Home » The Sub Elite/Age Group 18+ Athlete: Areas of Improvement

The Sub Elite/Age Group 18+ Athlete: Areas of Improvement

by Steve

Throughout my coaching career I have interacted with and overseen many endurance athletes in the sub elite/age group (aged 18+) category, along with speaking to other coaches about their experiences also. Below are some of the common themes and areas of improvement we see from a Coaching Perspective:

1) Inconsistent Training Patterns

As coaches we preach ““Consistency” over long periods of time but this if often the most difficult thing to achieve for an age group athlete. No matter who the coach is, what the training programme is or what specific workouts you are doing, consistency matters most and should be your greatest predictor of performance. Caveat, when we speak about long periods of time, we are talking 12 months + on the minimum end of the scale. ““No great thing is created suddenly”.

2) Inability to Stick with a Long-Term Training Programme

Following on from point number 1, we often see as coaches that the age group athlete has an inability or unwillingness to follow a training programme for 12 months or more for various reasons. Straight away we are on the backfoot and tracking away from achieving our full potential. I would implore all athletes to buy into what your coach is prescribing, create a good relationship with them based around open & honest conversation & feedback and stick to this for 1 year at a minimum and you will be surprised with the results.

3) Under Recovery

We have a huge issue in endurance sports with under recovery, athletes are often great at training but poor at recovering. If you want to excel as an endurance athlete you must fuel the work being done, hydrate well and look after your sleep. The aim is to stress the body, allow it to recover and adapt and repeat this process. Under recovery leads to many issues such as injury, illness and under performance in competitions. Learn to recognize when your body needs recovery and when you can load it more. Respect your recovery process daily or it will humble you!

4) Paralysis by Analysis

We now live in a world where we can measure so many things in training and performance, it is an age of data overload for many. There is learning to be able to identify what data collection is important, relevant and what is just added noise. There is learning to be able to understand the data and use it to make change to your programme if required. Going back to basics and keeping things simple is a good rule of thumb for most age group athletes. Understand the data and its use but don’t become a slave to your watch. Not everything that can be measured is important and not everything that is important can be measured. Balance is key!

5) Inability to ‘Feel” Training Efforts

I have experienced runners and triathletes who are totally consumed by what their watch says that they have lost an appreciation for learning “Feel” and the feedback their body is giving them. No matter what metric we can measure in todays endurance world, the number one metric an endurance athlete must learn is “feel” at varying intensities and paces. You should become so dialed in to ‘feel” that if you have your watch or bike computer etc taken away you should know the rough pace range or watts. When you have mastered this “skill” then you will reap the rewards on race day.

6) Lack of Self Belief

Belief in oneself is a massive part of performance in competition. This belief I believe comes from one’s life journey, one’s own personality, one’s consistency in training over long periods of time, previous competition performances, the coach-athlete relationship, the environment we place ourselves in etc. Often, we see an athlete lacking this self-belief and it can really hinder progress. A crippling inability to “get out of their own head space” and stop overthinking everything. Sometimes we just need to get on with “doing”, focus on the daily process while not looking too far ahead and let things fall into place in time. Focus on the process, what you can control and keep showing up day after day.

7) Self-Reflection

Athletes need to work on being great at “Self-Reflection” if they wish to become better versions of themselves. What do I mean by this? The ability to ask themselves the difficult questions and give themselves the difficult answers quite often! Am I giving this coach-athlete process the time and energy it deserves? Am I being honest and open with my coach? Am I looking after my recovery and life outside of training? Am I adhering to the training plan and paces etc? Am I being honest with my “performance level” when setting training paces/racing? Am I setting realistic race goals? Am I targeting an event that matches my level of fitness and training history? These are just some examples of questions that athletes must self-reflect on and often find difficult to be honest with.

8) Ego

We often see athletes signing up with a coach or for a goal competition and the motivation levels are high, so effort, energy and engagement is soaring. There is an overwhelming eagerness to push more, train harder, train longer and we begin to think that the performance puzzles are all about the training. The human ego takes over and we get away from the basics and doing these well. Over time this goes either two ways, the eagerness and motivation dwindle as we cannot keep pace with this level of training which leads to inconsistent training patterns or the athlete under recovers and injury/illness/under performance hits. Try to keep your ego at bay, keep things simple, consistent and stick with what is manageable for you over long periods of time.

