Key to athletic success is being well prepared. This means working with a team of experts to get the very best advice applied to the sporting goal. My model for this is the hub and spoke method.
The athlete is the hub around whom radiates spokes of expertise. The athlete is at the heart of the model in both focus of everyone’s efforts and in having the leadership role of delivering that performance. Each expert has responsibility for delivering their part of the plan and in collaborating with other experts under the leadership of the athlete to ensure each experts plan is aligned with what the other experts are trying to achieve.
The athlete ‘owns’ their own performance. It’s their goal, their target and they are best placed through self awareness and teamwork to achieve the best they can.
The ultimate decision to do or not do something is theirs. Ownership is about judgement. It means listening to the inputs from the experts around them and choosing how they wish to proceed. There can be no blaming others for the decisions they have taken. Decisions that do not pan out as expected provided valuable feedback as to how best to proceed and not a reason to blame those around them. Judgement may mean balancing competing pressures from family, sponsors and experts.
Ownership does not mean having to be expert in everything. It means deciding which aspects of performance are best managed by experts and which fall within their own area of skill.
Ownership means ensuring the right experts are talking to each other. For example, an injury will benefit from the physiologist talking to the physiotherapist and nutritionist to ensure the athlete completes the right training load taking into account the injury and is adequately fueled for this revised load.
Ownership means managing time. Unless a professional athlete, time is the most precious commodity. You cannot save time, only spend it. The competing pressures of training, work and family commitments have to be balanced and the athlete is best place to do this. It means understanding the time required if sporting success is to be achieved and then working out how this might be achieved given other requirements. By having the athlete set out when training / planning sessions are likely to be completed the experts can then plan accordingly.
Ownership means setting out the training / race plan in full. By developing this complete picture, should the plan need to be varied either in training or during the race, the consequences are understood. Developing the plan can be a team effort but the athlete owns the plan.
Ownership means taking an evidenced based approach to performance, being able to recognise the value of data and whether appealing or not, being able to face the reality of what the data indicates and taking the tough decisions where appropriate.
If a goal has insufficient attraction, the motivation to work through the difficulties is low. If the idea of completing a 10k race is mildly appealing, then the motivation to get out and run when the rain is pouring down and the wind blowing a gale may be non existent. In contrast, where completing a 10km would be the achievement of a life’s dream and the athlete has dreamed of the medal hanging around their neck and what this will mean for them, then running in the rain and the wind may be seen as a minor inconvenience or even confidence boosting in knowing that they can cope with such conditions. Spending enough time building the dream will build resilience to cope with adversity. Competing at an elite level in any sport is demanding physically and mentally. It is hard to imagine a situation where any other person than the athlete is likely to have a stronger sense of inner drive and desire to achieve the dream. A really clear and strong sense of the goal translates into thinking about it almost all the time, either thinking about how to improve or what it will feel like when the goal has been achieved.
Do what’s expected
An Athlete’s responsibility is to do what they have agreed with their experts they will do or to do their level best to comply. The aim is that the gap between perceived capability and actual capability is as small as possible, in this way the programme of work can be optimised to enhance performance. Significant under or over performance is an indication of a mismatch in understanding of capability (pushing the boundaries may require planned failure by seeing what is and is not possible). Sometimes this may mean the athlete starts a session relying on their confidence in the expert in having set the right session as prima facie completion may seem unlikely.
In order to work effectively with the experts and other key stakeholders around them it is necessary establish how best to collaborate. For example, this may mean spending time considering the best type of feedback to provide the expert. The athlete needs to be sure that the way the feedback is provided is interpreted as intended. For example, if a session proves particularly demanding, it is important that the words used in the feedback adequately portray this. Similarly, the athlete needs to train the experts provide the right amount of information to understand why they are being asked to do what’s required. By developing clarity and precision in the communication, the athlete is better placed to judge what they want to do.
For the hub and spoke model to work, the experts (spokes) have to be aligned. This means developing a sense of team. The level of interaction between the experts will vary depending on the needs of the athlete both in terms of the amount of interaction and when in the training / racing calendar it is required. Each expert has to have confidence in the views of the others and respect for their knowledge and or experience. Their role is to offer their perspective on the right things to do but not to seek to influence the athlete for or against another expert’s viewpoint – that judgement belongs to the athlete.
It is the athlete’s role to foster this sense of team. They are the team leader. Being a leader means they set out the goal and the framework in which they hope for it to be achieved and then allow themselves to be managed by the experts to achieve this ambition. To this end, the athlete may need to learn some basic leadership, management skills and an understanding of how to engage others.
By being restlessly curious and by developing a cross functional understanding of the issues, the athlete can identify opportunities for further improvement. Time and effort in building an innovative mindset and equipping the athlete with critical thinking skills will help get value from time spent thinking in dreaming about the goal.