Monday, 30 July 2012

make that....Change

Dai Greene gave an awesome Team Captain’s speech last night here in Portugal as we lie  in wait in the ‘calm before the storm’ that is the London Olympic Games.  The theme - continued from Head Coach, Charles Van Commonee’s inspiring talk, was the ‘journey’.  The Journey we have all been on.  And the destination that is now just days away.  Both Dai and Charles spoke of the difficulty of the Journey.  The difficult decisions that had to be made a long the way.  And that it is the difficulty of these decisions that make the journey worthwhile.  An easy Journey gives no sense of fulfillment.  One cannot call an easy Journey a success.  A hard road, though - one covered in bumps, bruises, and barricades.  With a successful navigation.  Now THAT Journey is a success.  One that is worthwhile. One that you can be proud of.  
Charles mentioned the courage required by athletes to make changes.  Perhaps to leave long-time coaches.  Move cities.  Or countries.  It takes a lot of courage to make a change.  Even when you know you have to make one.  Even when you know what change you have to make.  
It's the reason many athletes hit mid-career plateaus - a tight grasping to what has worked. To what did work. The proverbial security blanket, not allowing the requisite exploration of ideas that will produce further improvement and success. But to make a change - to do something different - requires courage, acceptance that the status quo is not working, and a willingness to take a chance on something new. 
How often do athletes stall at this critical stage of their development?  How often is this the time where we begin to see little niggles begin to creep into their bodies, problems with motivation, and eventual decline?  
What is it that stops us from making the change?  Another concept that has spawned an industry, and one that will continue to haunt us our entire lives.

One of my former athletes is an excellent example of this.  A once promising track and field career had ended in disappointment.  He had not fulfilled his potential.  His Journey was a failure.  Even though it was full of bumps.  Of bruises. and of barricades.  It was not successfully navigated.  So something had to be done.  A change had to be made.  
Former decathlete, World Champion, Olympic Champion, and the most successful bobsledder in the history of the United States, Steve Mesler made two decisions that impacted the rest of his sporting career.  And continues to impact his post-sporting career today.  
I am proud to have shared the difficult journey with him.  I am proud to have coached him for almost ten years.  I am proud to now call him a friend.  And I am proud of the work he is now doing.  Even more so than the work he put in during those ten years.  
Watch this video.  It’s awesome.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

why so grumpy?

Last week, I wrote about being grumpy. Which I often am. But there's a reason.  It's almost always a result of being made to wait. Athletes coming late to training. Back in Canada, we started training at 9am. Folks would come late, so we moved it to 930. Still, they would come late, so we eventually made it 10. Guess what?  Yep - still late. Here in London, we started at 10. Late. 1030. Late. 11. Still late. So what is it in the brains of these habitual late-comers that disables any sense of time management whatsoever?  
To me, being on time shows you respect those whom you are meeting. And being late is a clear way to show that you do not respect them. Punctuality relates to discipline. To self-mastery. To integrity.  And to respect.  
This post will discuss why I feel this way.  Why being on time is important. Why the habitually late are this way; and also some possible solutions. 
So I won't be so grumpy. 
Firstly, it is important to understand that punctuality is not a universal trait. For instance, the value on time in Caribbean countries is very much different from that of say, Japan. And since a lot of sprinters are of Caribbean heritage, it's a common theme.  Cultural variance is an impediment to understanding in many different contexts, and it certainly includes personality traits. But we live in a culture and a time that values punctuality. So it is up to the habitually-late to change their values. To better conform to societal norms. 
Why Is Being Punctual Important?
Diana DeLonzor in her book ‘Never Be Late Again’, identifies a number of reasons, including:
  • It reveals you have integrity.  A commitment to being on time is essentially a promise. By coming late, you are breaking this promise. By coming on time, you are showing that you have integrity. That you are a man of your word. 
  • It shows you are dependable. If a person is not punctual, others cannot - and will not - depend on him. In fact, DeLonzor suggests that if you cannot depend on another's punctuality; if they are careless about time - what else are they careless about?  
Benjamin Franklin once said to an employee who was always late, but always ready with an excuse:  “I have generally found that the man who is good at an excuse is good for nothing else.”
  • It reveals your discipline. Being on time shows others that you pay attention to details; that you can organize time.  
  • Strains your relationships. When you’re habitually late, it makes others feel under-valued.

