3 Coaching Lessons for (Young) Coaches

Posted by Latif Thomas

I get asked a lot of questions so I thought I’d share three of the seminal lessons I’ve learned since I started coaching HS track and field at the turn of the century:

#3 Stay Current

If you want to be in the top 20% of coaches, you can’t allow yourself to become complacent by regurgitating the same workouts, cues, drills and progressions you did last year.

Even though one of my functions is to produce coaching ed material (and therefore learn all of it), I make it a habit to follow ‘The 3 Month Rule’, meaning attend a coaching education event or purchase some new educational materials at least once every 3 months.

Even as a 2nd year teacher with no money, I paid to fly to North Carolina and get my USATF Level II the first year I was eligible.

If ‘every 3 months’ is too rich for your blood, follow ‘The 6 Month Rule’. You can get away with following ‘The 12 Month Rule’, but any less frequent than that and you can’t really call yourself a ‘coach’. Instead, you’re entering ‘babysitter’ territory with those people who coach primarily to add a little extra cash to the back end of their teacher pension.

You know who those people are. They’re a stain on our sport.

I do know this: 80% of sales at CompleteTrackandField.com come from 20% of our customers. I see the same names every time we launch something new or have a sale.

There’s a reason why 80% of Championships are won by 20% of teams. For example, in the Girls 55m at our Indoor Division III Championship, 5 of the 8 spots in the final were held by athletes from two schools. Not coincidentally, those two schools placed 1-2 as a team.

It wasn’t because of ‘luck’. Only babysitter coaches use that as an excuse.

In every area of life, you are the average of the five people closest to you. Try to be the ‘worst’ coach in your circle of coaching friends so you don’t become complacent, no matter how many records your athletes break or titles your athletes win.

I’ve been accused of ‘arrogance’, but take a look to the right and look at the coaches who contribute to this site. I have to keep up in conversations with these people every day and believe me, it’s a humbling experience.

STAY CURRENT: 2019 Complete Track & Field Summer Clinic (Coaches & Athletes)

But, I’m a better coach for it. You will be too.


#2 Fail Your Way to Success

I co-founded my first company when I was 25. Fourteen years later, I’m on company #4 and it’s the least stressed I’ve ever been.

But, I’ve failed repeatedly along the way and will continue to do so.

I’m at my fourth high school. One of the programs I left was my alma mater. (See Lesson #1) 

But, I’ve failed repeatedly along the way and will continue to do so.

I almost got arrested the first time I ran a clinic because I didn’t get the proper permissions. Last year’s clinic, run at the most famous University in the world, brought in over 600 paying attendees from 8 different countries and we had over 50 paid staff.

But, I’ve failed repeatedly along the way and will continue to do so.

MORE: 10 Facts About Successful Coaches

I’ve launched products that have flopped *hard*. (Remember when Complete Track & Field was a paid membership site? How about ‘The Speed Training Report’?) I’ve also been a part of launches that did the opposite of flop (and we’ll leave it at that).

But, I’ve failed repeatedly along the way and will continue to do so.

I once cost a kid a 300m All State Title because I made his race plan too complicated and he froze for half a step at the break. I once cost a kid a High Jump All State Title because I didn’t monitor his training volume and he pulled his hamstring hurdling and we lost half the spring.

I’ve also coached kids to a few All State Titles.

But, I’ve failed repeatedly along the way and will continue to do so.

The reason I succeed at most things I do (eventually) is because I don’t accept the concept of failure. If I did, I’d have curled up in a ball and quit a long time ago. Because I fail a lot.

Don’t take failure personally. You’re going to write bad workouts. You’re going to give athletes BS feedback because you don’t really know the answer. You’re going to screw some kids up. You’re going to put kids in the ‘wrong’ events or use the ‘wrong’ relay order.

And it’s going to cost you some titles and records and opportunities to qualify for bigger meets.

Accept it. Take stock of what went wrong and get right back on the horse and try again.

The most successful coaches are the ones who have failed the most.


#1 Never Outshine the Master

If you’re a young or inexperienced coach, chances are you’ll join a program headed by someone who has been there a long time. Or who used to be an outstanding track and field athlete.

Or both. (Good luck with that…)

They won’t tell you they have a big ego, but they do. #Fact

It’s not a criticism of that type of coach, just an observation.

When you’re a young coach, everything is new. You get some results and you start to think you invented training theory. Then you get older and realize:

“I am not young enough to know everything.” – Oscar Wilde

But, as I learned in a previous experience, not everyone actually wants you to succeed.

Some people will take your success as zero sum. Subconsciously, they believe there’s a finite amount of credit and recognition to go around. The more you get, take or earn, the less for them. And that can turn into a real cluster bang if you’re not paying attention to how you’re being perceived.

The main function of the Ego is to prove the necessity of its existence. When the Ego is threatened, a person’s entire sense of Self is threatened. That feels like annihilation and the Ego will do *anything* in its power to preserve its existence.

So, I recommend following the advice I stole from Robert Greene’s book ‘The 48 Laws of Power’.

neveroutshinethemaster2It’s Law #1 and here is what it says:

“Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.”

Say Word, son!



Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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