How to make bike racing easy? Don’t try to make it easy.

The overwhelming majority of the time I’m facing a challenge in coaching, it is not trying to solve a physiological challenge that my athlete has to sort out. It isn’t some case of digging through exercise science to pull out that extra 1%. Instead, it is usually that the athlete lacks confidence that things can be hard and that they’ll be fine or thrive.  In other words, that they aren’t willing to go into a fight with the understanding that they’re gonna get hit.

When a race gets hard, it does not mean something is wrong with their preparation. When it gets hard and one looks around, many have taught themselves to see that everyone else is fine and that they are suffering. Defeated.

You won’t win most of your races.  In Eddy Merckx’s peak, between ’69 and 75, he won 35% of this races.  The greatest one only 1/3.   There are plenty of pros who never win.  You are going to lose (as in, not win) most of the races you do.  If this was the fight game, you ARE going to get hit.  You are going to get kicked.  Even if you do win, you are going to take some damage.  If you can do a race without taking any damage, you are sandbagging.

I’ve seen guys who have 20something less on the VO2max test than others, but beat them regularly. That grit. That toughness. That stubborness. There’s not enough of it in this game, yet it takes a lot of it to be the best that you’re capable.

When things suck, be it a race, be it the way your legs feel when you start riding, be it the way you feel when the lap cards come out, or even if there’s still 49 miles of a 50 mile race to go…it is just part of it. It is going to happen.

It is a near impossible task for me to fully help someone who comes to me or coaching in general with the mindset that they want me to help them make the bike races easier for them. It’ll never be easy enough for those people.

When you are fit and prepared, the easy parts are easier. But you get to start making the hard parts hard.

Get your head to the point where you are making the race happen for you, not that the race is happening to you.

Things may not get easier when this happens, but they get better by every measure.

Go ahead, click my day.
Second Echelon

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Don’t be a dope. Don’t dope.

Don’t dope to race bikes. Don’t dope to do anything.

If you are sick, do what your doctor suggests. If you are sick, take a break from racing and get healthy. Don’t take something that is banned and race anyway, just because your doctor prescribed it to you. That’s ok for health, but it isn’t ok by the rules of our sport.

You can pursue a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), but that doesn’t mean it’ll be granted. And if it isn’t granted, don’t just do it anyway. If you must or can race while on some treatment for something, do the extra homework, and work with your doctor to make sure everything works out for your health and your ability to race within the rules.

If you can’t follow this, we part ways. I care about you. I care about you as an athlete and as a person. But if you don’t care about whether you test positive or not, I can’t really expect that you’d understand what it would be like for me, the coaches here, and the business overall if one of our athletes tested positive. I can’t just sit idle and see people test positive and claim ignorance.

We’re against ignorance. We’re certainly against deliberate ignorance. When it isn’t deliberate ignorance, it is deliberate doping, and we’re against that, too.

Here are two links to help you do what’s right. One is a list of all approved supplements by specific brand and supplement. The other is the link to USADA’s prohibited list.

The supplement list that is NSF Certified means that the factories and the supplement are tested and proved safe.  It means that you can have some assurance that there is no contamination or cross contamination with illegal substances in your supplements from these places. It does not DOES NOT mean that I think you should be taking all of those supplements.

The USADA prohibited list is a relatively easy way for you to see if something you are taking is illegal. You may need to look at some labels. There are plenty of things you can buy over the counter that will have you test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, even if you were intending to simply treat a cold or allergy.

It is up to YOU to know what you are putting in your body. It is up to you to know whether it is legal or not. If you are asking me, I’m going to refer to these two websites, as that is the only place I really know to go.

I don’t know how long it takes something to clear your system. I don’t know how much of something will make you test positive and how much will be legal. I choose to give more distance than “how much can I get away with,” and instead, I stick with the “Don’t take anything illegal.”

http://www.nsfsport.com/list…/certified_products_results.asp 

http://www.usada.org/substances/prohibited-list/

Having a Routine

The following is an article I wrote for The Racing Post and in the March 2016 issue.