  • Being late takes a toll on your results in lost opportunities: missing a plane, missing a meeting, missing an important part of a lecture, missing a wedding. It creates stress and can lead to car accidents and traffic tickets. It results in embarrassment and forces you to come up with excuses for why you’re late, putting a strain on your honesty. 

  • Basically, it makes your life more complicated; for men seeking to simplify their lives, cultivating punctuality is an essential part of that path."
And the important ones to me: 
  • "Shows your respect for others. Being late is a selfish act, for it puts your needs above another’s. You want an extra minute to do what you’d like, but in gaining that minute for yourself, you take a minute from another, which is why….
  • Being late is a form of stealing. That’s a tough truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. When you make others wait for you, you rob minutes from them that they’ll never get back. Time they could have turned into money, or simply used for the things important to them. In coming to meet you at the agreed upon hour, they may have made sacrifices – woken up early, cut short their workout, told their kid they couldn’t read a story together – and your lateness negates those sacrifices. If you wouldn’t think of taking ten dollars from another man’s wallet, you shouldn’t think of stealing ten minutes from him either. Being punctual shows you value time yourself, and thus wouldn’t think of depriving others of this precious, but limited resource."
“It has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money. If you have time you can obtain money — usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.” 
– Arnold Bennett - ‘How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day’, 1910

Everyone can be on time. And most even want to be on time. Even the habitually late recognize the problem and want to improve. But each time they re-commit to being punctual, they eventually fall back into being late again. It's not that they don't set enough time aside to be punctual. Even when they give themselves enough time, they find themselves simply taking more time still, and again arriving late. 

DeLonzor identities a number of reasons why this is so, including: 

  • "Misperceive the passage of time. Studies show that people who are consistently late underestimate how much time has passed. 
  • Underestimate how long things will take. Those who are consistently late typically underestimate how long it will take to do something, even when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary…since they do that thing every single day, and it always takes longer than they think it will. What happens to the unpunctual is that they get stuck on the best time they ever did something in, even if it was an anomaly. 
  • Procrastinate in general. People who struggle with being late, are often prone to procrastination in all areas of their lives. This may be because they are more easily distracted than others or need a deadline to get motivated. 
  • Be easily distracted. Those who are easily distracted have difficulty being on time because on the way from point A to point B, they get pulled into point C. You’re headed out the door and figure it wouldn’t hurt to check your email before you go, and then as you check your email, you decide to check Facebook too, and before you know it, ten minutes have slipped away.
  • Need an external deadline to get motivated. Some people feel they work best under pressure, and can’t get going until a deadline is looming. At which point they go into mildly-panicked, hyper-drive mode."
So, for the habitually late - its obvious that changing this often life-long habit is a little more difficult than simply committing to be on time more often. It's a multi-step process that is deeply rooted in a persons psyche - that will require a patient approach - and patient expectations for those they are in frequent contact with. Habits are difficult to break. In fact, there is evidence to show that they cannot be broken - only replaced with other habits. A new behavior. Easier said than done, but here three ideas:
  • "Own up to the problem. When someone knows something is right and wants to do it, but fails at doing so, they often resort to rationalizations in order to soothe the dissonance between who they want to be and how they actually act. In the case of the unpunctual, this takes the form of deciding that being on time isn’t very important anyway, or that people who expect punctuality are unreasonably uptight, or in excusing their lateness by blaming certain circumstances…even if they face those same circumstances every single day. So the first step in overcoming lateness is to quit the rationalizations and take responsibility for the problem.
  • Redefine punctuality as a matter of integrity. It’s easiest to reach a goal when you feel a strong sense of purpose and motivation in doing so. Start viewing it as a matter of integrity — a way of keeping your promises and becoming a man of your word. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine the inconvenience your lateness will cause them. Once you form an inner conviction about the importance of punctuality, you can move from relying on external motivation (deadlines), to inner motivation (excellence).
  • Always shoot to arrive 15 minutes early. There’s an old expression that if you’re on time, you’re late. The rule of men like Vince Lombardi and Horatio Nelson was to always aim to arrive 15 minutes early. Half the time, you’ll run into unexpected trouble — traffic, difficulty finding the building or a parking space — and end up right on time anyway. And the other half of the time, when you do arrive 15 minutes early, you’ll have a quarter of an hour to do something enjoyable or to get extra prepared for the meeting or interview."

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Love Supreme

"Today, even at the highest levels of sport, coaches are creating robots. Movement is not paint by numbers -it is an expressionist drawing. It is not a classical aria, it is a jazz riff". Vern Gambetta

45 years ago yesterday, John Coltrane passed due to liver failure at the age of 40. The legendary jazz saxophonist is probably the most infuential sax player of all time, guiding not only further generations of jazz players, but many musicians in other disciplines, not to mention inspiring the whole of African American culture. In San Fransisco, there is even a St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. 
Besides being a technically gifted player, and a major player in the most famous of jazz quintets (Miles Davis' first great quintet, which recorded - among other things - Kind of Blue), Coltrane was known for driving the form of the music forward. Jazz is a music that is always building. Always searching. Always changing. Both in its play, and in its growth. Context and content, both. From the time that Coltrane first burst on the scene - and especially once he became leader of his own group - he epitomized what jazz is best known for: improvisation. 
Beginning with his time with the Davis quintet, continuing with Giant Steps in 1959, where Coltrane first debuted his famous sheets of sounds (layering notes on top of each other - 'multiphonics'), then through the more contemplative improvisations of A Love Supreme in 1964, and into his last, Eastern influenced modal explorations of Expression and Interstellar Space, Coltrane was never static. He was forever searching. Improvisational solos would stretch to 30 minutes and more in the pursuit of...
It is this improvisation which is the underbelly of the music, and it's what sets Coltrane apart from mere mortals before and after (In 1966, an interviewer in Japan asked Coltrane what he hoped to be in five years, and Coltrane replied, "A saint."). Yet there is a structure to jazz, as there was with Coltrane. It's important to work to that structure, but have the freedom to improvise within it. It is when Coltrane seemingly abandoned structure, improvising for extended periods on a very simple theme - when exploring what has been called avant-garde, free improvisation, free jazz, and 'the new thing' - where he lost much of his audience (Including me. I listened to his later records over and over for years - figuring there must be something in there that I'm not getting, and it would eventually come to me; but it didn't and I eventually gave up. Give them a listen to, and you'll see what I mean). The public and critics alike were not able to accept this 'free improvisation' - it was just too chaotic. 
Wynton Marsalis has said, “In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ol’ thing up. Jazz, like any language, has its own grammar and vocabulary.”

Coltrane chose to ignore structure, or perhaps was operating from a structure that the majority are unable to see (it's also important to note the influences on the direction of his music during this period; including his increasing interest in Eastern religious thought, Indian music, and how jazz was seen as the artistic equivalent to Black Nationalism - thus, a more expressive, violent, and dynamic language). 
So yes - Gambetta's oft-repeated analogy of the good coach needing to be like a jazz player and not a classical musician is apt, if a little incomplete (the anaolgy has also been used, by Gambetta as well as others, to describe athletes, systems, and movement - as it is in the quote at the beginning of this post).
Taken by itself, I feel the analogy does a bit of a disservice to both musical forms: almost suggesting that jazz is only free-form improv - lacking structure; while classical is strict and soul-less. Improvisation exists as a part of many forms of classical music, especially before the 'early-ninteenth century development of the concept of the fully-notated, independent, "great work," which gave birth to the concepts of Werktreue (being true to the work) and Texttreue (being true to the text)' (Eric Edberg). Even with this form though, there is a degree of improvisation available to the arranger, band-leader, and conductor. Ever listen to Beethoven's 5th? Same notes, same instruments, but few sound the same.
Expert in early-Western music, Jordi Savall is quoted as saying "the most impressive part of the music we play is the art of is always risky, because of its very nature, but it needs to be organised to prevent doesn't mean you do what you like. You have to follow the structure and work out which instruments will be involved before you go on stage."
Without structure. Without a rich and deep musical understanding. Without years of training, the improvisation is just noise. Innovation, creation, and improvisation is born out of this structure. "Coltrane...was a master of technique; he would practice his horn for many hours each day. In these periods of acquiring technique, Trane truly found himself, and found a way to musically express his experiences and feelings. He was genuinely obsessed with the basics of his horn, the basics of his sound. A musician once recounted to me how Coltrane's practice sessions went...first he played an entire hour of only whole notes, focusing exclusively on his tone. Then came another hour of just half notes, then another hour of quarter notes, working on scales, arpeggios, along with his tone. Next was an hour of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and faster runs, incorporating everything he had done so far with speed as well. He would then spend a few hours working on exercise books for other instruments, such as violin and harp. Finally came time spent on actual songs or compositions, which would often consume a few more hours. Every musician practices technique and scales, but very few are obsessed with the basics of sound in the way Coltrane was". (from The Art of John Coltrane and Ralph Ellison, an essay by Derek Wright)

I'm not a huge believer in the 10,000 hours rule, and some of the messages being promoted by the pop science-authors, but we cannot deny that a thorough understanding of the fundamentals are the basis for anything that comes after; for the coach and athlete, both.
For coaches, it is imperative that we have an underlying structure. A guiding methodology. But we cannot become 'handcuffed' to it. The body is an organic, dynamical system of inter-connections and inter-dependencies. We can predict how it will adapt to stress, but it's always just that - a prediction. The most successful coaches are the ones who can best recognize when the adaptation is askew. When our prediction is faulty. The quicker we can do this, the faster we're back on track. Like Coltrane, this involves more than just playing a bunch of random notes, and calling it 'jazz'. 

Without a thorough understanding of your sport, as well as a workable knowledge of the related disciplines, and an ability to think laterally, we can not begin to think of ourselves as 'jazz musicians' - and nor can our athletes.
I think we need to find that 'sweet spot'...the Kind of Blue spot. The Giant Steps spot. A Love Supreme spot. 
'Structured improvisation'. 
Not 'free improvisation. Not Interstellar Space. Not Expression.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Radiators & Drains

You know when you hear of a concept, or idea for the first time, and you think "that's kinda cool - how come I’ve never heard of that before?", and then you hear it again - repeatedly? Well - it happened to me this week...
I was discussing my blog-post 'soul sucker', which relates the importance of powerful, positive energy in the competitive space, with Bolton and Wales defender Sam Ricketts, and he said "oh - you mean 'radiators and drains'". I'm assuming this is a British saying, because growing up mostly in North America, I had never heard of it...and even having spent the last two and a half years in London, I had never come across it. But since that brief chat with Sam - less than a week ago - I have come across it twice more.  Once was this morning, while I was doing my daily web-read.
I read a short piece on by Gretchen Rubin that was quite interesting. After introducing the subject, she wrote about the sometimes paradoxical nature of 'radiators and drains': 
“Perhaps counter-intuitively, in my experience, some people who are quite low-energy nevertheless act as radiators — because it’s not their personal verve that matters, but their level of engagement and quality of their ideas.
And some people who are very high-energy and gung-ho end up being drains, because they somehow make things harder instead of easier, or put a damper on other people’s observations and ideas”. 
This is similar to what I wrote last week. Rubin defines the concept by asking whether a person or situation makes you feel energized or not. Not whether the person or situation has energy. A subtle, but important distinction. I have seen many coaches and therapists that are not 'energetic' by nature (and I am one), but would not be considered 'drains'. Conversely, there are many that are bouncing off the walls, but leave you wanting to kill yourself. 
So what is it exactly about a person's character that makes other feel 'energized'? Are there defining characteristics? Important questions to ask for the therapist and coach, for 'just being happy and positive' is not enough. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

500 words on...M.E.D

by Stuart McMillan

ok - just a few weeks now before the Games begin - I’ve written a little lately about peaking and preparing for a Games, and this post is along similar lines:

