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3 Successful Approaches Coaches Have Used To Motivate Triathletes in 2020

Here's how three coaches have kept their triathletes motivated in a time full of uncertainty.

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From stay-at-home orders earlier this year to ongoing COVID public health restrictions, the motivation for most triathletes has understandably wavered. As we navigate changes in routine, limited access to facilities, lack of training partners, and race cancellations, many of us have also struggled with staying motivated.

With the right perspective, though, this year could be even more motivating. It’s actually given us space and time to do exactly what we individually feel is best. While some triathletes have thrived during COVID with structure and DIY races or time trials, others have rebooted through switching off and focusing on their lives outside of swim, bike, and run. Coaches have had to practice patience, communication, flexibility, creativity, and willingness to tackle this year with an open mind as they figure out what approach works for which athletes.

With several months of guiding athletes through the pandemic under their belts, three coaches share their tips and tricks here to different approaches that can keep iathletes motivated through the end of 2020 and even into the new year.

1. Address an Area of Weakness and Use Your Sense of Adventure

Kurt Perham, founder and coach for PBM Multisport, has encouraged his athletes to use the time to fix problem areas that might go on the backburner when races are a priority.

“Most triathletes need overall bike volume to add durability, so they can express a good run off the bike,” Perham said, which means this year was a good chance to put in some big bike miles. “As weather got better, almost all of my athletes did a bike-focused block, usually via a midweek long run so both weekend days could be long rides.”

Additionally, in replacement of planned “A” races, Perham supported athletes to embrace other challenges such as “Everesting” or “Summer Solstice,” both of which are all-day training events.

“For me, the essence of endurance sport is covering ground under your own power,” Perham said. “So regardless of a race number, you need a high level of fitness to be able to tackle those adventures. And said adventures end up becoming your ‘A races’ for 2020.”

Perham found that adding an element of play and adventure kept his athletes excited and working toward something. In a normal lead-up to an “A” race, athletes generally follow a focused, race-specific training program, looking to peak at a certain time. This year has given triathletes a chance to try all of the fun activities that don’t normally fit into that equation and work on things they don’t normally get to work on.

2. Focus On Things Outside of Swim, Bike, and Run

Coach Morgan Hoffman, head coach of Playtri and a USA Triathlon high performance team coach, has used this time to address all the parts of being an athlete outside of the actual training.

“I’ve encouraged many of my athletes to use this pause in competition as an opportunity to focus on the things we do outside of workouts to improve adaptation and long-term performance,” Hoffman said. “This can include better sleep, more frequent mobility work, consistent hydration, a high percentage of low-intensity and active recovery sessions, and finding safe and sustainable camaraderie in training.”

Hoffman believes that a break from a heavily structured plan has been important for athletes during an already incredibly stressful time. Rest, an already challenging concept for most endurance athletes, has become even more important during the pandemic as we navigate so much change and uncertainty.

“If you feel pressured to use a lockdown or a new work-from-home situation to do more or harder training—don’t,” Hoffman said. “Prioritize health, self-care, and workouts that you enjoy. If you need a break, take it. Oftentimes recovery is the discipline triathletes struggle with the most—now is the time to master it.”

3. Improve on the Process

Grant Holicky, coach at Forever Endurance in Boulder, Colorado, and head coach of Elevation Athletics, believes that 2020 has provided the chance for athletes to detach from performance goals and focus instead on the process.

“There is no pressure of performance or an end of the season hanging in front of us, so it can be a perfect time to embrace the process of improvement without the feeling of risk that generally accompanies performance-based goals,” Holicky stated.

Additionally, Holicky thinks that athletes can use this year to really to drill down to their personal “why” of sport. Without races, why do you do triathlon?

“Athletes can ask themselves and reflect on: What am I driven by and is this a sustainable motivation?” Holicky said. “Having solely results-based motivation can be limiting to an athlete as it won’t allow them to focus on the process of training and improving as easily.”

As we come to the end of the 2020 season, a time when most triathletes are going into their off-season, spend some time reflecting on what this year has brought you, what you’ve learned about yourself as an athlete, and how you will bring those lessons forward to the 2021 season and beyond. Maybe one of these three strategies can help you find a little extra motivation this year and next.