The group was stepping in to their pedals to take off.   The ride was leaving its customary eight minutes late.  He’s coming in hot, and pulls into the nearest parking space to the group, which was somewhat disconcerting, since they were looking down at pedals and computers to start their ride.   He throws open the hatch and pulls his bike out.  He puts the front wheel on the bike and leans it against the car.  Moving quickly, he searches through his bag for his right cycling shoe. The left one was on the floor board.   “Crap.”  He forgot his helmet.   “Someone is going to give me grief, but I don’t have time to go back home and get it.”  He shouts out to a nearby teammate, “Hold up!  I’m coming!”  There’s the right shoe.  He gets on his bike and realizes he left his computer on his spin bike back at home.   He sees that he forgot to shut the hatch to the car, and then sees his helmet under his cycling clothes from yesterday.   He sets his bike against the car, crawls in the back to grab the helmet, and the movement of the car causes his bike to fall over on the derailleur side…

She sets her bike just outside the door and pumps up the tires with her second favorite pump that she leaves there.   She goes back to grab her already filled bottles from the counter that were next to her charging computer.  She unplugs the computer, and puts her ride food that she made the day before into her pockets.   She puts her house key in the hiding spot, turns on her cycling computer, spins her cranks backwards, and hits “calibrate” on the computer.

She does it this same way every day.   The steps were thought out to make sure nothing was forgotten, and the sequence had a purpose.  For example, the ride food was made the day before, so she wouldn’t grab lesser foods due to being in a hurry before the ride.   The computer was put on a charger after the previous day’s ride to make sure it had a full battery for the next ride, and her bottles are next to that.  If she forgets her computer, she’ll remember it when she grabs her bottles.  If she forgets her bottles, she’ll remember when she grabs her computer.  But she won’t forget either, because she has the same routine for every ride.   She even leaves a pump outside by the door, so she won’t have to remember if it was in the car or the garage.

Whether an athlete is working a regular nine to five job or training full time, having a routine not only saves time, it is peace of mind, because it should make the process of getting ready for a ride, doing the workout, and finishing up predictable and efficient.   There are plenty of people who are habitually five minutes late, or forget their repair kit, or need to borrow a pump once they meet up with a group.   While that is certainly a routine of sorts, it is unnecessarily stressful.   In the grand scheme, it takes the same amount of time to fill up bottles, pump the tires, calibrate the powermeter, and fill the pockets with food.  Having a regular procedure so that it is done without a rush means that things are less likely to go wrong.   With things less likely to go wrong, there’s more opportunity for successful rides or workouts.

If you know you will be on the trainer the next day, go ahead and put your bike on there the night before.  Have your bottles ready to go, so all you have to do is get on and ride.   Especially when a workout happens after work or school, doing things to make sure you have the most time available for riding, instead of using some of that time to get ready, will give you more opportunity to improve.

Check your tires after a ride for cuts or debris embedded, so you aren’t met with a surprise right before or early in the next ride.   It is much better to make a repair or change out a tire after a ride than to have to remember to do it before the next one.   The same can be done with a quick inspection of the frame as you quickly wipe it down.   You have the opportunity to catch a problem before it becomes more serious, and wiping the bike down from each ride minimizes the major cleaning needed from letting it go long periods of time.

We can argue the merit of keeping the bike looking “pro” by not having a saddle bag, but having a saddle bag on there means you’ll already have your flat kit and tools with you.  If you prefer to carry those bits, keep it in your shoe until the next ride, because you know you’ll remember your shoes.

Anything you do at the conclusion of one ride that will ready you for the next ride is saving you time and stress.  Routines, whether it is getting ready for a ride, or having “Monday in the gym,” or “Date night and Game of Thrones on Thursday,” makes the habit of training and preparing for racing go smoother.  It will also help you maximize your time.   You may find you have more time to ride with a productive routine, or you may find that you don’t need as much time as you’ve been taking, because your routine is efficient.

Success, the Process and Character

We approach how we actually develop our young athletes in our residence program and development team by focusing on the process of development.   We want to win our races and achieve goals, of course, but a result at a given race won’t make someone a pro or elite rider.   It can open a door, but once there, you have to actually be that rider, athlete, and person.

