Category: Human Performance

Real Athletes Don’t Train

I want to tell you a story about a coaching idol whom I’ve never met. His name is Bill Sweetenham. Bill was brought up in poverty in Mt Isa, the mining town in Queensland. He was thirsty to learn and he knew early on that he wanted to be a coach. In fact, he had coached a swim team in Mt Isa and took them to number 3 in the country. He clearly had talent and soon enough gained an appointment to coach a team in Brisbane.

So, Bill was living in Brisbane and soon realised he needed to further his knowledge if he was going to improve as a coach. Bill had a friend who was better funded than he was and was going to university. So he decided to go to uni with him one day to look around. What he found surprised him. He could walk into any lecture he wanted and take part in the class. Nobody checked on who was walking in.

So he spent 3 years there studying psychology, biology, and physiology. Just walking in and taking part in the lectures. For all those 3 years he didn’t sit a single test but the time came at the end where he decided to go up to the head of the college to ask if he could he sit the exams.

So, he made an appointment with the Dean. The day came for the meeting and as he walked into the Dean’s office he immediately he said to Bill…… “No need to say anything – I know who you are and no, you can’t sit the exams and pass the course.” But ! …. he also said that if he waited a week he could sit the exams, then they would mark them, realise he isn’t enrolled and then be failed. Bill decided to sit the exams.

Stunningly, Bill topped the class in all 3 courses but wasn’t given the degree of course.

The Dean did however leave Bill with some great advice that he has held onto.

“Bill, the reason that you topped the courses is that you came to university to learn; everybody else came to pass.” 

And this is what I write about today…. I am writing about how the best athletes train.

They don’t train to pass the test, they train to learn.

Athletes that are on the path to achieving more out of their sport and in life are constant learners. They instinctively turn towards what they don’t know yet. Areas that they aren’t comfortable with are walked towards.

But what about the program then? Well to me that’s the start of the training conversation. A kicking off point for the athlete to start from based on the coach’s knowledge and experience.

Great athletes:

  • tune into their body to give it what it needs
  • use the program as a guidepost
  • seek enlightenment about where there are at
  • understand that preparing for an endurance event can’t be scripted but the script is a great place to start
  • learn from each session
  • write down what they have learnt
  • discuss it with their coach

As an athlete, with races ahead of you, with a training program to work off, with a training diary at your fingertips, with a coach to discuss things with, you are able to hit each training session not just to train, but to learn.

Yes Dad

Yes Dad …. This saying is at the core of any childhood. Okay and maybe it’s a yes Mum as well. You’ve been asked to do a chore and well yeah it’s probably not going to get done is it.

Daily in my coaching environment I get the yes Dad. That look of yeah I’m not gunna do that mate. You’re dreamin’.

So I keep saying shit to athletes – things they should be doing but aren’t. Eating better, sleeping more, doing the work, writing post session comments in their diary.

Why aren’t they doing it ? Because they aren’t seeing the reason I’m asking for those things.

When Mum or Dad told you to make your bed, clean the room, go have a shower before dinner ? …. yeah nah.

Thought so. Usually because we didn’t get why we should do it. We didn’t get that the daily disciplines are what add up to a valuable and meaningful life. We didn’t seem to make a connection between having a nice tidy room, and not smelling from the lack of showering, with success in life.

We thought that having an unmade bed or a tidy room had no effect on things. We didn’t see that the daily disciplines was merely designed to develop you as a person. So that when and if you had a home of your own you’d know that keeping it nice said a lot about you and your family and that would rub off in everything you did.

Basically we were in an outcome mentality rather than a process one. We didn’t see what making your bed did for us in terms of outcome. After all – nobody came into our rooms did they.

High performing athletes understand that the athlete equivalent of making your bed or tidying your room is eating well, sleeping 7 hours a day, warming up, cooling down, writing up the training diary.  It’s saying how much doing the little things means to us. It’s trusting that having that mindset will rub off on everything we do.

