Law of the Ladder

There's an old motivational quote that says, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”  Very motivational and inspirational, right?  Try running that one by an astronaut and see what their reaction would be.  How about a show of hands, NASA folks, on who's up for wandering aimlessly through the vast emptiness of space?  Now, before you think I'm the Grinch that advises against "aiming for the stars," let me explain where I'm coming from.  I assure you that you'll be hard-pressed to find a more upbeat, positive, "can do" coach than me.   It's just that I want you to succeed so much that I want to give you a more pragmatic plan to help you reach your goals.  

Throughout my coaching travels, I've been fortunate enough to get to know and learn from countless great coaches and mentors.  My motto has always been, "Stealing from one is plagiarism; stealing from many is research."  Dr. Rick McGuire is a  world class coach, sports psychologist, and person.  When "Coach," the sports psychologist for the US Track and Field Team at two different Olympic Games, talks, I pay attention.  (That's hard for me too, if you remember last week's squirrel on crack analogy).  One of the many valuable things Coach teaches each Olympic team is the Law of the Ladder.  When you need to go up on your roof, you don't gather everything you'll need in your hands, take a couple steps back, start running towards the house, and then make a jump for the roof.  If you try that, you'd surely look like George of the Jungle and splat right into the side of the house.  Rather, you'd take out a ladder and climb up the rungs until you reach the roof. 

When we set out to attain a goal, we don't start by jumping for the roof (or the moon).  We start by climbing the ladder one rung at a time.  In racing terms, we have to train that first mile before we race the last one.   Now, don't get me wrong.  I am all about dreaming big.  But I'm also all about planning how to reach those big dreams.  Here are some guidelines for building a ladder that will get you to your roof: 

  • Don't just think it, ink it.  Write down your goals.  This helps keep you from negotiating with yourself when that moment of doubt sets in.
  • Be specific.  You need to have clear, specific rungs on your ladder, with each rung being "higher" than the previous rung.
  • Be positive.  As Coach McGuire explains, "Confidence is a choice."  Athletes choose the mental attitude they're going to have during competition.   Rather than thinking negative ("I can't"), focus on the positive ("I can") by thinking about all the rungs you've already climbed.
  • Don't fear failure.  Don't let the fear of failure sidetrack you from being successful. Define each rung so it helps lift you to your goal.

Here are some more specific guidelines for race week:

  • Plan out all the logistics.  Plan when you'll go to the expo, where you'll park on race day, where you'll meet your family/friends afterwords, what you're going to wear, etc.
  • Sleep.  Very few people sleep well the night before a race.  Make a concerted effort to get an extra half hour to an hour all week to help your body be ready to rock on race day.
  • Eat well and hydrate.  Bank a little extra fuel and water throughout the week.  Too much of anything the day before can cause problems on race day. Hydrating and carbo-loading is a week long venture, not just for the night before.  "Everything in moderation" those last couple of days.
  • The hay is in the barn.  You've done the work.  If you make a training mistake on race week, make sure it's of doing too little rather than too much.  You're not going to get any fitter over these last few days.
  • Make your race day plan.  How do you want to attack the course? When/where/how do you want to fuel?  What are your backup plans if things go astray? Be prepared.
  • Relax and enjoy the experience.

FLEET FEET can help you develop and climb the rungs on your ladder so you can reach the roof.  Visit our training pages for more information.

Good luck and happy racing!
Coach Cary

Dr. Rick McGuire, founder of the Missouri Institute for Positive Coaching, is hosting a Positive Coaching Workshop at the University of Missouri from June 23-26.  Dr. McGuire refers to the program as "summer camp for coaches."  Details are available on his website:

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