Emotion and Peak Performance

Too many athletes and coaches are under the misconception that the energy of negative emotions is useful in driving an athlete to a higher level of performance. Some coaches are under the misunderstanding that the chair throwing, insult spewing temper tantrums they throw in an attempt to motivate their athletes in fact works. Indeed, you can threaten an athlete scaring them to the point that it results in a temporary spike in performance due to the defensive rush of adrenalin, but this is neither physiological nor psychological training and fails to correlate with consistent peak performance of athletes.

The illusion is that initially gains can be made by threatening and causing an adrenalin spike in an athlete. It is an illusion because eventually after repeated exposure to negative energy – no different than Pavlov’s dog – an athlete will become trained, then accustomed, then dependent on anger, hate, or anxiety to perform. It works until it doesn’t. When it stops working, when the adrenal glands cannot be forced to cough up enough adrenalin to cause a larger spike in performance, Icarus falls from the sky realizing it was all an illusion: their performance was an hormonally induced display, not the result of years of training and refining the physiology and psychology to that of a Champion.

Wonder why athletes fail to replicate success in sport to other areas in life?  Wonder why many athletes are one-offs? Wonder why athletes turn to drugs, alcohol, or self abuse? Wonder why athletes commit suicide?  It ain’t from ‘positive’ energy in their lives that’s for certain.

You can beat a dog so that it fights for its life, but eventually the beating that the dog requires to fight once more… kills the dog.

Peak performance requires a rhythmical heart rate, a relaxed state where there is symmetry across physical, mental, and emotional dimensions, where the athlete is focused, able to execute specific strategies. This unity does not occur in a stressed state, in an environment filled with ‘negative’ emotion.

Consider the following…

Undefeated at the ironman distance and 4x Ironman World Champion triathlete Chrissie Wellington always competed with a smile:

chrissie02 6x Ironman World Champion, triathlete Natascha Badmann could be puking one minute, but the next she would be back to smiling. Even while suffering a crash on the bike, being severely injured, and having to be pulled out of a World Championship competition by her coach, Natascha still would have a smile on her face: Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann06Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann07Have you ever seen Usain Bolt not having a good time?

Usain_Bolt_001Cells that fire together, wire together.

What thoughts are you firing and wiring today?

Still think that getting angry or anxious in an attempt to boost your performance is the way to go? There aren’t many if any consistent World Champions, repeat gold medal Olympians who approach their sport, their racing or training with ‘negative’ energy. There aren’t any truly successful people in any field who approach business or life with resentment, with hate, frustration or anger. The best of the best are having fun; while working, training, competing.

“No pain, no gain” is a losers mindset.

Gratitude, appreciation, gentleness, and humility are the attitudes of champions.

Reconciling A Tortured Private Life with Public Success

Its not an uncommon story… an athlete has a tortured private life: abuse of one sort or another, poverty, lack in one area or many areas (e.g. familial support), yet that athlete rises to achieve stunning success.  How?

Being able to hypothesis an explanation for this pattern has eluded me.  How does someone who endures daily pain and suffering, who must fight off attacks or endure them because their attacker has physically, mentally or emotionally jailed them into the role of victim, who does not know from one day to the next whether they will eat, have shelter, perhaps even be alive, rise to compete at the Olympics, and sometimes, rise to the level of Olympic and World Champion?


There are countless athletes who have support, who have access to coaching, to the environment of a club or team, have access to training facilities and equipment and do not gain the insight into the details of executing sport specific technique with any degree of quality or proficiency, yet an athlete who has lived a tortured private life manages to perfect movement to the point that they generate power, speed, and endurance that rivals those who have had nothing but privilege after privilege.


If you lived a tortured life, but were exposed to a sport, a sport which offered you a break, an escape albeit temporary from your abuser, your jailer, your lack; how much time, and with what effort and energy would you put into that sport?  With what attitude would you approach that sport?  With what level of gratitude, excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness, excitement would you approach every single training session?

The hypothesis is this… if the last thing you want to do is go back to your private jail cell – a physical, mental or emotional jail cell – or jailer, then how would you commit to training?  How dedicated to learning, to practicing, to developing your skill would you be? With what level of determination would you work if sport offered you a temporary leave from jail, from your jailer, from pain, from abuse, from the reality of a life of lack?

It would be unbridled, unrestrained, limitless, it would scale the walls of impossibility.

Want to succeed? Then you have to figure out how to release yourself, give yourself permission, free yourself to experience your fullest potential, seeking with unbridled enthusiasm, unrestrained energy, unwavering faith, with limitless imagination what is possible, what is possible for you to achieve, to attain.

