Updated: May 31, 2021
Many athletes and coaches assume that the way to keep improving is to set goals and then work in an attempt to reach them. Indeed it is not just athletes who think this is the path to follow, many motivational / self help gurus, business coaches and other persons of influence also advocate for a goal driven approach. At Trisutto we have a preference for a systems approach.
Goals Before the start of a new season, coaches sit down with athletes and discuss the year ahead, selecting race goals 6+ months in advance, and planning periods of training from base, build, peak, taper and race! Some may set time or place goals for races, along with smaller goals during that 6+ month period as stepping stones to measure progress, with the promise of adjustment to the plan if these smaller goals are not met along the way. They may also do 'testing' to calculate training zones, and set workout intensity levels - based on how an athlete performs on that one test, on that one day. Coaches point to these goals as motivation, to keep athlete effort up while they struggle through the steps towards their goal. Then they start over. While this sounds plausible on paper, a problem with setting goals is what happens when athletes aren't achieving these artificially set targets, whether this be workout training zones, or times in workouts, or at races. It's all too easy to lose motivation if you set your sights too high or long-term. As we saw throughout 2020, with the on and off again of races, some athletes whose main focus was on race goals, and who did not have a daily 'system' that allowed them to enjoy their sport, were so devastated that their training, their routine and in some cases their life fell to pieces! Goals can be inspiring in the short term, however they can create negative reinforcement and turn a manageable situation into a disaster, purely through one's own perception. Perception is a powerful force, and living in a bubble where failure of micro training goals can turn life upside down, is not something to be recommended.
Systems Instead of goals, I recommend that our readers consider a focus on systems. Systems create a repeatable set of actions, that will over time take you closer to where you wish to go. A system consists of a simple series of actions, replacing motivation with a routine that then becomes second-nature. This can be as simple as: get up, train, then continue with our day. That's it. We don't waste time and devalue ourselves by questioning if we reached the goal of watts, heart rate, or time for every workout. We don't feel disappointed if we don't achieve a particular race-placing, finish time or bike-split! Systems allow us to train to the best of our ability at that moment in time, based on how our body feels - then we move on. Tomorrow we do the same, and the next day. We have a system. We do not allow artificial 'goals' to derail us. We do what we can on each day, then move on knowing we did what we could, and that is sufficient. Every time we use our system we move forwards, developing habits of success. In this way our system helps us build consistency, which is key to success in endurance sports. Goals can distract and detract from consistency if we feel disappointed if we fail on a regular basis to achieve them. Whether that is daily workout goals of watts, time or heart rate; or it is time or place goals at upcoming races. This can lead to a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. The worst outcome for a system is enjoyment that comes from exercising, improving our health, and reinforcing habits that will serve us well throughout our lifetime. A system also helps reduce self imposed pressure at races. We all know athletes who mentally fall apart going into races under the weight of their own expectations of time, placing or beating some other particular competitor! A system helps us avoid self sabotage. We feel good every time we apply our system. This allows us to keep improving and growing. By following a system we succeed every time, they give us a win every time we complete a workout or race (we are not measuring and evaluating everything, all of the time!).
When we follow a system, our accomplishments start to come, which allow us to keep improving and consistently taking steps that most people struggle to even do for a short time.
Mike Pigg 2nd place at the 1987 Vancouver International Triathlon keeps perspective with a systems based focus. The most result producing systems are designed to be simple and easy to follow. At Trisutto we attempt to remove complexity, and create an environment where success is inevitable. If something appears to be over simplified, you can bet that a lot of effort has been put into making it that way.