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I'm just an average age-grouper / weekend warrior blogging about Ironman Triathlon Training and this complex puzzle of juggling life, having fun and reporting on my various feats of strength and endurance adventures!

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This is Part Three of a five-part series on total load, the cumulative training and life stress an athlete experiences while training. Read Part One and Part Two to get the full story.

It may come as a surprise to many people (it did to me), that unless you are a professional athlete looked after by experts who are minimizing all the non-training sources of stress in your life, that training is rarely the largest component of total load. Assuming that you eat and sleep reasonably well (we will cover those later in the series), then mental stress is quite likely to be your largest stressor.

A study published in 2010 tracked the occurrence of illness, injury, and burnout amongst 30 well-trained triathletes during a full competitive season in Western Australia. Although training factors had a significant impact, the largest impact was produced by increases in psychological stress, and the same was found for the athletes’ mood scale ratings.

To quantify the effects further, a 2012 study on 44 healthy adults in Finland looked at the baseline psychological stress during a short two-week intensive training program. Subjects rated their stress from one (low psychological resources and a lot of stressors in my life) to ten (high psychological resources and no stressors in my life) during the program.

Courtesy of “Self-rated mental stress and exercise training response in healthy subjects.”

They found that those with high levels of stress showed almost no increase in maximum cycling power over the two weeks compared to up to 19 percent power increases for those experiencing the lowest levels of life stress. Other studies have shown reduced running economy following stressful life events which implies the possibility of impaired motor coordination.

So, why is this?

It is well known in medical circles that high levels of mental stress delay recovery in wound healing and operations, but what about endurance sports?

In his thought-provoking review of Periodisation Theory, Professor John Kiely not only identifies links between high levels of mental stress and poor response to training, but also teases out three separate components that contribute to this:

Stress historyHigh levels of mental/emotional stress in daily lifeLow levels of resilience or resistance to mental stress

Kiely summarizes that multiple sources of life stress down regulate the immune system, motor coordination, mood, and hormonal health leading to impaired performance, adaptation, and recovery, and increased levels of illness and injury.

Courtesy of “Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth.”

Measuring and improving mental stress levels

Considering the fact that our busy lives feel increasing stressful, this paints a bleak picture for our training prospects. In fact, there is quite a lot we can do to reduce stress, starting with measurement.

Although no “gold standard” measurement of stress has been agreed upon, we can start by using visual scales to quantify our daily levels of mood, anxiety, fatigue, and enthusiasm for training. The example below is a simple way to measure the feelings an athlete might be having about their stress levels.


Kiely proposes that since the autonomic nervous system is a major regulator of our emotional state, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can be a useful indicator of mental stress levels. This is because the sympathetic branch is associated with increasing levels of anxiety (fight or flight), and the parasympathetic branch makes us feel more calm and relaxed (rest and digest).

Increased baseline levels of HRV are associated not only with better athletic performance, but with increased resilience and an ability to tolerate higher levels of individual stressors and total load.

You can find some tips on reducing workplace stress here, but it is also important to realize that the stress we experience is the difference between our expectations and our own perception of our ability to cope with those stresses. Therefore, we can also reduce the stress we experience by using techniques such as positive reframing, mindfulness, and slow deep breathing to increase our ability to cope with sources of stress.

Personally, I improved my HRV the most over the past ten years from using a paced breathing app called BreatheSync for a few minutes every morning and during the day as needed. I’m a big fan of guided meditation apps for maintaining a near constant level of calmness despite life’s inevitable ups and downs.


J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2010 Dec;50(4):475-85. Training patterns and negative health outcomes in triathlon: longitudinal observations across a full competitive season. Main LC1, Landers GJ, Grove JR, Dawson B, Goodman C.Ruuska PS, Hautala AJ, Kiviniemi AM, Mäkikallio TH and Tulppo MP (2012) Self-rated mental stress and exercise training response in healthy subjects. Front. Physio. 3:51. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00051 Kiely, J. Sports Med (2018) 48: 753. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y

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In 2017, researchers completed an impressive study which reviewed nearly ten million marathon finishing times (9,789,093 to be exact) from a total of 6,888 marathons across the globe. The vast majority analyzed (nearly 89 percent) took place after the year 2000, but races ranged between 1970 and 2013. The investigative team was interested in reference-dependent, goal-motivated behavior for a task that held little direct bearing on the quality of a person’s life: the race results of a marathon.

The information gleaned from their data set was quite remarkable on a number of levels, but one result stands out. Runners had an unusually high clumping of finishes just before rounded hour finishing times, specifically those at the three-, four-, and five-hour marks.

For example, runners were 1.4 times more likely to finish a marathon in 3:59 rather than 4:01. In fact, a total of 300,324 competitors finished their marathon in the three minutes prior to the four-hour mark compared to only 212,477 competitors who finished in the three minutes after the four-hour mark. That’s not because human beings are somehow categorically better at running a 3:59 rather than a 4:01 marathon. It’s because human beings make numbers matter. A lot.