We believe that the process of becoming the best you can be will provide you with success.  You can only be as good as you can be.   So, it takes making the effort to be the best that you can be to truly be successful.  That is irrespective of a race résumé or medal count or number of national team appearances.

An athlete can be a 20 time medal winner and not be successful if that athlete isn’t working to be the best that they can be.  Similarly, an athlete could finish out of the top 10 in every race in which they’ve competed, and they could be successful if they had done everything that they can do to perform the best of their ability.

It is our belief that with a basic talent level of ability (what you were born with), any athlete can make it to the elite ranks.   To what extent they can make it into the elite ranks and how long they can stay there is out of the scope of this discussion, but to make it to national and international competition and make an impact on those races is within the capability of practically everyone.  Nobody is born elite.

With that being said, to make the most of the opportunity provided here, we expect that an athlete is not simply striving to finish a certain place at nationals or internationally.   We expect the athlete to be pursuing success by the definition as provided by Coach John Wooden.

 Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.

– Coach John Wooden

 To be successful, then, requires the athlete to make a commitment to himself.  That commitment is to set excuses aside and do whatever it is that he is capable of doing.

For some, training 10 hours per week is all that they are truly capable of doing.   So this athlete would need to make the most of those 10 hours.    Some athletes are capable of putting in more time.   Talent level affects how much one gets out of the training (assuming all else is equal, which isn’t always the case, of course) that one puts in, but that doesn’t preclude someone from doing the best that they can with what they have.   There are athletes who can train 20 hours per week and not get out of it what another can get by putting in 10 hours in the same week.   In order to be competitive, though, the former has to do what he can to be the best that he can be, irrespective of someone else.   What someone else has in terms of potential, capability, advantage, and opportunity does not affect, whatsoever, on another’s ability to be successful.

Success also requires a process to achieve it.    If success depends upon a process as well as doing the best you can through that process, it takes you being at your best at all times to make the most out of what you are capable of doing.   That requires that you have character.

 Character is the foundation upon which you develop.

– Brett Ledbetter (coach and director of Ledbetter Academy)

 

Character has two skill sets, Performance and Moral.   To make the most of the process, you need to have both sets of character skills.   Performance Skills, as it regards character, are the skills necessary to do the work required in practice, training, recovery, and competition.   Moral skills, then, are about how you apply those Performance Skills.   As you look over the chart below, recognize that you can, for example, work hard, but you have to honestly work as hard as you are able.  Otherwise you aren’t doing everything you can to get through the process.   As another example, you have to be accountable in terms of performance.  That is, you have to be able to demonstrate that you are doing the work and actually do it.   But saying you are doing the work, when you actually do not, then shows lacking in the moral skills of honesty and being trustworthy.  This will cause you to come up short of being successful, because you didn’t do everything in which you were capable.

processchart-page-001

 The Character skills are within the capacity of everyone to possess.   There are no skills, either Performance or Moral, that are out of the reach, no matter of inherent talent, financial situation, coaching availability, team selection, time available to train, where someone lives or any other circumstance conceivable.   Anyone can apply a full set of Performance and Moral Skills to their own process.

With all of these Skills possible, everyone has the potential to have the character to apply to the process of becoming successful.   If you do this, you will have the results.   Primarily, you will have the result that you are capable of achieving, but more than that is that you will have success that comes from the peace of mind in knowing that you’ve done everything that you are capable.

The beauty of understanding and applying the process is that it isn’t dependent or only applicable in cycling.  You can apply the Process to any sporting, academic, and any other area that requires work to achieve something.  In our development program, we apply this process from an individual standpoint of accountability, and then again in a team setting.   With the application of this process, we will not only be successful from a cycling standpoint, but an athlete in our program can then go on to apply this process to whatever it is that motivates them, whether it continues to be cycling, another sport, academics, or any other area of interest.

  Character drives everything.   A lack of it drives downward.  When you have a lot, it drives upward.  Character is the foundation upon which you win.

