Front Row, Back Row

Front Row, Back Row

Beating the Demons – Chapter 3


“Life is played on the field, not in the grand stands.”  – Anonymous

I just love this quote.  Like the quotes in Chapters 1 and 2 of Beating the Demons, it’s simple, catchy and yet so deeply profound.  How many times have you felt that life and opportunities are just passing you by as you watch from the sideline?  Our demons often keep us from jumping into the game and going out long for the ball.  You just can’t win at life if you’re not willing to step up to the plate and take that big swing.

As an athlete and coach, I often use these sports analogies to motivate myself and other athletes to stay present and focus on the task at hand.  Our inner voices (the demons) create reasons to take us away from the moment and drift to a place of less risk, a place that victory cannot be found.  But it’s not just in the world of sports that these situations occur.

As a young teaching assistant many years ago, I learned a valuable life lesson from Professor Braton, my mentor and faculty advisor.  One day I was very frustrated that several students in my lab course just did not seem interested in learning.   I could not find any way to motivate them.  When I shared this frustration and asked for direction, he said, “Son, you are a very good teacher and someday could be a great teacher.  You must learn right here, right now that you can’t save everyone.  Every person in your class has to “choose” if they want to learn and you can’t make that choice for them.  There will always be students in your classes that will be in the front row, eager to learn.  And there will always be ones in the back row, choosing to not learn and not grow.  Focus most of your energy on the front row and continue to encourage the back row to get in the game.”  It was another inflection point in my life and I remember it like it happened yesterday.  It changed my whole outlook on teaching and allowed me to become the best teacher and coach I could be.

So what’s the point and how does this relate to beating the demons and triathlon performance?  The point is that another one of the biggest reasons that we don’t become everything we’re capable of is that the demon pushes us to the back row too often.  We are not willing to fail or lose in order to win in training, racing and life.  The fear of looking foolish and letting others down keeps us from coming out of the grand stands and getting into the game.  Quite simply the demon convinces us that “It’s just easier not to…” And not getting onto the field of play and in the game is the fastest way to miss your goals.

There are so many great examples within the Experience Triathlon team of athletes being willing to jump into the front row and make their dreams come true.  One of my favorite places to see this happen is at the Ironman, one of life’s great experiences and considered by many to be the most challenging endurance event in the world.  At the 2006 Ironman Wisconsin, I watched my close friend, fellow coach and training buddy, Greg, in the front row.  In unbelievable weather conditions he somehow stayed on the field of play and got to that most famous of all finish lines.  You can read more about that amazing day and enjoy the photos on the blog.

Coach Greg at the 2006 Ironman Wisconsin.

As a teacher, coach and mentor over the past 30 years, I’ve seen many successes and many failures.  In almost every case, success only came to those on the field in the front row and almost every person that was in the stands watching the game go by did not achieve their goals.  Could it be any more black and white?

I’ve always felt that I’d rather coach somebody in the front row with less skill but a ton of passion than somebody that had great skills but was checked out mentally and in the back row.

So are you on the field?  Ask that question every time you enter a workout, or race, or whenever an opportunity for improvement surfaces.  Do you step up or make an excuse why you can’t do it?  Are you willing to risk looking silly in order to learn new things or stretch yourself beyond past limits?  Do you raise your hand when somebody wants a volunteer or do you look at your shoes hoping somebody else steps up?

In previous chapters we talked about the clutter, that inner demon voice that causes fear and keeps you in the stands.  You must find that negative voice and replace it with the positive “Can do!” chatter.  When you do that, you’ll see the path to get on the field.  The fear of the unknown will go away and you’ll be able to let go of the back row and jump into the front row.  You’ll be able to go after what you want and deserve in training, racing and life.  This is the path to true power and breakthrough performances.

Front Row or Back Row?  Just choose!

Stay tuned for Chapter 4 of Beating the Demons.

Joe LoPresto is the CEO and Head Coach of Experience Triathlon LLC.   As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon leadership team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life.  Learn more about Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon at 

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