Your client had been training for months and in addition to logging the miles, they’ve been making all of the necessary sacrifices (i.e., early wake-ups to get in runs) and when the big day came, they had a horrible race. As a coach, it’s important to understand how to manage this scenario.
1 – HOLD OFF
First and foremost, directly after a race IS NOT the time to dissect what happened and what went wrong. Regardless of the race outcome, emotions run high directly after a race and therefore any critique of a race should be delayed until that evening or better yet, in the days to follow. This will give both the athlete and coach more clarity on the situation. When the race is discussed, it is important for the coach to be aware of how they are framing the conversation. While it’s fine to discuss areas of the race strategy that could have been executed better, the overall theme of the conversation should not be negative, but rather supportive.
2 – DON’T BLAME YOURSELF
As the coach, it’s easy to blame yourself for your client’s result. After all, your client put their trust in you to prepare them for the big day. However, so long as you prepared them the best you could and was clear on the race day strategy, you cannot blame yourself for your client’s result – regardless of how your client feels toward you.
There are many variables that come into play to have a ‘good’ race. Some of these variables are:
- Feeling good
While you can prepare your client for some of these, there is no guarantee that everything will come together on race day.
3 – MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
It’s important to manage your client’s expectations that things can and do go wrong on race day and that even though they are as prepared as possible, it does not guarantee a good result. While this is most important with new runners/athletes, even seasoned runners can place blame on the coach.
4 – ANALYZE THE WHOLE SCENARIO
When analyzing what went wrong in a race, it’s important to look at the whole all factors, not just elements of training and racing. For example, perhaps your client was going through a divorce. While this issue may not appear to be a training/racing issue… it is. As a coach, you are training a whole person and everything that goes along with that. Therefore, the emotional energy that your client expends during the divorce process will absolutely influence their training and racing. Note however, that if your client does not tell you about their divorce, it is impossible for you to take this into consideration when developing a training plan.
It is not normal for a client to tell you everything that is going on in their lives that may affect their training. Therefore, you have to do the best you can with the information that is provided to you.
5 – MOVE ON
Many athletes will say that you’re only as good as your last race (or game). It’s an important message because it’s very easy to be tied to past results both in regard to how an athlete’s view of themselves and how they predict future races will go. For example, if a runner views themselves as a failure and they fully expect that the next race will also go badly – it likely will.
You must inform your client that bad races happen to everyone and that it is not indicative of either them as a person, or as an athlete. In fact, having a bad race every now and then is normal. When a bad race occurs, it’s important to identify potential areas that can be improved upon to minimize the chance of them occurring again (ex: not drinking enough). In other words, ‘bad’ races should be treated as learning experiences by both the athlete and yourself.