This is not about religion. This is about a belief though – a belief in your training; a belief in your coach. I’m going to share what so many coaches won’t do – some specific failures. I do this in hopes that everyone out there will learn from them, as I have. It is critical for an athlete to believe that they are doing the right things in training in order to be mentally tough in competition.
There isn’t a coach out there who believes their training approach or programs aren’t the best possible. It would be incongruous. They believe in their product. Likewise, for an athlete to prosper under any program, that athlete must have faith that it is leading them the best way possible to their end performance goals.
So, why do athletes often change coaches? For the self-coached athlete, why do they jump from program to program (like the Runner’s World or P90X one-size-fits-all downloads especially after reading that article that revealed the “secret” to racing faster 5ks or the “magic of more miles” or or being lean and mean or whatever)? Why are some coaches not as effective with some athletes as other coaches? Is it just about the fact that one wanted 400 meter repeats a couple seconds faster, or slower, or reduced mileage, or increased mileage, or is it the rapport between the coach and athlete? The answer is complex. But I have found one unmistakeable aspect to a few of them.
I have failed with some athletes. When I review the programs, I’m still confident they were sound. Like any perfectionist I think about a hundred variations, tweaks and adjustments I could have made. But, in clearer moments I realize that wasn’t the issue. From the beginning, in these cases, I found resistance and skepticism to what I proposed to them. In the end, I believe I failed at being able to convince them – to have faith in the program and approach. They did not want to give up what they already “knew”… even though they sought me out because they knew it wasn’t working. In the end as I found out, as we’ve talked about their running, the fact is that they added, deleted or otherwise changed workouts in order to “make it better”.
In one case a woman was trying to improve her 5k and 10k times. The woman insisted on a 12+ mile run every weekend and no complete rest days to keep her mileage up because it made her “strong”. Though her times indeed dropped, she failed to improve appreciably. She ended up with chronic minor injuries and aches and pains. She was very discouraged and specifically blamed the training program – which she drastically altered. She will not get faster until she decides to change what she is doing, and believes it will help.
An Olympic distance triathlete similarly insisted on long runs (10+ miles slow). She refused to alter aspects of her training – just wanted to “add” to make her faster. Her times indeed dropped too but not near what she was capable of. She will not get faster until she decides to change what she is doing, and believes it will help.
A good age group runner believed he only got strong and stayed strong through running on trails – though he raced on roads (not trails) exclusively. He maintained 3 runs per week on trails despite our discussions and the need to transition. His trail run paces could not match the paces he needed to reach in workouts. We parted ways after only a few months because he was not improving as expected. He still runs about the same pace for 5k, 10k and half-marathons. Yes, he’s strong, but slow by all comparisons in shorter distances. He will not improve until he decides to change, and believes it will help.
On the other hand, I’ve succeeded with some runners who floundered under other coaches. I would love to say it was only my marvelously research based programs I planned for them. However, there is more. They bought into the system. They practiced with the belief that it was going to work. (Rob is a perfect example of this.)
None of this should be surprising. Even in medical literature there are numerous accounts of patients getting better even though they received only placebos. Likewise, some have died with conditions that were not serious and the treatments should have cured them. These patients believed that they would not recover… and they ended up right.
So, to the point of this post. Believe or don’t believe, but it will most definitely affect your results. The psychology literature is packed with examples of the placebo effect. It’s a reason the best studies are blind or double-blind. It keeps a person’s beliefs out of the picture – more neutral. Our belief that something is working can manifest itself in better results than ever anticipated. There is no doubt standing at the starting line with doubts about your training puts you a step behind the person who is confident in theirs.
Now it’s not to say that great psychology makes up for bad training programs. It definitely doesn’t. But the difference in the best performances is a melding of mental and physical – and belief in your training is a critical edge every athlete needs!
I recently started coaching a gentleman for a half-marathon. He is a staunch heart rate training advocate. But, he wasn’t improving and sought me out. After a complete assessment, long discussions and debate – he has committed to following my program until the half-marathon. I actually believe he will. Three weeks into it, he is following everything perfectly. He’s already seeing a difference which has totally surprised him. His huge improvements are making a believer out of him.
In the mean time, keep the faith! It just may be the difference that makes the difference.