The same trend held true at 30-, 15-, 10-, and five-minute increments. Essentially, finishing times showed the tendency to clump just ahead of, rather than just behind, any time that ended in a zero or five.

What does this mean?

This data set is remarkable in showing the powerful influence of numbers as it relates to recreational sports over decades of time, thousands of races, and millions of finishers. This research shows that athletes imbue remarkable meaning into chasing numbers, and shows statistically significant trends of goal achievement ahead of relatively arbitrary time standards.

Establishing a time goal for a race, regardless of race length or sport, is a time-honored tradition for the endurance athlete. This level of purpose requires strategy development to pursue those goals to fruition. These strategies involve both long-term planning and preparation, along with race day psychological management, including the tolerance of discomfort and the willingness to continue despite a mounting desire to stop (many thanks to Alex Hutchinson his fantastic definition of endurance).

Numbers chasing cuts both ways, however, and the pain associated with missing a goal, even by a minute or two, may prove to be a powerful motivator. Anyone who has beat a personal best or worked to run a sub-[insert personally meaningful time standard here], can attest to the power of goal setting. But, missing the mark can be just as painful psychologically as it can be rewarding.

It may be that the loss (or feared loss) associated with missing a time goal by one minute is more psychologically intense than the pleasure felt by beating a goal by an equal measure. And, this may be the greatest psychological component involved in chasing such feats—the psychological impact of loss aversion.

Simply stated, loss aversion refers to the tendency for us to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. Fearing that we may be slowing down late in an event and knowing the consequence of potentially missing the mark may actually be the driving force for speeding up or maintaining rhythm.

Pushing your athletes with goals

Reference points serve as a basic psychological itch for motivating behavior. One of the greatest thinkers in understanding the concept of psychological experiences related to behavioral choices is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them,” Csikszentmihalyi explains. “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”

Time goals established by athletes fit this criteria perfectly—voluntarily pushing the mind and body to perceived limits in an effort to accomplish something difficult and personally worthwhile. The connection to personal meaning is key here. Breaking a four-hour marathon means very little to someone who has qualified for the Olympic Trials, but the four-hour marathon mark is many runners’ greatest athletic accomplishment. The personal relevance of time standards cannot be ignored, and although the times themselves vary from athlete to athlete, the underlying psychological draw to better one’s own personal limits is deeply human.

What’s next?

So what do we do with this information? Well, for starters, look at the time goals for your next race or, if you’re a coach, think about the goals your athletes are chasing? My guess is that most goals either fit a round number standard by targeting times ending in zero of five or focus on bettering an existing PR.

The former very rarely targets something as arbitrary as a time like 3:01:03 unless it occupies the same psychological space of the latter. At first, just notice and accept that doing so connects you to one of the most defining aspects of the human spirit involved in endurance races. And, be aware that when you or your athletes toe the line at the next event, the vast majority of athletes around you are doing the same.

Second, consider stretching goals by five minutes, or for longer races such as ultra marathons or full-length IRONMAN events, stretch goals by two to five percent rather than by minutes. This research shows that we are very motivated by those time standards. If your athletes are gunning to break four hours in the marathon, for example, stretching the goal time will likely be both a bit exciting and a bit scary. The accompanying emotions, such as anxiety and excitement, are sweet spots for psychological growth. Stretching goals will require that you adjust training so that faster efforts are just a bit more effortful, yet conceivably within reach. Athletes will develop a new psychological and physical training framework for what they are capable of, which will make 3:55 possible and four hours much more likely.

Third, remind yourself of your own personal meaning throughout the process. Research about goals is clear that one of the most important factors in goal attainment is the personal meaning of your goals. We know that we are much more likely to put in the right work at the right time in service of a personally relevant, meaningful goal. What does the goal race time mean to you? The more clear, precise, and specific athletes are about their underlying reasons to achieve, the more likely they will be to put in the effort to see it to fruition come race day.

Finally, it’s important to adopt a “breaking barriers” mindset. Self-determination to push the limits of what you think is capable starts in thought. Stretching your goal by five minutes will require you to shift your thinking accordingly. Starting with thinking, “This is what sub-_____ does” in reference to all things related to training in pursuit of your fresh, faster goal time. As your training shifts accordingly to break a tougher standard, so too does your thinking.

The entire research article is fascinating, and I encourage you to read it for all of the details.

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The Infinite Game

Starting your own coaching business is always a risk. This is especially true when you already have a successful career that you can depend on, even when your true passion might not lie there.

Richard Thompson, while waiting for the Australian Supreme Court to rule on a case he was working on, found himself checking the latest results from IRONMAN Melbourne. That’s when he knew that helping other athletes achieve their goals was the life he wanted to live.

