As a coach it’s easy to feel as if I’ve failed an athlete if she or he does not have the performance they are capable of or expect (and many caring coaches will say the same). I feel the same way if someone struggles to reach a certain fitness goal. I tend to be pretty hard on myself with this issue. On the same note, I share with equal enthusiasm and excitement when an athlete or fitness client reaches a milestone. We are a Team. We are partners. Together, we go through all of the emotions that go into the process of reaching a big goal.
I can say with confidence that every program I create is done with great intention. I’m also careful to consider a person’s work and family life not to mention much needed “chill” time and all the extra time needed just to do things like grocery shop, get your car oil changed, walk the dogs, make meals etc. Many athletes want to be pushed hard (as in “give it to me, I can take it – come on, push me”) and it is in those cases that I actually pull back on the reigns. We push when it matters to push. We push when the body can get the most out of it. It is my job to write programs that allow for balance and a healthy progression.
What I can’t control is what goes on in a person’s life outside of the training aspect, and this is what I have to remind myself of constantly. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we had a nice, neatly packaged plan that kept us balanced in all aspects of our life? Let’s face it, life is hard and we are thrown challenges constantly.
Finding balance and staying balanced is an ongoing process and sometimes it’s harder for some than others. As much as I feel a plan is appropriately structured for someone, I can’t control it if their kid was up all night vomiting, or if they had to pull an extra shift at work, broke a toe while sleep walking, or are struggling with something on a very personal level. What I can be is compassionate and empathetic because I also have had to find and create that balance in my life over and over. It’s part of the life process. I get it. We’re all in it together.
Great performances often fail to happen because something in the wheel of balance was off. I find that most injuries or illnesses occur when some significant part of someone’s life is off balance. Those that bounce back, heal and regain balance the fastest are the ones who have learned how to become a resilient individual. I also feel strongly that balance can be restored faster for those that are proactive about seeking support, whether it be physical, emotional or mental therapy.
Several years ago, a young man came to me for swim lessons. At the time he didn’t own a bike. It was not long before he was speeding down the roads on a streamlined tri bike and had accumulated at least 5 pair of running shoes in his garage. He made improvements quickly in a very short period of time. As he progressed and gained experience, we worked hard in putting together a training plan that we hoped would result in that peak performance we both believed he was capable of achieving. He came very close on race day … but faded badly during the run.
We had had a conversation about things that make a really great performance happen. Sometimes it’s as simple as “it just happens” and you go into flow mode when you least expect it. More often, however it happens because we set ourselves up for success. Most people don’t realize that they are sabotaging their chances of a great race or the chance of racing well on a consistent basis. This is why when someone calls me after a race and says that it did not go so well or as they had hoped, I start asking questions. Usually, the answers as to why come to the surface.
Here are a couple of examples:
The athlete I noted above revealed to me that he disregarded his usual pre-race plan the night before his key half Ironman. Instead of chilling, resting up and storing his mental and physical energy the day before the event, he went out on a boat with friends, did some tubing, ate poorly and just totally got away from “his game.” Part of his reasoning for doing so was because friends had come a long way to see him race and he felt obligated to hang with them, even though he knew what he really needed to do was rest up. He sabotaged his taper and ultimately, his race. Lesson learned. Sometimes you have to be selfish the night before a race.
An elite athlete that I coached several years ago placed second in a race he probably should have won. Sounds harsh I know, because second place at a championship event is extremely impressive. He noted that he felt flat on the bike and had nothing on the 2nd half of the run. So, I began asking questions. Apparently the swim was delayed for over a half an hour and participants had to sit on the beach and nervously wait for fog to lift. I asked him if he stayed hydrated, made sure to take in calories, walked away from the nervous energy (knowing he gets very nervous). The answers: “No,” “no”, and “no.” As a matter of fact, he forgot to hydrate even and eat even before the delay. He sabotaged his race. Lesson learned = Have a fueling and eating protocol for every scenario and go find a chill space. I have also witnessed people who have sabotage their chances of reaching their goals out of fear of failing to be successful. The pressure cooker got too hot.
Everyone has a different way of keeping that pre-race balance. Sometimes it takes a while and several experiences to figure out those elements. I used to get horribly, horribly nervous before my races when I was competing at the pro level. I managed to figure out that I usually performed better if I stayed with a host family (versus in a hotel). I also found that watching a funny movie the night before relaxed me and took my mind of the pending event.
What happens if the balance is thrown off by something out of our control (for example your child waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares and disrupting your sleep?) You go to “plan B”, which is to “go with the flow.” I work with a few athletes who are amazing at doing this! They just don’t allow the uncontrollable elements to control them. It is what it is. The balance might have been thrown off a bit, but the resilient side of them kicked in.
I often say to athletes who are competing in and Ironman that there will be periods during the event where things will feel balanced then there will be periods of lows, when they may not feel they can take another step. It is at that point that they need to ask themselves, “what do I need?” Figure it out, switch things up. It’s the same with life, don’t you think? When things are off balance, ask yourself what it is that you need or what is missing as part of helping you find balance? Think deep and be honest with yourself. I bet that you will probably find an answer.