Chasing Greatness

Get Your Athletes to Drink the Kool Aid

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If you're a coach or trainer, your athletes are going to do what you say. But it doesn't mean they're listening to you.

If you're a parent coaching your kids, your job is much tougher. Athletes tend to tune our their parents' coaching instructions…even when those instructions are good ones.


Regardless of your situation, you'll get much better results out of your athletes if you can get them to truly buy into what you are selling.

At a recent competition, I had a parent approach me. She told me how her son comes home from practice each day raving about how excited he is about his training. How he loves going to practice, how much faster he feels, how confident he is about breaking the school record, etc.

She said how she used to be a high school coach. That she would try to tell him the basics like drink more water and stretch out after practice. When she said it, it was in one ear and out the other. But now that I'm saying it, all of a sudden, he's constantly got a water bottle in his hand, he's eating right and getting a post workout stretch in every day.

Apparently, this was a previously unimaginable change in behavior.

So how do I get my athletes to drink the Kool Aid and completely buy into my system (in this case, after working with them for a mere 2 weeks?)

Magic? Witchcraft? Voodoo? My priceless brand of comedy?

Probably that last one. But if not:

It's basic and straightforward.

I just explain everything we're doing, why we're doing it and exactly how it is going to make them better. Which makes the team better. Which makes everything more fun.

And explain it in simple terms they can understand.

Of course you could overwhelm them with science, but they don't want to hear that. And I don't have time to explain it.

Here's one thing I do, though mostly for my own entertainment…

Start by going into the science for about 10 seconds. Then stop yourself mid sentence and say 'Scratch that. You guys don't care about the science behind this. If you want to know about it just ask me after practice. Here's what it boils down to…'

Then break it down in everyday language. That a fifth grader could understand.

Giving them a dash of science shows you really do know what you're talking about. That you have a plan. Because they are paying attention. The good ones are online looking up training information and comparing what they learn to what we're teaching them. Our athletes need to know we're not just making up random workouts and drills like many of their other coaches. To say to themselves, even if subconsciously:

"Wow, there's an actual scientific reason why we're doing this. I don't quite get the science, or care, but what he says really makes sense."


Because there is a practical logic flowing through each element of their training, athletes can follow that logic and understand how and why hitting all their times in today's workout is to their competitive advantage. Instead of dreading it all day and then half assing their way through it.

So instead of giving 75% during that terrible hill workout like they normally do, they bear down and go 95% because they can see how it's going to help them at the end of a race. And now that they really believe they can run fast, training has purpose.

They're no longer just running to run, lifting to lift and training to train. They're not just blindly doing what the adult in charge tells them to do.

Because they understand how each drill, workout, rep and lift is specifically going to make them faster, they *want* to stay after practice and do just a few more starts.

They *want* to practice the speed drills on their own time.

They *want* to drink more water, eat healthier and take the time to do a good warmdown.

They *want* to take the time to get better because they *believe* in what they are doing.

So, as the coach, parent or trainer how do you get your athletes to *want* to do everything you say as opposed to blindly do what they are conditioned to do – listen to the adult?

It's really pretty simple: Put together a solid plan. Tell your athletes what they're doing and why. Demand slightly more from them than you expect.

Try it out and let me know how it works!


You might be thinking if you have access to a better training plan, your athletes will drink the Kool-Aid sooner and you'll have more confidence in your progressions and explanations. :

I've done for you what I do for my athletes – give you enough science for the process to make sense, but not so much that you have to play Jedi Mind Tricks with yourself to stay focused while you watch the DVDs. (Coaches get bored, too!) Plus full workout programs and every exercise and drill you could possibly need to teach athletic skill.

Recommended Athletes' Acceleration




  • Jim Labadie says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Latif. When you explain to people, in language they understand, exactly why they are doing something, they do it. And they get the desired result.

    There’s no reason to treat young athletes or adults like infants.

    Keep up the great work!

  • David Stewart says:

    Great stuff! Thanks! I hear kids talk about what a particular ‘good’ team is doing. Yet, often the ‘good’ teams they speak of are teams that are ‘talented’ and would be successful with or without quality coaching. I will hear the kids speak of things these teams are doing which make no sense, have no progression skill-wise or physiologically. Which gives me an opportunity to point out the higher number of injuries these teams often have and the inconsistency of their performances and contrast it with what we are working toward.

  • BJ says:

    Is it possible to make your payment plans 4 instead of 3 payments?

  • Al Warden says:

    I enjoyed your article as I do most of what you write. In Michigan, this is the week when we find out if they enjoy the Cool Aid. It is the NO-Contact week, the week when the captains run the practice and the coach is not allowed contact with, in my case XC runners. No contact by a parent, no contact by a friend, no contaqct by a past runner. Lucky for me, the news of yesterdays two mile time trial did get back to me and it was wonderful. The runners started talking about taking it easy because it was so hot and early in the season, all three captains shut down that thought immediately. Our two best guys ran 10:35 and our two best girls ran 11:42 and 12:01.

    Latif, I read everything you send out and was surprised you tossed our XC runners under the bus when you made a comparison between XC conditioning and football bleacher repeats. We have 4 guys that sprint with the best in the area. Lets just say they are all sub 50, 400 meter guys who prefer XC. Give us our do, if it were not for Cross Country our guys wound not be running 1:55 800’s and 4:20 miles.