Since then, Thompson has helped build the successful T-Zero Multisport company and is now giving back to the coaching community that has given him so much. After speaking to fellow coaches at TrainingPeaks University Melbourne, Thompson sat down with Dave Schell to discuss how he found his “why”, how T-Zero approaches hiring new coaches, and how viewing coaching as an “infinite game” has helped him see past short-term wins and ultimately benefit his athletes.

Stand-out Quotes

“What’s important for us is to ensure the service to the athlete is not compromised, and to ensure that we foster an environment for the athletes, but also the coaches to ensure that they feel like they’re part of the family. They’re part of the fabric that is T-Zero.”“We would hate to have 12 people that coached the same way as I do because who’s to say that what I’m doing is right or otherwise? I’m doing the best I can, but we want those different experiences. And the connecting piece here is that whilst every different coach brings their own experience, which particular athlete might connect with.”“If you can accept that then a fair weight comes off your shoulders and as a business owner, and you understand that you’re in it for forever or for a very long time. There’s no rush. There’s no rush to growth. And, if you just focus on your own backyard and focus on what you’re doing, then everything else will take care of itself.”


The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan HolidayEgo is the Enemy by Ryan HolidayThe Triathlete’s Training Bible: The World’s Most Comprehensive Training Guide by Joe FrielT-Zero Multisport

Episode Transcript


On today’s episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, your source for the latest information about the art, science, and business of coaching. If your coaching business was a game, what type would it be? Are you looking for short term wins or are you in it for the long haul?

Dave Schell:                 

Hey guys, Dave Schell here. On this episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, I had the pleasure to sit down with Richard Thompson from T-Zero Multisport based out of Sunshine Coast, Australia. We sat down after TrainingPeaks University Melbourne and discussed some things such as finite versus infinite games, finding your “why”, and company culture. Hope you enjoy.

Speaker 2:                   

Welcome to the TrainingPeaks CoachCast. I’m your host Dave Shell. And this week I am coming to you from Melbourne, Australia right off the back of TPU Melbourne. I am joined today by Richard Thompson, one of the co-founders and directors of T-Zero Multisport. Richard, thanks for joining us today.

R. Thompson:              

Thank you so much for having me, Dave.

Dave Schell:                 

So we had you speak at TPU here and we had you talk a little bit about business because you are running, you and your other coaches are running a very successful business here in Australia. I wanted to have you speak to these coaches in attendance about running a business. Before we get into that, and talking to the listeners about business, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in coaching because you weren’t always a coach?

R. Thompson:              

No, that’s right. I was a triathlete, uh, first and foremost while I was studying law and accounting of all things at university, and I was doing, um, I think I started coaching on the side back in 2010. We did that part time for a couple of years and then for number of years, um, as I think a lot of coaches do, they use it as a hobby or a sort of side business. And the critical year 2015 where as a lawyer I was at the Supreme Court in Queensland. And we had an incredibly successful case be decided in favor of our client. Something that ordinarily would set your career up as a lawyer and it’s a topic that I won’t bore you with, but, um, it was really important, I guess crossroads, it would be a very important crossroads as a lawyer. And I remember the Monday when the judge was handing down the decision, I was far more interested in checking the, uh, IRONMAN Melbourne results the Sunday before and making sure that my athletes were okay and were doing well, um, the day after the race rather than, um, the result coming out of the, out of the Supreme Court. So it was obvious to me that my passion lied with, um, with coaching. And, uh, at that point, a very close friend of mine, Scotty Pharrell, he was in a very similar boat, uh, with his career as a teacher. And we, uh, he was doing the part-time coaching thing as well. And we sort of sat down together and thought, what, you know, we sort of just looked at the books and thought, what would we have to do to, um, coach as a full-time occupation? And so we ended up, it was a scary prospect at the beginning to think that you could do this by yourself and for yourself, but when you boil it down and work out your expenses and workout what you, you know, what you can, what service you could provide it, it seemed pretty achievable.

Dave Schell:                 

You know, it’s, I can see, and I don’t know how it works here in Australia, but in the US people would say that teachers don’t make a ton of money. So I could definitely see transitioning from a teacher to a coach, but in the US lawyers seem to make quite a bit more money than a teacher does so I would imagine that a little bit more scary prospect when you’re looking at transitioning to full-time coaching.

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, money for me, I think it’s just, it’s just one form of currency. Um, what, uh, whilst law certainly I’m provided a great salary, there were costs to that as well, uh, in time and that away from the family. And it came around the same time as when we had our first child as well. And I thought, um, there’s not enough money in the world to keep me away from my family for 70 hours a week. So, um, that side of it was, accepting that be earning less initially for sure. And but that wasn’t very difficult to, um, to sell to the family, to the family unit. Um, but yeah, we saw that, that we thought there was a, uh, I guess a place in the market for T-Zero, um, the values and the beliefs that we had as a coaching unit, we thought we would do very well as a business strictly because of the service that we wanted to provide.

Dave Schell:                 

In the beginning, you were coaching part-time, Scotty was also coaching part-time, and in 2015 you came, you joined forces.

