TOAt the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Emil Zatopek was almost the dictionary definition of peak when he counted. He reached gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, breaking Olympic records on his way to victory in both. You might think that the mission accomplished for the Czech locomotive. No. At the last minute he decided to run the marathon as well and quickly beat everyone by more than two minutes in another Olympic record. He definitely understood where his trusted sources were coming from, focusing on what he had and not what his competitors were doing. That is the core of any performance plan.
Australian coach Percy Cerutty said of Zatopek: “He earned, and won for himself, every inch of a very hard road.”
Zatopek was also a chemist and applied that formulated way of thinking to the way he trained and planned. He knew exactly what he was going to do on that road to Olympic gold.
Performance planning is an area that will grow in elite sport. Roles will appear that focus only on this. It starts with a blank canvas that includes the most basic timelines – when is the actual event. When could you arrive. When can training begin after preseason. Versions of this run from a full decade or four-year cycle to a single series or match. It is the starting point. Next, the detail of all the other groups involved in the performance could come. Strength and conditioning personnel will have insight into the duration of a training phase or rest stages. Doctors will want your time, as will coaches and performance analysts, nutritionists and psychologists. Everything is thrown onto the canvas.
That canvas is less Pollock and more Kandinsky. In fact, the latter, who had synesthesia, would have been perfect for designing an athlete or team to perfection. He listened to tones and chords while painting, a color would make him a certain noise, so he produced works of art that literally sang to him: a musical score in paint. That’s what it feels like to plan correctly. Slowly, as the process I outlined is refined and sculpted, everyone involved feels aligned. Good judgment is front and center and you can really feel it.
It is fairly standard procedure for athletes and teams prior to the Olympics to have a waiting camp in or near the same country in which they are about to compete. From there, you enter the Olympic village, the finishing touches are applied, and the Olympic spirit is partially entered. – and then you go. An event that you have spent four, or in this case, five years preparing for. After all that time and energy and, in most cases, significant funding, you need to peak. You need to do your best. It is where depth of knowledge alone is not enough. You also need a lot of good judgment. Art and science meet here to fight.
On the one hand, the hard data, the numbers chewed and chewed up by staff and athletes. And, on the other hand, the immeasurable but often compelling information that cannot be told in a traditional way. This is the part that I find endlessly fascinating. As you get closer to the start of whatever journey you are beginning to undertake and to which you have dedicated years of your life, the mindset takes the seat of the box.
As the pressure builds, try to use it to lift, not suffocate. It can also protect you from twists and turns. In Tokyo, the changes due to new protocols could be like facing an 84 mph curveball from Minnesota Twins pitcher Jose Berrios. One moment you’re ready to smash him out of the park, the next you’re doubting everything you do.
South Africa’s rugby sevens team was forced into quarantine following a positive Covid test from a passenger who was sitting on the flight to Tokyo. The 14-day quarantine, if fully enforced, has destroyed your ideal plans for the last few days before playing. I have seen athletes on the brink of panic attacks after an unforeseen event meant they missed a day of training. One day.
But none of those events should completely derail you. As Bill Parcells, former New York Giants head coach, said repeatedly: “Don’t blame anyone, don’t expect anything, do something.” Summarize how you must cope with the uncontrollable as the deadline to do so draws ever closer.
Some coaches will throw unexpected things at teams. They don’t show up for a session or purposely make sure the bus doesn’t arrive to take them to training. I am not too attached to this way of doing things, I prefer to create a solid program where everyone knows what is required and really has a voice and some autonomy. Having a flexible performance plan gives you the best chance of hitting your personal best, regardless of the turbulence around you. For the coach, it’s about making sure that whatever plan is in place is a live one, that is shared and accepted, and that everyone is involved, so that when pressure or chaos arises, everyone can make sure it is pursued. the top.
What athletes have been through this time – backyard gyms, smoke-filled overseas camps, running around in face masks, and jumping into scolding hot baths at home instead of humidity chambers – will strengthen your mindset. Self-sabotage is never that far away when the event you’ve been aiming for for so long is getting closer and closer.
It sounds like the opposite, but some of these athletes who sacrifice so much will also be the ones to do something to excuse it that it doesn’t work. Convince yourself just before you go to Tokyo that going out and having a couple of drinks is what you need to relax. But then a few beers and a snack from a roadside stand leads to 48 hours of food poisoning and their Games are over. It can be more subtle, misinterpreting pre-race nerves or wanting everything to be perfect and you get so tense that you lose focus and performance too.
There are so many moving parts at play here to achieve the right performance at the right time and it’s one of the reasons the sport is so unpredictable. So beautifully precarious.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism