I enjoy writing (or doing my best at it) especially in the off season when I have more time to read and write. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, and feel free to give feedback. My first for this winter is coming off of my reflections and thoughts from the NCAA Championships held this past weekend in Wisconsin. They are thoughts from what I witnessed or heard, and are related to messages we value on our team.
The NCAA Nationals were held this past weekend, and myself and a few of the boys were in Madison watching the Division 1 races. Both races surely did not disappoint, with both the women and men running very fast and competitive races in a snow covered course. I love watching these races and seeing the very best compete, but what also interests me is post-race and listening to athletes and coaches talk while being in a highly emotional post-race state of mind. It's the reflections post-race where you witness the learning and growth occurring in both athletes and coaches. It's also where you discover why some teams perform well in a more distracting setting such as the championship race, and why others make the moment to be bigger than it actually is and thus suffer in performance. The over arching principle I took away from this championship, and something that relates to our current position in training, is the importance of training monotony and the so called "process".
The first quote I loved came from the Northern Arizona head coach, Mike Smith, a coach I greatly admire. He said post race, "If you can be calm in this heightened atmosphere, then you can access your fitness." He reiterated this message both before the race and after, as his team won the title for the third consecutive year! The questions from media were constant, asking how the team prepared and if they were ready to defend, the expectations for his team were high. He just kept talking about how his team was relaxed and prepared, and wouldn't have extra anxiety that many teams would in this heightened atmosphere. The mind is so powerful, and while I believe it's perfectly normal to have a bit of nerves on race day, I agree 100% with Coach Smith on the importance of not making a race into more than what it has to be. The way Smith and his team accomplish this mindset is through their focus on the process and what gets them to the position to compete at the highest level.
Remembering What Got You There
Coach Smith believes the hardest part of coaching is after winning. You can instantly forget what got you to that point and the work that actually goes into it. It's not something that happens on race day, but rather the "monotonous" times of summer training, winter training and putting in the miles with teammates. It's during these cold winter days where the success is built. Nobody will be there to pat you on the back after getting in a morning run on Christmas Day. You won't get a trophy in February after putting in 10 weeks of consistent and monotonous training. Really, nobody outside of yourself and your teammates will care or notice what you do in the off season. But that's what I love, and that's what Coach Smith has his team reflect on. When they are going into the championship week, he's not talking about them 'stepping up', or doing something beyond what they are capable of. He simply reminds them of what they were doing in July or early August, well before the race is held. Thinking back to the long run on August 5th, or the early morning run on August 15th. The runs that seemed simple and monotonous because of the repetition. The runs that sometimes felt boring or lonely, where you may even question if it matters. Well, on Saturday, November 17th, Coach Smith's team was able to come to Madison and walk away with their third straight NCAA title. All of a sudden the work his team did in the dark was shining on the biggest stage.
Keep it Simple
The atmosphere at championship races is hard to mimic in practices or meets prior, and it's that atmosphere that typically raises stress levels of many runners and even coaches, causing a dip in performance. When asked about winning, Coach Mike Smith responded with, "We'll be the best team we can be." It's perfect. You put in the right work, and do the best you can and that's all that matters. Another Coach Smith, Coach Dave Smith from Oklahama State, had a similar sentiment. He had a freshman who finished 4th overall in the race and obviously competed extremely well. He gave his guys instructions to simply go out and compete, not to add extra anxiety or worry about results. Again, perfect. Messages I love conveying and going along with our principle of 'no limits'. Just go out, have fun and race. If you do the best you can in training, you can come in relaxed and ready to do your best on race day. We practice to perform, and race day is just another day at the office.
Patience and your ability to hold off instant gratifications will always make you a stronger person, create a stronger team, and build trust and confidence that will help you beyond running. Just be the best you can be.
Please watch Coach Smith's interview here.
For The Team
One of my favorite moments came from the Northern Arizona men's team. As mentioned above, the team won their third consecutive NCAA title (that is insane) and the reason for their dominance is extremely clear. They have no desire for individual goals or status, and rather are focused on the team and each other. It's evident to see, as their top runner, who was 2nd in the country last year, fell off of the lead pack and was slipping further back as the race went along. For many, the negative thoughts may invade and conquer the mind, causing them to fall further and further back. It's the mind feeling sorry for oneself and creating an excuse for a poor performance. While there is no doubt he had these thoughts creeping in the background, he was able to conquer these thoughts and think about what he had to do for his team. He didn't continue to fall, but rather he held on to finish 15th overall helping his team earn the victory. This is a guy who had a chance to win an individual title, but wasn't having his best day. He could've fallen off back to 40th and felt sorry for himself, but he knew what he was doing was not for himself, but rather for the team. Not only could his mind have been affected, but his teammates' minds as well, as they expected him up front and had to overcome negative thoughts as they saw him slipping back. His teammates were there to pick him up and remained focus on their goal of doing whatever they could for the team. He was crying and hugging teammates in extreme excitement when they found out the results, and it really emphasized how powerful the concept of "team first" is really what brings out the best in every individual.
Thanks for reading,