Problem is… our life in the west is comfortable and with our daily aim of making it only more and more comfortable, we fail to use discomfort as a source of motivation, as a means to propel ourselves towards new goals. In the west, when we are uncomfortable it usually leads to a complaint, or worse blaming that someone made you uncomfortable. At an extreme, discomfort is labeled abuse, and is used to validate and excuse failing and failure.

In the west we having training facilities used rarely, typically only for the media circus’ of the Pan Am, Commonwealth, or Olympic Games.  We have multi million dollar stadiums in our cities, we have indoor and outdoor pools and tracks and gyms in our own towns, yet we cannot put down our phones, tablets, or switch off the streaming videos, or turn off the social media feed because that would be uncomfortable.

Champions arise from discomfort. Some are born into discomfort and use it to drive themselves to achieve so as to escape. Some are born into privilege, but are mentored to use discomfort to press on, as motivation to pursue their potential.

What do you pursue?

Comfort by choosing to sustain the status quo, the known, the worn in and well worked rut.

Discomfort by choosing to believe that there is more to you, more to your potential, more to your life, more to see, more to do, more to learn.

Root of “No Pain, No Gain” [2]

The other way to train – other than “no pain, no gain” – is to look to where true strength, true endurance, true power and speed all arise: the brain.

As a rehab professional, I have worked with patients who have suffered from acute and chronic neurological disorders and diseases: from stroke, to MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinsons, Acquired Brain Injury, and patients with various dementias (e.g. Alzheimers).

The reality of where true strength, endurance, power and speed emanates not from muscle, but from the ability to control muscle.  This epiphany occurred to me while working with all the patients with neurological diagnoses because in the vast majority of these cases, the weakness, the fatigue, the inability to coordinate, the disintegration of complex movements such as balance occurred because of neurological changes, not from a lack of muscle mass.

Consider a patient who has a stroke… one moment they are standing, talking, walking, perhaps even driving a car, and the next moment they cannot form a sentence, they cannot swallow, they cannot remain standing. What happened?  Did 30, 40 or 50 lbs of muscle mass just all of a sudden disappear leaving them without strength, without endurance? No.

Think about what makes a muscle move?

Exactly, its you thinking about making a muscle move that makes a muscle move.  How big, how strong, how long a muscle can perform is irrelevant if you consciously cannot control that muscle.  That is exactly what happens to a stroke patient.  The portion of their brain that creates the thought to move a joint, and then creates the signal directing muscles to coordinate either by contracting or relaxing to varying degrees… is not working.

Muscle is not strong because of its size.

Muscle is strong because of its control.

You can have an immensely bulky individual with massive muscles and functionally they may be weak relative to an athlete with half or even less of the muscle mass. How is that possible? Well, ask a bodybuilder to throw a javelin, and then ask an Olympic Track & Field athlete to throw a javelin… who will throw further? You could argue that the bodybuilder is strong because they can bench or squat more than the field athlete, but according to the javelin throw guess who is functionally strong. Not the bodybuilder.

I use this example over and over because we have all seen it, but for some reason fail to recognize it each time we do see it. How many times has a teenager, years before their physiological or psychological peak prevailed against all other athletes from all other nations at the Olympics to win the gold medal? Countless. Yet, every time we forget that these athletes are not bulky. They are perfectly proportioned for their sport, and prevail because of their training in technique, not bulking up. But what do we do? We head off to the gym, off to inflict self harm by pounding ourselves into submission on treadmills, ellipticals, in bootcamps, and CrossFit classes until we either taste, cough, or pee blood, all in the belief that that is the effort required for a “good” workout, a workout that is supposedly making us healthier.

Right.  Tasting, coughing up, or peeing blood… is healthy.

Do we even hear the crap that comes out of our mouths, our minds?

Guess what the rehab process is for a stroke patient?  HiiT?  Bootcamps?  Spin classes? Circuits? What about a Tabata class? Nope. If non of that makes sense for a stroke patient, then why would it make sense for you.

Is there a role for strength and conditioning training? Absolutely, but not for newbies, not for individuals who lack back aerobic base conditioning, who lack full range of motion, who lack flexibility, mobility, and the ABCs of movement (i.e. agility, balance and coordination).

Athletes peaking for competition, athletes who have mastered sport specific technique and now need to load and overload their technique in order to train to maintain ideal body posture, body lines, and body position definitely need strength and conditioning training.

Until then, repetition after repetition of the technique specific to your sport is appropriate training that will lead to not only health, but will translate into functional improvements that will yield strength, endurance, power and speed.

