One of the most important aspects of coaching is understanding how to progress an athlete. This takes a careful approach to build the athletes confidence, fitness, and mental readiness so that on race day the athlete can fire on all cylinders.
So how does (or should) a coach do this? One way is to follow a very simple principle of progression. This principle essentially takes different aspects of the event; breaks them up into separate components so that each element can be worked on individually at first. Then once the athlete is proficient on each element they can integrate the pieces together and work to improve the specific demands needed for the race.
It is important to understand that progression is non-linear and that effort, time, or frequency of work does not necessarily equate to immediate improvement or steady improvement. Sometimes you will be working as smart as possible and have a slight regression or plateau before improving.
Below are examples of progression that coaches use to develop the athlete.
1. General Conditioning
- Basic movements in form / coordination and aerobic foundations are laid down.
- An example would be steady runs, some neuromuscular work to improve form.
2. Race Preparation
- Introduces improvements in making the runner more efficient more dynamically.
- An example is to begin to to higher end aerobic and some anaerobic work to help improve the over fitness of the athlete.
3. Race Specific
- This targets the race intensity and energy systems needed to complete the distance.
- Example would be repetitions at race pace / effort level.
- The ultimate test is the race; but, it can also be one of the best training tools to fine tune your training cycle or implementation. Depending on the race it can be used to work on improvements in race strategy / tactics / nutrition.
It is important that the coach can create a program that lays out a solid progression; however, it is also important that the athlete understands the progression and what the coach is asking of them. So, it is important to check in with your coach. Are the steps well defined? Are goals and objectives articulated well?
If the answer to those questions are yes, that is great! You are on the right path! If not, those questions are very valuable for the athlete in knowing what needs to be done and why certain aspects of the training are the way they are. Knowing these answers helps to establish a "Confidence Progression", where at each point in their training the athlete will develop more confidence in themselves and their routines. This ultimately leads to better performance and overall better training.