Coaching running stars of the future

Last week I spent a day in Loughborough coaching the best young runners from schools that are part of the David Ross Education Trust. The youngsters are called the “All Stars”, and my brief was to provide an “Inspiration Day” – so I was feeling a fair bit of pressure as the day approached!

I need not have worried though because the children were just terrific – eager to learn, enthusiastic, mature and thoughtful in their self-awareness, and hard-working. We had a really fun day, covering strength & conditioning, nutrition & hydration, setting goals, improving sleep, what to keep in your kit bag, looking after yourself to prevent injury, how to get away from eating junk food, dynamic stretching, drills, intervals…it was an action-packed day! I am very grateful to the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust who enabled me to go, and who do such terrific work with young people in difficult circumstances.

The running session I coached came towards the end of the day. By this time the children had done a circuit training session and absorbed all sorts of info on a variety of topics. It was a hot and humid day. Partly because of this, a few children were unable to finish the session I set. I didn’t think it was too hard but perhaps it was…anyway I decided to turn this into a learning exercise. So in the classroom afterwards I asked for feedback from those who’d dropped out, and from those who’d managed to hang on till the end. This turned out to be a really interesting and useful session.

The children who dropped out said:

  • they had run the recoveries too fast and therefore suffered in the latter part of the session;

  • they mis-judged their pace and set off too fast in the first long interval;

  • they got swept along by others in the session instead of running at their own pace.

The children who finished said:

  • when things got tough, they just hung on till the end of the interval they were doing, without thinking too far ahead;

  • they made sure they took it easy on the recoveries;

  • they decided they would finish the session no matter what, regardless of the speed they were doing.

All of these scenarios are valid and useful lessons for all runners to learn. So it was terrific to hear them from children who are just starting out on their running careers. If only I had learned them that young!

This session also reinforced for me the value of getting athletes to think for themselves. I did not tell the children to do any of the above – they did it themselves, and were able to identify what they did afterwards when I asked them to. Ultimately coaches are just human beings doing their level best. When an athlete toes the start line, it’s them alone who has to run the race. So I think one feature of a good coach is the ability to develop an athlete into someone who is self-reliant, thinks for themselves, and takes responsibility for their performances.

Running is full of ups and downs…things don’t always (or even often!) go the way you want them to. But the key when things don’t go to plan is to learn from what you did, and figure out how you can improve for next time.

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