Originally posted 10/30/08
How many of us spend the majority of our days planning to do something? As a teacher I plan a lot. I have to plan how to get my students to participate in lessons and how that will lead to them gaining some knowledge they didn't have before. We all plan though. We plan to do work, plan to eat, plan to sleep even. Some of us go so far as to plan what we will wear for the whole week. Is this healthy? Where does it lead us?
I have seen the talk shows (unfortunately) that have on some master of organization who takes some disorganized and dysfunctional person and teaches them to plan and itemize their life. This is followed by a video montage of the person undergoing changes and then culminates in their total transformation. That would have us all believe that if we follow suit, we too can be productive members of society, as if planning is the key to success. Maybe planning is a key to success. I am a big advocate of going into a situation with a plan of action, but planning can only take a person so far.
What worries me is that some of us become consumed by the act of planning and forget to act. I don't think that everyone is meant to put on the "master planner" hat. In fact, I think that if too many people who are involved in the same activity try to plan, those plans end up canceling each other out. Then what are you left with? Well, you either end up with no plan at all, which isn't so bad at times, or you end up following some destructive mutant plan that will lead to disaster.
Runners plan too much in my opinion. It really isn't an athletes job to plan. Athletes are not objective with regard to their own performance and can not see that they really aren't capable of jumping over the moon. The act of planning should be left to coaches who are capable of remaining objective and are well-studied enough to make careful decision for an athlete. The athlete's job is to act on the plan. Some coaches believe that their athletes should play an active role in the planning stage. I think that a good coach has to be receptive to an athlete's feedback, but athletes shouldn't really be allowed to plan a season or a workout for that matter.
At least half of coaching is listening and interpreting what you hear. If you are a varsity coach, working with seven runners, you half to be able to speak seven different languages. Every athlete on that team is going to tell you something different and in a different way. You have to be able to read body language and decipher vocal inflections. It is not easy. So, if it is a daunting task for an adult coach, why would anyone reasonably expect an adolescent athlete to have any success at it. That is why I now advocate the No Plan approach to running.
The No Plan approach is pretty simple. Coaches plan and athletes run. Coaches need not micromanage though, let your athletes fulfill their half of the equation. If you are going to get any meaningful feedback from a race performance, then you have to allow your athletes to race naturally. Far too often I have athletes come to me with a need for a race plan. I help them plot and dissect the course, but I do not at any point expect them to do exactly what I have laid out, in fact, I hope they do not. Racing is pure. Good racing is usually the result of a mix of training, competitiveness, and personality. I break that mix down as: 30% personality, 50% training, and 20%competitiveness. There is an argument that could be made for a person's competitiveness being a component of their personality, but I prefer to think of it as an underlying trait of all humans, so it is tied more to instinct than to personality.
With all of this in mind, I suppose the best advice I could give to any athlete or coach would simply be to listen and be willing to fail. The coach has to plan for personality, competitiveness, and a myriad of other items. No one is right all the time. Coaches have to go out on a limb with their planning at times in order to push a runner to achieve a new level or breakthrough performance. Runners have to be willing to try out those hair-brained ideas that their coaches come up with so that if nothing else, they know what doesn't work. So plan away coaches, but remember that you hold another person's future in your hands. Make decisions that instill trust in your athletes and show them that if they believe, there are no real limits.
My advice to athletes: Feel your run, don't think it.