– Coach Mike Krzyzewski

 

20 hours per week (uphill, both ways)

A friend of mine overheard some people talking about me as a coach and the risk of burnout.    Word of mouth is a big part of how cycling coaches get known, and there’s obvious good and bad to that.  The gist of that conversation was that I gave the riders too much.    If you have a kid post something to social media that says “100 miles today,” it might help if it said it was the first time they’d ever ridden 100 miles, instead of making it sound like it was the first 100 mile ride of the day, and there were three of those rides scheduled today before lunch.

What with having a residence for young athletes (thinking U23 types) here, we run into the “burnout” talk often.  Add in that there have been a bunch of juniors here, too, it is a valid discussion.

First of all, it is bad for business to burnout a rider.  Whether it is the stress of competition or the stress of the training load, it can be too much…if it is too much.   From a coaching standpoint, you don’t want to pressure someone more than they can handle, but you also want to make sure that they are pushing themselves enough to meet their goals.  It is a balance.   Another factor is that I’m just the coach or director.  They have their own goals, the goals and pressures (or lack of) from their parents, and they have varying degrees of support or even realistic expectations.   It is a lot to work with, and the variables are quite a bit more complex than putting a plan together than says, “ride 20hr this week.”

Second of all, don’t believe the hype or rumors.   “20hr week” is thrown around so often that it has become a joke around here.   We had a kid go to worlds who rode about 10hr/wk on average.   It really has everything to do with age, experience, goals, practicality, and desire.   Last year we had three, maybe four weeks, all year, where more than one person put in 20hr.

I’ve never MADE someone ride (how would I do that, anyway?).  I can only think of a couple of occasions where I’ve had to tell an athlete that they might need to reconsider their goals if they weren’t motivated to do more.    But that 20hr per week thing…don’t confuse that someone did it once with that they do it every week.    We’ll come back to this in a moment.

I previously wrote about burnout in this post.

From a training standpoint, you simply don’t give someone training that they aren’t ready to do.   And you don’t give them training that doesn’t have a purpose.  You don’t go to a 100 mile ride if their longest ride was 50 miles.  You don’t do 100 mile rides if the longest race you’ll do will be 50 miles.  You don’t go to 15hr in a week if they’ve only been doing 7-8hr leading up to that.   Same thing with running, weights, swimming, golf, and glutton bowl.     You also don’t put some interval set out there that doesn’t help the athlete reach their short and long term goals.  More than all of that is that there isn’t a workout that can be put out there that is the “key” component to being successful, but many athletes (particularly young ones) stress over it like it matters more than it does.   Your body of work matters much more, not whether you hit the target wattage on #4 of 6, but not on #5 because there was a stop sign…  Burnout happens more from that kind of stress than the actual riding of a bicycle.

If a 16y old was out shooting baskets after basketball practice, how often are they told to stop to keep from burning out?   If he loves shooting, let him shoot!   But if he’s getting angry and it is causing problems, then address that.   If he’s trying to make the freethrow goal something that seems to be compensating for something else (playing time, parents getting a divorce, chemistry exam), then address that.  It may be that the extra free throws is helping process it all.   Or it could be hiding from a problem.

The kid who is playing the piano beyond their scheduled practices and lessons?  Other than perhaps not wanting to hear the kid practice, do we tell them to stop?   As with cycling, the person practicing piano becomes more and more capable of doing advanced level stuff, which is a challenge than many enjoy.  Some folks just love to ride!   Most everyone I know who rides would like to ride more if it fit their world.

Back to the 20hr per week.   For those who plan to be pro road racers, 20+hr per week is the norm, but that makes sense when you consider it is their job.  You can’t be pro at 16, 17, 18y old.    If you are regularly riding that much at 15, 16, 17 and  maybe even 18y old, you’ll probably get really good!   But when you go to the senior ranks or try to race pro or pro-like races, are you going to train 30hr a week to get better?  At 19y?   Really?    Where people burnout, then, has more to do with that their improvement curve has slowed.   They are putting in the same amount of work, or perhaps even more, but the incremental improvements have stopped or slowed.  That’s frustrating.   It causes stress.  Doing the same amount of work or more and not getting the gains is what causes many to burnout, and that’s if they actually have the desire to work that much in the first place.

