What are we truly in search of when we train and prepare to compete in sport?
I disagree that its for a personal best time.
I disagree that its for a podium position.
I disagree that its to be called the champion.
I believe that we are truly in search of a specific feeling… a level of fluidity, ease, grace, that is summed up by one word: FLOW. No matter the sport… I believe what we all want is to be able to consistently deliver on demand an effort which arises as FLOW, no force, just FLOW. It just so happens that those who FLOW also tend to win.
Watch a couple clips of Stephen Curry in the above video, and you will agree… how he moves, how he plays, how effortless, how premeditated he makes the game appear… now, that is exactly what I believe we want, what we all crave, long for, dream of experiencing, and not just once, but over and over. We all want to experience that blissful sixth-sense level of performance which top athlete themselves cannot fully explain having elevated themselves beyond conscious control over their effort and execution of the sport, to be dependent on instinct alone.
These athletes – athletes who instead of pursuing personal bests in terms of time, score, podiums, trophies, or championship rings – have pursued their potential by devoting themselves to their sport by training. These are the athletes who end up as legends. Never in pursuit of the finish line or the outcome, simply pursuing the desire to feel themselves FLOWING, time and time again… these are the athletes who end up as repeat Olympians, repeat World Champions, who end up with championship ring after ring, trophy after trophy. These are also the athletes who end up as top age groupers and top masters athletes.
Those who start in sport just for the trophy or a ring… they are never heard of, ever. Why? The trophy or ring doesn’t come easily, so when the effort of training becomes real… they quit, give up, never give themselves fully to the process, refuse to immerse themselves in endless and ceaseless repetition of drills, so they fail.
How can that be? Its because finish line photos, participation medals, even the podium, trophies, and championship rings are meaningless if not achieved through FLOW. On the other hand, for those who train pursuing FLOW, the above may be as fleeting but are not meaningless, for these moments are confirmation that they are on their path, the right path, FLOWing with and in their purpose, moving onto their next moment of bliss.
Problem for those who have never experienced even a moment of FLOW is that the best of the best make it look as if they don’t train, or don’t need to train because they make sport seem so effortless. The outcome is that many think that athletes like Stephen Curry just roll into town at game time and deliver 20 or 30 points to take yet another victory lap. Sports commentators add to the misunderstanding by filling in game play gaps with their own inexperience and ignorance explaining away the performance of the best by deferring to it as “natural talent”, or that the best are just “born that way”.
Don’t fall for it… there is no such thing as “natural talent”… each and everyone one of us has the option to train and become the best at something.
So, how does one become their best, perhaps become one of the best? How can anyone achieve a steady state of FLOW?
Drills, Drills and then you train more Drills
The best of the best love the feeling of FLOW so much… that the daily effort of repetition after repetition of drill after drill after drill, of picking apart the weakest and worst aspects of their technique, of their delivery during game time, of their effort at a meet or in a race, of training out everything that holds them back from an even higher level of FLOW… is accepted as the way. If that is what it takes, so be it… more than anything in life, they want to FLOW. So they train to FLOW.
How do you warm up to FLOW at game time… with Drills, Drills and more Drills
What has this got to do with swimming, cycling, running or triathlon training?
If your coach does nothing but email you spreadsheets of how far to swim, how far to bike, how far to run, and the entire focus is how long and how hard (as in RPE, wattage or HR) the effort should be… then I am sorry to say but your coach is unfortunately too ignorant to be coaching. The fact that the consensus amongst coaches is that long & hard training is the process doesn’t turn wrong into right, or change stupid into smart.
If your training – be it swimming, cycling, running, or all three for triathlons – is not heavily weighted with drills, drills and more drills… then you are not training to achieve your potential, to achieve your goals, to FLOW. If your training of drills is not being constantly corrected, adjusted, modified, so that you execute each drill with quality, with finesse, with refinement… then you are not training to FLOW. Actually, I would ask you/your coach… if you aren’t developing your brain to execute more and more complex levels of sport specific technique, if you aren’t acquiring, improving and refining the skills of your sport… then what are you doing?
