Having a philosophy to act as a guide, is of the utmost importance. Without a guide, we become a ship with no rudder. Keeping the athlete’s well-being at the forefront of decision-making is paramount. Canadian Sport for Life has put out an excellent document that echoes core beliefs that (hopefully) most coaches hold dear to their hearts in working with athletes.
Many coaches will tell you, as would I, that it was almost as if our minds had been read when this document was created. Having it written, allows less experienced coaches some help in setting their plans. And so it is that the Long Term Athletic Development Model becomes our guidepost.
Athletes develop at different rates, just as they grow at different rates. In adopting a long-term view of the athlete’s growth and development, the athlete demonstrates growth year after year in his/her journey, rather than “burning out” before age 20. Middle distance runners, as a general rule, are at their peak in their mid/late 20’s to their early 30’s. Being pushed by running endless miles or by running high intensity workouts as a young runner will only serve to shorten the athlete’s career…. You may get immediate results, but you may be out of the sport quickly. Conscious, measured steps must be taken to ensure the elite athlete’s longevity in the sport. Many people are surprised to learn how good their performances can be, if they seek improvement year after year, rather than being the greatest athlete who never went anywhere beyond the junior age category.
My belief is that the athlete should develop wholistically. Track and field must take its proper place in the athlete’s life. Personal health, family, school, spirituality and others must be placed ahead of athletics. Balance is the watchword. The young athlete needs to be organized (or as I like to say, “organized enough”) to meet this balance requirement. If you are eating properly, paying attention to family and spiritual needs, and keeping up with your studies, there is generally plenty of time to workout. At times of great stress, however (exams, family crises, etc.), track necessarily needs to take a back seat, and workouts need to be missed. Ducks in a row are much preferred to herding cats!
Communication between athlete and coach is of the utmost importance. Feedback from the athlete to the coach, allows for better planning; feedback from coach to athlete allows for better training. I like to think of coaching as a conversation between and athlete and coach that lasts for years and years… As the athlete and coach both learn more about the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, planning becomes more precise and training becomes more refined. A common language is spoken. Workouts are better scaffolded so that when the athlete is ready to take the next step, s/he takes that step.
The same can be said about competitions. Competitive opportunities, at a higher level are introduced when the athlete is mature enough to handle the race. Sending a young athlete to a high level competition who is physically capable, but not ready emotionally, can be damaging to confidence; confidence is hard to get, but easy to lose. Beginning athletes compete when they feel ready in consultation with the coach.
Hopefully the information above gives you a look at my beliefs in working with athletes. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me. The athletes in my group are very welcoming, track is a lonely sport in many ways. The times shared before and after workouts, and on trips are where many, many long term friendships are formed. Please consider our group.