A coach much wiser than myself once told me, “writing the training plan is one of the easiest things you will ever do.”
Confused? As was I.
“…Let me explain.”
The training plan exists solely in the domain it is written. Whether that be an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, an excel spreadsheet, or maybe a word document—words, numbers, and notes within your chosen medium is the world in which that training plan exists.
There is no wind or rain, lack of sun or snow, humidity, heat, or hurricanes in this space. There is no lack of resources—no track with deep grooves, wobbly surface, or with outright holes. No gymnasiums or high school hallways with roll-out rubber mats. No single pair of blocks that you desperately attempt to rotate your thirty-member team through. Most of all—there are no athlete concerns. No nagging injuries to contend with. No lack of sleep from an all-night study session or a last-minute paper. No stressors from family or significant others.
Within the confines of that piece of paper, your workout exists in a Utopia. Perfection.
Anything you want to do, you can do. Anything your coaching philosophy dictates, you can do. Will today be a recovery day? A speed development day? Or maybe a special endurance or acceleration day? Will you lift weights today or hit a general strength circuit? Will your rests be five minutes long or thirty minutes long? In this space, it is you and your coaching philosophy—a perfect world.
Unfortunately for us, the world is rarely a perfect place. Rarely is the weather perfect. Rarely do we have any and all resources available to us. Most of all, rarely do our athletes exist in a world outside of injuries, school work, or personal stress.
This leads me to one of the most crucial and fundamental aspects of coaching—
The best coaches in the world are not merely those who know what theoretically should work best, but instead, how to implement a workout or training plan within the boundaries of a multitude of other variables.
Weather is a factor. Location is a factor. Time is a factor. The individual is a factor.
Each of these components will ultimately shape and dictate which workout units are effective and which are able to be completed. Strict rigidity can be a death sentence for a workout session, full mesocycle, or even the season. Example—it’s September, early general preparatory phase, and you’re looking to run some hills today. You write down, “12x 80m hills with a walk-back recovery.” Looks good. Practice starts and all is going well. The group seems fine—talking, laughing, and all in a good mood.
The first three reps are on pace—around 10 seconds for the men and 11.5 seconds for the women. The fourth and fifth reps are slower—10.5 seconds for the men and 12.0 seconds for the women. The sixth and seventh continue to slow down—11.0 seconds for the men and 12.5 seconds for the women. You are noticing a trend.
This is where the true sense of adaptability and coaching come in to place. Do you give the group a longer rest period? Do you cut off the last four repetitions or maybe only the last two? Maybe a large portion of the group failed to eat lunch today or maybe they had a fire alarm that kept them from getting a full night of rest.
Is today the day you bulldoze through and make them hit all twelve repetitions regardless? Maybe these extra few repetitions can serve a purpose or have an inherent value regardless of condition or pace. Maybe you begin to look ahead to the remaining workouts for the week—do you choose to not sacrifice tomorrow or the next day over a few extra repetitions?
While this specific situation only serves as a demonstration, the theme remains the same. Coaching does not occur within the confines of a piece of paper—it is everything that occurs outside of it. Each adjustment, que, or word of wisdom is as important as the last. As you as a coach grow in knowledge, so to must you grow in adaptability.
Success does not come through stringent rigidity, but instead through adaptability and wisdom. Have a plan, know your plan, but know how to adjust your plan. There may never be a perfect formula or answer to each individual problem, but it is your job—nonetheless—to find a solution.