As I sit on my couch and watch the IAAF World Championships I am stuck with a recurring thought…
“What did Andre De Grasse and Shawn Barber eat at the the AC pre-Camp in Jeju?” If it was me I know it would have been kimchi, soju, and galbi but something tells me that this wasn’t in the nutritional plans for these athletes.
As I watched Andre run through the rounds he continually displayed a sense of calmness and an ability to slow things down to the basic components. He has been quoted repeatedly as seeing the race regardless of the lane as being the same as all others (100m). In arguably the highest profile of events with the biggest story of the year against the biggest super stars of the sport he executed his race amazingly and came away with a bronze medal (tied with Trayvon Bromell from the USA).
Skipping ahead 24 hours and watching live on Monday morning the IAAF youtube stream just showed Shawn’s 5.90m clearance it was almost like it was 5.50m. He gave a quick fist pump, a nod to the stands, and that was it. The thing that struck me was how calm, cool, and collected Shawn acted. He has been through 5.90m a few times this year but in a championship pressure filled setting I would wager that the clearance height he had was one of his best jumps ever.
As always though I try and relate this back to my coaching and to the athletes that I have the pleasure of working with and immediately I see a gap. While the athletes that I work with are younger and more developmental in nature there is an aura of confidence and swagger that those who are most commonly winning display that mine just don’t seem to show. Now, please don’t confuse this with a 6th round come from behind jump or a 3rd attempt clearance to stay alive. Both of these occasions deserve some emotion – heck it is the emotion that athletes display that makes sport fun to watch.
What I am referring to is the 2nd round jump that results in a PB but still leaves the athlete out of medal position or the sprinter who runs a small pb in the heats and treats it like they just won an Olympic final. In my mind you smile, nod, give a quick fist pump, but then immediately start looking ahead. What needs to happen in the next jump to get into medal position? What does he/she need to do to be ready for the finals? How do they come down from that high? How do they act so that it helps their performance not hinder it?
The quick answer and one that my athletes are going to work on a lot this year is just do what they did last week! Last week? Yes, last week and the week before because they have been there before. They have ran through these situations dozens of times in their heads through visualization. How does it look, feel, smell, touch, taste? How do they regroup from that big performance and use it? How do they balance energy with control? How do they embrace the fact that their body is rolling but not sabotage themselves through excess jubilation? I have this memory of seeing a video of a guy jumping for joy because he won something and then immediately losing his legs and going down. This type of full body excitement can have negative consequences and when we need to get back in the circle for the next attempt you have to have acted a little bit like its no big deal. Honestly, how many times can you have freak out levels of excitement in the shot put? I am guessing if you got 2 it would be a miracle and if you happen to do it in the first or second throw then you might as well pass the rest because you are going to be fried.
Back to worlds. Think about the above with Andre. After the season he has had could he have been in full excitement mode to have made it out of the heats (yep). Could he have been even doubly excited about making it through the semi (yep). But he didn’t. He treated it like he had been there a hundred times before. It was just another 100m race. Just like all the others that he ran this past year. Could Shawn have displayed more enthusiasm after his lengthy season after clearing 5.50m, 5.65m, 5.80m, 5.90m? Surely he knew with each successive first attempt clearance that he was getting closer and closer to the podium. Surely he knew that when the German missed at 5.80m he had an advantage and surely he knew that when everyone missed at 5.90m while he went clear that his podium finish was all but certain? But does any of that change what he has to do? Nope! Does any of that information change his performance routine? Nope. Can he or any athlete control their opponents? No. So then how can the athletes that I work with use it to their advantage? How can they act and move that makes winning seem all but a sure thing? How can they use that perceived display of utter belief and confidence to aid them in the competitive arena? Right now I see it as something that must be visualized time and time again. So routine that it becomes an expectation. Not a question of if but rather when.
Lastly, even more impressive is that these two young men at 21 years of age did it on the day when it counted. They delivered on arguably the 2nd biggest stage rivalled only to the Olympics. Why? Because it was exactly the same thing that they have been doing all year. Different day, different track, different fields but still 100m and still pole vault.
So back to the recurring theme…how do I narrow the gap and develop this ability in the athletes that I work with?