As we are just a little more than a day away from the “real beginning” of the Olympics I think it’s important to highlight the positives and negatives of having two high profile athletes in your training group. Much has been made about the rivalry/friendship between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. It is great for the media but can be terrible if things don’t go well for the athletes involved. Coaches have to be very careful in how they handle this unique and delicate scenario. Yohan and Usain have maintained their friendship minimizing those people in the media who would like to create drama. As a coach this can be the most difficult scenario you may ever face. At this moment the athletes and coaches have done a great job limiting the drama.
As coaches most of us will never coach two of the fastest humans on planet earth but, you might coach the two fastest in your state/province, county, or city. The way you handle these kids, their parents, and media can go a long way in helping your sanity throughout what will be a difficult season. Here are some lessons I learned (sometimes the hard way) from my experience with two footlocker finalists and Gatorade athletes on the same team.
1. Don’t screw them up! I know it sounds silly, but always err on the side of less is more. If they are truly talented a little less training on the front end of the season will allow you more training on the back end when it really matters.
2. Find out if they can train together. The first time I had a chance to work both kids out they basically tried to race the entire workout. They were moving so fast they were close to breaking our school record in the mile in practice. Coach Davis at Potosi High School (who had a similar situation with super talent on one team) and a wonderful friend said, “Coach don’t ever let your athlete leave a race in practice”. It took me a while to get a handle on his words of wisdom. You have two very easy options to keep this from happening. First, you can use heart rate as an indicator for when the athlete starts their next interval. Once the heart rate drops to an optimum level then off they go. The heart rate strategy worked decently with our two girls because one was an aerobic monster and their heart rate dropped like a rock. The other athlete’s heart rate stayed elevated longer allowing the kids to not race one another in practice while doing the same workout. Second, you can do all the same workouts over a two week period but just have the athletes complete these workouts on a different day.
3. Rotating your athlete’s into separate events is important. It is not wise to have them go head to head each and every week. During that particular season when one athlete ran the 3200meter the other athlete would run the 1600meter and vice versa. When the athletes go head to head it was a couple times over the course of the year and then at our state series. This allows each athlete to get their moment in the spotlight and a chance to run without the added stress of the best kid in the state on their shoulder. In addition, you won’t over race your kids and have a lot of chances to see what event is the athlete’s best. I still do this with my kids if I have a group that is overloaded with talent or are simply even in ability.
4. Don’t pick favorites! I cannot stress this enough. It is important to understand that parents, kids, and the media will try to paint you into a corner. Everyone has their favorites and as a coach you can have no favorites. In the wise words of John Wooden “You are no better than anyone and no one is better than you.” Trust me this will be the toughest part.
5. Double the studs are double the work. Each athlete will need your detailed planning. Just because the times are exactly the same on the clock doesn’t mean the athlete gets to that time the same way.