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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Fall Semester Reflections: Prioritize Effectiveness

This fall, a "typical" training week for our men's cross country team was anything but. In times not constrained by a pandemic, we would have the liberty to practice six days a week for a maximum total of 20 hours. However, financial decisions made by the university shrunk those parameters down to four days a week (specifically, Monday through Thursday) for a maximum total of eight hours.

We had a choice to make. Do we try to fit 20 hours and six days of work into eight hours over four, or do we look at the bigger picture and decide what's most effective? Dr. John Berardi offers a great answer in his book, Change Maker:

"Some folks try to handle this problem by thinking in terms of efficiency. They look for ways to get more done in less time. However, even if you're busy knocking off to-dos at an alarming pace, you won't be accomplishing anything important if those to-dos aren't worth doing. All your time, energy, talent and unique abilities will be wasted.
Of course, efficiency is important. It's always great to use resources well and to get more done with the same amount of time, money, and team members. However, if I had to prioritize between efficiency and effectiveness, I'd pick effectiveness - doing the right things - every time. This means getting clear on what's worth doing (and what's not worth doing) and then focusing on that almost exclusively."

To find that clarity, we asked ourselves a series of questions:

-Which components of our training week do our athletes execute well on their own? What do they struggle with?

-Which components of our training week would be executed at a higher level in a team setting? Which would have a similar outcome if completed individually?

-Which aspects of our training need greater emphasis as a result of the lifestyle constraints the pandemic has placed on our athletes?

Through feedback from the athletes and using our own intuition, it was clear that our guys had little issue getting out the door for runs of low to moderate intensity. Easy runs, recovery runs, and even long runs were pretty consistent, even in isolated environments. Strength, drills, and mobility work presented more of a challenge. This was partially due to a lack of access to equipment, but also an understandably lower level of interest in the tedious nature of ancillary work.

What we also concluded was that workout performance was elevated in the company of others. Sure, we initially had to maintain distance and remain in small groups, but performing in the presence of teammates brought out the best in our athletes. It also made sense that the stimulus with the highest intensity would elicit the greatest variation in outcome based on the environment it was completed in.

Finally, it became evident that stay-at-home orders and online classes combined to inhibit the usual "accidental fitness" our athletes get from walking and biking around campus, whether that's to class, the dining hall, or an athletic event. They were spending more time in a seated position on Zoom, which had a myriad of effects on their suppleness.

With those answers in mind, creating a week that maximized effectiveness became clear. In simple terms, it looked like this:

Monday - Workout

Tuesday - Strength Work in the Weight Room

Wednesday - Mobility, Drills, and Strides

Thursday - Workout

Any easy, recovery, or long run was done outside of practice. Our athletes were good at that. For the other components of our training, having a coach, a team, and/or equipment made the quality better.

Sure, there were still aspects that were less than ideal. Having the full 20 hours and six days is always preferred. But when we had to pick and choose, I think we found an effective solution.

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