Root of “No Pain, No Gain” [1]

Strengthening and conditioning training was taken from the concept of building muscle bulk for bodybuilding and that is the source of the “no pain, no gain” mindset. Now this adage has been applied indiscriminately to all sports, even in sports where carrying extra muscle bulk is the equivalent of trying to finish last, of trying to lose.

“No pain, no gain” provided a motto, a distinct ‘experience’ for marketers, a unique attribute to exercise.

But with the “no pain, no gain” credo, sport lost athletes and gained a generation of thrillseekers: individuals not seeking health, not seeking betterment of themselves, not seeking technical expertise, but the high – as in an addicts high – of engaging the threat and stress of fear in order to experience the release and high of endorphins, adrenalin and cortisol.

“No pain, no gain” arose from sport coaches and exercise physiologists both of whom were hoping to jump in on the commercialization and the growth of the fitness industry by making names for themselves as tough, merciless, hard taskmasters that would drive you to your limit and beyond.

It was the roaring 80s, the fitness craze was firing up, and the opportunity to be an expert and to monetize on the eagerness of the population to train for fitness drove the need for ideas and explanations on why exercise works, how it works, and how we should exercise.

“No pain, no gain” arose from the belief that in order to develop strength, muscle needs to be made to grow in size in order for the athlete to gain in strength, in power.

“No pain, no gain” comes from the concept that to build muscle, you need to workout to such a degree, at such intensity that you literally ‘rip’ and ‘tear’ muscle at the microscopic level, providing it the stimulus via injury in the hope that it will heal bigger and stronger than before. By repeating this cycle over and over the belief is that your muscles will recover, heal from the self inflicted ripping, tearing, from the multiple injuries you self inflict, and grow stronger in the process.

It works, there is no doubt.  There is proof of it as rip & rest is the cornerstone of bodybuilding.When all that matters is total muscle volume and appearance of that muscle, and there is no functional requirement of the muscles except to be oiled up and put on display at max tension so that it can be judged in competition, then who cares how you build the muscle.

Can bodybuilders lift, push, pull, and carry inordinate loads? Absolutely.

Can they do it in any functional matter that applies to sport? Absolutely not.Have you ever seen a bodybuilder win the 100m sprint, the 5,000m, the marathon? What about discus, javelin or the hammer throw? Any water sports? How bout any sport? Nope.

They have muscle, but they have no functional use for that muscle because they built the muscle, they did not train muscle to execute a function. Although a minute difference, this is the entire difference between muscle bulk which is useless in sport and training which is neurologically focused to coordinate all muscles in the body to work in harmony to execute sport specific technique, to execute strategy, to complete choreography.

If “no pain, no gain” was the secret to success in sport, then bodybuilders should be winning Olympic medals left and right, winning at Worlds Championships across all sports, and recognized as the epitome of athletism.

They are not, because they cannot apply their muscle mass efficiently to any sport.

“No pain, no gain” obviously works as a bodybuilding concept, but if you are not a bodybuilder then “no pain, no gain” applies to you as much as the dumbbell in the image above does to any distance runner… its useless!

“No pain, no gain” is irrelevant to any athlete involved in sport because in sport you do not want bulk, you do not want muscle mass, you want efficiency.

Absolute peak power is irrelevant in sport and to sport.

What matters is peak power per kilogram of body weight.

If anything, bodybuilders represent the diametric opposite of athletes who train for sport.  In bodybuilding it is not the most efficient who wins, it is the least efficient… it is the bulkiest, heaviest, most cumbersome that wins.

So if the training philosophy of bodybuilding is “no pain, no gain” and bodybuilding is the anti-thesis of the type of strength, endurance, and power that an athlete wants in sport… then what does that say about sport athletes training “no pain, no gain”?

It says that they are training to lose, not to win.

It says that they are training to become less and less efficient, not more and more.

It says that any exercise physiologist or coach who is training their athletes in this mindset for anything other than bodybuilding competitions, has no clue how to train athletes for sport.

Anyone who wants to convince you otherwise is ignorant.

Anyhow, “no pain, no gain” is simply an absurd concept when it comes to performance. Why?

Because muscle bulk is not the worst byproduct of the “no pain, no gain” mindset. Even worse is that the “no pain, no gain” mindset is that it is the root behind athletes training and inflicting self-harm.  The “no pain, no gain” mantra forms the narratives which permit and encourage athletes to self inflict… pain, injury, illness all in a belief that by damaging and destroying themselves somehow it leads to better health, better well-being, as well as gains in strength, endurance and power.

