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Why We Need More Nonwhite Endurance Coaches

In 2018, Bernadette Brady of Western Sydney University got together with a few colleagues and designed a study to determine to what degree, if any, implicit ethnic bias negatively impacted physiotherapy care among Australian ethnic minorities. Forty-eight patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain who identified as Mandaean, Assyrian, or Vietnamese participated in the trial. Half of the subjects were assigned to a standard physiotherapy treatment program while the other half were assigned to a culturally adapted treatment program that was identical in substance but was delivered in a culturally sensitive manner.

The results were striking. Only 58 percent of subjects in the standard treatment program completed it, compared to 96 percent in the culturally adapted program. Attendance and adherence were also significantly greater among patients in the culturally adapted program, who reported less pain-related suffering. Again, the actual treatments administered were the same; only their presentation differed.

This study highlights a fundamental truth, which is that people tend to get better outcomes from helping professionals when they are able to connect with those professionals on a cultural level. Students are more likely to excel under teachers they can relate to culturally, soldiers are more likely to reup and climb the ranks when they can relate to their commanding officer culturally, and yes, athletes tend to improve more when they share a cultural connection with their coach.

Not only that, but athletes are more likely to choose a particular sport in the first place if they see people who look and talk like them participating in and coaching that sport. As I write this, five of the ten highest-ranked American women professional tennis players are Black. This wouldn’t be the case if not for the influence of the Williams sisters. Nothing like the “Williams Effect” has yet happened in endurance coaching, but I would like to see it.

Why? Two main reasons. The first is that I know what endurance sports can do for people. Being an endurance athlete has changed my life for the better. It has helped me learn more about myself and grow as a person, it has given me some of the most intense experiences of my life, and it has taken me all over the world and brought great friends into my life. I want these types of experiences to be accessible to everyone, and right now they’re not. In theory they might be, but the numbers tell the true story. My wife, Nataki, who is Black, grew up in East Oakland, where she still has family and where I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 26 years. It’s difficult to envision a viable path from that neighborhood to a triathlon start line. The existence of more nonwhite endurance coaches would help change that.

The second reason I would like to see more people of color working as endurance coaches is that diversity enriches the endurance sports experience for everyone, including white guys like me. I remember traveling to Boston in April 1983 to watch the world’s oldest and greatest marathon, 98 percent of whose participants were male. It was a really cool event despite the extreme gender imbalance, but there’s no denying that the Boston Marathon is infinitely cooler today with a 50/50 gender split. Studies have shown that diverse work teams are more productive than homogenous work teams. But that’s not quite what I’m talking about here. The benefits of diversity in sport are less tangible than increased work productivity but no less real, more akin to how diverse parties are more fun and memorable than parties where everyone looks the same.

Instead of passively hoping endurance sports become more diverse, I’ve decided to do something about it. That something is the Coaches of Color Initiative, a program that operates under the aegis of the 80/20 Endurance Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of 80/20 Endurance. COCI will award apprenticeship grants to people of color who aspire to successful careers are endurance coaches. The first grant will be awarded through a selection process hosted on the 80/20 Endurance Foundation website (www.8020foundation.org), where candidates will complete a brief application and submit a personal statement in either written or video format. The application window is from October 21 to November 18 and a winner will be named December 1.

The apprenticeship itself will last for one year. During this period, the grant recipient will receive a monthly stipend of $1,000 and will undergo a comprehensive apprenticeship experience with 80/20 Endurance. The program will include free training and certification as an 80/20 Endurance coach, one-on-one mentoring sessions with experienced coaches of color, and opportunities to create training content and gain valuable coaching experience through the 80/20 Endurance platform.

Funding for the Coaches of Color Initiative comes primarily from our company, which automatically donates 1 percent of gross monthly revenues to the Foundation. Future apprenticeship grant opportunities will become available as funding permits, so the more support we get from the endurance community and potential corporate backers, the more coaches we can help lift up.

COCI is not a one-man show, thank goodness. My colleagues at 80/20 Endurance, David Warden and Hanna Hunstad, have worked their butts off alongside me to make this dream a reality. Additionally, we’ve brought on running community leader and 80/20 Endurance ambassador Bertrand Newson to codirect the program, and we’ve put together a diverse advisory board to offer perspective and guidance on all of our important decisions. Its members are RaceMob founder Kevin Chang; running coach, podcaster, and online influencer India Cook; and Ball State University Women’s Cross Country and Track Coach Angelina Ramos.

I know the above sounds rather press release-y, and I will go ahead and admit that the last few paragraphs of this post were lifted from the press release I wrote to announce the launch of COCI. But we’re talking about real human beings here, not some bandwagon PR move. It won’t be long before an actual person with a name and a face and a voice is awarded the first apprenticeship grant, and you will get to watch this person grow and flourish within the program. Then a second real person will get the same opportunity, and so on.

I can’t wait to get started on this journey, and I hope you’ll make it with me in some capacity.