Think back to elementary school when you’d be assigned some big project. Maybe a diorama or the big science project. You’d walk in proud of the work that you achieved. Only to look over and see young Suzy or Johnny with the most complex and impressive looking things you’ve seen. No offense to little Johnny, but you knew he couldn’t put that together. It was obvious, his parents did the majority of the work.

Ask just about any teacher and they’ll regale you with stories of parents not just helping with homework or projects, but down right completing them. First grade teachers will tell you about a kid who can barely spell his first name correctly, who walks in with a full story written story with impeccable grammar and spelling, and a few complex words to boot. Older students might struggle in math, only to have their teacher, parent or tutor step in at the first sign of trouble.

We end up solving the problem for them. And as a parent, if the goal is a good grade for their kid, it makes sense on a superficial scale. The grade is what matters, so if we have to help them solve a problem

The ramifications of such behavior can be profound. Research shows that kids need to struggle, and sometimes fail, to actually learn.  We don’t learn from seeing step by step instructions, we learn from struggling with something and finding our way through it. To learn, we need to struggle.

When it comes to running workouts we often commit the same error that helicopter parents do: we solve the problem for them.

Early in my running career, I remember my high school coaches lining us up and telling us the workout for the day. 4x 1mile with 3 minutes rest. That was all the information we had.

No paces were given. Just how far and how many we were going to run. We were left with figuring out how fast to run. The effort on that day was to be our best. We were to go to the well and see what we had.


For some runners, this was very odd. How fast were we supposed to go? Was it 5k pace or 5:10 per mile? Should we try to get progressively faster or should we try to average the best that we can?

We were left to our own devices to solve the workout. We had to become intimately familiar with reading our body. To divvy up our effort, battling a drive to push ahead with our faster teammate and the knowledge that we need to make it to the end of the workout.

Sometimes we’d get it wrong. Starting much too quickly and paying the price at the end. Other times, we’d be too conservative, starting slow and having so much left at the end that you’d get chided by your teammates for having the “JV kick.”


This wasn’t every workout. Sometimes we had all of the details, other times we had a starting pace. Still others, we had the pace, but the end point was up to us.

As a developing runner, we were forced to listen to our body. To judge our own capacity. To understand and find our limits. We didn’t have these artificially assigned to us. We fought for and discovered them. We found solutions to the ‘problem’ in our own way.

The easy thing to do is to give kids the answer. To do the work for them. But that doesn’t help them learn. Instead, as sport scientist Fergus Connolly stated in his latest book 59 Lessons: Working with the World’s Greatest Coaches, “coaches shouldn’t train their athletes like you would a puppy, but rather create environments that equip them to independently problem solve.”

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Stop Helicopter Coaching

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