The importance of Wagers, Wasting time and Wattbike tests

 

A big part of my coaching philosophy is that the result of a race is not the only important thing when working with athletes of any level. Although the result does become more important as the level gets higher (because of the way that sports systems are set up and, in particular, funded), developing the athlete as a person is also just as important. If we do a good job as coaches we can help athletes to have successful normal lives as well as sporting lives. Another part, which seems to be under-estimated by a lot of coaches, is enjoyment……and not only for keeping athletes involved in the sport for longer but also because I believe that there is a direct correlation between enjoyment and performance (NOTE: I didn’t say results-a great performance doesn’t always lead to a great result).

The Team at the end of a long day’s racing in Le Mans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the first things that I wanted to do when I started in my role at the World Cycling Centre was to establish an environment that allowed the athletes to get the best out of themselves. In fact, I spent some time thinking about and reflecting on and refining my coaching philosophy with my coach mentor shortly before starting and this is what we came up with:

-To create a positive environment which challenges athletes to develop to reach their full potential
-My Aim is to be athlete-centered and to develop the athlete in all aspects affecting their performance
-My focus will be on working with the athlete to create the most effective process. By focussing on the process the results will follow

Looking at this now (2 years after writing it I might tweak the wording again but philosophies are meant to evolve right?) and thinking back to the conversations that led to it, it is clear how important the environment was to me and the way that I wanted to work. That hasn’t changed at all but I also look back and it strikes me how much I have learnt about the things that have had an effect on that environment.

I have always thought a lot about the small things that I do outside of training prescription and supporting riders at races but there have been a few great examples in the last year or so that have made a big difference and I hope it might be interesting to share some of them.

Wagers

Just to be clear, I am talking about friendly wagers where there is no money involved-I definitely wouldn’t suggest betting with athletes for money, just for fun and maybe some bragging rights!

This year we have been to a lot of races at outdoor tracks and it has been a fantastic learning experience for the riders-different shape tracks, different surfaces and different weather conditions have all made them really think about their racing. One thing that has been pretty consistent is that, on the whole, the weather has been scorching hot. This led to me making the very tongue-in-cheek comment that if one of the riders didn’t finish on the podium I would pour a bottle of water over them. To my surprise they gleefully accepted the idea and took it one step further by suggesting that if they did finish on the podium they could do the same to me…..and that was the start of that particular wager.

The beauty of this was that they had an extra bit of motivation with some consequences to increase the pressure a little but also that didn’t really mean anything and certainly wasn’t going to cause any harm to whoever lost. This particular rider thrives on pressure and can sometimes struggle to repeat performances at smaller races and the whole group enjoyed the idea that one of us would get soaked. Not only did it have a positive effect on one rider but it also positively affected the atmosphere within the group-there’s that link to performance again.

All smiles at the beginning of a long journey

 

 

“Wasting” time

The downside to racing at outdoor tracks is undoubtedly the hours spent waiting if the weather isn’t so kind to you. We had one day like this earlier in the year when we raced the Coupe De France at Le Mans. Racing was called off for the morning (at least) and a couple of the riders in the group are interested in cars so rather than them sitting in their hotel rooms watching DVDs or on the internet on their phones I arranged a short trip to the Le Mans museum and offered all of them the chance to go (it was their choice whether to go or not and they all knew that we were only staying for 1 hour). Nearly all of the riders decided to come including some who initially weren’t that interested but by the end of the visit none of them could stop talking about it. What started out as a way to waste a bit of down time had turned into a really good team building exercise where those who knew more about what they were seeing helped the others, and in some cases translated as well. It also raised the energy levels of the riders way more than staying in the hotel would have done! I’m certainly not saying that this is the only reason but the next day when the weather improved and the racing went ahead they had some really good performances-again, that link between happy, relaxed athletes and performance.

A Very Wet Le Mans Track!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wattbike tests

Every 4 weeks or so we use the Wattbikes and our power profile protocol to track the riders’ physical condition. It’s a hard test and although they see the benefit and understand why they are doing it I think it’s fair to say that there is some dread as the test approaches…..not many people really enjoy it, at least not at the time. Recently during one of the tests a rider had scored just below 1400 watts on their 1st of two maximal efforts. I rashly said that if they got over 1400 watts in their second effort I would do the test myself-sure enough they did it and now I have to do the full Wattbike test……and the riders are pretty keen to watch me!

You might be expecting me to say that the carrot of the reward was a bit of extra motivation for the rider and perhaps it was but the real benefit is that when I do the test the riders will all enjoy watching me suffer, they will understand that I am talking from experience the next time I talk to them about the test and we will have a bit more of a connection. In the meantime there is a bit of anticipation and the occasional comment about “When you do the test…..” It all adds to the fun and enjoyment of training and again I am convinced that links to their performance.

Wattbike Testing for the Track Group at the World Cycling Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, after all of that, am I suggesting that all of you who coach should use wagers to increase the pressure on athletes, organise trips to Museums or put yourself through Wattbike tests? The answer is categorically NO! What you choose to do to set the environment is up to you and has to suit the individuals that you are working with but in my opinion you should do the following 3 things:

  1. Work to understand your athletes and think of ways outside of training and competition that you can give them those things, often without them knowing that you are doing it
  2. Think about the small things that affect the environment and how you can change them to get the environment that you are trying to build.
  3. Make training and competing enjoyable where possible…….but make sure that the athletes know when is the right time to be professional and when is the right time to have fun.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or start the discussion on Twitter @FitinnotimeUK

Laughing in the rain!