This is something that coaches see everywhere around the world in developing athletes at camps. The high performers are the ones that seem to be able to get their homework done on time, their gear is always in good condition, their bikes are always clean, they always shower straight after a session. They both look composed and are composed. It’s not a coincidence ! It’s simply a matter of them placing importance on process when there doesn’t seem to be an immediate positive outcome from it.

Process might not seem like it has an immediate impact but it does.

Process Goals

Just had a good chat with an athlete around this. Worth putting up. The majority of goals we set are outcome goals. Natural tendency this one as we don’t sit there and dream of “neg splits” or “holding cadence”. We dream of our outcomes.
 
The way towards those outcomes but is identify what it takes to get there. Things like arrive early at race site, 10min warmup including dynamic stretches. Calm start, even / negative split, leg speed over 170, stick to nutrition plan etc etc.
 
Now you are focussing on the things you can control on race day , but also the things you can practice at training sessions and improve upon.

I’m listening



Load management is one of the key areas of training. No doubt about it. If we don’t get that right there’s a lot that can go wrong. I thought it would be good to have a chat about where I go with that.

Right at the start in the title I said that I’m listening. I say that because it’s the key to managing training load. Listening. I listen to training files (yes they speak to me), I listen to what you are saying, I listen to what you are doing, I listen everywhere. Because it’s mostly behaviour that speaks the loudest.

I note where it is in the week that you are at your best. I note where you have the most trouble. Some athletes are shithouse at Monday’s and Tuesday’s. Some are great at those days. Some push sessions forward. Some pull them in early so it takes pressure off later in the week. This is very individual and not a weakness. It’s your personal fingerprint. The way you roll.

I watch what happens on a day off. If you are keen to do a extra session it means I have your load about right. If you can’t wait to get that sleep in I might track fatigue and have to adjust.

I listen to you as you are coming closer to a race. Some athletes just haven’t quite got that confidence in themselves that I have in them and look to reassure themselves at race pace or race distance. A lot of coaches say that’s bad. I don’t. All I say is I’m listening. And what I’m hearing is you need more confidence. So I adjust.

I listen to your health and what it’s saying. If you are getting viruses it’s saying load might be too much. If you are getting niggles it’s telling me we need to strengthen the area.

I listen to what you are noticing. I listen to what you like. I listen to what you don’t like.

So you can see that I can’t really rely on what you are saying As much as what you are doing. Because emotion is masking stuff when it comes to words. The behaviours are where it’s at and where I have to listen the most. By listening to what you do I can constantly adjust on a week to week overall planning basis. If I can see your personal fingerprint I can work with it and guide you in the right direction. Then I can follow that up and prepare you accordingly.

Precursors to Performance

As a coach, you sometimes wonder if your direction and recommendations are being listened to. Do the usual messages of consistency and training with intent, resting, recovering, eating well start to sound trite almost? It’s not matter we take lightly. Delivering a message after all needs to be meaningful and hopefully held in good regard. We see this with messages from the authorities when it comes to warnings about smoking, speeding, and drink driving.

When studying football, coaches look for these precursors that lead to scoring opportunities. Fast play the balls, players in motion off the ball, game plans and players that ca execute those game plans under pressure.

What I have learned over many years is that there are a few key “precursors to performance” that we can rely on in endurance sport and try to replicate for sustainable success.

  • The athlete has had a deliberate progression in their racing and training in the lead up. Million dollar performances don’t just pop up out of nowhere. You see them coming. Make sure you are always trying to build to something. Not seeing the next race as make or break.
  • The athlete has had hurdles they have had to jump over to get to their best. Being exposed to difficult times, whether it be from injury or life circumstances, gives an athlete great coping skills and new levels of resilience. Their difficulty gives them a thirst for success.
  • The athlete is looking after themselves. Or from a counter view, I am yet to see an athlete reach their best by eating poorly, sleeping under 6 hours a night, and generally not taking care of their best assets, their minds and bodies.
  • The athlete becomes positive. Self doubt starts giving way to self belief. That comes fro one thing. Seeing improvement in training. Being able to go faster, or go the same pace but for longer, or even go the same pace at a lower heart rate.
  • They are in a healthy competitive environment. The language they are constantly hearing is that it’s ok to push yourself to be better.
  • Consistency comes to the athlete. As a result of looking after themselves and working on aligning the other forces in their life, sessions start to get done on a regular basis.

