Over at Complete Running, Jank wrote an article about teaching his six year old to run by jogging to the end of the block and back.
We’re set up, physiologically, to sprint. The whole “Fight-or-Flight” response, and that instinct, is what�s honed in us for most of our lives […] Which is when it hit me�people do need to be taught how to run. As silly as that sounds, there is some level of skill involved in regulating pace, regulating breathing, etc. For a lot of us, being stubborn and working through pain is enough to learn those skills. But for others (and looking back, I’m in this category), rhythm, pace, and breathing don’t come naturally at all.
He is absolutely right. We do need to be taught how to run. We also need to constantly practice our running or we will forget. Not only does our brain need to know what to do, but we also need to teach our muscles. If you stop running for a year or two or five, coming back is not easy. Your muscles and your heart have forgotten what it is that they need to do in order to properly exert themselves. After you practice for a while, your mind is ready to regulate yourself, and your muscles are ready to move you from one place to another.
The purpose of having a coach is to help you learn how to run. Your coach may want to teach you to run so that you can chase a ball and kick it around, or he may want to teach you how to sprint a few hundred meters or run a marathon at an even pace. His purpose is to make sure that you are able to accomplish your goals by teaching you and your body what they need to do.
When we are younger, our soccer and baseball coaches teach us to run by using running as a punishment during practice for the other sport. The kids that learn that running is not a punishment but a joy are the ones that wind up getting fitter and who stay active their whole lives. The ones that continue to believe that we should never do anything but sprint have a miserable time of it, and wind up hurt as a kid and inactive as an adult.