Recipe for Success
As a triathlon coach for 12 years, triathlete for 19 and sport scientist for 25 years, I am always on the lookout for the latest and greatest. That new scientific finding or product that will revolutionise the game.
Yet sometimes our search for the new means we ignore what is right under our noses. While I love data and new gadgets as much as anyone, I think our focus on speed, power, HR's, genetic testing, equipment, as well as our obsession with what training sessions the pro's are doing, is distracting us from the real keys to success.
When I first started my triathlon journey I found a brilliant book that I thought would give me all the answers to how to train and prepare. The best coaches and athletes from around the globe provided their secrets for success in all things triathlon. The problem was, when I read the book, I found that everyone had different ideas. Everyone approached things using a different strategy. So instead of providing me with answers it merely posed more questions.
My initial employment many moons ago was in the health promotion industry. While pharmaceutical companies will make us think that the secret to long life will lie in a tablet or new treatment, the reality is that when it comes to disease prevention and improving health, the biggest gains won't come from a new medical breakthrough, rather it will come from doing what we already know works i.e. eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, manage weight, don't smoke, alcohol in moderation, manage stress, find time for relaxation, have a strong social network.... Simply finding a way to get people to do what we already know works, will have a far greater impact on health than any medical discovery.
As a coach one of the biggest challenges you face is not writing a plan, it is working out how to create a plan or strategy that will work for the athlete.
In the end it won't come down to the specific training sessions on the plan. After 2 decades in the sport you soon realise there are no magic training sessions or formulas, and that pretty much everything has been done before, the only difference is today we give it fancy names, such as, low carb, CSS, FTP, vVO2max and it is supported by endless marketing to make us think it is the secret formula. In the end most plans will get you to a similar end point, what will separate you from the rest will be your approach/attitude to the plan you have created with your coach.
With so many triathlete's seeking out the help of a coach to guide their training I thought I would share my observations from my athletes of what makes a successful triathlete? What is it that allows some to flourish while others languish?
- Hunger- without desire, the likelihood for long term, big time, success is low. Hunger is all about want. Why do you want to do it? What is your drive? How much are you prepared to invest/sacrifice? Andrew Robertson, recent TriSA hall of fame inductee, speaks of his introduction to the sport as a non-swimmer, and how he simply went up to a swim coach and asked for their help in becoming an 18min, 1500m swimmer. Without his hunger there is no way Andrew would have achieved the success he did. Hunger means you love to complete and test yourself. You set challenging goals and you do not let your fears stand in the way. Many people have a serious gap between their goals, and what they are willing to do to achieve them- Hunger is the missing ingredient.
- A strong sense of self belief/efficacy, it is one thing to set lofty goals, but without the belief that you can achieve them, they are just words. Not just confidence, efficacy is about knowing that if you do the work you will be able to achieve your goal i.e. it includes belief in your fitness, skills, focus, time availability, hunger...
- A willingness to understand the process. This means you don't just do the program your coach sets, but you take the time to ask questions and really understand what we are trying to achieve. This is all about training with purpose. London Gold medallist Nicola Spirig commented recently, that she won't do a session her coach sets unless she knows why she is doing it. Do you take the time to read, dissect and absorb all of the information included in your training plan?
- Help to set up the plan and then stick to the plan -coaching is not about some secret training formulae, it is about matching the training to the athlete. It is important that each athlete play an important role in defining their training goals, resourcesand barriers, so that the coach can set up the plan/routine that will work for them. They are therefore clear on every session before embarking on it. They know what is required to achieve their goal, and focus on training with purpose for every session.
- Commitment to consistent training. Layer upon layer of consistent training is what builds you up. Rarely do successful athletes let minor barriers stand in the way - they find a way to make it happen. They invest heavily into pre-session preparation, and are excellent time managers. They enjoy training and the opportunities it presents. The hardest part of training is often getting out the door, successful people have strategies for making this happen. I love telling the story of Gavin Lutze a farmer from Coonalpyn, who left home at 4am to meet us for an open water swim and run, before driving home to spend the afternoon reaping his crops, now that's commitment!
- Willing to do whatever it takes to get technique right. Most know technique is important, but most only give it lip service. Every training session should have a technique focus. Do you seek out opportunities to improve your technique? A degree of perfectionism is required, without a fear of making mistakes. Successful athletes will pester their coach to make sure their technique is optimised
- Smart enough to know when to pull back. Training breaks us down, recovery from training is when the body grows stronger. Likewise external stresses all impose a stress load to contend with. How well do you factor these into your plan? Health and Injury issues will always be our greatest opponent. Learning to listen to your body is vital . How many times do we hear stories of athletes saying they had a small niggle they were trying to nurse, only for it to become a major long term injury.
- Ability to stay positive in the face of adversity. A perfect training program is not one where you sail through without facing any challenges. Rather a perfect program is one where you face a number of challenges . During these times you find out how well you cope with adversity. Race day is rarely without incident, how positive you can remain is vital. They are able to stay one step ahead of their fears, and stay focused in the face of adversity
- Patience, successful athletes recognise it will take time to become successful. On race day they also stick to their own plans. It is all about having a long term focus. Mark Allen and Chris McCormack both took 6 attempts before they finally cracked Hawaii for the win
- Record keeping. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. How well do you know your body, training loads, HR, pace, power, split times... ? Successful athletes focus intrinsically on their results, not those of others. These numbers are used to hold yourself accountable for what you do, and chart progress.
- A willingness to live on the edge. To eek the last few percent of gain from your body, you will need to learn how to embrace pain and live on the edge. You have to be "comfortable with being uncomfortable" You need to view pain as something that is needed to make you successful. Unfortunately most live with a handbrake on, where we hold yourself back, fearing blowing up and not finishing. You only have to look at the finish of any local triathlon to see a visual on this. Look at the face of Kevin Fergusson and the other leaders as they cross the line- that is pain! Drift down the line and you will see the pain getting mixed with satisfaction of finishing.
- Focus on the entire package, life balance, sleep, time management, diet, optimising weight, equipment, psychology, recovery, conditioning, race day planning, race execution. Without a strong attention to detail to the little things, the big things just won't happen. Successful athletes have a strong degree of sports intelligence, always seeking out answers and finding new ways to learn. They don't make mistakes through lack of planning. And above all they enjoy the training, and have fun with it
For me these are what separates those who achieve their goals and those who don't. These are the key areas I focus on as a coach when preparing my athletes . For me the experience of coaching over the past 12 years has seen my approach continually change, however what makes a successful athlete is always the same..