[This is a guest blog by John Evans. John is an Exercise Science student at Slippery Rock University and participated in the summer internship program at Athletic Lab]
Any athlete knows how amazing it feels to achieve a new personal record. In high school, that was all I ever cared about. I wasn’t too concerned about my team’s performances or winning meets. I wanted to push myself to perform extremely well every meet.
The truth is that most athletes do not have record-breaking performances every time they step on the track. This is especially true in high school track and field, where athletes may compete as many as 2-3 times a week.
When athletes train hard early in the season, they expect to perform better. However, when they don’t perform up to expectations, likely due to increased fatigue, they begin to question your training methods.
This sort of mindset is poisonous to any team, and can diminish or destroy trust between athlete and coach. I’ve had several conversations with Eric Broadbent about how poor training programs can still manage to produce amazing athletes. What we’ve concluded is that many of these athletes are the result of the mindset that “your perception is your reality.” In other words, athletes have tremendous buy-in to what the coach is ‘selling’ and as a result the program produces incredible athletes.
As advised by other coaches who post on ELITETRACK (like Vern and Mike), lectures should be avoided. Most athletes lose focus, and tend not to care about the training process as much as they care about the results of the training process. Although coaches should avoid lengthy speeches, I do believe there is a time and place for everything. I have found it extremely valuable to explain the big picture behind the season after poor performances or meets. This may include explaining why they performed the way they did. Ideally, this should take no longer than 10 minutes.
Preparedness is a mixture of fitness and fatigue. In most cases, athletes will not be performing phenomenally when the training load is high. If athletes understand that performing well when it counts is much more valuable then chasing PRs every meet, they will train harder and stop hanging their heads after a poor performances.
This culture is extremely important in producing successful athletes when it counts, but may decrease your chances of winning section meets. As a coach, you need to weigh risk. Can athletes still perform well enough to win an event under high training loads?