Mental Skills

Mental skills – what a topic hey. I’ve grappled with this one for over 2 months – the importance of this topic just demanded a lot of thought. It also demands a lot of personal opinion. Something I am not always comfortable with. I dislike the concept of trying to sound like a guru.

In any field we form opinion, and we form it from a variety of sources. Personal experience, other people’s views, study. etc etc. The fact is that there is more information out there than ever before. And it’s all at the tip of our fingers via the internet. 

I want to emphasise that I’m not here to give you more and more of the same. I want to do this podcast to give you my experience as a coach of endurance athletes. I want to share with you my methods of working on the development of mental skills. 

I want you to come away from this podcast with some clear methods for working on your mental skills as an athlete…. and of course this carries over to life itself

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Deliberate Practice

I run a lot of sessions as a coach and deliver many more for you to get done away from the coaches eye. 

I believe this could be one of the most important pieces of advice i have given for a while and believe that its critical to your success as an athlete. Get this right and a lot will fall into place. 

Training isn’t a race – its an opportunity to prepare for a race. Unfortunately I am seeing athletes still judging the success of a session based on how quick they went or how they “felt”. We all like to be quick in training and feel amazing of course. It gives us comfort that we might be improving. But mostly – it just doesnt work that way. 

As I described in my Race Outcome Model there are so many more components to your race outcome than how quick you went. To give a few examples, this list is just a short sample of the things you can get out of a session : 

  • Mental strength 
  • Equipment choices
  • Adaptability
  • Pacing 
  • Nutrition (Pre, during and post session)
  • Strength up hills 
  • Technique 
  • Bike skills 
  • Coping with bad Weather 

Every single session is an opportunity to test yourself. It isn’t a race where you get an outcome. It is a series of mini challenges that you can test your skills and knowledge in. 

A few examples : 

  • TT’s…. A great chance to handle pre-race nerves. Good chance to see where your speed/endurance was at. How was your pacing? What equipment did you use? When you weren’t going as quick as you hoped how did you manage your mindset mid-TT? How did you justify it in your mind post-TT? 
  • Long ride ….. an athlete used the training opportunity to have a full dress rehearsal and found the wind knocked around their equipment preference of a rear disc and front 808. What a great outcome ! 
  • Another athlete was doing their long ride also in prep for an upcoming race and was turned around by a road closure. Mid-ride they had to adapt and overcome. Their run off was lonely, hot and hard. Just what the race will deliver and they got the opportunity to experience before the day. 

Your race outcome will definitely be dictated largely by your fitness. But it will also be dictated by many other things that you can prepare for. When you are reflecting on your sessions, think through what you learnt as well as how fast you went !!! 

“Managing” the heat

From a weather perspective this summer has been a challenging one. Heat and humidity really sucks it out of you at times and I have had to adjust intensity expectations more than a few times. We can drink all the electrolytes in the world and physically adjust, but in the end, the oppressive environmental factors means the Rating of Perceived Exertion punches up through the roof higher than we think. In that respect I’m pleased I can refer back to data and the data is speaking improvement on the whole despite basically feeling a bit rough from disturbed sleep and hot sessions. In raw terms, you might feel like rubbish but your improvement might not. Just adjust the correlation between “feelings” and “real”.

We can put this to good use of course. How many times does it happen that you experience heat in a race and it literally makes your feel like crap. You start to slow and readjust your personal expectations as to a result. Let’s use this time to practice holding pace and power while feeling the RPE climbing due to the heat. What can be a hardship can be a strategic cutting edge against your opposition. Turn it around and bring it in. Let’s face it, we still have at least a month to go of it.

New Year

Notice I left the “Happy” bit off? I did that for a reason. It doesn’t have to be happy all the time. It can be sad too. It can be exciting, or fun, or challenging, or hard work, or any number of descriptions.

