An open message to athletes, coaches, parents and children.
It is in fact ok to have fun while training for and competing in sport
For most of us, sport is our hobby and as such it should be fun. I tend to think people go wrong by confusing having fun with not taking sport seriously, not training hard and competing at the highest level. It is in fact possible to train very hard, compete at a high level and still have fun.
Breca Bay of Islands - Outside the Duke of Marlborough - first pub in NZ - it would have been rude not to stop for a quick pint
My training / racing partner Andrew and I tend to train very hard however we still manage to take time to have fun even in the middle of a race. The above picture was taken in the middle of a race in the Bay of Islands. While I would not normally condone stopping for a beer in the middle of a race the simple fact is that the race when past the Duke of Marlborough hotel (the first pub in New Zealand) and our mindset was that it would have been rude not to stop. If you think we were clowning around then yes we were but on the flip side there are a lot of calories in a pint and we were in the process of fighting our way back through the field. We ended up with a top ten finish on the day despite being in a group of athletes that went the wrong way due to a missing marshal. We lost over 20 minutes, ran an extra 4km+ and dropped from fifth place to about 40th place before clawing our way back through the field. Yes we had fun but we still raced very hard.
The All Blacks for example are incredibly successful but despite all that they still lose the occasional game. And that’s the thing, you will always win some and lose some. However if you are so focused on the outcome you may be missing out on the fantastic journey and potentially destroying any enjoyment. While winning should always be the key objective often for most of us it should be about being the best versions of ourselves.
In context of the All Blacks I love when they try the razzle dazzle and it goes wrong but the players have that rueful smile of “man that nearly worked.” That is a perfect example of having fun at the highest level. Personally I also love the fact that there are a few of them that could not even make the school’s first 15.
Ultimately the question should be – how do you have fun. Or maybe that should be how you enjoy your sport. Maybe that fun or enjoyment comes from your passion to be the best you can be or your love of the battle for want of a better description. If you have passion, a love for what you are doing then that essentially is a type of fun.
From a few years ago - Cyclocross with my son Daniel - great fun - hard - and still loving it
I have some thoughts on how you achieve that based on 30 years of being an endurance athlete and hanging out and working with fantastically driven athletes from formula 1 racing drivers to Ironman champions. And while these tips often come from endurance sport they carry over to any kind of sport.
1 - For most of us sport is our hobby not our job so in all moments of crisis and indecision and taking oneself too seriously ask yourself “am I being paid to do this” if the answer is no then calm down
2 – Enjoy the journey. There have been a few times in races and in training when I am in the hurt box. I have learned to take a moment to look up and appreciate where I am and what I am doing. Not everybody gets to do the sport you are doing so sometimes it’s ok to remind yourself that.
3 – Enjoy the special moments in time. I am a huge fan of looking for those moments that make you smile. It could be as simple as that sunrise on an early run, or the views from a bike ride in the hills. I personally love that dive into the water at the start of a swim session. There is a moment when you are under the water and the world goes quiet, you have all the momentum from the dive and its a little magic moment when you get to enjoy the speed and take a pause before getting into the session- It’s ok to look for those moments and enjoy them.
4 – Dishing out the hurt can be awesome fun. Some of our hardest and most valuable sessions are when someone is putting the group under the pump. It’s often a case of who breaks first. Or when you are nailing that session you never thought you could do. While often that is very hard it can also be a rewarding type of fun or enjoyment.
6– Its ok to have a laugh. Case in point is Peter Sagan a three time cycling world Champion in what is essentially a lottery of a race. Yet in the middle of a world tour race there is footage of him in the Tour of California pulling a wheelie and grabbing a biscuit. Or the last Olympics when discovering the road course would not suit him he went and did the mountain bike race because it looked fun. This is one of the best athletes in the sport and the message is simple - fun
Peter Sagan - Those Rainbow bands on his shorts - meant he was the world champ - Green jersey means he was leading the sprinters category - and yet he can still do this mid race.
Funny thing about this is that earlier in the day I had been riding with my son Daniel who was 12 at the time. We were riding through the forest and I was watching him go over every little jump and bump and I was about to point out that the smoother line was faster. Before saying anything I realized that he was 12 and that was exactly the line he should be taking. It was not till later that evening and I was watching the Tour of California and saw the footage of this moment and thought – gee that says it all - fun.
As I said I think the confusion lies in the simple fact that there are different types of fun and that people associate the word with goofing off or not taking things seriously. So much emphasis on performance out comes and data driven training that for a lot of people they lose sight of the fact that it should be fun
Winning is still vitally important, however I think the priority should be about being the best version of self and the results will take care of themselves. . I believe that if you can have fun while doing that then you will ultimately perform better. Remember you can still train very hard and do your sport at a very high level, have fun and a love of what you are doing.
In the context of kids sport, I get that some kids are super driven, however it’s a case of ensuring that they are focusing of the process not the outcome. By all means let them strive to greatness but also taking a step back and focusing on the skills they need as well has having some fun may actually keep them in the sport long term. Instilling a great attitude and work ethic along with the fact that they can have fun will more likely lead to children succeeding long term
Too many kids are lost to sport from well-meaning but misguided parents who think that being good at 12 is a sign of greatness. Nope- being a world champion or an Olympian as an adult that’s what important. How we mange that is obviously different for everyone but there is a greater likely hood of getting there if you are having fun and enjoying your sport along the way
Finish line of what was one of the hardest Ironman's I have ever done - Still had fun, still smiling, oh and I also won a national title for my agegroup
The picture above is from Challenge Wanaka and it was some of the toughest conditions I have ever raced in. I walked away with a great result and had a great time despite how hard it was. I even stopped to check on a fellow competitor who was having a bad day, managed to have a laugh with the helpers at the aid stations, stopped for a kiss from my wife at the start of the marathon and even got to look at some spectacular scenery. I guess its a case of practicing what I preach - Train hard, race hard and have fun. What's not to love
So to sum up:
CALM THE HELL DOWN AND HAVE SOME FUN.
Yes there will be lots of hard graft but that can be a type of fun as well.
Peace out - John