...M.E.D: minimum effective dose.  The term has received a lot of press in the last year or so, and fits nicely within my own philosophy.  Matt Jordan and myself have always spoke about doing the minimum amount of work to maintain function during the competitive period.  The term now, however, is being used more broadly: Tim Ferriss - author of two highly successful books that are based upon the theme, defines MED as ‘the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome’; and, as this is pretty much what I’m trying to do with this website - bin all the superfluous, and live off the rest, I thought it prudent to give it a brief overview.
Ferriss argues that anything in excess of the MED is wasteful; water, for example, boils at 100 degrees; anything more than that doesn’t make it ‘more boiled’, so the MED is 100 degrees.  The MED to lose fat is to do the least amount necessary to trigger a cascade of fat-loss hormones; and the MED to add muscle is to do the least amount necessary to trigger growth mechanisms. 
MED is easily applied to the strength training world within the competitive season.  In most philosophies and programs, during the competitive season, the event takes precedence over those methods that are used to aid in its development - e.g. strength training.  But it’s essential to keep these components in.  The trick is just figuring out what each guys’ MED for each quality is.  One of my former athletes, Pavle Jovanovic, could maintain maximum strength by doing a couple of doubles every two weeks.  Others would need to lift every 3 days!  There’s no recipe for this - the only way to figure it out (that I have found - if you any better ideas, I’d love to hear them) is trial and error.  Do a session.  Repeat it a week later.  Got stronger?  Next time repeat it 10 days later.  Still stronger?  Go for 2 weeks.  etc...  Obviously, I’m just talking about maximum strength here, and there’s a ton of other qualities you will have to find MEDs for also.  

...brief aside - if a quality - or a training component - is important enough to put INTO a training program, then it is important enough to KEEP it in the training program.  A common mistake many coaches make during the competitive period is eliminating those components that are important to the continuing development of the athlete, but on the surface may not seem necessary at the time.  An example is maximum strength.  By dropping it out, you’ll often not realize how much the component has been de-trained until it’s too late.  It’s a slow virus that only fully reveals itself later in the process either in a higher incidence of injury or inability to reach top form.

So what’s YOUR MED?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Soul Sucker

My athletes often accuse me of being grumpy.

Surly. Grouchy. Irritable. Blunt. Gruff. Ill-tempered. Ornery. Mean. Annoyed. Disagreeable. Some of the more well-spoken have even called me cantankerous. Contrary. Crusty. Or curmudgeonly.

Mostly's just grumpy.

I'm trying to be more cheerful, but it's a work in process.

One time when I do make a concerted effort to remain positive. To be happy. Pleasant. Patient. And nice. Is race day.

Race day is an emotional day. For everyone. But mostly for the athlete. This is easy to forget. However emotional YOU are - as the coach, the therapist, the nutritionist, the psychologist. The athlete is more so. Guaranteed. This day is not for you. It's not about you. And there is far more you can do to screw it up than you may realize.

What's important to me on race day is energy. My energy must be positive. The therapist I work with - his energy must be positive. Other staff members' energies must be positive. If they're not, I take the athlete as far away from that negative energy space as I can. Too often, I have seen negative or disinterested energies rub off on the athletes I work with. Rarely are these 'energy-suckers' even aware of their own emotions, let alone how they are affecting others. And on the day of the race, there is no time for these discussions. I just eliminate the situation by either removing the sucker, or going elsewhere.

Psychology researchers call this transference of energy emotional contagion - the process through which feelings pass from one person to another. This effect is amplified when individuals are in frequent contact with each other - as coaches, athletes, and their therapists are. It is especially prevalent with those who are empathetic by nature. Basically, the theory is that non-verbal cues - such as frowns, poor posture, etc. - are non-consciously mimicked. By seeing someone frown. Or yawn. Or slump, etc., it will increase the likelihood that you will begin to frown. Or yawn. Or slump.

The good news though, is that this mimicry works both ways. Positive non-verbal cues are also contagious. By smiling, you will make someone else smile. By laughing, others will join in. Carrying yourself confidently - with good posture and positive, energetic movements - will transfer to others. In essence, the confident and positive coach will produce confident and positive athletes.

This phenomenon is especially important on race days. Stay happy. Stay positive. Stay pleasant. Move deliberately. With confidence. And purpose.

