The Pillars of Performance
The foundations of Ultimate Performance
I wrote this article because a prospective athlete asked me recently if I am still as passionate about coaching as I used to be when I first started out and what did I think the pillars of performance should be.
These were really interesting questions because I had never thought about it and had assumed that I was passionate. The truth is that I am not, I am far more passionate, centred and grounded, minus the anxiety than when I first started out. I have far more clarity because I really want to coach people who are coachable. I am passionate about helping people become the very best they can be.
This has come at times through the expense of saying no and by setting myself some personal boundaries for coaching, the main premise being that I will treat each athlete like a whole human, minus any bullsh!t. Those that know me, know that I won’t tolerate anything but the truth.
Here’s the thing though, you can’t sell honesty, it shows through being in a relationship with your athlete and their experiences of how you treat them.
I have learnt far more about athletes studying their psychology than I would have studying exercise physiology for the same amount of time, because athletes are human beings, not human doings. For me personally, it has been the best education a coach could possibly have, but it is antithesisfor athletes to accept that their success begins and ends with themselves.
I call this extreme ownership. No matter what you decide to do, you are always responsible for how you react/deal/frame that situation.
With this in mind, I thought I would share some of my views gained during the journey of an athlete, 26+ years of training, racing, coaching and education rolled into a page. Hopefully for the benefit of athletes interested in being the absolute best they can be.
Athletes in general are as polarised as any other sub-group. We tend to follow the moves of those further up the ladder. We are impressed by information and glamour, and spend endless hours researching the opinions of others, seeking out more information because that must be how we achieve success.
So, here is a critical piece of advice. Seeking this endless information and profile, which in a nutshell is simply noise, will take us into reverse, and there we will stay until we move inwards and begin own our personal athletic journey.
Move forwards towards sickness and injury
I can’t tell you how many athletes I have seen stuck in injury and sickness because they will not accept it in themselves. The second you start accepting an injury as part of your reality, you begin the healing journey. I can’t emphasise this enough.
You have two ears, USE them!
You are totally unique! There is No one else on this planet the same as you, no one else can know your experience. Why do we find this so hard to accept? If I had one single piece of advice that I could share, this would be it.
Why? Simply because your development, your empowerment, and your direct learning experience all come from within, not without. No lesson will be learnt until you “feel it.” The quickest way for you to develop as an athlete is to listen to your own internal sounds and to become intuitive with it.
If you follow any program without your own intuition, you will end up broken. What works for one will not work for another. Throwing the proverbial against the wall idea is not coaching, that is a numbers game which brings success to one and disaster to 100. Yet time and time again athletes will subject themselves to this theory in the slim hope that they will be the one. A perfect example of this is using a generic training plan, it’s just that generic and will never reflect your own uniqueness.
Einstein “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”
Take your own failures, they are critical to your growth. You will learn far more by writing down what when wrong, than looking for answers in another training theory. Own the mistakes, see them as essential to your development, and for God’s sake learn because then you won’t repeat them.
Once we go into uber analysing over a bad race we lose the lesson and start looking for answers outside of ourselves. We look at blogs and pro athletes training diaries that don’t want you to know that you are the key to your own door. There’s no money for others in you having your own answers.
The only mental state that wins in this is confusion, a deeper and deeper state of confusion that will exhaust you and potentially cost you a lot of money.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall.
A group dynamic can be damaging to athletes. There can be a lot of ego surrounding a group, often with an undercurrent of seething passive darkness, that is hidden beneath a vail of fragile niceties. One can feel that dark energy, sometimes not exactly sure what they are feeling, other than to know it is present. I have spent years on the coalface watching this playout. I have seen it in clubs, in group dynamics, and it isn’t healthy. Why is this so?
You are their mirror and they are yours! What you dislike in them is also in you, what they dislike in you is also in them.
The insecurities you feel in them are also felt in yourself. It is a fact and it’s a very uncomfortable fact.
However, this knowledge can set you free of judging your training partners and group. At the core level we are all similar, and that knowledge can bring compassion. In a group setting compassion is a fantastic thing because it leads to support. Mutual respect and support is what makes a group successful, ego is not.
We can only learn from an internal focus loop. We must feel it though the body, not think it. It is essentially unthinkable. Form only comes through intuitive feeling. This also includes what I would refer to as intuitive nutrition. So many athletes I have witnessed follow a race day food plan into oblivion. You must research and trial what works for you on pure intuition, what is acceptable for my body may and probably is not acceptable in yours. This seems so obvious but is so often missed and is such a critical learning. Again: listen, don’t just read.
Look and listen
Use some of the time spent reading and listening to the podcasts of others, to stop and listen to the signals of your own bodies direct experiences. They are the most powerful insights you can get. There’s no sales pitch and no bullshit in those personal insights. Why not start to plug into your own internal podcasts that are free and far more informative. The more you practise with these insights, the more clarity you will gain. This is no different to training the physical body for fitness.
This way, the information that you do read and listen to becomes food for thought and consideration, not gospel or confusion. You can then trial and use that information for personal growth, without the disappointment of believing in it and then having it not work out, because someone sold it to you. Just because you pay for a service does not mean it’s going to work. If you pin your hopes on that idea it’s just another form of outside projection.
This one is very simple, with every session start again. Each time you finish a session, leave it there. By doing this you will have the mental energy to be completely present when you are physically in it. Advancements occur when you are fully present in the process. Think of it as a reset, the only time that ever matters is now. Don’t drag your training around in your head, it’s too heavy and completely unproductive.
Feet on Terra Firma
Stay grounded and keep out of bullsh!t talk. Sharpen your race day intuition by staying quiet in the mind. No matter what you can’t bullsh!t yourself. If you talk that to others, your inner self will know it as not true, and there s a price that comes with that.
If you feel you are weak in an area, then face up and accept it. Don’t turn away from it so you have a crutch to lean on. Move directly and aggressively towards that weakness with as much self-acceptance as you can muster, and work with it.
Moving towards your weakness is the only way forward. Otherwise you are stuck in the same weakness forever, it remains your crutch; your excuse; your get out of jail free card. Your true self will know you are using it for a crutch, and even after your athletic career is over you will ruminate on it.
Any professional or age grouper really looking for their Peak should really take note of this one.
Your pace, your way always! Be ruthless with this. Forget anyone else exists, they are not YOU. Don’t let someone else dictate your pace on race day, or you may as well of stayed home and watched a box set on Netflix. If you let others dictate how you are racing on the day you will be creating doubt so stay in the moment of you.
Unless you do this, you will be short-changing yourself and create doubt. The problem with doubt is, that it very quickly turns into fear and this fear strikes us down on race day. Value yourself enough to trust in your own journey. Don’t get side-tracked by others.
One of my favourite poems is Ulysses and a particular except from it reads as this:
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
If you are doing athletic sport for a profile it will be or become hollow. It’s not strong enough motivation to keep you going. True motivation lies in desire and pure will; anything else is weak. Access it whenever you can, feel the will in your gut. This is true internal fire and a fire that does not go out.
Definition of a coach
What is the definition of coaching? To my mind it is teaching, if you can’t take the lesson and apply it to your own experience, then I have failed as a coach.
The coach is there to hold up a mirror so you can see what you need to see but if you ignore that mirror and go looking for answers or options outside of yourself, in that moment development stops and confusion begins.
I know that you understand what I am talking about. If our job is done correctly, and if the athlete desires, then they will enjoy success that they never thought possible.
I am still here, more passionate and motivated than ever before, and I hope you are too.
Sisu Racing Triathlon Coach