I finally found the time and mindset to write a post for my blog, I have been hooked up in many projects the last couple of months.
There is time to read and learn, a time to experiment and to try, a time to evaluate and a time to report or publish. One of my projects was figuring out how we can amplify (read: increase) the effect of training in an effective, simple and legal way. Not an easy task, since one first has to study the intricate network of metabolic, hormonal and neurochemical pathways in order to be able to modify these processes. More about this, later.
Being an obsessive reader, not only technical books, I am also fond of (auto-biographies) of athletes. The best book I read the last couple of years was written by an athlete of my generation, Olympic (1984) steeple runner Hans Koeleman. His book “Olympians” (in Dutch) is about his preparation for the 1984 Olympics in LA, and mainly plays in South-Carolina. In a style often reminding me of Ernest Hemingway, it deserves a place between the great books about running such as Silitoe’s “The loneliness of the long-distance runner” and Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. It is a very familiar insight in the life of the elite athlete, his dreams, his doubts, hopes, fears, disappointments and his unbreakable motivation to become an Olympian. A must-read for every track athlete (at least in the Netherlands).
Laser or torchlight?
In my opinion, a coaches’ mind should be like a light. This is the function of our mental capacity “attention”. Sometimes it has to function as a laser pointer, looking at the small details, focused, trying to point something out. But there are situations where a laser pointer is doomed to fail, e.g. if you want to look for something. Try and find your lost house keys in the dark. Then you need a torchlight, which gives you a wider scope, a broader view. Ideally one can switch rapidly from laser to torchlight and back, depending on the situation. Unfortunately many people get stuck in one of the two modes.
Let me get into torch light mode.
What is the main characteristic in elite sports? Many of you will say: competition, the will to win, to go for the record, the medal or the victory. But I would like to think it is: exploration, the stumbling into unknown territory one seldom reaches in normal daily life. The frequent battle against between one’s own doubts, fears, limitations, anxieties on the one hand and at the other end one’s dreams, capacities, hopes, drives, ambition, mindset and willpower. Also very well described in “Olympians”. This is the main competition, the competition with yourself and your limitations, a competition easily lost. Many athletes are their own worst enemy, lacking deep self-confidence, the fear of not being good enough in their own opinion or the opinion of others. Often this is then compensated by radiating superficial self-confidence.
It’s obvious that the role of a coach is important in this aspect. Every workout is a mental workout, an opportunity to build justified confidence gradually day by day, one small piece at a time until the athlete becomes unbreakable. Unfortunately it is also possible to gradually chip away the athlete’s confidence – a road not to be traveled of course. And …. ten sessions with the sports psychologist seldom help.
In my daily job, helping high-performers, inside and outside sports, to deal with stress, stress-related problems and fatigue, I often notice the gradual change of my clients over the years. Many young people slowly seem to loose contact with the real world and seem affected by the grip of the virtual life of social media, and modern means of communication, having to connect and to share “everything with everybody”, especially their Facebooks friends. But who are those “friends” on Facebook, this “community”? People you never met and most probably never will, but who share a certain interest, cat videos on Youtube, or trying to surprise you with a picture of what they ate for lunch. Nowadays many people get lost in the tsunamis of information that the Internet and social media bring.
When discussing with young coaches it seems they overestimate their knowledge and expertise. They tell me: “I don’t know, but I can look it up” . Big deal, anybody can look it up, so your knowledge level is like anybody else’s. You don’t make a difference and, you don’t become a game-changer by the ability to look things up on the internet. I like to describe this Googling for information as “dumpster-diving”: diving into that huge garbage can of information to see if you can find something useful.
In former days smart people knew a lot, there was no internet and their manifest knowledge set them apart. These days one needs to be able to filter and be able to separate solid information from nonsense or thoughtless opinions. To be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, truth from lie, science from marketing.
Last but no least I would like to draw your attention to some webcasts and podcasts I contributed to e.g.