You may have heard the expression coaching is an art and a science or something along those lines. Many people know the science of coaching and can plan very detailed and elaborate training programs from reading a lot of textbooks and reading research but very few understand the art of coaching.
The art side of coaching is the reactive, instinctive side. It is the one where you feel what your athlete is going through and know what they need on any given day. You have a plan but it is not the be all and end all, it is a guide, a framework that can be adjusted at any time depending on the demands of competition, the recovery status of your athletes, and the stresses of day to day life. The art side of coaching is one you can only gain through experience. You have to be in the trenches watching many reps, sessions, and competitions to see the fine details and to be able to confidently decide to stick to the plan or change it at any given time.
You can have a basic plan for your team or your athletes but you have to try and individualise the training as much as possible. The more elite an athlete gets the more regularly you tend to adapt training and use general principles of training as your guide.
It may come as a surprise to some but a lot of the time you have to hold athletes back after they have had a great session in which they surpassed the goals set for that day. After a great performance athletes generally want to train even harder because they are so motivated and want to match the previous session’s standards. This is when a coach has to detach emotionally, leave his own goals or ego at the door, and assess what is best for the athlete’s preparation long term. If they are allowed to keep going balls to the wall then this may lead to overtraining and injury or burn them out before an important competition. Even if you hit a PB on your third set out of 5 it may be time to call it a day and leave some in the tank. While it sounds like a good idea to smash your PB, in the end it could lead to a lot less if you are injured or don’t perform at your best come competition. I have done many seminars with great athletes and coaches and they all echo the same advice, training is just that, training. Save the biggest efforts for competition.
When it comes to training it is true that if you “fail to plan you are planning to fail” but you also have to be prepared to change your program or session at any time based on how your athletes are feeling, what the conditions are like, and most importantly on what you see.