As far as what I put out there for an athlete, there isn’t the “cat 3” plan or the “18y old” plan or the “40y old cat 4 with two daughters” plan.   There is putting together a map that gets them to their goals.    That map is put together based upon where they’ve been, where they are, and where they want to go.  We then make sure that all of the stuff that they have to carry with them makes the trip, too.  With the people living here with us, it is more the case that you have room and housemates whose goals are similar to yours and that you’ve made the same sort of sacrifices.   When we have the chemistry right, everyone is helping everyone, and that’s a powerful kind of momentum.   But it also requires that I’m seeing them often, so we can add a rest day when I see how they are sluggish during dinner.   Conversely, I can see that guys are bouncing off the walls and have more energy than expected, so we might go do some velodumb.   Then again, some people are living here because the winters are nicer and the roads and traffic are friendly.   And some just want to eat Chloe’s cooking.   Digressing.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this:  no two riders are the same.   What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.   Some need more work in one area.  Some need work in another.    Some folks hate working on a particular area, while others love it.   And that may or may not be influenced by how good they are at that particular area.  Some get more out of, say, the same 3hr ride than another.   Some may want to get a pro contract, but they have to work and go to school, when another doesn’t have those obligations.   Do you give them the same workouts?

I advise people not to post to social media what their workout is or was.   Part of the fun for some, though, is sharing that.  I don’t want to take that away from them, but if you post that you are doing 3 sets of 10x30s uphill sprints w/ 10s of rest between each and 1hr of threshold between sets, while wearing a weighted vest, some people will think that you do that every day.   For those who I coach, you well know that we only do that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Even more lastly-  don’t be afraid to ride your bike if you love to ride your bike.   Avoid doing so to the extent that you neglect real obligations (school, work, family, friends), but if you want to ride, RIDE!

Your actual haul from Nationals is the experience.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”  – Coach John Wooden

 While reflecting upon road nationals, it is easy to get hung up on placings and whatnot.   Completely understandable.   There are jerseys and medals and published results.    1st is better than 2nd.   49th is better than 78th.

In a crit and road race in particular, you should understand that the placings matter, but they also really don’t.   The whole game is a moving chess match, and sometimes the board is facing one way, sometimes the board is facing another.  Sometimes the white rooks are working with you.  Sometimes they are against you, even if on the same team.   On some teams there are assigned “domestique” rolls, and on others they may have only one rider.  Some riders execute their roles better than others, whether it is due to ability, understanding, dedication…whatever.  Tactics and strategy are different for different folks.  And then there’s the fact that it is junior racing, so even the best laid plans can go sideways because another rider or team wasn’t playing to a script at all.   Sometimes one team is playing checkers instead of chess, and no juniors really have a lot of experience of race tactics.  It just is what it is.

 All you can do is the give the best effort you are capable.   In the context of your team, it means being as prepared as possible and then executing as best as possible the role you were assigned.   If you are on a team structured such that you are finding your own way in the races, then this still applies…you do the best you can with what you got on the day and at the time.   That’s it.

 That’s all there should be.

 Nationals is an opportunity to try to get all the pieces in the right place at the right time.   Get geared up for it.  Take it seriously.   Go for it like you mean it.    But then let it all go when it is done.

 We’re not curing cancer.   The winner isn’t necessarily a better person than you.  They just placed higher in a bike race on the day.   On the Monday after nationals, you had the opportunity for having the best Monday post-nats possible.  I hope you took that opportunity.  Maybe it meant you were packed up and ready to travel.  Maybe it meant you took a recovery day and didn’t ride.  Maybe you rode but were supposed to take it easy.   Maybe you went to the water park and did nothing cycling or training related whatsoever.    No matter what you did, you should have gone after it like whatever you were doing is what mattered.

 If it didn’t go well, make a list of what exactly you are feeling didn’t go well.   And then make a list addressing those things with ways you can make it go better next time.   Similarly, if something went well, understand why it did go well.   Actually write out this list.