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    Dave – Great points. And great idea about reframing their experience so they understand how lucky they are to truly be in one of the ‘good’ programs!

    BJ – It is not.

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    Al – I appreciate the support. However, I think you took the statement:

    “The problem is that football is not cross country.”

    out of context. What I meant was that football players running bleachers would develop the type of general conditioning/aerobic base more likely to benefit a cross country runner than a football player running 10-20 yards at a time.

    I am by no means suggesting cross country is not significant/beneficial/important. Just that I believe in specificity and that as a means of ‘getting in shape for football’, bleachers aren’t particularly effective for those athletes.

    If I had 400/800 guys running those times, you can bet your behind I’d be endorsing their running cross country! Actually, without CC, I think we’d both agree they wouldn’t be running those times!


  • Tim Graf says:

    Great points as usual! I do believe that success breeds success! You were a very successful colligiate sprinter, that gives you credability in what you teach. You’ve just moderized the great training you did as an athlete. The big advantage you have over most coaches is that you can share the same feelings, experiences and of course success with your athletes. the kids tend to believe you more if you’ve “been there won that”

  • Werner (South Africa) says:

    On-point as always coach! I remember this article, and made me think about my training system. Sometimes my athletes and I will miss half of the training and would just sit and discus athletics, the science behind it, results of the IAAF Diamond League analyzing the athletes etc. I don’t have a big group (at most 10 kids), and most of them are youths or juniors, so they understand the technicalities of training, at least I think so, because they keep comming back for more. We’ve been training through the winter here so it gave us ample time to share ideas.
    Thanks again Coach.

  • Great message, as usual!!

    One of the lines that stuck out to me more than usual was, “Demand slightly more from them than you expect.” I love it!!

    I really appreciate your articles!
    God Bless!

  • Coach Dot says:

    Hey Coach, like everyone else said, ‘great stuff as usual’. CST2 is awesome!! It has gotten me so organized, I already have my workout specific warmups typed up, my pre-season conditioning workouts, both phases of the lifting program, I’m so excited about the upcoming season. My studs are already trying to work out with me and its for the exact reasons you stated in the article, I got em sippin on the kool aid and they like the flavor.

    Now, I hate to potentially start and arguement or misunderstand where someone is coming from, but I have to disagree with Tim. He stated that your credibility as a coach stems from your experience as a successful athlete. Not to me it doesn’t. And I hate to sound so rude about it, I don’t mean to be, I’m just very passionate about track and field. I do believe there is some value in ex-athletes coaching, IF they actually know AND understand what they are talking about and not just regurgitating workouts they remember from college(which is what most uneducated coaches do). I would bet that even Latif didn’t understand conceptually why the workouts he did in college made him faster, I know I didn’t. It wasn’t until I went to my Level 1 school that I started to put the pieces together. When I look back at all the coaches I had, only 2 stand out as great coaches, one of which was participating in the Level 3 summit while I was going to the Level 1 classes, and he never sprinted a day in his life!! My college head coach was a great long and triple jumper back in the day for KU but he and I butted heads all the time because I started to realize that the training he was employing was outdatted. I think ONGOING EDUCATION AND TRACK RECORD GIVES A COACH CREDIBILITY. I’ve been on this site and others like it all summer trying to soak up knowledge and sift thought the BS to make myself a better coach and the kids I work with better athletes. I don’t just think that because

    I do agree with Tim, on the point he made about it being an advantage being able to empathize with athletes, I remember what it felt like to run repeat 200’s, thats why I believe less is more. I know Latif could write an essay on the state of collegiate coaching and I think part of the reason its in the state it is, is due to putting TOO much faith in a persons competition background and what they achieved as an athlete and a lot of ‘who you know BS’. It really is a shame. I talk to the athletes at my alma mater and the majority of them hate their coaches and most of their complaints come from them not agreeing with what they’re doing in practice, not “drinkin’ the kool aid”. For instance, they have the long and triple jumpers running 600,500,400 x 2 every monday! That’s crazy to me!! and I’ve been trying to rationalize that workout, but I can’t justify it, maybe Latif can shed some light on it for me. It just goes against everything I’ve been learning about energy system fitness and specificity. But that is besides the point and this post is getting way too long so I’ll cut it off with this: Having an ex-collegiate sprinter as a coach will get you pretty far, but having an ex-collegiate sprinter who is Level 2 certified and a CSCS as a coach will get you further:)

    Looking forward to what everyone has to say,
    Coach Dot

  • Tim Graf says:

    HI Coach Dot, Thank you for your input, you are very well stated. I have been educated as a coach more post college than in college. In regards to the different energy systems I was taught that anything over 1500 meters in any one training session goes into fatigue and risk of injury with no positive gains! What I run into the most is that very few people know how to teach the starting blocks correctly! From start to transition at 20 meters to race to finish. I learned all those phases of the race from my track coach at IU, 1976 Olympic coach Sam Bell. Coach Dot you are right about one thing,you dont have to be a runner to be a great coach! With the education in coaching you can be great. Coach Dot, Coach Bell never ran a step of track in his life! Best wishes and God’s Speed Coach Dot!

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