebraic sum is always zero.  For every fumble recovery, there is a fumble.  For every no-hitter, there is a team that failed to get a hit.

Track is different.  If coached right, an average team celebrates multiple successes at every meet.  Personal Records are broken frequently.  Positive inertia is present for the entire season.  Track is not a zero-sum game.


Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 10.01.16 PM

Don’t focus on Al Carius here. Focus on the the atmosphere of love he created.

I studied North Central’s Al Carius after I saw him speak 20 years ago at a clinic held at the University of Indiana.  The title of his presentation was “Run for Fun and Personal Bests”.  His teams bought in.

I marveled at baseball manager Chuck Tanner (White Sox 1970-75) when he stayed positive no matter what the circumstance.  If the shortstop made an error, Chuck would be clapping and yelling encouragement.  His teams bought in.

My college basketball coach, Harley Knosher, believed that love was the key ingredient in becoming a good team.  His teams bought in.



At the 2012 NCAA Track & Field Championships, I was constantly reminded of the friendships created in our sport.

There is something special about love and happiness.  There is something special about having friends.  Encouragement works wonders.  And … it is measurable.

I have data that shows proof of the correlation between performance and happiness.

As many of you know, at Plainfield North we run thousands of 40’s and thousands of 10-meter flys.  We start November.  At the end of December 2011, I had this idea.  We typically have around 40 guys in a sprint group.  Instead of waiting patiently to run their 40’s … I had every guy form a “gauntlet”.  They formed a 40 yard line on both sides of the lane.  They made lots of noise, clapped and generally raised hell for each runner as they sprinted their 40.  The results were amazing.

The average 40 time improved from 5.21 to 5.07 … a 2.6% improvement. 65% of the runners ran a PR.

The average 10-meter fly time (automated) improved from 1.27 to 1.23 … a 3.3% improvement. 68% of the runners ran a PR.

Overall, 96% of the runners ran faster than their average time.

See the results for yourself … spreadsheet.


Had these athletes been loafing for six weeks?  Holding back?

The answer is simple.  We are improved by the power of love, happiness, and encouragement.



Encouragement is a performance enhancing drug.  Click on picture to enlarge.

Is there science behind this mysticism?  Maybe.

Consider “Quantum Entanglement”.

Entanglement is all about inter-connectivity, about the unbreakable bond between particles at the subatomic level. The theory states that if two electrons that are in relationship with each other (entangled) are separated up to an infinite distance, when the rotation of one electron is manipulated or affected, the rotation of the other electron is affected simultaneously.  The instant the initial particle is affected, the distant particle is affected. This phenomenon was initially so strange that Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”.  The Entanglement Theory is no longer considered theory.  What started out as spooky action is now accepted science.  Could it be that all of life is not separate but connected?


Evan Flagg is shown here running faster than he had ever run before. Wonder why?


Does this make you think?  Are you a World War II General or are you a Zen Master?  Do you harness the unseen powers?  Does your team believe in the measurable improvement that mystical forces can create?

Are you stuck in drill-mode of our modern education system.  Do you teach to the test?

Education is from the Latin word, educare, meaning to draw out or bring out from within.  So when we educate, in the truest sense, we are to draw out the talents and interests of our students. But ours is a system of conformity and standards; we do not draw out as much as we drill in.

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” -Robert Frost


Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 9.28.27 PM

Phil rocking the stars and stripes in “Steal Your Face” fashion.  What a long strange trip it’s been.

The NBA’s “Zen Master” was the famous basketball coach Phil Jackson.  The counter-culture fan of the Grateful Dead won 11 NBA Championships. Jackson was famous for handing out books to his team for road trips.  Check out the books he handed out to the Lakers of 2010.  Books

I recently finished a book that I would like to hand out to every guy on my track team.  If I had the money, I would buy a copy for everyone I know.

The book is Life’s Operating Manual by Tom Shadyak.

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 9.34.44 PM

Tom Shadyak … “Life’s Operating Manual”

Tom Shadyak had his first big hit when he co-wrote and directed “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994), which helped turn Jim Carrey into a box office star. He followed that with “The Nutty Professor” (1996), “Liar, Liar” (1997),  “Patch Adams” (1998), “Dragonfly” (2002), “Bruce Almighty” (2003), “Evan Almighty” (2007).  But Shadyac’s life took a sudden turn in 2007 when he suffered a serious concussion that left him with severe side effects that prompted him to simplify his life by donating his excess fortune and moving into a trailer park.  Shadyac explored his personal journey and mankind’s addiction to materialism in the documentary “I Am” (2011).

Tom Shadyak published “Life’s Operating Manual” in May of 2013.

Life’s Operating Manual is not a comedy.

Life’s Operating Manual may change the way you coach and might change the way you live.


Tony Holler

website –

twitter – @pntrack & @anthonyholler








Comments 6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *