I recently sat down with a team of athletes and asked a simple question: ”Do you love to win, or hate to lose?” The majority said they hated to lose and I believe this says a lot about who they are and their work ethic. When athletes start seeing progress and building momentum, the last thing they want is to take an off-season or down period. This is because that period presents the potential for loss, regression, and requires us to step back after months of moving forward.
As coaches, how do we help athletes see the benefits of taking a rest day, rest week or off-season, even if it feels counterintuitive? We must first build trust with our athletes, teach them the value of time off, create valuable ways to redirect their energy and educate them about the long-term strategy.
FOMO and Loss Aversion
All athletes have felt FOMO at some point. For most, skipping events, for a variety of reasons, is disappointing. Whether it was because of overtraining, an inconvenient personal obligation or injury, the feeling of missing out on a community event or opportunity to perform quite frankly hurts. This is largely due to the serotonin spike (or in this case, lack thereof) we feel when we connect with our community and perform an activity that we love. In some cases, it hurts so badly that we try to make excuses or push through the impediment or injury in order to show up.
As mentioned before, athletes more often hate to lose than love to win. It drives this cognitive bias that rest, recovery and/or skipping an event result in loss because you’re physically producing smaller mileage numbers, gaining less TSS and your CTL is dropping. This is a coaching opportunity to explain to athletes what they gain in recovery.
Teaching the Value of Time Off
Athletes view training as a linear trajectory of inputs and outputs—if they keep pushing harder, faster, for longer they will achieve more. Therefore, a day, week, or month off is not beneficial to their long-term success because well, less is less.
Quality coaching provides the opportunity to share with athletes how every aspect of training, even time off, yields valuable benefits that will help them cross the finish line. If athletes are more concerned about taking a longer break or a gap in between seasons, remind them that taking extended time off also offers valuable learnings. Everything after the race is about starting again, recharging, reflecting, and building to achieve a new goal. One thing to note: teaching athletes to ache for time off doesn’t mean pushing them to oblivion, but rather it should mean showing them that recovery is a reward for hard work. This recovery period will allow them time to focus on the areas of their lives they may have been ignoring.
To get an athlete’s buy-in, we must first define the benefits of recovery days, weeks and a structured off-season. A day spent not working towards their goals can produce real anxiety even in the strongest of athletes. As coaches, we need to focus their cross-training efforts to address their weaknesses. This provides an outlet for the athlete’s energy in the form of strength training, form or technique. You can also shift the athlete’s focus onto sports psychology, personal confidence, or personal enrichment.
The best thing an athlete can gain from their time with a coach is an education. The better your athletes understand what you’re trying to do, the better compliance you’ll get. When an athlete is engaged and educated they will start to build a stronger internal dialogue and you’ll move from explaining workouts, to explaining the theory behind what you’re trying to achieve. Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events. Be a great mind in coaching and live to educate—it will save you time in the long run.
- If you find yourself explaining the same principles over and over, create a PDf or video explaining it to your athletes. This will help you solidify your explanation and move your athletes into the same plane of thought.
- Define your training principles and what matters most to you as a coach. This will ensure that your athletes know where you’re coming from on day one.
- Take the time to ask them if they understand and ask them questions about what they think. This creates a bi-directional dialogue that will help you both grow.
The principle of regress to progress isn’t difficult to explain to athletes. The difficulty lies in getting athletes to act on that principle and see it as valuable time to respect and enjoy. The goal is to assuage their feelings of loss and replace fear with understanding. As a coach, your job is to lead your athletes and give them direction and dialogue. Once they know where they are going and why, they will follow you everywhere you want them to go.