Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Developing Autonomy

Coaching is a great experience. As my middle school track coach once said, "You should all have to be a coach someday so you know how hard it is..."

One of the unique things about our team this year is that we have three college cross country veterans and the other eight to ten are freshman. It creates an interesting dynamic because they look to the coaches for guidance when it seems obvious to us the solution. An example, the starter announces three minutes to start time and we get asked if there is enough time to do another stride. The answer is yes. You can pretty much do whatever until they say a minute or 30 seconds to go. Yet our kids have not been in enough races to understand that.

Part of that is the general transition to college. Doing your own laundry, finding food every day, sleeping enough, showering, and staying out of trouble are things that most college kids have never structured for themselves. Adding a physical training plan with races every other week throws a new set of problems in the mix for them as well. Time management becomes even more important.

How do I take actions that help them become more autonomous? Allow them to fail sometimes. Several of our runners went out too hard at the most recent race and ran very slow the last part of the race. I was excited because they worked hard to give it a shot, and now hopefully they have a better feel for pace so that they can feel early in the race if they will be able to finish at that pace. Another method is when they are doing their warm up and cool down. I will tell them to get started, and walk away, but stay within sight. We have a very organized warmup and cool down. I am not going to be overly critical if they forget something, but it is import to make sure they don't stand still between warming up and racing. By getting them started warming up and letting them go it is my way of giving them approval as a team that they have the knowledge required to warm up and race. Hovering over them gives them the impression (in my mind) that we will always be there to make decisions for them, and that is clearly not true. I will not be there every step of the way telling anyone to attack or relax during the race. Each athlete must have the ability to make decisions during the race when to push and when to hold back, and make that decision during every one of the 5400 steps in a 30 minute race.

I am still learning of course but the point is by allowing them to make their own decisions and fail sometimes, they will (hopefully) learn to make better decisions. Hopefully the process of decision making they apply to running, and time management, will take root in their heads and help them make better life decisions. See! Running does apply to life!

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