The Most Effective Coaching Styles for Distance Runners

Developing the Right Coaching Style for your Running Program

The 3 styles mentioned above are extremes, obviously, there is a quite a bit of grey area in between these different coaching methodologies.

It is in this grey area, or in a blended approach that we find the greatest efficacy.

As a coach of teams, you know that how challenging it is to have a blanket approach to any protocol, from your training programs to your racing strategy, to your coaching style and how you relate to your athletes.

The blended approach is the only way to optimize your coaching style for a group of athletes with varying personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

So how do you determine the right balance of the 3 coaching styles?

For high schoolers, discipline is key. Not many high schooled aged kids have natural discipline, this skill needs to be developed over time, and thus I think a forceful autocratic approach is necessary as the foundation to the program. You as coach need to enforce your authority and make it known that you are the expert.

You cannot be too harsh and forceful however. This will only create a culture of “do as your told” and will result in withdrawal of certain runners, who need more explanation.

I recommend leading with a dictatorial style at the front, and then work in the other two where appropriate on an individual basis.

Use the systematic approach when needed for further explanation on why certain things are done. Also use this method for athletes who you determine to be incrementalists, or those who thrive off of small improvements over the course of an entire season.

These athletes need little else than your instruction, and possibly an explanation of why from a physiological perspective they’re doing certain things.

High schoolers can be temperamental as well, so it is important to not tell them what to do with little explanation. This will alienate some of the more inquisitive athletes, those who take a strong interest in why certain decisions are made over the course of a training period.

For these more curious athletes, adopt a softer approach, where you spend time explaining certain aspects of your program to them. Allow them to feel like they’re making a contribution to their training and development as a runner by holding goal planning sessions.

I’ve seen each of these coaching styles work at a high level with certain athletes. I’ve also seen each athletes respond negatively to certain coaching styles.

If you were a coach of individual athletes, and they came to you for your style of coaching, then it is fine to coach in your natural extreme. Your athlete made the decision to work with you based on this.

However, if you’re a coach of a team with a wide array of personality types, you need to adopt a blended approach and relate to each athlete on the level that they respond best to.

It will require quite a bit of trial and error, and also well developed skills of observation, but with time and effort you will be able to successfully cultivate a coaching environment that any type of runner will feel comfortable in, and can achieve success.

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