Monday, October 29, 2007


Like mentioned in the “What it takes” series, being a competitive athlete means a lot of commitment and sacrifice, for a considerable amount of time. In order to put in the work, an important issue that directly affects the athlete’s motivation is trusting the training program that the athlete follows. Only from 100% commitment to the work you are putting you can expect success. And 100% commitment is not possible without 100% trust.

There are many coaches that advise their athletes to stay away from the Internet forums, with some of them even policing the forums in search for posts from their athletes. According to them, Internet forums only serve to corrupt and to confuse the athletes, making them doubt their own training. It seems that for some coaches, the ideal athlete is the one that never has doubts, never questions and follows blindly the teachings of the coach.

Not surprisingly, I have the opposite position. I believe that if an athlete fully trusts the training program he or she is following, then nothing that they pick up from a forum discussion is going to make them lose their belief in what they are doing. And even if they question some things themselves, it’s the coach’s job to explain, educate his/hers athletes about what they are doing and how it fits the bigger picture of the athlete’s development. Paraphrasing Jack Daniels, if a coach cannot explain to his athlete why he/she needs to do a particular session, then the athlete should not feel obliged to do it.

Quite frankly, I have trouble understanding the thinking behind the censory attitude from the above mentioned coaches. With very few exceptions, Jack Daniels posting on being the most notable one, the Internet forums are populated with what I like to call the “n=1” crowd. The ones that because they have only their own experience to relate to, cannot see beyond their own reality. You know those people as well as me: the masters athlete with over 15 years experience in coaching himself to mediocre results; the coach that only talks about his own experience as an athlete; the “coach” that uses the title without coaching a single athlete; the self-appointed expert with zero credentials since he posts anonymously. What kind of athlete that works with a knowledgeable coach will doubt his/her own program when reading what the self-appointed “experts” have to say? What real coach will feel threatened by what his athletes read on the Internet? Both of these insecurities do not have a place in a healthy coach/athlete relationship.

Obviously the issue of trust is not only for the athlete, but for the coach as well. The coach needs to trust his/her knowledge and ability to help the athlete achieve the goals, as that trust will instill on the athlete the trust that he/she is doing the right kind of work.

The issue of trust is very important because trust builds belief. As everyone knows, belief is a very powerful emotion. When you believe in yourself and on what you’re doing, there are no boundaries to what you can accomplish. And that’s the place you want to be in order to fulfill your potential.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What it takes part II

“An overnight success usually takes 10 years”

That is the favorite quote of one of the athletes I coach. I like the quote for being obviously true and for the values it teaches. Patience and long-term commitment are an integral part of “what it takes”.

But 10 years of doing what? In the first instalment I talked about doing the “right kind of work”. This is an expression that shocks a lot of people. Because nowadays, there is not such a thing as right or wrong. We are told that “protocol” is not important. Go ahead and one season do one thing and the next season something completely different. Do not go beyond your confort zone. Go through a random trial-and-error process to find out what works for you. Take an extended off-season. Do that for 10 years and achieve your overnight success. Good things come to those who wait, right? Wrong! What you do during those 10 years is important and will influence decisively if you achieve your overnight success or not.

Even if triathlon is a relatively young sport, it is been around long enough for plenty of people to have it figured out. Obviously that in the early days some experimenting had to be done in order to find out what worked and what did not work. But that was 10-15 years ago and now there is plenty of people out there that have this sport figured out. And you know who those people are: those that are out there winning races and whoever coaches them.

So you want to get to the next level? In that case, “what it takes” means doing what others at the level you want to achieve are already doing. For the elite athlete the answer is surprisingly simple. It means putting in the work and making the sacrifices that others are already doing. Those that enjoy a lengthy off-season, while they are doing that, someone else is somewhere training for next season, and that someone will beat you. Those that do the same kind of training from year to year, never challenging themselves, never pushing the boundaries, while they are staying within their confort zone, someone else is somewhere challenging him/herself, pushing it, and that someone will beat you. Those that keep working saying that working provides balance to their athletic life, while they are working someone else is somewhere taking a nap or having a massage and that someone will beat you. Those that do not like to travel and like to stay home because things are so much easier, while they are in the confort of their homes someone else is somewhere doing a training camp where it is sunny and warm and that someone will beat you.

At the top of age-group racing, you have both the very talented athlete with limited time to train and the not-so-talented athlete with a lot of time to train. And of course every combination in-between. So finding out what it takes by looking at what the people at the top of the pile are doing can be a very tricky thing to do. The level of competition at age-group level is low enough to have several types of approaches working. Most true elite athletes would be winning their age-group on 10-15 hours/week of training. Does that mean that if you want to achieve success at age-group level you should just be training 10-15 hours/week? Obviously not. So for the age-group athlete, finding out what it takes goes back to the basics that I mentioned in the first part: You go through the process. You put the work in. You commit and you sacrifice. The product of that commitment and that sacrifice will tell you if you have what it takes to achieve your goals.

Do you have what it takes?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What it takes part I

“What it takes” is an expression everyone likes. The question “Do I have what it takes?” is in the mind of every athlete many times during their athletic career. The question “Do you have what it takes?” is in the mind of any coach whenever he or she starts coaching a new athlete. Yet, the answer to that question is not easy. “What it takes” is very hard to quantify and even hard to show to others. Not a lot of people know what it takes and learning about it is a difficult task, as there are different paths to it.

We all recognize the importance of setting clear, realistic, achievable goals. Most athletes are capable of setting those goals for themselves and with the help of a good, experienced coach, they can have feedback about how realistic and achievable are those goals. But an entirely different question is: Do they have what it takes to achieve those goals? This question is one that is important to athletes of every level.

At both the age-group and elite level, what it takes means commitment and sacrifice. Commitment to put in the right kind of work. Sacrifice of a lot of things that are dear to us in order to put in the right kind of work. Commitment and sacrifice are nice words, words that you can find in any self-help book. Words that maybe get us out the door for the next run. But few of us realize what they really mean because few of us have an idea of what commitment and sacrifice really means. In a society where everything is served to us in a platter, everyone has an increasing difficulty in understanding the real meaning for commitment and sacrifice. And that means that few of us have what it takes.

For those that have what it takes, achieving their goals is the ultimate goal and for that they sacrifice everything else. Among the things they sacrifice is the ego-driven necessity that some athletes have of being in control of every aspect of their lives, which obviously includes their training process. Throughout my years as a coach I have encountered many self-coached athletes that, although with lofty goals and a seemingly unshakeable drive to be the best they can, simply did not have what it takes because of their inability to trust others with their training.

So the question is, do you have what it takes? Well, maybe you don’t. Most sports psychology books talk about accessing your inner potential, about achieving excellence, like it is something that is within reach of every single one of us. In reality, it is something that is accessible to very few of us. Very few of us have the necessary combination of genetic talent, mental skills and social environment in order to achieve personal excellence in triathlon. And there is really nothing wrong with that, since not being able to be a successful athlete is not a character flaw. I have met plenty of very successful people that made for very lousy triathletes.

But maybe, just maybe you have what it takes. How do you know if you have it? It is quite simple: You go through the process. You put the work in. You commit and you sacrifice. And the product of that commitment and that sacrifice will answer the question.

Do you have what it takes?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What is "The Triathlon Book"?

The Triathlon Book is a blog. It is a blog about triathlon training and coaching.