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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Like a Teacher on Test Day

Consider, for a minute, the work of a teacher.

In an overly simplified sense, it's a dance of preparation and examination. The teacher works tirelessly to convey the course material in such a way that it is learned and retained. In a sense, giving the test is a referendum on how well they succeeded in this pursuit.

If the goal is to assess what has been learned, the teacher won't be able to provide much guidance beyond explaining the parameters of the test. In effect, they have little influence on the test results the day of the exam. Instead, they are reduced to observation, and must wait until the results are tabulated to get back to teaching, when they have the most influence.

This analogy would've been useful when I started coaching.

Many of us (again, myself included) fall into the trap of overvaluing our influence on the day of competition. Conversely, I think we can also undervalue our influence in practice.

This is a rare case where I think that turning to other sports for guidance can be detrimental. We've all seen basketball coaches stalking the sidelines, yelling instructions to their teams. Growing up, I used to be mesmerized by that. When I'd watch NBA and NCAA games, my attention would fixate on the communication between coach and players. Even today, I'll still dial in on it.

But there's a large difference between an interdependent team sport like basketball and running a race on the track.

In our sport, there are no timeouts. There is no down time. There isn't a new play to orchestrate every 24 seconds.

I heard a more applicable phrase the other day that I love: "Prepare analytically. Race intuitively."

Practice is the time to do all the instruction. The competition is like the test. That's the time to see what's been learned.

Sure, giving words of encouragement have their place, but for the most part, I feel it's wise to be like a teacher on competition day. When the gun goes off, it may be best to simply observe.

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