R. Thompson:              


Dave Schell:                 

So, how long did it take before you had a viable business?

R. Thompson:              

Um, that’s a good question. Maybe, maybe I think about nine months. And over that time we both, uh, I had the opportunity to drop down our previous employment with as a lawyer, as a teacher, we were able to, I guess go a bit part time on both whilst the coaching business was growing. We were able to supplement that with other income, um, until such time that we were able to, I think my last, uh, my last day as a lawyer, as a part-time lawyer was in the of 2016

Dave Schell:                 

And now, fast forward to today. It’s not just you and Scotty. You have other coaches that you work with as well?

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, we’re fortunate enough to have 12 coaches now, and a wonderful stable of athletes. And, it’s, um, it has its own challenges, you know, and Scotty does a wonderful job in looking after the coaches, uh, in their right as coaches. And, um, what’s important for us is to ensure the service to the athlete is, is always, is not compromised. Um, and to ensure that we foster an environment for the athletes but also the coaches to ensure that they feel like they’re part of the family. They’re part of the fabric that is sort of T-Zero.

Dave Schell:                 

Just going back to, um, what she had said a little bit ago, you had talked about the culture and in talking with you offline and talking to you at lunch today, it sounds like that is one of the core pieces of T-Zero. It’s not just about performance, it’s, it really, it all starts with the culture. And what would you say sets you apart from other coaches or coaching companies when it comes to culture?

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, I think, um, when I started in the sport of I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to be coached by some very high profile coaches as an athlete. And I think looking at how they operated all the tools in their toolbox, they were either wonderfully good at the coaching side, the analytical side, but they struggled with the human connection, with the human communication piece. Whereas others are wonderfully, are wonderfully gifted at the communication and how you had that bond. But they were probably lacking in the scientific, or at least the art of coaching in terms of that detail. So we thought the place in the market for us at T-Zero was the wonderful combination of both. To have the intellect and the science and the all the education you can, um, so that you as a coach can give your athlete the very best program and you supplement that as well with the best communication and, this relationship you can have with your athlete. So it gives the, and we go by the, I guess the adage of live your potential. It is that culture, um, that, and I give this example that why should someone who wants to break 15 hours in an IRONMAN, that goal be any more or less important than someone who wants to qualify or win their age group or qualify for Hawaii. Everyone brings their different, their own experiences, and their are strengths and weaknesses to the table. People have got different time availability as well, and, and other balls in the air. So we don’t, we look at everyone’s goal as equally as important. There’s no ego. And we, we just want the very best for each athlete that we coach.

Dave Schell:                 

Talking with you at lunch, we were talking a little bit about, um, I had asked you what is it your experience that would make somebody want to work for another coach or be an assistant coach in a group of coaches. And something you said kind of caught me by surprise and that was that you had said that you really go out of your way just like you do with the athletes to treat those coaches with that same respect and with the same regard and so that they don’t want to leave and they, that it’s, it’s almost better to be with you then to be without you.

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, we’ve got a wonderful opportunity, I think to give so much value to our coaches and make them, help them be the best coaches that they can be. If they wanted to, um, start their own business, they can. There’s no, we don’t have any qualms with that. Um, so just similar with the athletes, they can leave tomorrow if they wanted to. Um, but that keeps us on our toes and we always are thinking about ways in which we can continue to develop that environment and help and promote that learning. And it’s an incredible thing and it’s something that people just don’t see back of house at T-Zero, that we’ve got a, you know, a communication software whereby someone will ask a question, a theoretical question about let’s say FTP and then within six hours there’s five different respectful opinions about their experience of what they believe, what they’ve read or a journal article about this. And it’s just the extended learning that’s happening in the environment that’s being created is amazing.

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah. I think that’s a, it’s really interesting to hear you talk about that and that another thing that came up was you’re not requiring your coaches, it’s not the T-Zero methodology that each coach coaches in their own way. And it’s really the unifying theme is how they treat the athletes at the end of the day.

R. Thompson:              

Correct. And we don’t want, we would hate to have 12 people that coached the same way as I do because who’s to say that what I’m doing is right or, or otherwise I’m doing the best I can. But, um, we want those different experiences. And the connecting piece here is that whilst every different experience, every different coach brings their own experience, which, you know, a particular athlete my connect with. So they’ll say, “yeah, I like that coach over anyone else.” But it’s the shared learning of those experiences. I think between us, we have about 87 IRONMAN finishes. You have something like 25 World Championship qualifications between the coaching group. And that’s not to say that we just great athletes, it just shows that we have that, um, collective experience unlike any other so that we can put our hand up and say in the, and the environments they had to say, I, I’ve got an athlete who is always running into shin problems whenever we do this. Does anyone else have an experience with that? And then everyone will jump in on that. And it is a wonderful environment to be a part of.

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah. I’m uh, I’m kind of jealous hearing about that cause I, I think about when I first started coaching and it was, uh, at least for me it was very isolated experience. And when I first started working at TrainingPeaks, I was so excited to finally have other people to talk to about training. And I, we were talking about it the other day and it, it seems like the newer coaches in the beginning think they have the secrets. And so they’re very tight with that and they don’t want to tell anybody else. And then the more experience you get, the more people are willing to share. But to be able to have that community that you can go without judgment and bounce questions off of people and get feedback is,

R. Thompson:              

And that’s all just for the end of the day becomes the benefit of to the athlete.

Dave Schell:                 


R. Thompson:              

Because you’re tapping in not to just one coach, but to a bank of of 12 or exponential number of coaches and their experiences and that’s experiences. But then we also focus on can we have a continual practice development program or CPD program whereby we give the coaches guidelines and requirements to have external learning throughout each year. Um, we bring them to a central location each year as well to help them with other areas of the, of coaching like linguistics and ways of better communicating with athletes. Um, it’s, and providing some sort of support to help them with that learning. So it’s not just the, not just the shared experiences that we were leaning on, but it’s the actual getting out there and learning the latest and greatest of training methodologies as well.

Dave Schell:                 

Right. So what if a coach is, is out there doing it on their own and they don’t have access to somebody like this? Do you have any advice for them to like where are places they can seek out this knowledge?

R. Thompson:              

I think, um, I think I, it’s an interesting point you made about how lonely it is and I think it can be really lonely and even, it’s something that we’ve always focused on is bringing the group together, whether it’s a monthly Skype chat where everyone can see each other. Um, but if you’re doing it yourself, I think the best thing would be to reach out to somebody who’s a good, who’s an experienced coach, um, and see if you can be the, you know, see if you can tag along or catch up with them once a month just for a chat about, uh, you know, almost like a mentorship. I think there’s a lot of coaches out there who would be very happy to be a mentor and it wouldn’t have to be a financial transaction if they’re willing to impart that knowledge. Um, yeah, so I’d encourage them to, to look, you know, look up a coach that they aspire to or they think that they respect or otherwise think is doing a good thing for the industry and reach out to them and see if they can bounce some ideas off. And it’d be, I think a lot of people would be surprised how open a lot of those coaches are.

Dave Schell:                 

So when you are presenting today, when you’re presenting at TrainingPeaks University, one of the things you talked about that I had never heard before, but it kind of resonated with me was the difference between a finite game and an infinite game. Can you speak a little to that?

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, so James Costs as the author, I think back in the 80s and maybe Simon Sinek has jumped on it, um, in more recent times. But, um, I think the premise of it is to work, to understand the game or the business that you’re playing. And I think a lot of people, uh, and especially in triathlon, but also an old businesses, they are very ego driven and wanting to be the best or the top 10, they want to be in the top 10 of something or there’s always so many. I mean, we’re in a data driven environment in any event. But as a business, you’re always thinking, wanting to be the best or wanting to be, have some sort of metric as to work out where you lie within the industry as a coach. But the definition of finite and infinite is it a finite game is known players, uh, fixed rules and the act and the, the goal is to win, you have a winner and a loser, so baseball, cricket, AFL which you’re attending tonight. Um, the infinite game is, uh, unknown players. The rules are there, but they change often. Um, and the objective is to perpetuate the game or to at least, uh, not leave the game. You cease playing the game if you, um, you lose the will to keep playing or you lose the resources. And so things like, uh, as I gave the example today is being a parent. You know, you are, you can’t be the best parent in the world. You can’t be the top five mother or father or you know, it’s a, it’s a forever game. Um, and the rules always change. The players always change and, um, but it’s, you know, the same with business. That’s essentially the moral of the story and it’s just as ridiculous as it is to say that you’re the best dad in the world or the best dad in the country is exactly the same as saying you’re the best business or triathlon business for example, in the country or your state. Um, you know, what metric are you using? Is it the quarter, are you basing it on sales for this quarter? You basing it on athletes, number of athletes you have, but how successful you are as a coach? So I think if you can, if you can focus on understanding as a coach in your business that you’re playing an infinite game, then your driver is being the best that you can possibly be. The only competition then becomes you. Um, and now I think if you can accept that, then a fair weight comes off your shoulders and as a business owner and you understand that you’re in it for forever or for a very long time, there’s no rush. There’s no rush to growth. Um, and, if you, if you just focus on your own backyard, and focusing on what you’re doing, then everything else will take care of itself.

Dave Schell:                 

So I have to ask, how did you end up finding that book? Is that something you had read before or did you happen upon hard times that you were trying to grow this business?

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, I think, uh, I think, um, you listened to I guess on podcasts. Or you listen to business successful business people. Um, not, not in this sporting industry, but just business in general. Um, and you pick up on what, there’s a common thread of, of literature they listened to or they prescribe to. And I think it was, um, the CEO of AT&T actually, that, um, first referenced that when I thought, oh, I should get that and have a read.

