It’s almost time again to make that New Year’s resolution to get fit, eat healthy, discard bad habits, and just get your act together in general. History shows that about 80% of those who make New Year’s resolutions will abandon them by mid-February. WHAT? Ok, maybe this doesn’t apply to triathlon as much as it does to the general fitness population based on the initial commitment required by athletes to simply enter the sport, but coaches and athletes should be aware that there are factors that could lead to an earlier-than-expected exit from triathlon.
How many times have you crossed an Ironman finish line and immediately told yourself and anyone else that would listen that you had just completed your LAST Ironman? Well, If athletes were required to register for next year’s event immediately upon crossing this year’s finish line, most races would likely go out of business. After dedicating a significant amount of time and resources to do whatever it took to get you to the start line and across the finish, you instantly proclaim your permanent exit from the sport, or at least from Ironman distance events. Surprisingly, by the next morning you have already identified areas in which you could make huge improvements, and have selected another event taking place only 6 months later for which you will register. Why couldn’t you just walk away?
Almost two decades ago I was pursuing a doctoral degree in human performance, and the subject of my dissertation was sport commitment among triathletes. I was interested in learning why athletes decide to stay, or discontinue participation in the sport of triathlon, and to hopefully identify determinants of commitment that could be used to structure an athlete’s routine and/or environment to increase the likelihood of continued participation.
The results of my research found that there was a significant relationship between sport commitment and the predictor variables of enjoyability, personal investments, social constraints, and involvement opportunities. Enjoyability can be generally described as having a positive or pleasurable response to a sport experience. Personal investments are resources that are invested in an activity which cannot be recovered if participation is discontinued. Social constraints are social expectations or norms which create feelings of obligation to remain in an activity. Involvement opportunities are valued opportunities that are only available through continued participation. The results indicated that increases enjoyability, personal investments, social constraints, and involvement opportunities were correlated with increased commitment to triathlon participation.
The number one principle of Trisutto training is for athletes to enjoy training and racing, and love what they do.
Regarding sport commitment, athletes can be classified as either “stayers”, “burnouts”, or “dropouts”. Stayers are usually associated with receiving steady or increasing rewards, experiencing increased satisfaction, continually increasing their investments, and having fewer alternatives that provide the same rewards as triathlon. Burnouts perceive their alternatives to participation as less attractive or non-existent, and they continue to increase their investments even though they have not experienced their expected return on investment. Dropouts usually enter the sport with an end-game goal, invest only what is required to attain that goal, and they can easily leave the sport if they identify an activity that is that is equally or more attractive than triathlon. As coaches and athletes, we can refer to the determinants of sport commitment to shape the training environment and activities so that they are conducive to promoting continued participation and longevity in the sport.
Coaches are always looking for ways to enhance motivation, focus, fitness, recovery, nutrition, and a myriad of other factors that all contribute to a successful experience for the athlete, while taking it for granted that most, if not all athletes have the desire and resolve to continue participating in triathlon. In the best interest of the athlete, we shouldn’t assume that everyone is enjoying their experience simply because they have yet to quit. The following are questions that might be considered by coaches and athletes when structuring the training environment to strengthen commitment:
- What does each individual athlete enjoy about the sport? What makes it fun? What isn’t fun about the sport? Use the information to structure the training environment and activities to help them enjoy training when possible.
- How invested is each individual athlete in the sport? Not just financial investment, but how much time and effort they invest in obtaining their reward. Are they investing too much to be able to maintain balance in their lives? Are they not investing enough to meet their expectations? Coaches should discuss with them what is important and necessary, and what is not, for them to attain their goals.
- What is each individual athlete getting from participation in the sport that they can’t get elsewhere? Coaches can try to provide opportunities while working with them that nobody else is offering. Things such as regular or occasional supervised coaching sessions when other coaches only provide training plans will separate you from the pack. Occasionally incorporate alternative activities that they enjoy into the training plan to give them a break and promote balance.
- How is each athlete similar to, or different from other athletes in the squad? Some thrive in a social environment, and some thrive alone. Find out what makes each athlete thrive and encourage them to structure, or seek out those situations to train and race. Start conducting group workouts several times during the week for the athletes who crave social interaction.
Commitment to continued participation in sport is about balance. There needs to be balance between an athlete’s investment and the reward for that investment. Balance will lead to a fun and enjoyable experience, which outside of an unforeseen incident or career-ending injury, is the primary determinant of an athlete’s longevity in the sport. As it turned out, my research findings are still applicable today. People are more likely to continue participating in an activity when they are having fun. Not surprisingly, the number one principle of Trisutto training is for athletes to enjoy training and racing, and love what they do.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Coach Rob at his January Training Camp in Lexington, South Carolina.
Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions
The holiday season is almost upon us and I’m beginning to see athletes posting on social media about the newest tri equipment or gadgets that they have received, or would like to receive as gifts. They’ve read in the tri mags, or observed the top age group or elite athletes having great success using these gadgets and are convinced that obtaining such equipment or gadgets will get them to the next level of performance. It’s a cycle that repeats itself every year. Spend lots of cash on gear in the offseason, train the same way you did last season, end up with similar results this season. Unfortunately, they have yet to figure out, or simply choose not to acknowledge the fact that quality focused training is what separates the cream from the crop, and the cream usually have prioritized the enlistment of a proven triathlon coach over spending their hard-earned money on shortcuts to speed.
Many performance records set by elite triathletes in the 1980’s and 1990’s still stand, or have been eclipsed only in recent years. How is it possible that the athletes three decades ago were able to perform at such levels when much of the equipment, technology, and information to athletes at any level wasn’t even invented yet? In fact, I would even argue that most of today’s “entry-level” tri bikes are better than the bikes ridden by the top pros during that period. The answer is training. I lived in San Diego during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and you could find a different quality group workout almost every day of the week if you looked hard enough. You were welcome to join in the fun at most workouts, with the understanding that nobody was going to wait on you, so it was in your best interest not to get dropped if you didn’t know the route.
This was certainly quality training, but it only met the needs of the top dogs leading the workouts and left the rest of us to overextend ourselves and sabotage our recovery and ability to do quality training for the next day’s workouts. We really didn’t know what we were doing because the sport was still young, and there weren’t many triathlon specific coaches. Most of the coaches working with triathletes were swim coaches, cycling coaches, or run coaches. It was an inexact science to say the least, which led to overtraining and injuries while trying to improve through trial and error. Although many athletes were able to perform at a very high level, everyone training together at the same intensity was not conducive to everyone improving performance, and only a small percentage improved and stayed healthy enough to race regularly.
In the three decades since, the body of knowledge with regard to triathlon training has increased significantly, and today’s athletes are able to procure the services of highly qualified triathlon coaches to help them achieve their goals in the most efficient manner possible. Unfortunately, the proliferation of coaching certifications in recent years makes it difficult for athletes to make a well-informed choice if decide to secure the assistance of a professional coach.
How Do I Find the Right Coach for Me?
It’s important that you find the right coach for YOU. The easiest way to do so may be to simply answer the following questions:
- What are my short term and long-term goals?
- What do I need to do to improve so that I can reach my goals?
- Do I personally know, or know of anyone who has made similar improvements recently with the help of a coach?
- Does this coach have a history of successfully developing athletes to get to where they want to be?
Once you have answered the questions and decide that this coach may be a good fit for you, contact the coach. Explain your goals and what you hope to achieve by working with a coach. The coach should be able to give you a general idea of what he or she believes is required to achieve your goals, and whether or not they are realistic. If possible, try to meet in person with the coach so that he or she can assess your skills and provide immediate recommendations on a plan to meet your needs.
Coaching versus Planning
There is no shortage of instantly downloadable, free online coaching plans. Some are better than others, but the last time I checked, none of them provided feedback, automatically adjusted workouts regularly for athlete adaptations to training, stood on deck to teach and monitor skill development, or accommodate for individual personalities when structuring workouts or developing race plans. That’s because coaches do all of those things, plans don’t. Trisutto plans don’t come with a coach either, but each and every plan is built on the same principles and methods practiced everyday by Trisutto certified coaches worldwide. These are the same methods that have guided countless numbers of athletes to achieving success at the highest levels of triathlon, as age groupers and elite athletes. Sometimes circumstances dictate that an athlete simply may not be able to enlist the services of a qualified coach. In such cases, a downloadable training plan may have to suffice. If so, athletes should take time to do some research just as they would if they were looking for a qualified coach. For instance, if you want to train for an Ironman distance event, try and find someone who has trained for a similar event and had success with their plan and get as much first-hand information as you can. If you find that several athletes have used the same training plan, you might be on to something. Recommendations from people that you know will always be much more forthcoming and reliable than product advertisements.
Unfortunately, there are also coaches that provide standardized or “cookie-cutter” plans that are not built on proven coaching methodology, and are in many cases provided by certifying organizations for use by all who complete the certification process. Most have limited or no background in the sport other than a few years as a non-competitive age-grouper, and a coaching certification that required little more than attendance at a weekend seminar (in the best of circumstances), completion of a take-home exam, and the payment of a hefty registration fee. Some of the certifications are entirely online, and almost none of them require participants to actually demonstrate coaching abilities under the direct supervision of a mentor coach. Upon earning their certification, new coaches set up an online site, recruit athletes, collect a fee, and provide a plan. They are for all intensive purposes planners, not coaches. Sadly, the worst part isn’t that they charge a fee for their services, it’s that uninformed athletes choose to pay them for this service. In all fairness to the athletes, I imagine that they have no idea of what they should expect from a good triathlon coach, or how to select one.
So, this holiday season, instead of asking for the latest equipment or technology that you are certain will finally get you over the hump and on to the next level of performance, ask for a triathlon coach.
Happy Holiday Training!
Rob Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob at upcoming camps in Lexington, South Carolina as well as Hilton Head. Details here.