The new year is just another flip of the page. Another chance to commit to discipline and excellence and just not putting expectations on yourself other than through the process.

Change

I’ve been thinking deeply this past couple of weeks….. End of 2018 and all. Creativity and innovation is a big part of who I am as a coach and how I work. Pushing deeper into what works. This isn’t an easy task when the topic of individuality arises. It lays a different scenario over each training paradigm. But the one thing you always have to remember is that the basic foundations always work.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and note-taking. I have a folder of work that I always read to remind me of the foundations. Swim coach Bill Sweetenham always provides a lot of inspiration as does my stuff from Jamie Turner. Then we have the coaching coffees with Mick Delamotte just talking endlessly about our athletes and experiences. All of it creating a picture.


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller


One thing that always happens with me in this type of innovation work is the “aha” moment where you see something that just resonates. The above quote is one such aha moment. I found it on Twitter of all things. Home of the quote. Joel Filliol presented it as a way of saying to his athletes “think different”. Don’t change. Rebuild yourself.

Buckminster Fuller was a pretty interesting guy. An architect with a passion for social issues, he was also an inventor. He invented the Geodesic dome infact in the early 1900’s. An architect who works in a world of designing buildings that are all the same has to think laterally for his breakthroughs.

The quote above for me is an epiphany of sorts. It reminds me that as a human working with other humans in the area of change that one has to think outside the box. Build the athlete that you need to get them to their goals.

I always say to athletes it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it. Think differently. Step onto the training grounds with attitude and joy. Be a student of your game. Do what old mate Bucky Fuller suggests and don’t fight yourself.

Knowing

Telling us what’s wrong isn’t telling us what’s right.

Social media thrives on this. “The Hook”.  Tell em what’s wrong. Then say you know the answer.

Optimal Performance

Optimal performance derives from holistic wellbeing and knowing your identity and core motivations. Taking care of your wellbeing, allows you to function at your full potential

This is one of the biggest issues facing an adult athlete with big work and family responsibilities as well as the plethora of information pouring into your lives via social media. The way forward is backward. Peeling back some of the layers and placing an emphasis on who you are and what makes you tick will unlock a lot of answers for you and allow you to see training and racing in much purer light than just another achievement you are seeking. 

Behavioural Observations

Coaching is quite a personal thing. You have to really allow yourself in and commit 100% to the athletes you work with. It’s both demanding and rewarding. Sometimes – actually most times – you don’t know how you should deal with the stuff people go through. But as a coaching mate says “the only way out is in”.

This morning I wrote a post on Facebook. Not something I have done for a long time as I haven’t felt comfortable with that medium recently. On that post I wrote about the experiences one has as a coach. I literally see it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. It can be quite humbling and can absolutely distract you from what is happening.

What I have learnt is that with all the noise that seems to be in our way, the behaviours are what we should be looking at. Not what they are saying, but what they are doing. If I have but one piece of advice to give it is to not be distracted by words or stories. Observe the behaviours.

 

Building the Endurance Athlete

How I like to develop an endurance athlete is a question I get occasionally. There’s so much information out there now that it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees. So the answer to the question “How do you develop an athlete?” becomes a question of my personal coaching philosophy. I highlight that this piece of writing is directed toward the age group athlete. High Performance has different nuances.

