How often do you challenge what you believe you’re capable of? How often do you exceed what you’re capable of? How often do you go with the flow based on external feedback that where you are is where you belong?
Complacency, in this case, is one’s uncritical satisfaction and content with their current achievements. Unexpectedly I witnessed this and with a little work helped a few athletes break through the contentment in a recent high school coaching session. And upon thinking back, I’ve seen it time and time again where I didn’t effectively help break the paradigm. Now I know I can and I want to share it.
It’s easy to settle into your norm based on your typical surrounding or expectations, and in this case, normal pecking order. Athletes often know where natural selection exists with regards to fitness or technical ability, thus a hierarchy appears when they are surrounded by their peers. And when I’ve served as Manager and Head coach of Junior Talent ID selection training camps; this hierarchy is actually something we as coaches work to create the initial days to separate natural groupings. It’s not a condescension, but just surrounding riders with those of similar ability in an attempt to create the best experience of not being excessively pushed past their capabilities or conversely others being held back.
I see most riders settle into their normal pecking order pretty easily. When we hit some open fitness sections on climbs, some stick their nose to the front. When the techy skills sections turn down, others nudge their way through and attack the chunk. And when we hit some flat open tempo, yet another group of diesel pushers may surface and shine. Sometimes you have those outliers that either haven’t expressed their strengths personally yet or ignorance being blissful they don’t subside to what may be apparent and just disregard the so-called pecking order. Especially at the younger or more entry-level as you need to challenge yourself and just see where you can express yourself without necessary expectations in either direction. Which I think is awesome and one of the ways I’ve encouraged breaking the paradigm in the past is just mixing the normal order.
But back to the example. We have weekly practices and this particular one was a mock race on a course I’d set previously and the team had used for intensity specificity. We separate by racing category and after a warm-up on the course, regroup and have an official counted-down start from the line.
This was relatively a new group to me that I hadn’t ridden with that much, so I jumped in alongside to mix it up with them and observe from a coaching perspective. Quickly I noticed that one rider wanted to see if he could ride with the varsity group that had just started and pushed to latch on and some of the others were more content to settle in. And coming from the old-man strength category, they all started off like bottle rockets, but then the truth started to surface once that big surge caught up with all the lagging VO2 kinetics.
A space developed between 3 or 4 of the riders and relatively that space maintained consistent and as I filtered between them. I could see that their effort level was high but their output wasn’t as high as when they started. Personally, my heart rate dropped as I noticed they were settling in and there were areas where they were losing speed or not maximizing it. So I went to work focusing on where they could shine.
“Get out of the saddle over this water bar….out of this corner.” I’d say to one smaller rider that was losing speed staying seated and spinning.
“Go into high hinge and relax the body as you hit the descent and let the body relax,” I said to another as he was lazily sitting on his completely dropped seat.
“Get on my wheel and steady out so we can bridge this gap,” I said to another encouraging him that he could bring the other rider back he’d been constantly sitting at a close distance that wasn’t changing.
These concise queues on what was within each’s bubble of control provided action items they could address above and beyond the simple fact they were seemingly pinned, suffering, and settled into their ultimate placement on the course. Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
As we bridged the gap, one rider then realized he could hold that wheel that lust moments before had been just up the trail a few turns in front of him. Then with consistent execution of the principles; accelerating when the course was hard, getting in and out of the saddle, and not being planted on the bike; the riders then brought that front rider back into grasp. This was big as we’d ridden up into the varsity group by this point. With the riders regrouped they then observed they were just as capable as their peers that they’d previously viewed as superior in the hierarchy. Thus boosting their confidence and they started to work together.
The lesson is not to take anything at face value of the norm. Allow yourself to break the paradigm and believe the exceptional is a possibility. It doesn’t mean you have to be cocky, but a healthy level of confidence or at least ignorance of the norm can sometimes serve as part of the recipe for finding a new personal level.
That being said there are times to push and times not to as well because if you’re always doing the former it can be both physically and mentally depleting. Thus pick your battles like this mock race scenario or maybe for those individuals that perform alone, maybe an acutely depleting interval session or workout. From time to time, aim high for what you think is possible and see if you can still get through the session. Or aim to push the number of repetitions on a normal workout to see if you can do more than you thought possible.
In this sense, you won’t let complacency kill the possible performance that may just be the sleeping dragon inside of you all along.