Dave Schell:                 


R. Thompson:              

Um, but by accepting that you’re playing an infinite game, that will then determine how you spend your resources and whether you’re chasing that a number one ranking, which means nothing, which in fact, uh, isn’t actually in existence because you’re the one determining, um, that ranking. Or whether you’re, conversely, whether you except you’re playing an infinite game and then you can put the resources to things that are much more, you know, uh, help you, um, play that infinite game and be the best version of a coach that you can be or the best business owner that you can be with disregard to what the competition’s doing. You’re just focusing on your own service.

Dave Schell:                 

Um, earlier today, again at TrainingPeaks University, one of the things you talked about, and it’s, it’s probably something that’s familiar to a lot of people now, but it’s so simple, yet it’s so important is finding your why. And so would you just speak to that a little bit? Is it, is that something that you’ve found over time that like you weren’t doing it for the right reasons, or is it what motivated you to take this step and move on?

R. Thompson:              

Yeah, I think it’s a question that a lot of people don’t want to ask themselves, whether they’re an athlete or particularly as a coach, you don’t really understand why you want to do it. And if it’s for, I think external reasons, whether it be ego, whether it be monetary, I think you’re applying it pretty short term game. Um, whereas if you sit down to yourself and work out what you’re actually wanting to achieve, what’s, what’s driving you. And it’s a pretty, it’s a wonderful industry, wonderful profession to do because you’re essentially, you’re being, you’re being given the ability to shape someone’s athletic prowess and they have dreams and goals and hopes and you’re in charge of that. And that’s an incredible, uh, honor and a wonderful position to be in. Um, but further than that, you’re, uh, you’re helping them become better people through that journey. And so if that’s what’s, you know, so if you think if you sit down with yourself and go, “I want to help people change their lives or help assist them have better lives” then the why or whatever your why is, but as long as you understand it and as long as you really can define what that is, then you can, then that’ll get you up in the morning. You know, when times are tough or it’s a difficult period of, of business or otherwise, you know, you can lean back on that and go, no, I’m here for these reasons, not for anything else. And that will always send to you and bring yourself back to, you know, bring your compass back to true north and you can keep going.

Dave Schell:                 

Yeah, I agree. I think that’s very important. I agree with you too. And that sometimes it is uncomfortable to acknowledge why you’re doing things. And I just, in my experience, I’ve seen some, it’s ended some athletic careers because when an athlete realizes that they’re doing things for the wrong reasons, for those extrinsic motivations, and it’s all of a sudden they have to take that hard look. And so I think it is such an important thing to find out why you’re doing things.

R. Thompson:              

Yeah. And that infinite and finite game is so attributable to athletes as well. And the why piece, because I think a lot of, a lot of athletes, you know, a good age grouper, or just weekend warriors, they don’t know where the finish line is for their career as triathletes. So they will at some point go into the umpteenth IRONMAN and don’t really understand what they’re trying to achieve or why they’re in, why they’re doing it in the first place. And I, I’m, I, I’m really honest with the athletes. You sort of go, well if you’d rather do rock climbing then do that. Like life is so short to do anything that you don’t want to do. And unless your, whatever your goal, it’s okay to take a break from the sport. It’s okay to not do this sport. Um, if it’s not, um, if it’s not contributing to your overall, your overall why, but if you. So it’s important to keep going back to that as athlete, as an athlete to go, you know, what am I doing this for and where is my finish line?

Dave Schell:                 

I’m sitting here smiling as you say that because I was just reminded of the, one of the slides you had up today. And it’s the quote: “One life. Just one. Why aren’t we running like we are on fire towards our wildest dreams?” So is that from you or is that, who is that attributed to?

R. Thompson:              

I don’t know where I got that one from. I don’t think it’s this, I don’t think I’m that intellectual. Um, but totally, I, you know, in my, I mean, my background as an athlete was that I wasn’t, I wasn’t athletic at all as an adolescent. I was an overweight goalkeeper because it involved the least amount of running. Um, and I’ve been able to achieve, you know, some incredible feats as an athlete. But, so that’s shaped I guess T-Zero that, you know, we think that whatever your goal is, you can, you can achieve that. Just, and the same with business. You can, we can, you can make, you know, gone are the days that coaching is just a part-time pocket money, you know, side project. It’s, it can be a full time career now. And we, you know, we really encourage that at T-Zero and, but for the athletes, we, we sit them down and work out their why but also set some massive goals and say, why not? Why, why can’t you, why can’t you achieve something that you absolutely right now believe is not possible to achieve. Because this sport is an endurance sport. It, it’s not, uh, apart from the, the swim, it’s not really a technical, not like, you know, not a technical sport in that sense. So I’ve seen athletes go from, you know, 14-hour IRONMAN athletes to Hawaii qualification really, you know, over over a couple of years. It’s not insurmountable. So I’d encourage, on the lines of that quote, whatever you want to achieve, you know, set some massive goals and just be brave and go after them.

