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Shortcut Society – A Coaches Observation

John’s October blog!!

As a coach some of my key skills are observation and feedback.   In the simplest form this might be observing an element of technique and providing feedback to aid correction and improvement.  Other forms of feedback might include identifying when an athlete at a session needs the content of the session changed, maybe due to fatigue or failing to meet objectives and subtle (or not so subtle) changes are needed.  That’s why if you attend a group session I coach there are often many mini sessions going on at the same time with people completing things optimised for their improvement.  These are very important skills for a good coach and if you look around it’s not often done very much or done well.   I certainly don’t like to do things in a generic manner as it breaches the first principle of coaching – Individuality.  I will write more on these principles in another blog in the future.

But my main topic for this blog is a wider observation, changes in how we function day to day as people.  Life has changed!! Even in the 4 decades I have been around and as far as I am concerned it has not generally been very beneficial to sports performance and training.  We now live in what could be termed a shortcut society.  There are massive movements to make things supposedly convenient and quick – from pre sliced vegetables in supermarkets, phone apps for all manner of things, technology that automatically uploads data from training into online software, to media material claiming to have miracle solutions to losing weight or getting faster for less effort.   You could almost say that somewhere along the line we as a society got lazy and forgot the basic concept of hard work.

Everywhere I look people are in a rush trying to balance work, training, family and social commitments.  As an example, on average, age group athletes I work with say they have 20-30% less time to give to training than when I started coaching.  People want more performance gain for less input and regrettably I sometimes see more corner cutting than I used do (and this is at all levels from novice to aspiring elites).  The biggest failure I observe is delivery of the added extra’s that genuinely deliver progress – properly doing rehab / conditioning to prevent injury, optimising nutrition for training and recovery, taking time and care to do drills properly rather than going through the motion.  It’s so easy with our busy lives and the material we see in magazines to forget something fundamental about endurance sport – it is HARD!!!  Riding your bike for a couple of hours some weeks but not all weeks won’t see much progress, swimming up and down with a technical fault that limits you getting better merely reinforces the problem, not addressing that niggling calf will prevent your run training progressing etc.

Many of us have heard of the 10,000 hour rule – to master any task (excelling at playing an instrument, becoming a high level athlete, becoming an expert in your field of work as examples) you need to invest that many hours.  But it’s not that easy – not all hours are the same and what is needed is hours of structured, deliberate and progressive practice.

I am immensely lucky to work with some incredible athletes who make stellar changes to themselves as athletes.  Universally they all do certain things very well:

  • Plan for a minimum of 6-12 months in the future.
  • Have clear targets they want to achieve.
  • Accept honest assessment of their abilities and the things needed to change.
  • Follow instructions accurately
  • Deliver training consistently
  • Exhibit a determined but calm and controlled attitude to all training without ever getting wound up or particularly stressed.

If you are thinking of a sporting target take a step back.  Don’t look at how to make it easier – the path of least resistance will be the one that falls short.  Look at the work that needs done.  Some of it is easy physically but hard from a mental application point of view.  Some of it will be hard physically.  All of it should serve a purpose.  If you accept the reality of the work that needs done you will stand a better chance of achieving your goal.  Above all don’t confuse convenience with commitment.