As a writer, it’s easy to get lost in the details. To zoom in so far that your entire focus centers around finding the perfect word or phrase. You pull out the thesaurus, anguish over the arrangement of a few words, before finally moving on to the next sentence. It’s a labor intensive exercise. And it’s needed. But not to before the story is written.

On the other end of the writing spectrum, is writing without giving much care to the sentence structure or words used. The focus is on the content and cohesion. Is the story flowing? This is the zoomed-out approach.

At different periods of the writing process, you have to bounce between these two extremes, focusing on the details or the big picture. But what do we do first? What’s most important? Best selling author James Patterson gave advice to budding writers, “Don’t write the sentences. Write the story.”

Often, new writers get caught up in the details. That the sentence is king. After all, put together enough beautiful phrases and an article or book will emerge. But Patterson’s recommendation isn’t to negate the impact of polished prose, it’s that polished writing is nothing if the story is not in place. The story is what matters.

Now, think about this lesson for coaching. We have the details level; individual workouts. And we have the zoomed out story level; the balance and flow of training. As coaches, we spend an awful lot of time obsessing over the details. Should we do 10x400m or 8x400m? Do we need a minute rest or 90 seconds? Should they be run in 65 seconds or 63 seconds?

Those details matter. But not before you have a plan in place. A cohesive and flowing story that’s designed to take the athlete from point A to point B. It’s not about the individual workouts, it’s how they connect and work together. Those 400’s mean nothing without the surrounding work; the longer and shorter repeats, the recovery runs.

Before you get to the individual workout level, you need to see how everything flows and connects. That’s what great coaches do. Take Arthur Lydiard, widely known for his high volume training. The magic of Lydiard wasn’t in the miles run. It’s that for his athletes, he developed and tinkered with a system designed to develop the various attributes of his runners to the right amount at the right time.

He found that when he started with endurance work, then layered on hills and sprints, before adding more interval work. All while keeping the long run. His athletes performed best when it counted. It’s the flow. The integration. The understanding that when his original athletes were doing intervals 4-5 days a week, he needed something to counterbalance the speed, so the weekly long run was kept.

It’s fun to get caught in the details. That’s where experimentation arises. But before you get to that level, make sure the story flows.

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