 That’s how you sleep easy at night.  That’s how you keep this stuff from being stressful to the extent that it is unhealthy.   It is how you get better and develop.

 But here’s the secret (just between you and me)–   What you actually take away from an experience like nationals is the ability to do something on a big stage, and then adjust so that you can improve upon that the next time, or allow yourself to let it go, so that you can file it away as something you did when you were a kid.  Nobody will remember your placing, even if you win.  Sure, the winners will be remembered longer, but eventually it is forgotten by everyone.   We will all have to look it up on the internet to be reminded.    Nationals will be what you were able to take away from it as an experience.

That’s all junior nationals is.  That’s all it should be.

It is up to you whether nationals is a positive or negative experience

I posted this to our team page in 2011.   Was asked to repost before nationals this year…

 

Do your best.  That is all you can do, really.

If it doesn’t go as well as planned, be sure to handle and represent yourself to a high standard. Having class is contagious.  It will affect how others perceive you, and it also affects how you can move from one event to the other.  If you let it become a negative, it can bring you down for the next race and even beyond.

 Similarly, if it goes well, be proud that it all came together for you, but also be respectful of your competition. Be sure to recognize those who have helped you achieve your goals.

 Above all, enjoy the experience of competing on our biggest stage with the best talent in the country. Experiences that will be with you for a lifetime are happening, and you control whether these are positive experiences or not, no matter how the racing goes for you.

 For most everyone at Junior Nationals, you are racing in bigger fields with more talent than back home.   This is a chance to test yourself and grow.   The only way to “fail” at this event is to let what happens be something that brings you down. 

 Something to keep in mind is that ANYONE who tries to compete at the highest level is actually an overachiever.   That you are willing to even pin on a number at this race means that you have something that most people don’t.   Showing up is a very big part of this game.

 Sincerely,

Christian

To all the 18y olds who don’t have a pro contract for next year.

Juniors 17-18 are signed up for Nationals by now.   They’ve been overtly or covertly watching who is selected for what trip with the national team and selection camps and such.  They dig to find the race results.  They are doing the transitive property result watching, seeing where a rider they know placed in a race, and assigning where they think they’d place accordingly.  Some people are truly consumed by watching how others are doing.

While it is easy to say here, “just worry about yourself”, I know it isn’t easy in practice.   Since most everyone wants to ride for the national team at some point, and practically all are dreaming/hoping/planning to be a pro, riders want to know where they stand.   But it is important to be grounded with a good understanding of what happens this year, the next, and the immediate few years following your junior campaign.

Very, very few riders get a professional contract at 19y old.   Not all professionals even rode for their national team as a junior.  Many did, but certainly not all.   Depending upon your definition of “pro”, there were 1 to 4 18y who got a contract in 2012 for the next season in the US.  Don’t set yourself up with unrealistic expectations.  If being a pro is really what you want, understand that half of the domestic teams in the US don’t even have a rider under 23y old.   Understand that in Europe, the norm is to be an amateur for at least a couplefew years.

Sure, there are exceptions.   But don’t make your plans based upon being the exception.  If it works out, great, but making realistic plans and goals will keep you progressing.   Making those plans and setting those goals are dependent upon going after something that is achievable.

While not every expert will agree with me on this next point, they aren’t here to hit ‘delete”, and they can use their own blog or website– plenty of people (Americans or otherwise) have the talent to make it to the pro ranks.   Most who lose the path do so because of the distractions or thinking that the path is easier than it should be.   You can make the comparison with any major sport.   Basketball, Baseball, American Football, proper Football…you hear about the 19y old sensation, but most are living in a dorm or apartment with a roommate, not getting paid, competing for their school or development squad.  And they are quietly working hard to make it.

Few people get the express line route to the pros.   Few are also willing to go the ‘blue collar’ route and work their way up to it.   Many want paid this or that.  They expect some salary or stipend in the meantime.    But consider that most of the pro ranks (at least Pro Conti and World Tour) are made up of Europeans.  Those guys navigate those 19-21y seasons living at home or not too far away, and they are doing it as amateurs.
While I’m not going to say that you have to do this, too, my point is that you (and parents) need to understand that doing well in your 18y old season isn’t a ticket anywhere for most.   You are going to need college along the way, at the very least as a safety net, and very practically that you’ll need a job after being a pro.  And if you just won’t go that route, expect that you are going to have to live and train like a pro, but without a pro salary for a while.

