Advice to a Young Elite
I am currently on the World’s Favourite airline heading to London and onwards to Miami.
It was a very useful week in Scotland and the JV keeps rolling along. We had an open board meeting and ran through a lot of the items that I wrote about in my finance oriented pieces. The BOS lads are very switched on. When they are being tough on us, they know it! We had an honest chat about why they are being tough on us. By sitting down and talking about everything openly, we realised the logic behind their positions – all of which seemed far more reasonable than what we were dreaming up in the absence of communication.
Some of you had follow-up questions, tips and advice stemming from my last few entries. Responding is a bit down my list as I want to finish off sharing my Kona ideas.
On to our topic…
Over the last six years, I’ve helped a few elite athletes through a mixture of coaching, training and financial support. It hasn’t been charity (not even close) as I benefited through training partners, technical instruction and companionship. Helping people can be a tricky business but I’d say that it’s worked about 70% of the timen (my batting average is improving since I last wrote about this!). That’s a pretty good hit rate in my view.
I’ve also learned a few things about how best for me to play it: (a) clear expectations; (b) high standards; (c) open communication; (d) my way or the highway (if you are living under my roof); and (e) mutual respect. When I’ve tried to “be nice”, or compromise my expectations then it hasn’t worked as well.
Spring is here and summer will follow soon. Most elites (most people for that matter) will follow the same pattern in 2006 that they have created over the last few years. They can be beaten!
What follows is some advice having watched the progress (but mainly the lack of progress) of various elite athletes and neo-pros over the last six years.
For ten months of the year, your #1 priority is your training and everything that enables you to do your training. You will not improve without consistent, focused training. A lot of athletes are great at being “hard” in public – that’s NOT what it is about. Where the great athletes move ahead is by being consistent and focused in private.
Your natural talent will get you to a point – to move beyond that, to breakthrough, you need a consistent, focused total athlete approach – when nobody is watching.
The role of an athlete is not to travel the world chasing races depleting limited financial resources. Until you can crush everyone at all your local events, stay in one place and train consistently. Otherwise you are fooling yourself and merely living a triathlon vacation. Seasonal migration is useful but only to improve the quality of your training – seeing young pros drop three months spending money to DNF or detonate in Kona strikes me as ridiculous. Get out there and win a hot weather Ironman first.
With your training, search for a training partner that shares your approach to fitness. These people are invaluable. Also ensure that this person has an attitude and character that you respect – you will spend a lot of time with them. As a result, they will impact the way you think, so choose wisely.
With your coaches and mentors – look beyond results, look to the life that they actually lead outside of their sport. Is this the life that you want for yourself? This is a fundamental consideration because what you actually learn from mentors (consciously or unconsciously) is the life skills that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.
If you happen to make it to the top, what next? At some stage, you will have to consider life beyond actively competing. This is where the best coaches/mentors will provide real assistance.
As they say: ‘There is a leisure class at both ends of the socioeconomic ladder”.
The alternative employment choice for most of your competition is retail sales, massage therapy, bike maintenance or personal training. Training all day is an attractive alternative.
Bear in mind that civilians work for a living. You are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to give-it-a-shot. It amazes me when I listen/read to athletes (and their supporters) talking about “how hard it is” for Dude to make ends meet as a triathlete. No kidding! Dude is typically a 9:08 IMer and about 125th in the world. Society doesn’t owe him the right to go on vacation. Entitlement mentalities leave me shaking my head.
Your #1 medium term goal is to achieve cash flow breakeven. Give yourself three years to figure out: (a) are you well suited to elite athletics; and (b) are you going to be able to have a decent quality of life. Assuming that you start as a top agegroup athlete, then after three years of living-the-dream you should have an idea about what further progress is going to entail.
What is breakeven? Supporting yourself completely from your own efforts. I’d strip out cash used from: spouse; parents, personal savings; sugar daddy (or mommy); and other unearned sources.
Now if you happen to have three years worth of cash flow in the bank then that is a clear advantage but you’d better be sure you want to use it because triathlon is a low pay vocation!
Financial stress is like any other – it distracts, reduces energy levels and makes you less effective at achieving your goals. However… it can be a great motivator when used appropriately.
You might notice that I didn’t talk about winning races, getting fast, hammering yourself or any of the other things that a young elite might consider being important. That’s because I don’t think that they really matter all that much.
Where I would spend my time is…
*** building my aerobic engine, improving skills, enhancing flexibility and learning personal limiters;
*** associating with people that use sport to create a satisfying life; and
*** improving my ability to support myself over the long haul.
Ultimately those are the items that will lead to success (or prevent roadblocks) over the ten years that it will take for you to achieve your athletic potential.