Regardless of how gifted of an athlete you are, there will be times in your career where you struggle or can’t seem to generate the same performance as you have in the past. This is normal, yet can often be regarded as a “slump” or “rut” by most athletes. If we simply think about the law of averages, it will say that you must have bad performances along with your strong ones to generate an average level of play/performance. While this is the case in every athlete, its often the times spent on the bottom that will dictate how far we advance in the future.
Its extremely difficult to be on form year round. While some may say it’s impossible, I would refrain from using that term as people said breaking the 4:00min/mile, hitting 60 home runs, or scoring 100 points in a basketball game were impossible as well. While I won’t say its impossible, I will acknowledge that the odds are against it. While its statistically likely that athletes will have low levels of performance throughout the year, for some reason they fail to acknowledge this. While hard work does often lead to success, it should be assumed that “smart work” is built into the equation. If “smart work” is built into working hard, then it implies that an athlete understands the process and can work hard in whatever the task may be. Even if that means the task is recovery.
In most situations, athletes will reach peak performance and begin to chase better and faster numbers. Inevitably they will fade as the peak passes and athletes will be left in a “slump” of working hard (but not smart) and seeing lower numbers in return. While numbers are extremely useful and powerful in the build up to a peak, they can often times be the downfall of an athlete once their peak has past. Athlete “X” will begin to think why should I work so hard if my numbers continue to fall. Am I not good at this sport? “I will never get better at this rate.” Its thoughts like these that can devastate an athlete and leave them in a bad spot heading into their valley or off-season period.
The Trap of Extrinsic Motivation
Using the numbers as your sole indicator of success is going to leave you miserable as they start to decrease. Mix that with telling individuals your numbers all the time (social media) and you will be in a world of hurt when you think not hitting numbers is making you look vulnerable to others. This is real, I’ve seen it happen many times. When we begin to only discuss numbers as a form of improvement, then eventually those same metrics will begin to work against us and our enjoyment of the sport. What is a better approach to numbers is to know that they are key in your build, but just noise in the off-season. A good coach will pay attention to your numbers for you, but they should move far outside of the cross-hairs on your journey to an off-season.
While a number of 200 athletes isn’t significant in the grand scheme of things, there are some tactics I have found useful across many of the athletes I’ve coached the past several years. Here is a quick list of ideas that could possibly help you.
1. Pre-Season Build
- Numbers are added back into athlete discussions and begin to set goals
- Numbers progress in terms of workouts and target interval training
2. Peak Season Build
- Numbers are a driving force in performance
- Steady discussions on increasing performance
3. Race Season/Maintenance
- Numbers are goals for optimal performance
- Specific training sessions based on numbers
- Focus shifts more towards race tactics as needed
4. Post Season
- Numbers are discussed for a final time in terms of year progress
- Specifics fade away quickly
- Numbers collected for coach, but not looked at by athlete
- Generally no structure
- No stress
If you can understand the power of numbers and their purpose in a training cycle, they can make a world of difference. While they are powerful, they can often lead to chasing numbers well beyond an athletes peak and therefore wreak havoc on their mind. As soon as athletes open up regarding numbers to others, they often feel pressure to constantly produce them or otherwise feel inferior. While there is plenty to be gained by data and building into the peak of your season, it takes a smart, dedicated athlete to continually make progress by often times taking a step back when the time is right.
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