This blog isn’t enough space to spell out exactly what to expect and do in the next few years in order to make it to the pros, and there are too many variables that affect individuals differently anyway.  Some live closer than others to races, some can handle European travel better than others, some are less talented and have to work harder, some have less money to get to races…everyone is different and has their challenges.   But you will have to invest to get there.  Time.  Work.   Money.   Commitment.   You’ll have to make sacrifices that others won’t to put you above the hopers and dreamers, so you can be a doer.    You can’t go through the motions and wait for that contract or “the right team” to then make the commitment.   Sure, you know or know of some special talents who could do just that.   Those are the exceptions.   The pro ranks are made up of some exceptions, but all are exceptional.   Most people who are exceptional had to work at it to get there.   Even the exceptions will have to work at it to stay there.    If you do the work and create the opportunities, when you get your chance, you’ll already be used to doing the work.

And if it never pans out, and if you don’t get that contract, then you will still have led a healthy lifestyle.  You will have pushed yourself.    And you’ll be able to apply that same discipline and mentality into whatever you go after next, and you’ll never wonder “what if…”, because you will be comfortable in knowing you did everything you could do.   This is why “just worry about yourself” really is the best way.   Don’t worry about how someone did in a UCI race you couldn’t even attend.   Concern yourself with what you did today to get better.   Understand what you are supposed to do tomorrow and how it fits into next week, the next month, and the next year.  The contract stuff will take care of itself.  You’ll better enjoy the process, and because of that, you’ll achieve an even higher level than you could by being consumed with what someone else did.

This is how you can be successful whether you can that contract or not.  Success should be about being the best that you can be.   Staying power is just beginning to be developed in the 17-18’s.  And to be the best you can be, you are going to need some staying power.   That can’t be gifted to anyone.  That is earned.

–Christian Williams
Head Coach- Williams Racing Academy
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So, what about burnout?

As many of you know, my oldest kid, Noah, is also on the team I coach and direct. He’s done a good job of fending off the “you’re only on the team because your Dad is the coach”. And, really, it could just as easily be said that it was he that got me the job. But whatever.

He recently made a Facebook post listing the 6 countries and 6 or so states he raced in this year, and then went on to list another three countries he also visited.

One of the questions I hear in dealing with the team, coaching, or junior racers in general is, “what if they burnout?”

I wish it were as simple to say “I’m not worried about it”, but I know that’s not easily taken as an answer. The reality, though, is that for Noah and other juniors like him, what they are getting out of it far outweighs the risks of burnout.

In our program, we use the definition of success as given by Coach John Wooden: Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

While I understand “keeping it fun” and wanting this to be a lifelong sport, I also see that the potential for lifelong experience is there as well. Being able to see so much of the world is just one benefit Noah and these kids gain from the experience of working for success. Sure, there are the experiences also from what happens from the starting line to the finish line, but there’s far more opportunity outside of what happens only during the races.

I also understand that these kids want and should have normal teenage experiences. But is it less of a teenage expereince to give up going to, say, a party if it gains the opportunity of making new friends at a concert in Belgium? Having to be in bed at an earlier hour doesn’t mean that they can’t have friends at home. Friends are those who you want to be with and who want to be with you, but perhaps more importantly, they are the ones you want to support and who support you. Friends are those with whom you can share your experiences and who have experiences to share.

The experience also comes from being able to compare Guatemala and Switzerland, or the handling of a broken trailer axle to having to figure out what to do when the van dies on a Sunday evening in Quebec. The experience comes from navigating the roads in Belgium and pleasantly getting lost. It also comes from the stress of getting lost and being in a hurry. The experience comes from the people they meet and the places that they see. The experience comes from working hard to achieve something that doesn’t come easy.

