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Patriot Perfection: What the New England Patriots can teach Triathletes

Patriot Perfection: What the New England Patriots can teach Triathletes
By Chris Hauth
12/13/2007

I watch a lot of sports. Many would be of the opinion too much sports. I love college football; enjoy the NFL, baseball and anything that ESPN seems to get excited about. I listen to sports talk radio and check the websites for the latest information. I am actually watching football as I write this. Anyways, you might have heard about this incredible season the New England Patriots are putting together. Tonight they are looking to go to 13-0, all while completely destroying their opposition. They have been favored in the past weeks by the 2nd biggest margin of victory ever according to the Vegas ‘line’. How are these guys so good? How does this relate in ANY way to triathlon?

Flawless execution and experience.

Flawless Execution

The common theme that most ‘experts’, former coaches, radio hosts and Monday morning quarterbacks seem to agree upon is that football is a game of execution and nobody is currently executing their offense better than the New England Patriots. I argue that all sports are about execution. We practice for only one reason: to execute better on game or race day. Of course fitness ties into this equation. You cannot execute a great race in triathlon (or any sport) without having the fitness to execute your plans late in the bike or run. But I have observed that most triathletes are ‘fit’ enough to have the result they desire on race day. So, therefore we are back to how we execute on ‘game day’.

Flawless execution begins in training & practice. We all know that in order to be fit enough on race day we need to swim, bike and run plenty of miles. We do this by combining a number of base miles with tempo & speed miles and the outcome should be the fitness needed on race day. Once again, all football teams practice, and I doubt they vary too much in what they practice. But I have a feeling they vary greatly in how they practice. Sure, you can go out and bike 100 miles and run 15 after. But how are you doing these miles? Are you focused on race day nutrition and hydration or just stopping at the local bakery and shops for a pastry or Snickers? Are you simulating long sections in the aero position or sitting up? Are you transitioning quickly from the bike to the run or hanging around socializing with friends? Are there numerous stops on your ride or are you focused on staying steady on the bike?

On average we train about 16-20 weeks in prep for an Ironman or 70.3. This gives us 12-16 weekends where we can truly simulate all our race day needs. Whether it is the race day breakfast, the dinner prior to a long training day, bike & run nutrition or what we plan to drink. Plenty of weekends to make changes, adjust and fine-tune our strategy on race day in order to execute flawlessly. Plenty of practice opportunities for transitions, wetsuit removal or even eating from a Gel holder while running. Practice, practice, practice until we execute our ‘game day’ flawlessly.

The latest research and studies conclude that what I describe above is called “deliberate practice”. The best people in almost any field are those who devote the most hours to this kind of training. It is activity that’s sole purpose is to improve performance, that reaches just beyond one’s current level of competence and – very important – involves high levels of repetition all while understanding the feedback the results are giving you.

Simply riding a 100 miles and running a few miles after is not deliberate practice. Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate, nor is quarterback Tom Brady just throwing 50 footballs down field. Riding 80 miles within your prescribed HR zone or wattage, in the aero position, holding a preset cadence, while monitoring hydration and nutrition, as well as how this affects your run after, is deliberate practice. Coming back a week or two later and making adjustments based on your observations and riding that 80 miles again with the goal of improved performance – ever so slightly – is deliberate practice. It’s like hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80% of the time, continually observing results and making adjustments.

The more of this deliberate practice, the more flawless execution becomes.

I hound many of my athletes continuously during the season to practice everything from race day in order to ‘control the things they can control’, because on race day there are always plenty of things out of our control. Flawless execution can only be achieved by having practiced it deliberately numerous times, leaving race day to be very similar to race simulation: just catered!

Experience

The New England Patriots are a team of veterans: free agents bought for their experience, skill and understanding of the game. This skill and understanding of the game allows for even more focus in preparation for the games. Having experience allows for an extra level of calmness on the field when events can cause confusion. It’s the classic ‘don’t panic’ approach that the veterans apply differently and therefore remain focused on their assignments, execution and then, the outcome of the game. Experienced athletes like the Patriots actually become more focused and deliberate when they are challenged or their backs are against the wall. This is evidenced by the past few weekends, the Eagles, the Ravens and the Steelers were all out to ‘dethrone’ the perfect Patriots. This changed their mindset going into the game and, despite being challenged, still prevailed.

In triathlon this experience is also crucial to successful race day results. It would be easy to point out that we need to know how Ironman works before being able to deliberately train for it. But experience means so much more. There is a reason why Tim DeBoom and Chris McCormack have had their best Hawaii results after 5-6 attempts: experience and with it the ability to understand what the day brings: don’t panic. For these guys it means staying focused on your own race despite others riding off the front or the swim having not been as good as planned. It means allowing for 26.2 miles to reach the finish line first, not by mile 10 and then fold (DNF). It means remaining calm but focused and concentrating at the task at hand even more.

For those of us that have not won Ironman Hawaii, it means remaining within our day. Experience allows us to understand the highs and lows we all experience during the event – even expecting these highs and lows and shrugging them off. It is knowing that we will reach a point on the bike we no longer want to turn the pedals or eat another morsel, no matter how fit we are or how many times we did this in training! Experience is knowing we hit a lull on the run and need to move to coke as of this point. All of us have our own observations from race day, and despite the best planning & preparation, we also need to display the experience of having been here before and knowing what we will do to get through it and finish!

Once again, control the aspects of race day we can control via deliberate practice and outstanding fitness. But experience allows us to embrace the aspects we can’t control by focusing & concentrating even more on improvingthis performance and its desired outcome.

The conclusions currently being published throughout sports psychology show that we all have a chance to be great. Mainly because we can be great with work, and high-level performances can be achieved with practice and experience.

Now tell that to the other 13 NFL teams that have lost to the New England Patriots….

Original article can be found on xtri.com