Managing expectations

One of the most difficult areas we deal with as coaches is managing athlete’s expectations. They can fluctuate wildly from athlete to athlete with many setting such unrealistic expectations they’ve doomed themselves to failure before they even get started.

It is our job as coaches to help manage these expectations so athletes don’t get completely carried away. Not an easy task I assure you, because as much as we want to see athletes achieve their goals we have to balance this with what is realistic based on our knowledge and experience.

When I remember my early years as a triathlete I can honestly say I was brash, impetuous, impatient and highly competitive. I thought because I was a personal trainer and I was ‘fit’, triathlon would be a doddle. I was a strong swimmer and a fast runner; I just needed to spend some time riding a bike again. My attitude going into my first Ironman was – “surely if I commit and train harder and longer than I’ve ever trained in my life for the next 8 months I should be close to winning my age group or thereabouts?”. I couldn’t have been any more wrong and during my next 4 Ironman’s I didn’t get anywhere near to what I thought I could achieve. It was a painful process because I was essentially writing cheques that my body just couldn’t cash.

The reason I failed time and time again was because I didn’t respect the sport and what it takes to get really good. I was always on the lookout for the next training fad that was all the rage at the time that could quickly lift me to the next level. I devoured every book and every article on endurance training and spent ridiculous amounts of time scouring triathlon forums for the keys to triathlon training success.

The only thing I discovered when I look back in hindsight was that there were no magic bullets or quick fixes. You have to be prepared to serve a long apprenticeship with the sport to get really good and make many mistakes along the way. You also have to develop a healthy relationship with failure and your response to it.

Becoming a true craftsman takes time, patience and many years of training. Triathlon is no different. It’s no surprise that some of the best athletes you meet are the ones who have been in the sport the longest. When you build year after year of consistent training, you create the solid foundations that will ultimately lead to sporting success.

Setting realistic goals is a crucial part of the process that helps athlete build self-confidence. These goals should stretch you to perform at a higher level, but many set them too high based on limited triathlon experience. What I frequently see is athletes setting short-term goals that should in fact be long-term goals because of their lack of understanding of the nature of endurance sport. You will be rewarded for the many quality years you put into the sport, not by training hard for just a short period of time.

When setting your goals or expectations as an athlete you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

1: How long have you been in the sport?
2: What is your level of race experience? (At whatever distance)
3: How much training time do you have available?
4: What can you expect based on previous race performance indicators?
5: How long have you been illness & injury free?
6: How consistent has your training been? (Months and years)

This will then give you a more realistic view on what might be possible. It’s also important to realise that the expectations you started out with at the beginning of the season can quickly change if things don’t go to plan, so be prepared to re-adjust.

When you honestly evaluate all of the above it will help give you a more rounded view of what might be achievable. It’s ok to set the bar high but don’t set it so high that you are constantly falling short of your own expectations. This creates unneeded pressure that can have a direct, negative impact on performance.

So set your goals within touching distance and be realistic in your appraisal of where you are as an athlete. Then when you achieve your goals you give yourself that much needed boost in confidence that will help you perform at a higher level next time.