As a high school running coach for over a decade, I’ve witnessed the growing tension between the long-term nature of athletic development and the pervasive culture of instant gratification. We live in a world of “likes” and immediate feedback, where results are often expected overnight. This mindset can create challenges for coaches and athletes alike, as we strive to navigate a path that prioritizes a crooked progression over multiple years instead of quick fixes.

How many times have you failed to impress upon your young runners the importance of consistent summer training? It’s not that they don’t understand the concept. I’m sure they do. However, I think that talking about the consequences in November has a negligible impact on the behavior of a typical high school student in June.

Coaching in the Age of Instant Gratification

High school runners are particularly susceptible to the allure of instant gratification. They witness professional athletes achieving incredible feats and want to replicate that success immediately. The iconic one-handed catch by Giants wide-receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014 serves as a vivid example. Every kid immediately went out to practice that catch claiming with pride that they “Odell-ed it.”

It’s vital to understand that athlete development is not a straightforward path. It entails a journey marked by highs, lows, plateaus, and breakthroughs. As coaches, our responsibility is to navigate athletes through this process, emphasizing the significance of patience, perseverance, and a long-term vision. In the realm of distance running, progress is measured year by year.

Cultivating a Long-Term Mindset

  1. Celebrate Small Victories: Every step forward, no matter how small, deserves recognition. This reinforces the value of consistent effort and builds confidence in the long-term process. Yes, it’s takes time to do this for every athlete. But, it’s worth it.
  2. Embrace the Process, Not Just the Outcome: Encourage athletes to focus on daily improvement, skill development, and personal growth. This promotes a more holistic approach to running and reduces their chances of falling into the torturous comparison trap.
  3. Foster a Growth Mindset: Help athletes understand that setbacks are opportunities for learning. Embrace challenges as a chance to develop resilience and problem-solving skills. Pacing the first half of the race matters.
  4. Instill Patience and Trust: Remind athletes that progress takes time. Trust in the training plan and encourage them to believe in their long-term potential. Share stories about other athletes in the your program’s history that made significant progress over time.
  5. Model Patience and Perspective: As coaches, we must embody the patience and perspective we ask of our athletes. Celebrate their efforts, acknowledge their frustrations and feelings, and provide unwavering positive support throughout the entire journey.

Addressing Motivation and Comparison Challenges

With Instagram, TikTok, and now Strava, athletes often find themselves ensnared in the comparison trap. Others look fitter, run farther, post crazier workouts, and achieve better race times. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.”

  1. Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation: Help athletes discover personal reasons to run beyond external rewards. Focus on enjoyment, skill development, health benefits, and teamwork to cultivate a love for the sport and their teammates.
  2. Combating Comparison Culture: Acknowledge the pressures of social media and highlight the uniqueness of each athlete’s journey. Emphasize individual progress and celebrate different types of contributions outside of running performance.
  3. Fostering a Growth Mindset: Teach athletes to view setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. Help them embrace challenges and develop resilience, rather than focusing on failure.

Information Overload: Too Many Coaches

In today’s connected world, coaches face a unique challenge: the abundance of information and coaching methods available online. The modern high school athlete often comes to practice with their own ideas and opinions, gleaned from various sources. “Hey Coach, how come we aren’t doing double threshold workouts like Jacob Ingebrigtsen?”

  1. Redefine Expertise: Embrace the role of facilitator and guide. Help athletes navigate information. Invite conversation, don’t discourage it.
  2. Emphasize Individualization: Collaborate with athletes to create personalized plans based on their goals, preferences, and learning styles.
  3. Cultivate Critical Thinking: Encourage athletes to question information and approaches, including your own. Help them develop the skills to evaluate their progress and identify their training needs.
  4. Foster Open Communication: Create a safe space for athletes to share their findings and perspectives. Engage in respectful dialogue and be open to adjusting your approach.
  5. Focus on the Coaching Relationship: Prioritize building trust, rapport, and mutual respect. This foundation enables effective collaboration.
  6. Stay Up-to-Date: Commit to continuous learning and professional development. Stay informed and talk to other coaches.
  7. Harness Technology: Employ technology to support communication, individualize training, and track progress. Or, toss it out entirely. You’re the coach.

Coaching the modern high school athlete in a world of instant gratification demands a deliberate shift in mindset. By cultivating a long-term perspective, emphasizing process over outcomes, and celebrating progress at every step, we can empower athletes to embrace the journey, reach their full potential over time, and discover the joy of running that extends far beyond their high school years.






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