If none of the best trained to become ‘the best’ by mindlessly grinding out long & hard efforts but by training drills, drills and more drills, how exactly are you going to achieve your best as an athlete with training plans devoid of drills?
Think about it. The max potential of human physiology varies little… (e.g.) maximums for heart rate, lactate threshold, VO2 are all within a couple points of another amongst the pros, and within the same age group for amateurs. Physiological change is possible in a relatively short period of time bringing everyone in close proximity of everyone else’s potential. Plus, the maximum effort possible for anyone is always 100%… there is no such thing as giving 110% or 120% (unless giving yourself a heart attack or stroke is what you/your coach have in mind). So where does the value even exist in focusing on physiological training?
In the words of Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.” And stupid trains you to “take the pain”, “learn to suffer”, “enjoy the hurt”… and other mindless, juvenile concepts founded in the adage of “no pain, no gain” and more recently that of entering “beast-mode”.
The issue with ignorant coaches is that they will have you as convinced as they are that the limiting factor for all athletes achievement is physiology and pain tolerance. Clueless to the fact that the real metric of peak performance is effective and efficient execution of sport specific technique on demand (which is a function of the brain, not muscle). These coaches cannot comprehend that smart training – as in the repetition of drills to train the brain to execute sport specific technique with higher degrees of precision – is the pivotal aspect of performance.
The best are simply better than the rest because they have trained themselves to be smarter in and at sport by training smarter: they have trained themselves to have a level of skill and an ability to execute sport specific technique unlike anyone else in their sport. The physiological differences between the best of the best is infinitesimal. What separates 1st place from everyone else is the 6 inches between their ears and more importantly what they have trained those 6 inches to do over and over, over and over, so that when it comes down to crunch time… there is no caving, there is no choking or panicking, the best of the best… can be put on the pitch, sent onto the court, put on the start line… and everyone knows its for them to lose, not for anyone else to win.
Why were athletes like Michael Jordan literally feared by opposing teams, sometimes even by athletes on their own teams? Why were legendary triathletes like Dave Scott called “The Man”, Mark Allen known as “The Grip”, Paula Newby Fraser as “The Queen”… because their competitors knew that when these athletes showed up… the race was no longer for 1st place, 1st was a given, all that remained was to find out who would finish 2nd.
If you want to experience FLOW as an athlete – no matter whether as an age group, as a masters athlete, as a novice, sport level or even as a pro – if you are not training drills, drills and then more drills… then there is no way you will ever experience your potential, let alone the bliss and joy of FLOW.
I therefore encourage anyone in pursuit of their potential, in pursuit of bliss, of joy, of experiencing what it means to FLOW…
Find a coach who trains skill acquisition, development, and refinement.
Find a coach who focuses on training athletes to develop sport specific technique.
Find a coach who seeks to understand you as an athlete, as an individual.
And the result will be that you will achieve unlike you have ever achieved before… in sport, and across life.
My hope for you is that you stop fighting and forcing your way to your potential, and that you start to enjoy the process so that you can learn to FLOW!
NOTE: you cannot be coached remotely in drills, because what matters most with drills is the quality of execution (i.e. “garbage in = garbage out”). True coaching cannot be done via Skype, weekly email or phone communication with your coach, via app, or online coaching platform… true coaching is always, always one on one. Anyone telling you different is selling something (and it ain’t your potential).
A final video… Stephen Curry as a high school basketball player
Why do I believe that anyone can train to become one of the best, to FLOW consistently, on demand? Because the story of almost all legends reads the same… they all sucked at some point, but instead of quitting, they decided – key and pivotal word: DECIDED – to pursue their potential (again, not trophies, not rings, not podiums) and despite being cut from the high school teams, unable to receive College scholarships, unable to qualify for a National or Olympic team on the first, or second try… they persevered.
Stephen Curry was not exceptional by any means as a high school basketball player… but that was not going to be how the story ended… he decided to train, and he did, and now the results speak for themselves.