An athletes daily training environment can be one of the most critical components of a comprehensive and successful training program.
Triathlon coaching has seen a trend in the development of correspondence programming/coaching in recent years. This trend has led to the establishment of individual keyboard coaches who operate without any real governance or base of operation. Their only real checks and balances come from customer/athlete satisfaction and therefore, you could argue results.
But does correspondence programming really work, and is it comparable to a daily training environment that provides a framework that supports athlete success?
Coaches who deliver such correspondence programs will argue they do work, and they may have some valid points if considering the demographics of the triathlon industry competitors and the percentage of longer distance events such as Ironman.
However, talk with most true high-performance athletes and they will likely agree, when they have been in a highly focused squad environment that supports them at an appropriate level, they were at their best.
So, what is the answer?
Let’s start by segmenting the sport into its specific demographic segments and look at the distances they are racing and the level of performance.
To start, we will look at the Junior Athlete:
It’s fair to say that most junior triathletes start with a dream of racing in the Olympics. As they progress in the sport, some start to identify they may not have the raw speed across all three disciplines to compete at an Olympic or even Draft Legal level. While this is not a failure, it does require a change in focus in the daily training environment and the overall nature of programming. So, we then further segment junior athletes into Draft Legal and Non Drafting streams of participation.
These athletes are victims of the race. That is, they must be conditioned both physically and mentally to be racing in a high-performance group environment. Each discipline is measured and delivered in a way that enables everyone to operate at his or her best across every facet of the sport. This is a highly regulated environment. Daily training needs to be morphed/altered from what’s planned and expected into what’s appropriate for the athlete and energy in the environment at the time. The word environment is used to explain what’s happening around the athlete / internally with the athlete at any given training session. Understanding, planning for, and reacting in real time to the “environment” of the session is crucial for any successful training session to be delivered at an optimal level for the athlete.
Specific factors that contribute to a successful daily training environment;
Standards of execution
Constancy in motivation
Support across all levels of performance, including failure, within a given session
Delivery with the group animal in mind
Willingness to understand and therefore strive for greatness
Finishing a “training session cycle” with an appropriate debrief
Prepare in advance for each “training session cycle” to ensure athletes are aware of the importance of each session as in relationship to the end game.
Non drafting is a similar environmental field. Adolescent athletes still need to be dealt with at the same level, with the same care. However, subtle changes in delivery, execution and feedback are critical. So, what does this look like?
You can run an 800 but you don’t need to chase the leader. Athletes need to be more measured at the top end of their range and have better control
More direction provided to each athlete about his/her understanding of the feelings/science of movement, particularly under load
Development of internal source of feedback for each athlete while training
Athletes feed off the group’s success and energy, but the responsibility for performance and success is athlete centric
The Group Animal:
What are we?
If the correct group environment is created and you have “buy-in” from all parties including athletes, parents and coaches, magic will happen. Why will magic happen? Largely we are group animals. Group dynamics are a crucial thing to understand and manipulate in order to best develop a young athlete. Let me give you an example. If the group expects extraordinary things from itself each day, is it feasible to assume the individuals in the group will execute extraordinary things because the group expects it? Obviously, the answer is yes!
The challenge is then how do you create an environment that supports such a high level of performance?
Start with rituals that support fun, allow for exploration of excellence, provide feedback that helps an athlete understand when they have achieved excellence. Then provide a cycle that supports this process and makes it repeatable. Seems easy hey, well it is. Try it for yourself and amazing things may happen in your group.
The training session cycle:
Seems like a useless phrase hey. Why can’t we just say, “training session”? let us explain.
The term training session cycle implies each training session goes from start to finish in a cycle that must have specific characteristics met.
We use a methodology developed by David Kolb. The Kolb Cycle is an experiential learning cycle that has widespread implication for individual learning and development. Consider now a training session as a cycle. This cycle allows for further growth, understanding and experimentation from each athlete.
Below is a pictorial explanation, with supporting statements of the Kolb Cycle.
If you focus your resources on intertwining the above principles into your training, programming or coaching structure you will see a definitive change in the training environment and racing outcomes. Even if your coaching/training knowledge is limited, the adoption of these principles and the performance benefits they will create far outweigh the potential performance losses associated with lack of knowledge.
When considering our initial question about correspondents’ programs and their effectiveness it is clear they have a place. That place however should be secondary to a well thought out and emotionally sophisticated daily training environment. An athlete should look for a mixture of group training and written programming. The written programming must allow for intuitive decisions from the coach to get the best out of people. Without this, don’t hand over your cash as the program is floored and the athletic outcomes will be significantly reduced.
We hope you have enjoyed the read and it inspires you to delivery/participate in training at a higher standard.
We will talk about adults and Ironman racing in a future article. For now, stay healthy, have fun and train hard when you need to.
Mat Tippett, Director of coaching, ETPA, Master practitioner, NLP.
David Kolb, the “Kolb Cycle” modified.
Simply psychology, https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html, accessed 27/11/19, 2pm.