Philosophy
There’s a bit of a thing with coaching that you’re a “science” coach or an “art” coach. I don’t believe in this. I lean towards the art side but am definitely always working with science.
Generally as a coach I am not driven by numbers, but am guided by them. I think this comes from my experience in the sport from the 1980’s and competing without them. Basically, there’s a time to have them and a time not to have them.
I work on the basic philosophy that if I want to enable the athlete to reach their full potential, then a lot of the time that is by helping the athlete get out of their own way.
What am I building?
First and foremost I take the approach that I am building an endurance athlete that can do most endurance events at any one time. Any one of my triathletes should be able to take on a 70.3 distance triathlon, a half marathon, a long bike race, a long swim, etc etc.
If they wanted to step the distance up to Ironman or marathon, well that should only take a specific 12-16 week block to build some longer km in the legs. If we are specifically heading for sprint or standard distance, then the weekend endurance work gets a bit shorter and possibly the mid-week intensity work can get a bit longer.
The Raw Materials
What am I trying to develop:
  • Aerobic Fitness – everything you do as an endurance athlete relies on the basic premise that you are aerobically “fit”
  • Strength – you need the strength to be able to withstand being on your feet for a long time, climb hills, swim in open water, ride or run into headwinds.
  • Endurance – at any point in time i want you to be able to swim for an hour straight, do a 3 hour ride and run for 1.5 hours
  • Technique – poor technique can the root of all evil, however movement patterns are very entrenched in the age group athlete. I like to work on efficiency and making sure the technique isnt causing injury. technique should be a holistic approach to having enough strength, flexibility and range of motion to allow the body what it needs to do.
  • Resilience / Durabilty – I want the athlete to be resilient to the many obstacles that are thrown their way. Busy work weeks, family demands, etc etc. i want you to be able to continue to train in and around those challenges by adjusting your program – not throwing a week away.
  • Mental toughness – if you aren’t mentally tough, then endurance sports may not be for you. I work with you constantly on this and mostly in the area of believing in yourself. Most athletes are tough in sessions. Most don’t give up. Most get out of bed early. Not a lot will have the self belief but to say to the world “I am an endurance athlete”. They are too worried about what people will think of them.
  • Consistency – to continue a steady “build” in fitness its critical to get traction on your weekly training load. If one week it goes up and the next week it goes down, well its very hard to establish a decent overload / adaptation cycle. I would rather a consistent 10 hour week than 15 hours one week and 5 the next.
  • Communication – a key skill in being coached is the ability to communicate. It’s hard to read minds, but this definitely needs to be a key skill if you are to be any good at this game.
  • Patience – probably the best thing you can have in endurance sport. Maybe a sign of the times that we are generally not as good at it these days?
  • Honesty – for some reason, athletes will hide things from their coach. I am looking for complete and open honesty and am happy to return that favour.
  • Daring – I like athletes that have a crack, as long as they know the consequences. We can play it safe all the time but I would prefer that you occasionally test the waters.
Periodisation
A bit of a buzzword in triathlon. As far as periodisation goes I either work in base mode or race prep mode. Base will be predominantly aerobic but with a small amount of intensity. Race prep mode will have more intervals at race specific pace / power / speed. Come off a race and its back to base.
Build, build, build, recovery is a preference, but if the consistency isn’t there we will wait for the fatigue levels to build enough to warrant an adaptation week.
Some athletes can withstand a lot of fatigue in a build and some cant. Its a matter of applying what is right for the individual.
Execution of the Coaching Process 
All of the above is okay, but what we are dealing with is real people with real lives and many different backgrounds. What works with one doesn’t work with the other. I try to display a huge amount of empathy and take the long road to development by taking it back a few steps to sort things out so they don’t re-occur. Telling an athlete “my way or the highway” can be an easy and quick path, but I will leave it to the ego-driven.
As a coach I am malleable and observe deeply over a period of time. Then I work towards long-term sustainable success with the athlete, which in turn makes you a better person all up.
Hopefully this helps you understand what I am trying to do with you as we work together towards success.

Hitting the Target

Just wanted to speak a little today about focus. For some people it just seems to come naturally, but for others it doesn’t. Believe me, it’s not just something you have or you don’t. it is definitely a skill that can be learnt.
My story is the same as many others. I came across the sport of triathlon and got thrown into a world where I firstly didn’t feel good enough but secondly didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had read about goal setting but didn’t know what was possible. So I just let the path wind underneath me and as I peeked around each corner I found a new challenge. If I saw a road to the left I sometimes took it, if I saw a path to the right I sometimes took it. What I didn’t know at the time was there was a better way. At the time I just brushed it off as wanting “balance”. But really I was getting pushed around by any wind that seemed to crop up.
It wasn’t until well into my time in the sport that I realised how much better it was to focus on what I wanted and then to go after it. It was a chance occurrence that led me to this realisation. My daughter Ellen was training for triathlon with a small group in Sutherland and we went down to Wollongong for a training clinic with the NSW Head Coach Jamie Turner. A day that was not only great for the athletes, but for me also. I got to watch a guy coaching group of kids in a carpark in Wollongong that eventually, some 14 years later become the coach of an Olympic Gold Medallist. I saw the value of focus. When you spoke to Jamie it was clear what he wanted. To be the best coach in the World.
So that’s where the target comes in. I wanted to be a coach and be the best I could be. I literally had my target. To one day coach the winner of the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships.
The value of the target can’t be underestimated. It gives you clear vision of what you want and how to go after it …. and that is exactly what I want you to do.
So a few tips on working with targets.
1. Be very clear about what you want. Describe it in detail and feel yourself in that position. Write it down and continue to check in on it.
2. Don’t be realistic. Is a massive plane flying through the air realistic ? Nope. Those people who have achieved greatness started from ground zero also.
3. Write it down. Once you have the goal, get a book and write it down. Don’t put it in your phone. It gets lost in there. Make sure the book is lying around so it can remind you about where you want to get to.
4. Get good people around you. I used to make up questions just so I could have an excuse to call my mentor. The more you stay in contact with your mentor the more accountable you are making yourself to them. It says you are serious about what you want and once the mentor sees you at that level you can move mountains. They will make it a personal mission to help you make it happen.
5. Don’t get pushed sideways by the latest fad promising a short cut. The old school values of work ethic, drive, dedication and discipline are still there for a reason. There are no “hacks”. There’s no “easy way”.
So I want you to reflect on your goals based on this, set big targets for yourself, and then work hard with laser-like focus towards achieving them. It will make a great story to tell your grandkids. There is nothing like committing to a lifetime of seeking mastery and achieving big goals.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

It’s quite a normal thing where i will see or hear a comment from an athlete saying they want to be ‘stronger’ on the bike. Or even also in the swim and run. People throw the word stronger around as its a physical ‘thing’ that can be measured. Lets face it we all want to be stronger. In every area we want to be the strongest even.
My approach is this….We as coaches can prescribe more strength work, and indeed we do. 4 x 5mins at 60 cadence, or 5 x 5min seated hill reps are tools to help us deal with getting stronger. But this is contributing in one way to the cause. Another way to getting stronger is actually taking a holistic strength approach across to your riding.
When you are doing your solo aerobic rides during the week or the long ones on the weekend you should be looking for opportunities to improve your strength the whole time. (be smart if you’re with a group). If you come up to a rise, resist switching it back a gear and hold the one you are in the whole way up. When you come to a set off lights, take off in a hard gear. Put a good effort in out of the saddle for 100m. When you turn the corner, punch a few good hard strokes out of it before settling back in. When you are riding home from the next ride take the undulating way and “work the hills”.
The best riders in the world didn’t just get strong by doing strength intervals. They did the strength intervals …. PLUS they worked on being stronger the whole time they were on the bike. The best swimmers do pull and paddles PLUS they take to the open water. The best runners do hill reps PLUS they take the stairs and get in the gym.

Pain

Recently we have been upping the game with T5 in more of the quality sessions. The intensity being prescribed to make sure you are able to tolerate the demands of endurance competition. When things are getting tough at the back end its good to know you have dealt with that in training and are able to endure just that little bit longer. In the back end of the race it’s key to understand your body is doing one thing and your mind is doing another. The mind wants you to stop but the body is more than likely ok to keep going. Your RPE shoots up to 9/10 or 10/10 when the body is working at 7/10. The key with hard training is that it gives you an opportunity to deal with that before the race and set your plan tolerance level higher.

Patience

The biggest skill in endurance sport is the endurance itself. It is said that training for this sport is like watching your hair grow. On a daily basis you see no growth, but all of a sudden after 2 months you notice you need a haircut.

Just keep at it.

