Lately I’ve been delving into podcasts expanding my knowledge, namely Tim Ferriss interview with Scott Adams. It’s worth a listen if you like long-form interviews and have a couple hours to spare. Been maximizing time listening to podcasts while doing work around the house or spinning on the rollers and came across some gems.
Anyways they discussed a Systems vs. Goal concept to achieving objectives. I thought about how I interact and use this with differing athletes in varied situations. It’s meaningful and everyone is different, hence why any coach shouldn’t have a cookie cutter approach in this area.
Let’s dig down a little and define how this can be useful as an athlete. Let’s say you’re trying to improve your threshold and assuming your current level of fitness and training status you need 30 minutes of threshold work repeated twice per week.
A goal based approach would be to set Tuesday and Friday as your threshold “Goal” workout days. Then you’d need to establish your other training around these goal days to best support your chance to achieve the objective.
A systems based approach may be riding 5-6 days per week and doing the threshold work as it fits. Instead of defining specific days you must complete objective, you approach each workout with the thought, “if I have good legs today, I’ll knock the out the work.”
What’s the advantages and disadvantages of each? Hopefully you find this helps you know when to set a goal or system approach, because there can be ideal times for both. Or simply if one method is better for your approach as an athlete.
Here are a few arguments for and against the Goal approach, as I play the devil’s advocate.
- Pro – Goals require you to prioritize an exact objective. Creates a “Today is the day to perform.” attitude. In essence, this approach should help you prepare both physically and mentally. For example, eating a snack 90 minutes prior & keeping your hydration in check on the given day so you are fueled for the effort all while going into it thinking “I’ve got to execute.”
- Con – Conversely this requisite to execute can create pressure to perform, thus leaving a chance to fail. Which failing may not be the worse thing, but that’s another topic all together. Like what if your morning meeting or project ran long at work ran and you didn’t drink anything since your 2nd cup of coffee and you are trying to hit the workout on lunch. Or you were up with your kiddo having nightmares but your morning trainer pain cave session is being challenged with the necessity for more sleep. You may be less than physically (dehydrated, under fed, need of sleep) which can lead to mental questioning of “I’m not prepared because of X so how can I nail this.”
- Pro – The goal may force you unnecessarily push your limits. Pushing your limits is often good but unnecessary is key here. Let’s say if you go into the session over-tired, over-stressed, and just sub-par, then it may force you deeper into a stress pit. Especially if you don’t achieve the goal! Many athletes and coaches unfortunately only monitor training stress. When in actuality all the stress can add up to push you over the edge. C’mon nobody should be snippy with their kids or short with their wife because the combination of a bike ride, sloppy nutrition and a challenging day at work!
- Con – A goal may be Limiting your potential. Yes that’s right, just opposite from above, you may have more to give than what your goal presents. Like if your weeks goal was 60 min of total threshold work split between 2 days, but you were capable of two 40 min sessions (80 minutes total) or even a third 30 min session (90 minutes total for the week) then you’d be selling yourself short for what’s possible. Now that doesn’t mean that you always push past a proper training progression or periodization, but sometimes that feedback/reflection can help you and hopefully your coach tailor the plan for a more advanced progression. Thus a better performance outcome.
And now taking the plusses and minuses of the Systems approach.
- Pro – Allows you to Capitalize on having a good day by allowing flexibility. It’s similar to a slang I heard growing up. “get’n while the gettings good”, meaning take advantage of a good thing. I think it was used in context like when we found a good fishing hole for bass, making money cutting trees after a hail storm, or helping people move when a new big business created an population influx. Anyways, if you’d scheduled a rest day but you hop on and feel like a champ; the question arises, should you waste that feeling? Often I say go for it unless you are tapering and thus you don’t want to waste your “good day” for training when you want those legs for a race. It reminds me of the skit from Big Daddy where they waste the good surprise on Sonny.
- Con – Some may delay facing the objective, thinking they’ll have a better day later. Thus potentially never accomplishing anything. For example, if you don’t prioritize the importance of the objective to you and things keep snowballing in the opposing direction, then you may just keep missing the boat. By the end of the week you may have not hit any of the defined quality. That’s no good!
- Pro – Promotes Tuning into your body, thus improving on knowing yourself as an athlete. You start to develop patterns for feeling good and why you might be feeling bad. And hopefully the bad days become less and less with the consistency and self-reflection contained in the process. Like him or not, Lance had a great quote stating, “I don’t have any more bad days. I have good days and I have great days.”
- Con – This approach can Promote mediocrity. Consistency can be a great, but if you aren’t good at tuning into your body then you may not get the quality or subsequent rest. Meaning you may have too many days just taxing enough to your system to leave you just unable to ever feel good enough to go for the objective. Many thrive on this because you are consistent but you never really see your true potential.
This application is how I related it to coaching and performance, but there are many other applications. One of which was a systems approach to nutrition that Adams also discussed. It’s worth considering to educate yourself so you can make better choices vs depending on will telling yourself you can have something. It’s like the saying, Missing the forest for the trees, if you focus on what you have to do and only that, then you may miss the bigger picture.
I hope this helps you reflect on what method may work for you as an athlete or in everyday life for that matter. And as always, I believe having a coach on your side to offer an objective perspective is extremely valuable.