Dave Schell:                 

That’s fantastic. And I feel like that’s an awesome place to end. So before I let you go, do you have any recommended reading for the listeners, either reading or podcast or YouTube videos, whatever it is, are there two or three things that you think would be really beneficial in building your coaching?

R. Thompson:              

As coaches, I mean, I, and this isn’t, uh, this isn’t, uh, a plug. Joe Friel’s Bible is incredible. Um, outside of that, um, I would encourage anyone or every coach to get their hands on, um, or listen to interviews with coach John Wooden. He’s a, uh, arguably, uh, he’s a very successful basketball coach in the United States in college. He’s now passed away. But the philosophy of his coaching style I think needs to be employed or adopted far more in all coaching circles. So with our coaches, I always recommend them to, uh, to listen to his interview. Especially the one in, um, with Tony Robbins. It’s a two-part interview.

Dave Schell:                 

I bet that’s fantastic.

R. Thompson:              

It is incredible. Um, and then, other than that, yeah, I think, Ryan Holiday’s Obstacle Is The Way is a wonderful read. Um, that’s probably my most gifted book. Um, as well as his second book after that was the ego. Ego Is The Enemy. Yeah, that’s about it in terms of getting the mindset around understanding that, what’s that anything is possible, but also understanding that I think the humbleness and having that empathy, being empathetic enough to be a very, very good coach.

Dave Schell:                 

Thanks again. Those are absolutely great recommendations and we’ll be sure to put those in the show notes so that the listeners can find them. And thank you, more importantly, for making the trip from the Sunshine Coast to come and share your knowledge with the coaches today at TrainingPeaks University.

R. Thompson:              

Thank you, Dave. It was an absolute pleasure for T-Zero to be here. Um, and we started with TrainingPeaks in 2011. Um, so approaching 10 years now. And, um, yeah, we are very privileged to be here.

Dave Schell:                 

We appreciate it.

Hey guys, Dave here again and I hope you enjoyed my chat with Richard Thompson. As I mentioned, we talked after TrainingPeaks University Melbourne. If you yourself are interested in attending a TrainingPeaks University to learn how to save time and be more efficient as a coach, you can go to TrainingPeaks.com/TrainingPeaks-University and see all our upcoming events. We’ll also make sure to link to it in the show notes. Until next time.

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A few weeks ago, the mother of a 13-year-old female runner (let’s call her Lisa) reached out to see if I could help her child with mental skills training. Lisa’s coach indicated that Lisa is extremely talented, but her general lack of mental toughness was holding her back in practice and competition.

Lisa’s mother was conflicted about reaching out to me. She wanted someone to help Lisa with her mental toughness, but she was worried that maybe Lisa was too young to tackle mental skills training. I assured Lisa’s mom that 13 is a perfect age to work on mental skills training. I explained that honing mental skills in adolescence will provide Lisa with an arsenal of tools that are imperative for her continued development as a runner as well as for her personal growth. We began our sessions and Lisa learned how to be a more aggressive runner and conquer her biggest mental challenge: the fear of failure.

Lisa’s situation is not uncommon. Adolescence, a tumultuous time in general, can be more difficult for adolescent athletes and even one step harder for female athletes. It takes tremendous courage to join a team, train hard, put yourself out there on a daily basis, endure the watching eyes of naysayers, all while navigating the challenges that accompany a maturing body and brain. I can’t believe anyone pushes through these challenges, yet millions of adolescent girls are kicking ass competing in sports every year.

The system for developing mental skills in this age group is often lacking. Teams are frequently large and understaffed. Coaches are predominantly male. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle. A small problem with confidence can escalate into paralyzing situational anxiety, if left unchecked. That is why 13 is not too young to start intentionally developing mental skills.

How to measure mental toughness

I have written extensively about The Sisu Quiz, first as a way to measure mental toughness and second about how you can implement the results of the quiz. I won’t belabor how the Sisu Quiz works, but I would like to mention that I have used this quiz with much success in adolescents. The specific numbers may not be completely accurate as the original study was done for adults. However, the adolescents who have taken this quiz have produced results that reflect what I hear when I speak to them.

In fact, when I ask the adolescent quiz takers if they were surprised with their results, they almost universally say “no”. This might indicate a few things.

Adolescents are aware of their mental toughness strengths and weaknesses after it has been measured. For many of these girls, taking the Sisu Quiz is the first time they’ve conceptualized the dimensions of mental toughness. Up until then, the notion of mental toughness and the dimensions that comprise it were fuzzy at best because it had never been concretely explained to them. And, when they get their results, even if they show low mental toughness, almost all of them are actually relieved to talk about them. Because, even in this day and age, the parlance of mental toughness is “suck it up” and has no structure on how to do so or when it isn’t appropriate to suck it up.

