Thursday, September 15, 2011

Success is not a Staircase

It is hard to believe sometimes that my husband Derick and I have been coaching athletes for 6-8 years now. I believe that the ability to ‘learn to coach’ is not dissimilar to anything else in life. You may have the appropriate tools (a physiology-based education, experience as an athlete) yet it is the accumulation of years of working with people, learning how to interact, learning that every person is different, and figuring out how various people respond to training that allow you to offer the best possible guidance for each individual who comes your way.

I have also learned a lot through the years about ‘expectations’. Some people come to us with very specific goals in mind and likewise, they expect that they should reach these goals (understandably so). Others may approach a coach simply looking to improve their current fitness and in the back of their mind, they have goals that they would like to address in a year or two. No certain approach is necessarily better than the other, as it all comes down to your personal ideals. One thing however is certain. Everyone who comes to a coach is looking to be successful, in his or her own way. Maybe that means winning their age group at a key event, or maybe it means improving a time, or eventually qualifying for a certain event. Maybe success is simply finishing their first marathon. I have found that some people think this success can happen in a certain time frame; as if it is an equation. What I am here to tell you is, there is no given time frame for success, and the road to it is not a stair-step climb.

Improvements as an athlete are made through the very basic principles that we have all heard numerous times before: consistency, dedication, hard work, following a plan, and patience (to name a few). You must sketch out some sort of a plan which includes where you currently are, and where you would like to go. This entails a ‘road map’ of sorts. Whether it is you individually or a coach doing it, this is a necessity if you would like to get from point A to point B. You must then figure out what needs to be done to get you there (ie: the training plan) and this needs to be implemented and followed as consistently as possible. There will be road blocks along the way (family obligations, unexpected injuries, small setbacks) but this is all part of the process. You manage the small road blocks, you take them in stride and you stay on track as best as possible. You find that you have good days and bad days; some days, the dedication part is easy. You feel great, you nail the workout and you know that the plan is working; you believe in the plan. You believe that success is just around the corner. Life is good on these days; but these days are only made so great by those that counter them, the tough days… when you may not hit the training, when your body is not giving you what you need from it, and when it does not come easily. These are the days that test our patience, make us ask ‘why am I doing this’, and often may make you want to just throw in the towel. Again all part of the process, and if you do not have these days, then you have not been at it long enough, and I guarantee you, you will.

As much as we would love to buy into the philosophy that ‘doing everything right’ will lead to ‘success’, this simply not the case. If it were this easy, then realistically speaking, we would all be world champions if we stuck to the plan for a long enough period of time. This is where talent, reality and of course patience come into the equation. The reality of it is, if you work hard and stick to your plan, you will likely improve; if you get to the point where you can train a bit faster, you will likely in turn race a bit faster. Goal accomplished! But along the way, there will be setbacks (damn that word is back!). You’ll get faster; then you may have a mediocre race. You may have a mediocre year. You stick it out, you figure out what may not be working, you assure that this is what you WANT to be doing, and you carry on. You look at various factors, you try to utilize all the possible tools around you, and you push forward. The overall profile will likely be something to the effect of (we hope) up/up/down, up/up/down, up/up/down… repeat. Rather than our profile of success looking like a staircase, it may more realistically look like many small staircases lined up; and of course, there will be times when our road to success may involve some valleys.

But getting through the valleys are what makes us able to rise up again towards the end goal; it is hitting the bottom and finding it within yourself to climb back out that will elicit success. Nobody, not even the best athletes out there, experience a road to success without some low points along the way. And the overall journey? It is just as tough for the strongest of athletes as it is for those who may never win their age group… we all work hard, we all push through, and we all have to keep our eyes set on the end goal, having faith that we will get there, though we cannot unfortunately predict the time frame. That is the exciting part. Put in the work, keep your head down, keep your eyes firmly focused down the road, and one day, when you may least expect it, that is when it all comes together; and the moment is made truly special from the mountainous journey you took to get there.