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Learning from the past and applying it to the future

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


Trisutto Brett Sutton Rob Pickard triathlon success habits systems goals coaching

I have just recently read the book by James Clear on “Atomic Habits” and thought that there was some good information that would be relevant to many triathletes. Most, if not all successful triathletes have routines or habits that have contributed to making them successful in the first place, but many aspiring champions maybe be falling short. Habits are defined as a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation. At Trisutto we call this repetition, repetition, repetition. As the author so aptly states: “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” and by repeating mistakes, poor technique or poor decisions, then these compound into poor results. Small changes in our habits might be very minimal in the big picture but when repeated day in and day out over a period of time they could make the difference in who you are or want to be. Your habits are a path to success or failure……are you on the right trajectory?


Sometimes these habits can take time to show results but with persistence and patience the results will come about. When we talk about goals, it may be to complete an Ironman in under 10 hours or to win a 70.3 race in a certain time. But these goals are meaningless unless you have the right systems in your approach. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. That is, the training plans, the techniques, the nutrition and the support. If you want better results, forget about goals and put the right systems in place. Goals are good for direction but systems are all about progress. For instance, every athlete wants to win but only one athlete can and it is usually the athlete who has the best systems in place. This is one reason why you shouldn’t restrict yourself to one goal. There are many ways to achieve success in a race and if the systems are in place then you will. The purpose of putting systems in place is to continue in the sport, not achieve a goal then drop out. Improvements are only temporary until they become a part of who you are. The goal is not to complete a triathlon, the goal is to become a triathlete. Good habits make sense but if they conflict with your identity then you will fail to put them in action. Your identity emerges out of your habits and your habits shape your identity.

James Clear states that there are 4 laws if you want to change your behaviour. They are: Make it obvious: Make it attractive: Make it easy; and make it satisfying. Success leaves clues. You just have to notice them. I always looked to copy the habits of those who had a history of winning. I would find out what systems or programs they had in place and try to replicate them. Maybe not all, but select programs that are challenging and try to complete them from time to time. Years ago, when I worked for Triathlon Australia based in Canberra, a coach used to drop into the office to chat with me on a regular basis. He spent some time with me but he also spent many hours in the Australian Institute of Sport Library. He wasn’t researching the latest developments in Sport Science but he was exploring all the past champions over the previous 50 years and what systems they had in place to make them successful. He kept this in a folder and would use some of the programs to motivate his athletes from time to time. Past greats like Zatopek, Clarke, Elliot, Gebrselassie. What were the great coaches, Lydiard and Cerutty doing that made them successful. Not just running but also swim and cycle coaches. This inquisitive coach was Brett Sutton. Learning from the past and applying it to the future. Putting strong systems in place that athletes can easily follow and eventually succeed. It is no fluke that Sutto is one of if not the most successful Triathlon coach of our time. So, it is a simple equation. Have genuine goals but select the right programs and processes to put in place. Those programs become habits and if you are dedicated enough then success will follow.


Rob is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia. He is an Age Group Triathlon World Champion and has been racing and coaching in Triathlon for over 35 years.

Rob is the instructor and mentor for the Trisutto Coaching Certification

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