Sunday, November 30, 2008

Simon says

Simon Whitfield on his latest blog post touches a subject with which I agree 100%. It's good to see an extremely successful athlete expressing this opinion, since when a coach does it, most people think that it's just the coach tooting his own horn.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Today is the World Philosophy Day. I did not know this before I started reading the BBC News website tonight, it was just after reading about Copernicus' skeleton and a navel-less model.

But let's go back to Philosophy. First a simple definition:

Philosophy is the study of general problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, truth, justice, beauty, validity, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing these questions (such as mysticism or mythology) by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on reasoned argument.

Given that definition, anyone would be hard-pressed to argue for the mere existence of something like “coaching philosophy” (even if there is a good case for the existence of a coaching mythology). So if there isn't such a thing, why is the expression everywhere? Why is it that every coaching website for a triathlon coach has this little paragraph where a “coaching philosophy” is described. It's usually a collection of general and empty pseudo-concepts, that really doesn't say anything. However, its use is so entrenched, that the every coach feels the need to have their coaching philosophy. And every athlete looking for a coach feels the need to ask a prospective coach what is their “coaching philosophy”.

Here is an idea: if you are looking for a coach, don't ask them what is their “coaching philosophy”. Ask the coach what is his/her coaching practice. Their practice is their results with athletes of similar ability and personality. The way they work and how they interact with the athletes. To sum it up, the way they coach. It's not philosophy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It almost looks like a real sport...

The prize-money breakdown for the Hy-Vee ITU World Cup in Des Moines, IA just came out (here). The fact that it pays prize-money to the top 50 athletes (!) and the winners get $200,000 represent an enormous step forward in consolidating triathlon as a true professional sport.

In comparison, the "Ironman World Championships" pays $110,000 to the winners, and 10-deep. As for the "70.3 World Championships", they pay $20,000 for the winners and only 5-deep...

What's "real triathlon" again?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The real world of coaching

Listening to John Cook’s interview (here) was an inspiration for me as a coach. John Cook is a real coach, he talks like a real coach and more importantly, he coaches like a real coach. On top of an impressive resume as a college track and field coach, he qualified 3 athletes for the Olympics and got one medal (Shalane Flanagan). You cannot get more real than this.

There are several reasons why listening to him was an inspiration. First of all, the way he talks is refreshing. He tells it like it is. There is no kissing ass, no bullshit. No look-at-me-I-am-so-good and by the way, buy my plans/book/dvd/clinics/camps. He is a professional coach, not an amateur marketing exec. Second, he is not afraid to assume his responsibility as a coach. During the interview, he admits that he regrets some decisions that he made that had direct impact on the performance of his athletes. And third, he is not afraid of telling the truth about the state of middle- and long-distance running in the US. One of the great quotes of the interview is when Cook describes the attitude of certain athletes and coaches as “trying to race Formula 1 with a NASCAR attitude”. The same could be said about the US elite triathlon scene.

Where are these real coaches I am talking about? Well, they are hard to find. Many of the best coaches in the world have no website and are relatively unknown. You don’t hear about them on Internet forums. With professionalism growing in Olympic sports, many of the best coaches in the world do not even work in the private sector. This is one of the problems for coaches in the US. The fact that coaches need to make a living steers them away from fully focusing on elite athletes, since there aren’t a lot of them, and most of them can’t afford coaching. This is especially true in triathlon. The US “system” of relying on commercial coaches to do high-level coaching fails because coaches are not focused on that niche “market”. The fact that anyone would be hard-pressed to name an American high-level triathlon coach makes USAT’s strategic decision not to have a National Coach very hard to understand.

One thing that makes me sad about the state of triathlon coaching is that I see very few people committed to real coaching. Years and years of anti-ITU attitude and focus in Ironman racing in the US are two of the culprits for the creation of the hack industry. Everyone is too busy trying to create a business, not in becoming coaches. So up-and-coming coaches go out and copy the successful hacks, mistaking them for the real coaches. So we have an army of aspiring hacks, when we should have an army of aspiring real coaches.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can

This might not mean much for those outside the US, but I've just listened to Obama's speech and I am under the influence of the supreme confidence of the man.

Mind you that I used the word confidence and not optimism. Optimism is an attitude that sees everything as good and beautiful, that in the end things will work out for the best. Optimism is wishful thinking, belief. In contrast, confidence is a state of mind that is the product of trusting your judgment and abilities. Optimism is innate or inherited, while confidence is learned and gained.

In sharp contrast with the culture I was brought up in, people in North America (yes, this means you Canadians too) are innately optimistic. Even if this makes for an extremely positive social environment, it does have a negative side. Having a strong belief that things will have a positive outcome makes people underestimate the likelihood that things will go bad. This affects the way they approach things and might cause them to under-prepare or to overlook the warning sign of incoming failure. All this to state that belief is not a substitute for preparation.

On the other hand, confidence is a more ethereal state of mind. It comes and it goes. For most it is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. However, when you have confidence, a confidence, it allows you to exceed yourself, your expectations and what you can achieve. Confidence also needs to me cultivated, to be maintained. So many times in our lives we live such great moments and fail to ride the wave of awesomeness (thanks Will) that follows it. Most times we forget to give due importance to successes and attribute too much importance to failures. This breaks the chain of events, of emotions that brings confidence.

Yes we can.

I am back to Obama, but just for a bit. That’s obviously a slogan that exudes confidence. But it’s also a collective slogan. And for those of you that read this blog not for the cheap philosophy but for the triathlon-related content, here it comes. For all of you that think that the word “collective” does not belong in this sport, the individualistic triathletes out there, for all of you that like to spell trIathlon, I have a reminder.

Not acknowledging that being part of a group, that having help from others, allows you to achieve a higher level of performance is taking one step away from achieving your goals. This is also about confidence. The confidence you have to have in yourself to be around others of a different ability than yours because that will help you. The confidence you have to have in others that they all have the same goal of personal excellence.

The 2009 season is upon on us, and it’s time to start working towards our goals for next year and beyond:

Yes we can.