How absurd is “no pain, no gain” training when applied to training for sport… inflicting self-harm believing that you are becoming a better athlete is akin to hitting yourself with a hammer hoping that if you can only take more and more hits, and harder and harder hits, by being able to “take the pain” you will magically transform that into athletic performance.

There is no relation between being able to “take the pain” and being able to swim more smoothly, to bike more efficiently, more aerodynamically, or running more effortlessly.

Its absurd.

Its ignorant.

Its the dumbest model we have come up with to train athletes, especially as a model to train children, tweens, and teens.

Consider this…

There are countless Olympians, and Olympic medalists who are teens; teens who competed at the Olympics before they even came close to the physiological and psychological peaks of the early 20s. There are in fact Olympic gold medalists who were so young that there is no way that they had fully developed physically, to their max strength, to their peak endurance, yet they eclipsed the abilities of all other athletes against whom they competed to win.

How?  Not by the “no pain, no gain” mindset.

Hi Protein… Bulls#!t

Every chance the food conglomerates get to generate some new “super food fad” or new diet that will take you to immortality, they jump on it. How many diets have we gone through in recent months? Paleo, Keto, Atkins, etc… One thing they all have in common: they are all high in protein. Isn’t that a little interesting when you actually think about it? Protein is the most expensive form of calorie… fruits, veg, grains and nuts are much much cheaper, so why would food conglomerates be jumping onto promoting protein?


Can it have anything to do with their need to continue reporting higher and higher revenues and higher and higher profits to keep C-class executive bonuses flowing and to keep shareholders satisfied with a growing stock valuation?

Wait… are you suggesting the switch to hi protein diets has nothing to do with actual health and has everything to do with the economics of food companies?

Thats preposterous… no food conglomerate would ever ‘manufacture’ evidence in order to boost sales, profits, stock valuations, hence salary and bonuses… or would they? Gee… its not like it hasn’t ever happened before with the demonizing of fats where everyone had to turn to margarine and low fat and no fat foods (which just so happened to create an entirely new category of products that food companies were able to make billions and billions).

Still think protein is all that healthy? Let alone necessary?

Considering that athletes coming out of the Eastern African nations – typically long distance runners coming out of Somalia, Ethiopia, & Kenya – all live on diets that are 95-99% carb mainly because they cannot afford protein are the same athletes who tend to dominate at the Olympics. What happened to all that business about protein? Huh?

Exactly… its business, its not health information, its all about revenue, profit, and bonuses.

Like getting sold…

Well keep buying all that hi protein business because you are being sold a boatload.

A Tale of Two Economies

Our economy bifurcated somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s when first mobile phones became available and then in the mid 90s when email became available. Since, the divergence has magnified considerably as mobile phone technology became smaller and more powerful, and as the internet became larger and equally powerful.

The first economy is the ‘old’ economy, the economy upon which we have grown ever since mankind developed forms of exchange of workmanship. This economy of workers producing valuable and desirable products and services for consumption is changing the landscape of our world… from malls of all sizes, to legions of delivery trucks driving throughout residential areas dropping off what was once purchased in store to what has become purchased online. The distance between production and consumption – the supply chain – has shrunk and with technology, the chain continues to shorten as consumers gain greater and more direct access to producers. The era of the middle man is ending. The process of creative destruction is well underway in industry but the full effect has not been felt because of banking and political policies which have been implemented to prevent – at all costs – the wildfire which is needed to clear the forest of deadwood, the fire which would provide the ash for new growth. Subsequently, the ‘old’ economy is being held back from new growth by armies of zombie companies which have continued to crawl out of their graves (e.g. Sears/Kmart) time and time again due to financial wizardry.

The second economy is not necessarily a new economy, but it is one that without technology would never have exploded to the impact that it has today: the Attention Economy. Correct, an economy based not on the production of anything valuable, instead based on attention… as in the number of ‘likes’, ‘followers’, thumbs up votes, and so forth. At one time, this Attention Economy was known as sales & marketing and was limited to those companies with the budgets and the means to engage Madison Ave Advertising firms. In the past, you would have to have a gargantuan budget in order to ‘get attention’ for your product or service, case in point, 30sec ads during the Super Bowl would cost millions upon millions of dollars. Why? Because there was a time when Super Bowl ads were guaranteed to get the ‘Attention’ of the average American so the value of advertising your product or service was immense.

It all changed with the platform of both mobile technology and the internet, and liberated by apps such as Youtube, and the entire host of social media applications. Now advertising and marketing firms are in the process of losing their grip on the market because they no longer are the gatekeepers to the average Americans attention. The typical person skips through TV commercials, doesn’t listen to old fashion radio stations nor the ads played on them, nor does the typical person read a paper newspaper or glossy magazine anymore. Everything is online… which means our ‘attention’ is entirely online.

