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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1 Comment

  1. 20 hours per week (uphill, both ways) | dorkball

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