The Coach Speaks Out |
with Mike Lushington
Oh, I shouldn't be laughing so hard. I hurt too much, " one of my athletes groaned as he bent over in another paroxysm of gasps and snorts of mirth. He, and about twelve other kids, had just finished a punishing workout, a series of 400 meter uphill repeats. This workout is simple in design: find a good, continuous uphill of the desired length, and run up it as fast as you can, for the designated number of turns - or repeats. as one of my senior athletes, he had completed ten of them; others did eight, or six, depending on their age and ability. by no stretch of the imagination could it be described as a soft, or easy training session. Yet we were laughing and fooling around, for all the world like a bunch of irresponsible kids, jigging classes on a Friday afternoon.
These were cross country skiers and it was October. That was the time of year that I scheduled our "Killer Tuesdays". They were not to be confused with "Monster Thursdays", which was the day when they were required to run a ten kilometre loop which had six hills in it, one of which was 150 meters; another, 250; a third, the same 400 that we did our Tuesday workouts on; a fourth, of more than 500; a fifth of 400, and the sixth, a mere 200. All of them were to be done at maximum intensity, usually with ski poles, which increased the physical demands. As an alternate, on occasions, particularly on Thursdays, we would do repeats on "Jack's Hill" a monstrosity of nearly 800 meters of continuous climb.
In my years of coaching endurance sports, I have tried to conduct every workout according to two simple principles. One of them was that the work had to be meaningful; the other, that there had to be a very large measure of fun in it. At times, on those days in November when the rain should have been snow, that the mud was of that particular quality of greasy, half-frozen glue, and the wind just would not let up, finding the fun was as much a challenge to my coaching creativity as I have ever confronted. We had one simple rule, though: no one was allowed to complain, at least not until the next day. I have returned to coaching this fall, more or less falling into a situation with a group of kids who want to train for biathlon, and I have rediscovered the importance of that principle. Once again, I am having fun, and I know that the kids are, as well.
In my other incarnation as a coaching instructor, I stress, over and again, the principle of fun to coaches. I try to make it clear that the word means something different to eight or ten year olds than to a group of kids like my skiers or biathletes, but the essential ingredient remains. Training for competitions such as the Canada Winter Games, or for national events is serious business. the athletes who want to do well know that, and dedicate themselves to the work. They will not tolerate workouts which are poorly designed or meaningless, but they will work themselves to the point of exhaustion if they can see the benefits. If they can enjoy the camaraderie and the atmosphere, and if they can laugh at their discomfort, all the better.
Laughter truly is the best medicine. No one ever said that hard work had to be drudgery. Coaches and teachers would do well to remember just how important the simple concept of having fun is as a motivator.
Mike Lushington, Dalhousie