Re-Writing Plan A

Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya, October 2, 2020

Earlier this morning here in La Seu d’Urgell, two of Spain’s top canoeing athletes, Klara and Núria, completed their “course-walk” with their respective coaches along the 1992 Olympic canoeing channel.

“Walking the course” is one of the final steps that an elite canoeing athlete and their coach do together before a competition. Think of the course-walk as a roaming chalk-talk — part strategy, part motivation, and part affirmation.

Through novice eyes from afar, the course-walk appears somewhat strange. The pair does a lot of finger-pointing at water features, makes repetitive hand-gestures that mimic boat movements, and exchanges spirited ideas beside the free-flowing river.

But make no mistake, these are important moments that affect critical decisions soon to happen. Just a few minutes later, these two particular athletes will race each other for the final position on Spain’s Olympic Canoe Slalom Team that will compete in next year’s Olympic Games in Japan.

Every athlete and coach perform the course-walk a little differently. Sometimes, the course-walk conversation is driven by the coach. Other times, by the athlete. Often, the words and ideas are precise. Occasionally, the plan is framed in generalities.

But the central idea is to walk along the river bank and analyze the race course and its obstacles from different perspectives. Then, a plan is finalized for how each sequence of rapids should be navigated from the canoe or kayak during the actual competition.

And a good course-walk properly addresses one more situation — what to do when things go wrong.

A river’s unique attribute is that its currents are always changing, which means if you are navigating these currents, you are simply adapting to change.

In an ideal world, the course-walk forms a consensus on “Executing Plan A.” But, the course-walk equally reminds you to be ready to shift to Plan B.

The transition from Plan A to Plan B — and sometimes beyond — always seemed to be at the root of podium-level performances at the highest level of canoe slalom racing.

But after many decades in and around the river, I have refined my thoughts about this peak performance jump under pressure.

Instead of the possible switch to Plan B, perhaps the better reframe is:

The seamless transition within navigating massive change IS the new Plan A.

If 2020 has taught us anything, change is not a matter of “If” but “When.”

As the rest of us join Klara and Núria in the process of navigating change, better course-walks help.

Not to plan what you will do in the forceful currents in the river of life.

Walk the course to affirm how you will respond to the river’s change.

With gratitude, — Joe

Connect with Joe:

I coach established and experienced professionals, who feel stuck in place, to thrive in transition and bring focus to what matters most without compromising their lives.

My personal experiences winning an Olympic Gold Medal, serving as CEO of a national sports organization, and my current “Simple, Slower, and Less” lifestyle in the Catalan Pyrenees help to form accountable and transformative collaborations that see my clients create their next and most impactful chapter.



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Joe Jacobi

Olympic Gold Medalist, Performance Coach, & Author helping leaders & teams perform their best without compromising their lives.