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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
To become a certified barefoot running coach? Or not...
Citizens, I've been kicking around a few questions in my head for a while now. Of course one of those questions is, "Is Justin Bieber gay?" Another, possibly more important question is whether or not to pony up a ton of cash and become a VIVOBAREFOOT Certified Barefoot Running Instructor (although it's debatable whether anything is more important to all of us than the sexual orientation of "The Bieb").
For those who aren't up to speed, a few months ago VIVOBAREFOOT rolled out their barefoot running certification course. They invited 8 lucky folks to New York (including my buddy Barefoot Angie Bee) for their pilot certification program. They got to attend a five-day certification course taught by running instructor extrordinare Lee Saxby on VIVOBAREFOOT's dime (lucky!). All eight of them are now certified barefoot running instructors, and are out doing their own coaching gigs (check out Angie's coaching site for example) Now that the first crop of instructors has been certified, Lee is traveling all over the world to certify more barefoot running instructors.
This program has been more than a little controversial around barefoot nerd circles. The big question: is certification a good thing? There have been opinions for and against (and also against) whether barefoot running should be a sport that adopts a certification process. I haven't put my hat in the ring until now.
Here it is: I am all for coaching certification.
Before I explain why, I thought I'd summarize the main argument against certification. Basically, the claim is that certification tends to stifle creativity and create dogmatism. Essentially, folks are worried that the instruction provided by certified coaches will come to be seen as "the way" to learn barefoot running to the exclusion of all other methods. Why that might not work so well with barefoot running is twofold. One, barefoot running instruction is still an emerging field. Not a lot of us do it, let alone do it well. Two, barefoot running is usually learned through self-experimentation...not instruction. Did I pretty much sum up your article Jason?
I agree with pretty much everything Jason said in that article. Even so, I support certification. I support it because it's better than the alternative. Here's why.
The way people are learning to run barefoot is changing.
When I started barefoot running, there wasn't a lot of information available on the topic. You had Ken Bob's website and the Runner's World Barefoot Forum. Nobody had written anything all that comprehensive on the topic. So I figured out how to barefoot run by experimenting and figuring out what worked. That's how I do everything. Then again, I'm a so-called "Early Adopter" (BTW, here's a blast from the past post by Jason about how a social movement develops over time). And the people who started to barefoot run around the same time as me generally are too.
In my opinion, that's not how most people learn to barefoot run now. We've moved out of the "Early Adopter" phase into the "Early Majority" phase. Barefoot running isn't the domain of a few weirdos now. It's approaching fad status. Everybody's doing it.
People who participate in fads don't usually do their own research. They latch onto an expert and believe whatever that person says. Nobody who went on the low-carb diet bandwagon back in the last decade read all the studies Dr. Atkins conducted. They just bought "The South Beach Diet" book and went to work. The same thing is at work in our community now.
As evidence, I'll tell you about the first night of the NYC Barefoot Run. That night featured talks by all the big names (the "Kudus" if you will). Each was essentially a 30-minute infomercial on something they were selling. Everyone there had a book, or a product, or a clinic schedule they were pumping. And all of that stuff was flying off the shelves. Ken Bob's book is an Amazon best-seller. Michael Sandler's clinics are booked solid into the next decade. And Jason lives in a trailer....on purpose.
The future of barefoot running needs consistency more than creativity
But the future of barefoot running instruction isn't Ken Bob, or Barefoot Ted, or even Jason Robillard. Those folks did the groundwork. They did a great job putting its message out on the internet and in books. Unlike when I started, there's plenty of introductory information on the subject to go around. I think the market is pretty well saturated with that sort of thing.
What there isn't a whole lot of right now is follow-up information. One-on-one instruction and advice for people that still have questions. That's where Ken Bob and Barefoot Ted's reach ends. There aren't enough of us talking heads to go around. I know...I get the emails. There are people out there dying for some one-on-one instruction who are frustrated because they live halfway across the country from me, or because the Robillards aren't visiting their neck of the woods.
The future of barefoot running is your local barefoot running coach. Someone to fulfill that growing need. And right now the ranks of the barefoot running coach are pretty much nonexistent. But I guarantee that they will become filled as the perceived need for barefoot running coaching services grows. It's only a matter of time. And you as consumers of that service need to decide who we want to fill that marketplace.
Do you want to do it haphazardly (like we've been doing) and allow people to credential themselves? I think that's fine right now while the marketplace is small. It's pretty simple to compare all the barefoot talking heads and see which one you prefer. But as the market grows a consumer's ability to discern differences between so-called experts will decrease. A bit of quality control is appropriate at that level to keep the field from turning into the wild freaking west.
That's where certification can be handy. It assures a high and consistent quality of coaching across the board. I think the VIVOBAREFOOT certification is top notch. I don't think anyone disagrees with me. Frankly I'd be thrilled to take a flock of VIVOBAREFOOT certified coaches over the alternative.
Capitalism = continued creativity
But I agree with Jason. Certification will stifle creativity in favor of uniformity. And I'm okay with that, because it's better than the alternative. I also know that stifling creativity doesn't mean eliminating it.
One of my more entrepreneurial friends has a joke that goes like this:
Him: "How do you outsell 8-Minute Abs?"
Him: "You make 7-Minute Abs!"
I don't envision a future where VIVOBAREFOOT's cert is the only one out there. I envision one where there are multiple certifications developed and offered. Also, as is the case in the personal training field, I think that coaches will likely get certified in more than one. And after obtaining multiple certs, they'll probably go off and develop their own way of doing things. Creativity still happens. It's just not going to happen in the same way it does now.
Let's settle for "good enough"
I also agree with Jason on another point. We don't know enough about barefoot running. We don't know if it prevents injuries. We don't know if a forefoot strike is superior to a heel strike. We don't really even know what good form looks like. If we did, we wouldn't have "POSE Running" and "Chi Running". We'd just have "Running".
We haven't come to the point where we can say there is a definitive method on how to do this stuff. Are we ever going to get there? Probably not. Humans are pretty horrible at figuring out our own health. It's really complex. That's why eggs alternate being good for us and bad for us every couple of years.
Folks, someone was bound to come up with a certification for barefoot running sooner or later. Certifications = money. Every fitness hack is trying to make money. It was only a matter of time. I'm happy that Lee Saxby came up with the cert, and not some shady douchebag. His methods are great. They get people running better quick. A vast majority of people are going to be thrilled with his results.
Is it the best, most optimal way? Who knows. But the alternative is nothing. And that's not going to cut it. We're losing a ton of people who try barefoot running and give up because more help isn't available. So they give up and go back to shoes. That's not cool with me.
Besides...if Lee Saxby is barefoot running's "good enough", I think we've done well for ourselves.
End of rant.
So what do you think about the VIVOBAREFOOT certification? Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm a complete a-hole? Let me know in the comments below.
Cheers to different opinions citizens!