Planning and Preparation

Monday morning and the start of another 7 day “block” of training. Another chance to get a good crack at what is important for you at the moment. That might be re-establishing discipline and routine post big race or it might mean higher levels of accountability with a big race coming up. For those hitting Western Sydney it’s the key period now. Take it a day at a time and give yourself a chance to reflect at the end of the week. Remember to not look for perfection. Dont jump off the wagon and “start next Monday”.
 
A key skill that the best in all sports do really well is organisation and planning. Take it a step up in attention to detail and it not only takes the pressure off you but improves your ability to perform. Thinking ahead will help you. A lot.
 
Yesterday’s High Performance sporting environment of the Bathurst 1000 showed that the team’s that came out on top were the one’s that were best able to manage in turmoil. It wasn’t the ones that had no turmoil. Endurance is a game that demands planning and preparation. If you are ready for the unexpected then you will not only perform bette, but enjoy it more as well.
 
Do what the best in the world do. Plan your week to a level of detail that probably even blows your own mind. Then watch the results come.

Backs to the Wall

Backs to the wall :  

This has been a common theme of late. One I’ll expand more upon in the next podcast, but have a think about how you do your best work. When you have heaps of time ? Or when you are under the pump? 

I know the answer for me is I am way more efficient and do better work when I’m busy.

Don’t wait for the perfect phase in time to have a crack. Do it when you have your backs to the wall.

Perfection

Easily the biggest enemy of the athlete. Why ? Well I really want to keep this short – so the biggest reason as I see it is very simple. If we aren’t ready to do a perfect race or perfect session then we are building the case against ourselves. We confirm our “suspicions” that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t talented enough, our lives are too busy, or our bosses are arseholes.

Nobody asks for perfection other than ourselves. Drop the idea of it and watch the story you are building disintegrate.

Get yourself on the path to performance “enlightenment”. The path where we understand that the journey is the way. Similar to a Buddhist Monk. They never arrive, they just practice their craft and seek peace and enlightenment. The never ending journey to happiness and satisfaction.

Excellence and Expectation

I had a very wise man, with a lot of experience at elite rugby union, tell me once that as athletes and humans we should move towards anxiety. If you are feeling anxious it probably means you are doing something right. It means you are living on the edge and fearing loss.

The thing you are fearing is the thing that obviously means a lot to you ! …. or you wouldn’t be anxious about it.

In the sporting context you can equate it to Grand Final nerves. You aren’t going to be calm prior to the event. You have self doubt and have little to no control over the outcome. You only have control over how well you play and how well you execute your game plan.

One of the interesting aspects of this feeling we get is that the better we perform, the more pressure seems to mount. What if we can’t live up to this new expectation we have formed for ourselves by our very own excellence? You have trained for months for this race – what if it doesn’t bring the rewards of an equally great outcome ? Was it all in vain?

The photo’s below are of two surfers on two very different waves. One is probably very anxious and one probably isnt. The big wave surfer, due to her high level of skill, is placing herself in a dangerous situation. If she gets it right she has the opportunity to be at the top of her game. If she gets it wrong she could die. The surfer on the small wave has next to no anxiety. If she falls off the consequences are less dire.

This isn’t really a story about execution of your skills. Its a story about excellence and expectation. The higher the level of anxiety you are feeling is probably a sign that you are levelling up. You are achieving greatness. You are becoming successful.

Try not to take it as a sign that you aren’t up to it. It’s in fact the opposite.

Change

We all work with change. As a coach I am a change agent. That’s what I do. But that’s where the difficulty starts. Humans really don’t like change! We want different, better, variety …. but that must all be done without change! You can see the problems already.

I am trying to adapt and coerce and cajole you through growth but it’s important that we do that in a meaningful manner and not just for the sake of it.

The key to all this is to remember that we are changing processes and behaviours. We aren’t wanting to change you, your values, or your character.

For instance, if one of your important values is family time we have to get some strategies in place that don’t compromise that value but enhance or work within it. We set sessions at times that don’t overlap family time !

Again – we change process and behaviours – not Character or values !