9) Expectations

It is common practice to witness endurance athletes targeting goals/performances that are not achievable at their current fitness/performance level. This isn’t to say that they are not achievable in time, but the key word here is “In Time”. It’s a long-term game and we can achieve far more than we think if given enough time and allow for gradual progression. It always comes back to our principles of patience, progression over time and staying healthy and injury free. The advice is to set realistic but challenging goals. Accept where you are currently at in terms of fitness and performance level and start there.

10) A Focus on Weight over Performance

It is common in the endurance world to see athletes heavily focused on “weight” and a belief that this is tied to “performance”. This is not always the case and sometimes being heavier on the scales results in a better performance. Focus on consistent training habits, consistent recovery from training and consistent healthy eating patterns over time and not the scales. Many of the world’s top endurance athletes on the track/road and in triathlon all come in different shapes and sizes. Focus on you and not trying to look like someone else!!!

11) “Environment”

Your “Environment” is a critical part of the performance puzzle. An athlete should try to place themselves in an environment that gives them a psychological and emotional lift, which in turn can lead to increased productivity. Think where you live, training facilities and locations, people that surround you etc. Get into nature where possible. Being in nature and surrounded by beautiful landscape has many positive emotional and psychological benefits for the athlete and lowers levels of stress that may have been present at home due to school/university/work/family/personal challenges. Regarding the “home environment” it’s important that the athlete try’s to minimise life stress where possible, learns to enjoy the training process and has some supportive people around him/her that add a positive impact.

12) Ability to Master the ‘Mundane”

It’s common to see athletes get restless and question training when its simple and basic and doesn’t look complicated. It’s common to see athletes have trouble repeating simple processes in their daily lives repeatedly over long periods of time. The process of becoming a better endurance athlete is often mundane and requires an athlete to show up each day, nail the basics, keep things simple, look after their recovery, minimize stress, and do this for long periods of time. It’s often not “fancy” but it works. This doesn’t mean there can’t be variety in training or that it can’t be fun, it simply means that becoming a better endurance athlete requires the ability to master the mundane nature of repeating the same processes over and over daily. Breakthroughs happen after years of mundane routine work.

“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.”
Dan Chambliss

13) Comparison to Others

Comparison is a natural human behavior that we all engage in at times in life and is said to be the “Thief of Joy”. In the endurance world its common for athletes to compare their performances or their training to others and lose sight of what is most important, which is you. Focus on you and becoming a better version of you each day. This can be especially challenging in today’s social media driven world, where we are constantly bombarded with images of other people’s seemingly perfect lives. The majority of time, we only see a snapshot of what the other person is choosing to present to the world. There is only one version of you in this world, you are unique and aim to follow your own journey to be the best version of yourself. This will lead to a happier and more content you and better race performances.

14) Finding Life Balance

Most sub elite/age group athletes will be either in university or working full time jobs which creates extra fatigue and stress for the body. They must balance this with their athletic goals and create time for friends and family also. This is not easy to do well and often a place where athletes struggle but with a little sacrifice in some areas of your life, with some prioritization, planning, and communication with your coach it is possible to strike a nice balance. Athletes must realize that to achieve great things in endurance sport it requires time and effort and creating space in your week to get the training done and recover well from it. Align your goal race distances/events with how much time you can give to training and recovery each week and be realistic with this.

15) Finding Joy in the Journey

We often see athletes getting very obsessive with their training programme, the exact training zones/paces, the data from their watches, what Strava says, race performances etc and continue down this path and lose their love for the sport. It is critical to have balance in endurance sports and learn to bring your best each day but at the same time find a joy in the process, find a joy in the long-term journey. Appreciate the ability to be able to swim, bike, run etc and be healthy, many people don’t have this ability. Appreciate time alone in nature, time spent with people chatting while training, time exploring different training locations and racing in different events and countries. Endurance sport is challenging and requires a lot of dedication and hard work but this doesn’t mean you cannot find joy in the journey.

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Performance specialist who has 24 years of experience in Development & High Performance sport

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