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.
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