Develop Your Planning Skills

Joe Friel explores the development of annual training plans, short-term plans, and matters beyond sport-specific workouts.

Once the athlete’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential have been determined, the coach will develop a plan for the athlete. This usually starts with an annual training plan, the first step in guiding the athlete toward goal realization. Eventually, you will produce short-term plans—detailing a few weeks of training with daily workout sessions. The plan may also take into consideration matters beyond sport-specific workouts such as recovery, strength training, nutrition, mental development, skill acquisition or refinement, heat and altitude acclimatization, body composition, and physical therapy to prevent injury.

All of this is based on the athlete’s goals for the season, his/her current training and fitness status, your assessment of the athlete’s potential, and readiness to adapt to the plan. Such plans are unique to the specific needs of the athlete relative to your seasonal strategy and their goals. The plan in the initial stage should be simple and little more than an overview. The details are worked out as you and the athlete begin to implement the plan.

Creating a training plan is a pivotal moment in the athlete’s season. The plan is a written guide for what, when, how, and why the athlete trains. It is intended to be inclusive of everything that impacts the athlete’s preparation for the coming season. This is why the plan must involve the athlete’s input. There are certain to be activities in the athlete’s life that affect the plan. This may be planned vacations, work schedules, family matters, and other activities that impact time available for training throughout the season. I would even go a step further and suggest that all members of the athlete’s family have input as this may also affect their lifestyle.

Once the training plan is designed it becomes a guide for both the coach and the athlete. But that plan is not an inflexible agenda that must be adhered to regardless of what the athlete’s (and coach’s) reaction may be over time. In four decades of writing training plans for athletes I never had an initial seasonal plan go unchanged. Expect adjustments, even significant ones. Anticipate making changes based on your ongoing analysis and your intuition. Expect these changes to happen throughout the season.

When you need to make a change, inform the athlete so they can be prepared both mentally and physically. It’s wise to review the plan with the athlete weekly, communicating the logic behind any changes and getting buy-in.

The Craft of Coaching Skills Pyramid by Joe Friel

Resources for improving planning skills

There are many ways to improve your planning skills. It’s likely that your national governing body offers a course on this topic and may even have recorded workshops or lectures on the topic posted on their website.

As with the analytical skills discussion above, some good options for becoming better at planning include working with a coaching mentor or seeking out experts who have a well-established depth of knowledge on the subject. This is a relatively easy skill to improve based on the wealth of information and tools available for coaches.

The following workshops from the Fast Talk Labs content library are valuable resources for honing your planning skills.

How to Build an Annual Training Plan

How to Develop a Yearly Training Plan

We review the art and science of developing and maintaining an annual training plan, which helps athletes progress and perform at their best.
How to use TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart

How to Use TrainingPeak’s Performance Management Chart

Coaches Trevor Connor and Ryan Kohler review TrainingPeaks metrics such as Acute and Chronic Training Load (ATL/CTL), Training Stress Balance (TSB), and discuss the interactions among the metrics.
planning your base season

How to Plan Your Base Season

We discuss the nuances of base season planning, from the appropriate intensity distribution to the time it takes to produce gains from both aerobic and anaerobic work, and much more.

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