Updated: Jul 20, 2021
12 days into a tedious, mandatory, quarantine with the disappointing news of Olympic postponement still fresh, it is hard not to feel disillusioned. All the sacrifice, effort, and energy of chasing the Olympic dream prolonged for another year. However, compared to what many people throughout the world are going through right now (COVID-19), these negative thoughts are not really warranted.
It is, therefore, important to put a positive spin on this situation and reflect on what has resonated this year and how that might help others. Working alongside arguably the world's best triathlon coach and his athletes teaches important lessons that are often forgotten. Athletes today are the gladiators of yesterday. Our goal should be to develop an undying attitude of warrior Esq. commitment, persistence, and determination, not to win, but to do the very best we can at any given opportunity.
The things that matter - focus on these
Whether you are an elite, development, or age-group athlete, here are some key pointers to help reset your focus during this tough time and perhaps make you a better athlete when the season fires up again.
It is not always the most talented who make it to the top or fulfill their potential. As the saying goes, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You have to develop the right psychological profile and lifestyle; any training regime is secondary to that. A positive, hardworking, and coachable attitude is key. Then comes the skills you acquire, then the program and sessions you attend. Talent is last on that list. I would choose to coach someone with good psychological attributes over someone with talent any day of the week. “I don't want to live amongst brittle spirits. I want to live amongst soldiers” - a quote from comedian Dave Chapelle - perfectly sums up this mentality.
Forget about winning and positions. Focus on what you have power over and make sure those things are done well. Success is not about winning; winning is just one of the outcomes of success. Channel your resources into the now, into developing the specific attributes that will build athletic superiority. The result will take care of itself if you take care of the controllable. Take care of the short term, day-in-day-out mental and physical skills that will spiral you into becoming a better version of yourself.
Get back to basics. Look at how the greats used to train, look at how the Kenyans and other unique individuals still train. Yes, we can use some of the advances now that they didn’t have! But a lot of what they did, especially the hard work aspect, should be taken note of. A lot of athletes are ignoring this and trying to bridge the gap with training hacks that supposedly let you improve for free, with less risk, and in a “smarter way.” “Don’t run before you can walk,” get the fundamentals hard-wired into your system before embarking on ticking boxes and wasting your time when you could be training or recovering.
One size does not fit all when it comes to technique. We spend too long reading articles and watching videos on how we should look. It is hilarious when so-called “technique experts” critique the world's best athletes online, and suggest how they could be faster. They move like that for a reason. You do too. Everyone has different body types, shapes, and backgrounds. What works best for your mate, almost definitely does not work best for you. I have been coaching Oscar Coggins running since he was 12 years old, and almost once a month, someone tells me what I need to do to make him a better runner. Although he doesn't look smooth, he needs to change nothing. It is a long process, and technique often changes on its own as an athlete gets faster. A running form that doesn't get you injured and is efficient, far outweighs one that looks good or textbook.
The things that do not matter - stop it
You don’t need sophisticated equipment to do well. Less is more. It exposes your weaknesses, puts you more in tune with your body, and makes you do the work. When you achieve progressive targets, get sponsored, or make real money from a sport, then the new equipment is warranted. Before then, it is not. Capitalism and marketing are trying to make everyone rely on new, expensive stuff. It makes those who can't afford it feel as if they are at a disadvantage. I'd say you are at an advantage as you have the benefit of better equipment in your back pocket for when it is actually needed.
You do not need sophisticated sports science or to train at a sports institute to excel in your chosen sport. Those who don’t have this opportunity also feel as if they are at a disadvantage when, once again, it is an advantage 99% of the time. Learning to train, race, and recover using the basics, makes you a better athlete and more in tune with your body when it comes to effort and recovery. Those that rely on complex training systems and rely on too much science often implode when it is taken away or not working. I used to train at a Sports institute, and you feel like you are on a conveyor belt visiting each department, most of which do not communicate with each other and highlight too much irrelevant information, to justify why they exist. A good coach can pretty much tell you everything you need to know, and if they can't, any outside information should still be channeled via them.
Uniformity kills entire generations of athletes. It's essential to make sure you are part of a programme that takes into consideration who you are. Many coaching groups or programmes do not do this enough and prescribe similar, group training, to everyone. They often disregard gender, age, background, psychology, and event distance. The resilient ones survive and sometimes thrive, the rest break down and fall by the wayside when under different circumstances, they would have prospered.
What other people think should not matter. Unless you are training the way the current paradigm dictates, in modern venues, or with high calibre athletes, you will always be judged. I say if something is working for you, stick with it, regardless of the criticism that might come along with it. A lot of your results may be coming from the confidence you gain via the training environment you are currently in. The number of athletes that are pressured to switch group only to go downhill is too high. “Be careful when a topless person offers you a shirt.”
Do not be a Coach Killer. Few coaches will admit this, but within a squad, everyone is not equal, and not everyone is given the same amount of attention regardless of how much you are paying. I myself dedicate the most amount of time not to the best or most talented athletes, but those who sacrifice as much emotional energy as I do. Manipulating the plan/race plan, lacking the 100% dedication needed, letting others influence the programme, will not do. Yes, you still get the best advice possible, but at the end of the day, you get out what you put in.
Focus on what matters and don't focus on the things that do not, but make adequate changes. Take each of these points and ask yourself if any resonate with you. They are all interwoven, and the more honest you are with yourself, the more likely you will become the best version of yourself.
Over the last year, I have seen more gains from athletes who have stripped out all of the rubbish, focused on the fundamental principles, and got down to work. We live in an overcomplicated world, a place where basics are being forgotten and gaps supposedly bridged by technology, gimmicks, and life hacks. Unfortunately, in sport, that doesn’t work, and those who do well are those who do the hard yards. Now is the perfect time to hit the reset button and be the best you can be going forward: “Champions don't become champions in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”
Hong Kong will be our training base for at least the next 6 months, if not all the way up until Tokyo 2021. I have always loved coaching and training here and believe the city has so much to offer. If the accommodation was cheaper, I don’t doubt that there would be pro squads operating here, year-round. I want to thank everyone who made a positive impact over the past year and a half; you know who you are!