Just because race season has been less competitive this year doesn’t mean our competitive drive has to be left unsatisfied. There are still many ways for athletes to feel competitive without even toeing a start line.
It may be tempting to let your athlete put an adventure (like an everesting attempt or 500km ride) on their calendar, but rides of this scale aren’t always the most effective goal for the athlete’s overall development. Sure, they’re fun and challenging, but once accomplished, the returns may not justify the effort. Bored athletes, after all, can do some remarkable things—but that doesn’t mean they should.
Instead, let’s split some more subtle “challenges” into three distinct areas: habit, self-awareness and physical challenges. As with any goal, remember that you should be able to answer:
- Why should your athlete do this particular challenge?
- How does this challenge make the athlete better?
- Where does this challenge fit into the athlete’s overall development?
If you, as the coach, can’t relate the proposed objective back to a current limiter they have, then it isn’t a good challenge. Adventure for the sake of adventure is okay, but if you encourage your athletes to put in some targeted work instead, they’ll open up even bigger adventures in the future.
These objectives are more subtle and potentially more challenging than the goals your athletes may gravitate towards, (you won’t find us advocating for riding a billion miles on a TT bike, pedaling with your hands, while putting a t-shirt on!) Think of the things athletes typically can’t do or the fundamental reasons preventing them from performing consistently, and try to address those—a great place to start is fundamental movement patterns and form.
- Can the athlete pass a Bunkie’s Core test?
- Can they pass a Functional Movement Screening test?
- Can the athlete do 30 single leg calf raises properly?
- Is the athlete able to control their core appropriately?
- Can the athlete change a bike tire quickly?
- Can the athlete hold a streamline position, or does their flexibility need work?
- Can the athlete stand on one leg without falling over? What about with their eyes closed?
- Is the athlete moving correctly, or are they compensating somewhere?
Self-awareness challenges examine the mental or psychological prowess of the athlete. The key here is to change the impetus from, “what can it do for me?” to, “what can I learn from myself?” Great athletes are in tune with how they feel and as a result, make good decisions on when to push and when to hold back.
Note that some self-awareness challenges will be harder than any physical ones:
- Can the athlete consistently record their mood, mental energy, fatigue levels?
- Can the athlete identify their personal core values and live by them?
- Is the athlete aware of why they are doing the sport?
- Has the athlete identified what they are looking for in a coaching relationship?
- Can the athlete recognize when they experience global life stress?
- What deeper perspective can the athlete discover?
Most athletes find success when they improve their habits and prioritize their sport. Often athletes need to actively and consciously change in order to achieve their ideal lifestyle. Challenge your athletes to become better, and as an added bonus, this might make your job easier as their coach.
- How effectively are they doing their warm-ups?
- Can they follow a recovery or stretching regime in the evenings?
- How effectively are they filling out TrainingPeaks metrics?
- How accurately are they following a session – (are they even aware of how correctly they are executing a session!?)
- Is the athlete sleeping enough and do they have a good sleep regime sorted with regular sleep and wake times?
- Is the athlete habitually doing their injury management work?
- Do athletes regularly leave comments?
As you can see, there are many athletic challenges for those who are lacking the challenge of a race. They may not be as exciting as bagging hundreds of miles and elevation each week, and their social media won’t be as sweat-filled, but you can count on them becoming better athletes.
That being said, let’s not stand in the way of having fun—after all, for most people, this is a hobby! But let’s take advantage of the time to build vast improvement by being smart about how we challenge them. What this lockdown has certainly proved is that our athletes have remarkable bodies that can do much more than just swim, bike and run. Let’s tap into that realization and help them do more, for longer, by improving baseline habits, self-awareness and physical skills. After all, maybe striving to become the very best version of themselves will provide some compensatory satisfaction for the current lack of competition.