Two major components that plague adolescent girls are exactly the same as those that plague adult females: confidence and self-esteem. It isn’t even necessarily low self-esteem or low confidence at work. Oftentimes, it is that self-esteem and confidence are based on athletic performance, and if performance wanes, if there is an injury, or if an athlete is beaten by competitor, confidence and self-esteem plummet, and can result in burn-out. This is but one example of many that adolescent girls face as athletes.

The next steps

What can be done? Here are some first steps to working with adolescent female athletes:

While I always speak to the parents before I speak with their child, any conversation between the athlete and myself are confidential unless: 1) the athlete specifically states otherwise or, 2) there is a suspected mental health issue which needs a follow-up with a specialist.Don’t be afraid to address mental toughness and mental skills training with adolescent girls. They want to talk about it.Use the Sisu Quiz to measure the eight specific dimensions of mental toughness. It is an excellent conversation starter to ask “did these results surprise you?” The floodgates will open.I am going to recommend reading my book, The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness. In my experience, the adolescents that have read my book often highlight passages and refer back to it. It is an excellent tool with real-life anecdotes and mental toughness tips that speak to many of the concerns of adolescent female athletes.In the beginning, let the athlete dictate the conversation. Listen well and you will be utterly surprised by their honesty and intuitiveness.Offer some gentle prompts. At this age, sometimes the words to express what they mean or feel are just not readily available.Some commonalities among athletes to consider: dealing with fear of failure, how to approach the notion of disregarding what others think, separating performance self-esteem from global self-esteem. Don’t be afraid to assign “homework” for the athlete to help them develop their mental skills.

Adolescent female athletes experience a host of difficulties that are often left unaddressed. This underserved demographic beckons for help. It doesn’t take much to impart big changes in their mental skills development, but if these deficits are unaddressed girls end up quitting sports or carry their challenges into adulthood.

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Three Important Focuses for Enduro Training

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Over the years, a great deal of reading, writing, and programming has been developed for road and cross-country disciplines. However, as those disciplines recede and enduro and other gravity-based mountain bike events take a larger market share, there is a glaring hole in resources available to athletes and coaches. There is a lot to talk about to comprehensively cover the differences between the two disciplines, but here are some highlights for now.

Primary focuses for enduro training

When I work with enduro athletes, the initial part of the coaching process is the same as it would be for any other athlete. It involves an open discussion of goals to inform the development of a training plan. This, however, is where the similarities typically end. The strength and skill requirements in enduro and gravity-based events are very large components to success, but endurance and strength are nothing without the right skills and confidence.

Endurance and energy system development

While a great deal of time is spent pedaling when enduro racing, few coaches truly consider how to maximize that time. There is an important endurance component required for enduro that is the backbone for repeatability at high speeds for the timed sections, or for just having fun with the crew. Building a strong O2-system base is key.

Throughout training, focus on neuromuscular strength for larger power bursts, and as the season approaches focus on improving VO2 max. However, don’t be tempted to approach VO2 max the same way you would as a road cyclist (something like 7 x 2:00 minutes, all out). Instead, I prefer to use efforts that follow the HR curve of a timed section and also force skill development, such as working pump tracks. Doing so creates the desired HR curve and also forces athletes to hone their skills as they hold lines and build corner speed.  

Also, use “trail sprints” for another intensive threshold session for VO2 development. This workout is designed to force skills, repeatability, and high workloads and heart rates. Sections of trail that force pedaling, odd corners, hard braking, and re-accelerations are excellent for these workouts. Plus, they are fun for your athletes!

Strength training

Strength training is often debated in endurance sports, so I will not get into strength from an all-discipline standpoint. However, for enduro and gravity, an athlete’s strength is key. Building a high level of strength endurance is more important than raw power. Keep in mind it’s a long day out there, not a sprint.

Focus your athletes on building core, upper back, and shoulder strength to help manage the forces they encounter at the handlebars going downhill. Use multi-directional bounding to help with knee stability, hip stability, and agility. Grip strength and grip endurance should also be a big focus as confidence at the handlebars will make for smooth and fast riding.

Also, consider starting with smaller supporting muscle groups; don’t just go for the big movements. Build balance in the musculoskeletal system first, then work toward bigger movements. As riders begin to build strength, challenge them with balance boards and other unstable surfaces as they master certain movements. The simple addition of a BOSU ball underfoot during an overhead press will add a new level of challenge for the athlete.

Skills training

This is the fun part for enduro and gravity racers; however, it’s important to always include specific goals and objectives. Think about planning days that concentrate on quality over quantity. Have your athletes repeatedly work on sections of trail to learn different lines and include at least one day of a longer “enduro” practice. Be sure to have them pace the ups and rip the downs. Also, work a lift-assisted day in every week, if possible. It’s amazing how much you learn if you can ride one section of trail repeatedly on the same day.

You can also build recovery days with light spinning as fun drill days. Prescribe work on wheels lifts, wheelies, manuals, etc., and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Use pump tracks and skate parks, and your athletes will learn a lot about corner speed.

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