And steer clear of the suckers...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The 9 Keys to Effective Peaking for an Olympic Games

Peaking and tapering - the two most nebulous terms in sport.  Yet everyone has their ideas on how best to go about implementing them.  So, with the Big Show just a few weeks away, I thought I’d give you an outline of mine.  This is my fifth Olympic Games as a coach - and, quite uniquely I think - my third home Olympics.  I don’t profess to have ALL the answers, but this is what I know so far:
1. Work backwards from the event. 
I always work backwards from the exact time of the race.  If it is an evening race, then we will do something in the morning.  If it is a morning race, then any preparatory or potentiation work will be done the day before.  Understanding the exact nature of the adaptation from a potentiation session is imperative, as this is a very individual thing.  In my experience, though, all must do SOMETHING - whether it’s just a warm-up, some stretching and therapy, or a more dynamic session.  My starting point for potentiation work is 3-5 block starts, and possible some Olympic lifts.  The day before the preparation/potentiation session is a light therapy day - an opportunity for the athlete, coach, and therapist to check tissue quality and firing patterns, and to ensure that any mechanical dysfunction is minimized.  The remainder of the week prior looks like this:

warm-up and treatment
blocks & last intense weight session
alactic speed - low volume & light weights
light treatment
pre-race prep/potentiation
I’m pretty specific with my day-of-the-meet timing, and will have have a minute-by-minute schedule prepared days beforehand that I will discuss with the athlete.  It’s important that there are no surprises on race day, and I find that if we talk about the day earlier in the week, it serves to reduce the anxiety.
2. The three ‘C’s’
Keeping the athlete within his or her ‘comfort zone’ is crucial.   Obviously by now, we should be well clear of any appreciable amount of time spent on improving the athletes’ weaker areas - and instead, are focussing on what makes them elite in the first place; what they are most comfortable with - their strengths.  Continuity in the types of training that the athletes are confident in then feeds the unique psyche that is needed.
3. No new stimuli.
New training stimulus leads to new adaptations - adaptations that will manifest in a manner in which you cannot accurately predict.  Stick to the work that has got you to this point.  I have way too often seen athletes and coaches panic at this stage, thinking that they have missed something; that they’re not quite ready; that if only they had just did more...BLANK.  Well - guess what?  It’s too late.  Finish the season - debrief - and if you STILL think you missed something, plan it into the next season’s training.  
4. Respect the SCIENCE. Be guided by the ART.  
Trust your instincts. Base your decisions on all the things you usually base them on - including ‘science’ - but don’t be bound by it, if your gut is telling you otherwise.  The uniqueness of the situation, the time, and the environment dictate unique responses.  The more experienced you are, the more you can fly by instinct.  If you’re not as experienced, effective communication with the athlete, and reading his or her instincts is key.  Only the athlete really understands what is going on right now - allow the pendulum of influence to swing further in their direction.  
5. Don’t script too tightly.
Although we pretty much know what type of work we will be doing on a daily basis, exact details won’t be scripted.  We can’t very accurately predict athlete adaptations at this point, so we continually monitor it throughout. External responsibilities, quality of sleep, regeneration, and health will be key in the exact determination of micro-planning.
6. Rest and regeneration are more crucial than ever.
If your athlete is sick - or injured - chances are they’re not going to compete real well.  Keep them healthy.  Don’t do anything stupid, and take health precautions.  The added stress of a participation in an Olympic Games (and for British athletes, the added pressure of participation in a home Olympic Games) can often manifest into general health deterioration, mechanical dysfunction and, critically, increased incidence of injury and sickness.  Appropriate pre-hab, aggressive regenerative measures, effective nutritional  and supplement strategies is paramount.  Sleep is more important than ever.    Remember that the body does not distinguish between emotional stress and physical stress.  Stress is stress is stress.  When planning for physical stress (which - by definition - training is), ensure you understand emotional-psychological stress.
7. Sweat the small stuff.
So often, we can put together great programming methods, and taper the athletes perfectly, only for optimal realization to be jeopardized by poor control of peripheral factors uniquely present at an Olympic Games.  External challenges involving housing, transportation, training equipment and location, additional family and friends, increased athlete/group integration, media, public scrutiny, etc. can lead to obvious deleterious outcomes.  Preliminary planning - involving the athletes - in addressing these possible distractions can go a long way in reducing any potential negative influence they may have. 

