Write in Pencil

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One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my relatively short coaching career is that flexibility is very important when developing a training plan. When I was an athlete and early in my career as a coach I felt that the prescribed workout for the day was something sacred that should be taken at face-value as the unalterable rule for the day’s training. The more I coach though, the more I see how limited this thinking was. As coaches we should write our programs in pencil….knowing full well that things will need to be changed.

In my experience there are three main factors that could lead to changes in the training plan:

  • Mistakes in the prescription. Perhaps we over or under prescribe a given training stimulus, perhaps the stimuli was inappropriate or not achieving the desired result. In such cases it’s best to switch things up and move on rather than be bull-headed and continue pounding away.
  • Lifestyle habits and stresses that are outside of your control. As coaches we have little control over what our athletes do in the 20+ hours of the day that they are not with us. The best we can do is educate them and hope that they follow-through. Managing time, nutrition and sleep are all factors that are at least partially under the control of the athlete. Unpredictable life stressors like family problems or illness are not though. This means that even under the best of scenarios, there will be times when the athlete comes to practice in a physical state that is already too taxed to handle the prescribed training. When we encounter things like this it’s in everyone’s best interest to pull out the eraser and modify accordingly.
  • Individualization. Most coaches work with multiple athletes yet write a single training plan for a given group. I do this myself. I keep in mind though that every athlete responds differently to a given stimulus, volume, and intensity. Not all athletes will adapt at the same rate, not all athletes will be able to handle the same volumes, etc. Likewise, on any given day the life stresses on a given athlete may be greater or less than their training mates. Because of these issues, the best coaches will closely monitor adaptation to training and physical readiness of each individual athlete and make minor (and sometimes major) adjustments to the training program for each individual. In most cases, these changes are just minor tweaks to the plan but sometimes they can be major overhauls.

The training plan should be regarded as a guideline rather than a sacred scripture which must be followed at all costs. “Adapt-or-die” approaches often work on individuals within a group but inevitably leave many athletes within that same group frustrated. Stubborn and inflexible attempts to ‘get-in-the-work’ almost always lead to overtraining and maladaptation.

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