Sunday, October 26, 2008


Interestingly, I wrote this piece last week, before Hillary Biscay, Belinda Granger and Chrissie Wellington announced they were leaving Team TBB and coach Brett Sutton, and even before I heard the rumor about it. Even if this piece is not about that situation specifically, I will let the readers decide if my thoughts also apply to that particular situation.

As a general observer of the pro triathlon scene, I am often surprised by the amount of bad decisions that some athletes make and that have a significant impact in their progression in the sport. It is quite common to hear of an athlete that after a successful season fires her coach. Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, the athlete that, after years and years of underperforming, doesn’t change his attitude and/or approach to the sport.

Along with the principles of specificity or diminishing returns, there is another training principle that is very important: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it! I would think that this is common sense, but then I remember Voltaire’s quote. Staying with what works and what has brought you success before is paramount when trying to progress from year to year. The training process is nothing more than an empirical process where you try to find out what works and discard what doesn’t work. However, it only takes one bad decision to discard EVERYTHING that works.

Even if these bad decisions don’t make much sense sometimes, they need to be seen under the right lens. And that is that successful decision-making is an integral part of “what it takes”. Many athletes have the genetic talent to be top athletes, have the right mental outlook to approach training and racing, but if they lack the skill to make good decisions (or not make bad decisions), they will never fulfill their potential.

Sometimes coaches have an important role in these bad decisions, by giving bad advice to athletes. However, it all comes down to the athlete and the choice the athlete made to hire the coach in the first place. Choosing the right people to advise you is also an integral part of “what it takes”.

When things are broken, complete lack of decision in order to change a bad situation is a problem too. We all know examples of athletes that after a successful stint, never again replicate their former success. Instead of looking for new ways to get out of the slump, they keep insisting in their old ways, sometimes wasting a whole career foolishly trying to be successful again.

Decisions – Choose wisely.


rr said...

Why is it always a she, hmmmm?

Paulo Sousa said...

In true Noakes' fashion, I often use "she" more than "he" when I need to refer to a person/athlete. I will edit the text so that only men are accused of being idiots.

Dan McKerrall said...

2 unscientific opinions:

1. great athletes (i.e. Olympic gold medallists, especially looking at swimming as an example) tend to have longer relationships with a coach resulting in a more consistent long-term training program

2. females athletes are more apt to switch coaches more frequently then their male counterparts (again, no research to back this up - just how it seems to me).


-Brandon said...

I would say that in general, female athletes are more inclined to have a coach to start with. But, I think that the truly successful athletes are those have have fairly long standing relationships with a single coach...provided things work out early.