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Organization and Inspiration

November 21, 2012

As a young coach, I sought groundbreaking technique, thrilling activities, and inspiring challenges in workouts – thinking it was this that would delight the athlete and fuel their development. And excitement was found, and potent innovations too (I like to think). But when I reflect back on the best successes and best coaches I have had, I see organization, just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s as the hallmark of success. And the opposite is true – I have managed to create the epic-fail on more than one occasion with a wonderful idea that was executed ham-handedly. But the old saw “success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration” misses the mark in my mind. Perspiration can be easily achieved, epic efforts are for naught unless channelled in the right direction – months of solid training can be unrealized if you fail to show up on time for game day.
Managing a group of athletes takes skill – harnessing the inherent petillance of human interaction can be achieved with finesse or with fear – but it must be done (and I think that finesse is best). Similarly, managing a single over-committed adult athlete – adapting to schedule changes, the unending fount of human frailty, changes in weather and equipment failure – is not for the modest organizer. Coaches and self coaches must come up with plans that are at once simple, practicable AND comprehensive – and then be able to turn on a dime when reality proves inconsistent with the blueprint. THIS is where the perspiration lies: in sweating the details.
One of the greatest coaching gifts that I ever received was from my colleague Mark Eldridge, a wonderful manager and organizer, when he made me schedule all of the buses and hotels for a weekend trip of 150 athletes and coaches. i cannot do justice to the fear, self-loathing and finally relief that ensued – and it was years later that I actually appreciated what a boon it was. Learning the boring, MBA type tasks, is the key ingredient to success, the 90% of coaching “magic”. And sure, you have to possess some sense of the mechanical rules in order to pilot the ship, but knowledge without organization is like a knife without a handle. The other 10%, inspiration, might be the most fun, and it might be the difference between the podium and the top step – but it amounts to little without the foundation.

So first, plan how you’re going to get to the event – schedule the bus, plan the meals, rent the rooms, and make your packing list. Make your training check list and figure at least 3 places to put each component – then be ready to move them around as need be. Once all the ducks are in a row, everyone can breathe. The athlete needs to focus – so provide them (or yourself) an environment in which to do so.

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