8. Get out of the way
It’s the Olympics.  It’s a big deal.  You’ve been given a bunch of fancy Olympic gear.  You’ve got to do something to EARN it, right?  Um, No.  You’ve done that already - you’re here only because your athlete(s) is here - so you’ve done your job - well done!  Now get out of the way, and let the athlete COMPETE.  Appreciate that if we have executed our plan properly, we simply need to allow the athlete to realize it.  We don’t stop coaching - the process just becomes less intrusive. More organic.  Over-coaching can be the instinct, but we must refrain and trust process - if the work has not been done, it is too late now anyway!

And that’s it.  If you are lucky enough to have an athlete or two at the games - GREAT job.  Good luck with your peaking/tapering strategies, and if you figure out what that means....please let me know.

I know this blog is titled ‘The 9 Keys to Effective Peaking for an Olympic Games’, and I know I have a ninth in here somewhere.  I know it....but it’s late.  I’m tired.  And it’s just not coming to me.  Let me get back to you.  But for now - it’s only ‘8 Keys...’.  Sorry.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

500words what???

by Steve Mesler

Steve Mesler and Justin Olsen celebrate Olympic Gold

This past Saturday - July 8th - marked the last day that all Olympic Teams needed to be selected and submitted to the IOC.  It has been a time when hopes faded, dreams dashed, and careers ended.  The challenges an athlete faces during their careers are numerous, and include the disappointment that many have felt over the course of the last couple of weeks.  But what of those whose careers are ending?  To most full-time athletes, sport - and training for sport - has been not just what they do - but what they are.  
The transition from sport into the ‘real world’ is challenging.  Lisa Szabon-Smith - in her guest post yesterday - wrote about not only the challenges she faced during her career, but how these challenges helped define her post-sporting life.  In fact, she attributes much of her success today to NOT making an Olympic Team.  
Steve Mesler made an Olympic Team.  After a ten year career in bobsled, he retired as the United States’ most successful bobsledder of all time.  He won dozens of World Cup medals, won World Championships, represented his country at three Olympic Games, and topped it off with an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2010 Olympic Games of Vancouver-Whistler, Canada in February of 2010.  By all accounts, his was an outstanding career.  Still though - these sporting achievements rarely equate to post-career success.  I asked him to write a little about his story, and he has promised to continue with a series of posts over the coming months.  

This weeks’ 500words...
by guest poster - Steve Mesler:

The scariest moment I faced as an athlete was when I no longer considered myself an athlete. When I retired from competitive sport after three Olympic Games, a World Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal, I was elated with what I accomplished. I decided to retire and in my head I all of a sudden no longer had the label of ‘athlete.’ When people would ask me what I was, for as far back as I could remember, I would answer with this unique thing that would almost always spark a conversation. I was special, I was different. Then one day, I wasn’t.
Every athlete goes through this – the complete loss of his or her identity. It is by far the toughest, scariest thing any athlete will experience in their career. Even though I ended my career on the highest of highs and walked away by my own doing, it didn’t make it any easier. Within a few months, once the spotlight faded, the phone stopped ringing, the emails calmed down and my support staff moved on to the next great athlete, I found myself rather alone. And often it felt like I was completely alone.
I had to deal with what I would do to fill the void left by not having something special to work towards. I loved being able to put everything I had into one goal. My favorite part of being an athlete was the fact that everyday I woke up knowing that I could get better today. Everything I did revolved around being a better athlete. How much I slept, ate, and drank aided recovery. Every single aspect of my life affected my performance and I thrived in that environment. I drank it in and it ran my life – sometimes to the detriment of those around me, though that wasn’t for me to worry about. I led a very selfish life with a very whole purpose, or at least that’s how I felt at the time…and in retrospect that was ok. It is a wonderfully all-consuming force that I still miss very much.
Every athlete goes through this, often in stages of varied length. An old friend, 2010 Olympic Silver Medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson went through it and perhaps couldn’t handle the lack of that force in his life anymore and sadly decided it wasn’t worth living. 
Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson
Other athletes fumble through their transition. I was lucky. I found things that would help prop me up through the Olympic Hangover – that moment when the intoxication of being an Olympian turns to the darkness of missed or accomplished goals, which in the end often result in the same feelings. For me the greatest fears of my life didn’t last too long. But with the London Olympics around the corner, know that every athlete that is in the twilight of their career is certain they are about to encounter the scariest moment of their lives. They see it coming - and it scares the hell out of them.