Training Mindset

When you are training you aren’t just training your body. You are training your body, mind, skills, technique, tactics etc. Don’t just reflect on your output. Reflect on how well you approached the session.
 
Things like focus, skills developed, pre-session nutrition, sleep, etc are all worth reviewing and developing over time.
 
Review using the 4 Pillars of Performance >>
Mental : Physical : Tactical : Technical

Race Craft

It’s not what you think it is.
 
With a couple of races coming up for the team this weekend its a good opportunity to think about that specific challenge. The mind is probably now on what your current threshold pace is and how you might pace it. The usual things come up in your mind. Hold back early, dont go too hard, remember to have great form under fatigue.
 
Trouble is that the biggest race is going on inside your head. Thats where the race is run. You dare to dream and then quickly reassess the situation. You rationalise your current context. Recovering form last race, building up training, life’s been busy. All of which sound reasonable. You have already started the fight.
 
They say that when you feel like you are at your perceived limit, that you aren’t anywhere near your potential within. I can hear you saying it now. Probably nodding you head even. But where you are now is good enough. You love what you do and its all about fun. Sure it’s all about fun… but there’s more fun to be had if we let it in.
 
Shut down your perceptions. The real race is within yourself. Fight it, every time it gives you an excuse, ask it for proof. Keep doing that. 3, 4 , 8 times even. Create doubt about the story you are setting up.
 
Yesterday Thomas Leuchten did his 5k TT in Munich. Current time was mid 18’s and he started the internal conversation. What he did next was what we want. He stopped the conversation and took it out harder than he previously thought possible. He went through all the usual highs and lows but stuck to his guns and just tried to hold his forward lean for as long as possible. And then just drove it home with whatever he had left. End result was his first time under 18.
 
Remember the 4minute mile story. Nobody could break it. Until Roger Bannister did and created an avalanche.
 
The only thing you should doubt, is doubt itself.
 
Race with courage !

The Complexity of Performance

Most people get confused with achieving high performance. It can be a complex animal and has the ability to create doubt when cause and effect takes place. One thing is improved and it can cause a problem elsewhere. You might increase volume but that means you’ll be more tired. It will mean you need more food. It will mean you wont have the ability to do the race intensity sessions with the same intent.

You might focus on technique but that means you have less time for volume. It will mean you have to commit fully to a review and reflect process, thus meaning less time for other things.

There isn’t a secret formula for handling this complexity. It’s hard, but when it’s hard you need support. You need direction. You need coaching. That’s what makes it less complex and overwhelming.

Accountability

When an athlete trains and races they are sub-consciously setting a level. A level that goes across the board. To their family and friends, their coach, their team-mates ….. themselves !

At that stage they are setting the level of accountability for everything. If the athlete misses sessions regularly then the coach will start to  create beliefs around that. If the athlete misses a social occasion because they have a big race coming up then the friends will start to understand them.

Accountability isn’t coming from your words – it’s coming from your actions. Make sure you realise that your actions speak louder than your words.

Coachability

If you are going to engage in coaching (and you should) I suggest you get your head around being coachable. No use listening to someone if you don’t want to try what they are suggesting.

To be coachable you have to be willing to be the sculptor and the clay.

You have to drive the process and engage in the concept of someone supporting you.

Judgement

There’s a fair chance when you are embarking on a journey of achieving a goal that you’ll be judging yourself in the negative for being able to reach your dreams.

Don’t

We could all make a strong case against ourselves for any endeavour if we really try. I’ve heard all the reasons. All of them external to ourselves.

Do not. I repeat. Do not build a case against yourself. Stand up against those thoughts and fight for your dreams.

You can’t think your way to Success

Many try and many fail.

Mick Fanning didn’t become a World Champion surfer by kind of training for a year

Jack Nicklaus didn’t become a golfing great by playing a round every second weekend.

Every single success came from years of dedication, focus and hard work. Hard work like your Dad did at the factory 40 hours a week. Plain old simple hard work.

You can’t think your way to success.  It takes pure hard work.