Real Athletes Don’t Train

I want to tell you a story about a coach who 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.