What Noah saw in just 2012 alone is more than most 15, 16 and 17yr olds will get to do in a lifetime. If he were to stop cycling tomorrow, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it because of what he gained from his experience as junior cyclist going after big goals.

I am concerned with making the pursuit of these goals an enjoyable experience in our program. We have hardly any turnover year to year, and these kids (and their parents) pay for their airfare to Europe, Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, etc, and/or they’ll spend 24+ hours in a van with their friends and teammates just to race some different races and ride different roads with their friends. There are no requirements to number of races on our team. There are no mandatory races or meetings or camps. And these guys usually show up en force, so I know that they want to be there. If it wasn’t fun, or it wasn’t possible, turnout wouldn’t be as good as it is.

Still, their goals are extraordinary, and it takes more than the ordinary commitment to achieve those goals. In the end, the program exists to get these young athletes to the next level, so it is my concern that they want to race beyond their junior years. Their goals include racing as professionals and/or in Europe. They want to do well at Nationals and make the World’s team. They want to race higher level races abroad. We have to keep it fun so that they can see past teeanage attention span. Investing today in what pays off 1, 2, 3…5+ years from now is a learning process, especially for athletes who may have only been competiting for a year or two.

The reality, though, is that not all will achieve every goal set. But the experience of pursuing that is what determines whether we are successful or not. If we did the best that we are capable, then what else could we ask?

Burnout comes when the rewards aren’t worth the effort anymore. Do we hold kids back from too much football, soccer, baseball, basketball, or band? Do these kids go on to summer camps for their sports and even their specific positions? The kid in marching band goes to camp in the summer, takes private lessons, and hopefully gets to march in a 4th of July parade or maybe even a parade for a college bowl game. The varsity football player hopes to get a spot on a college team, or perhaps make the state playoffs. So they do the two-a-day practices and morning weight lifting sessions in addition to their after school practices. They have spring workouts even when football season is still 7 months away.

And how many of them are still playing football (with a helmet) as an adult? What about the gymnast? The 400m hurdle runner? The cross country runner? Are we worried that the tuba player won’t still be playing the tuba when he’s in his 30’s?

But their pursuits of those things as kids is what helps define who they are as adults. They aren’t defined as “baseball player”. That is what they do or did. The same thing goes for these young bike racers. The same thing goes for you and me. Being a coach and director is not who I am. It is what I do. HOW I do it is more about who I am. I would apply the same work habits and skills to whatever job I had instead. I was a teacher (high school) before coaching and directing full time. It is what I do.

Similarly, it is what these kids are doing along the way that defines who they are, not only now, but into adulthood. That they aim high and commit to it matters more to me than whether they are still racing at 30, 40, 50 years old. I aim to help make the experience positive so that they don’t hate the bike later, but that isn’t what guides our day to day activity.

To be the best that they are capable, though, sometimes requires pushing harder or doing more or making sacrifices. Sometimes (believe it or not), in order for them to be the best that they can be, I have to get them to ride or race less. When I had a kid start to get so focused on his weight that his performance on the bike suffered, I made him eat a pizza. I’ve also told a kid that if his goal really was to make the podium in Belgium, that he was going to have to spend less time on twitter/facebook and more time riding, and then I hounded him online with “Did you ride yet?” on his ‘wall’.

Helping them be successful is the purpose of the program. Whether they actually make it to the pro ranks is to be determined. Some won’t, unfortunately. But if they can have that peace of mind that they did everything that they were capable, they will be measured a success. Sure, the bitter taste of not making it will be there, but they will be better off for having pursued something that required commitment. Of course, goal setting needs to be realistic, but that’s why there are coaches, mentors and programs to help sort that out.

If a rider stops riding after his junior or college years, but is able to apply such discipline to being a doctor, or teacher, or florist, or artist, or parent, or whatever motivates them, then they will be successful. A happy person is one who enjoys that process when it comes to something that matters to them.

Noah and others like him enjoy pushing themselves to be the best that they can be. Along the way they are gaining experiences that can only come from putting themselves out there. If they burnout on cycling, they won’t burnout on what they gained along the way.

— Christian

Noah start tt
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chapel night
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concert with girls
experience team
cobbles experience

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