Its not an entirely new economy because the Attention Economy existed in the past with mainstream media (i.e. TV & radio ads, etc…) but what is new is that as the end consumer we now have far more control than ever before. In the past, we had to sit through commercials because there was no option not to sit through commercials. In the past, we were subjected to advertising and marketing; but now we have the option to opt out.

But this is not the aspect of the Attention Economy that is of interest at the moment; what is of interest is the fact of what we have done now that we each have the ability not only to opt out but to create our own advertising and marketing.

All of a sudden, with apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram every single person has become their own advertising agency. We woke up one day to realize that every single person seems to have registered themselves on some social media app and has taken to ‘advertising and marketing’ not products and services as in the old economy, but advertising and marketing themselves… as in their life, actually worse… as in what they are eating at this instant, what they are wearing, what they are thinking… as if anyone actually cared or cares, but they did it with such enthusiasm and energy that we figured the world does care. With that we all jumped on thinking that advertising and marketing our lives online… mattered.

Then it went to an entirely new level where it wasn’t good enough just to advertise and market your life, it became a competition. Now every aspect of our live is up for grabs… was your meal as superb as others posted on line, what about your latest clothing and accessory purchases, what about your car, your music, your hair, your make up, everything is a competition.

And we are suffering as a result.

Suffering from trying to keep up with an endless stream of uploads and posts and pictures.

Suffering from trying to keep one step ahead of who we consider our competition.

Suffering from spending our energy, our lives on meaningless time wasting pissing contests which amount to nothing yet drain our existence out of us… and we wonder why we are unfulfilled, unsatisfied, empty, and exhausted.

Anger, anxiety, depression, and a long list of other mental and emotional health challenges are skyrocketing in prevalence. As people we are becoming dysfunctional not only in relating to one another, but even in relating to ourselves. By competing with everyone else on every possible aspect of our lives, we no longer engage meaningfully with anyone, we compete to see if we can one up them in some way. Few remain with any connection to reality, to their direction and purpose in life as the many have become so wrapped up in this endless competition of lifestyle advertising and marketing that they have literally lost themselves to the battle.

We used to seek the attention of others because we had something of importance, of value, because we had created something that we wanted to share, that we thought others would benefit from, because we had something we believed would help others.

Today, we seek attention for no other purpose but for the sake of attention. Like toddlers who lost the attention of their mother or father for an instant, we resort to any and typically an incendiary action in order to regain attention… from anyone! Because we see others getting attention, for fear of not getting any attention ourselves, we are raising the stakes and ramping up the means which use to get attention.

No longer is positive attention the sole goal.

Attention, period is the goal. Any attention.

For what, from whom… doesn’t matter.

All that matters is getting attention.

For no other purpose than because everyone else is doing it.

Think about it.

Quick Fixes and Bandaids

As a regulated health professional I had to make a decision whether or not to continue to work in a clinic where with someone else as ‘boss’ I risk having to bend my standards to those of the business, hence the boss.

Why did this even arise as an issue? The following video summarizes it well…

With patients increasingly coming into clinics in search of ‘bandaids’ and quick fixes instead of actually seeking health, wellness, restoration of function, and with clinics run more and more as for-profit businesses where maximizing number of treatment sessions, prolonging treatment, anything to maximize billing is the standard… well we end up where we are now.

Where are we now? Health professionals (like in this video) who are actually trying to heal patients, to cure patients as opposed to ‘managing’ the signs and symptoms of their patients to essentially addict their patient to ongoing and never ending treatment (hence never ending billing) are a dying breed. Either run out of clinics because they hold themselves to a standard and thus expect others to also hold to a standard, or leave clinic work as a result of being unable to maintain the state of cognitive dissonance required to maintain an ethical practice yet comply with the ‘boss’ or the business wants of more and more billing opportunities. And on the other side, we end up with the patient population coming to believe that there is nothing other than endless cycles of treatment, with actual healing, full restoration of function, where pain free living becomes a fantasy… and the resulting epidemics in chronic lifestyle diseases, prescription and illegal drug addictions, overdoses and deaths, as well as the epidemic of chronic pain, chronic fatigue, et al… all of it a footnote as to how far we have fallen from pursuing health, wellness, hence our potential to live out our lives at the fullest.

I get it… bills have to be paid, as well as staff having to be paid, etc… There is nothing wrong with generating profit, as without profit there is no sense for anyone to ever start a business so profits are necessary; however, when profit becomes the obsession with profit to be achieved at any cost, even at the cost of the long term health of your client, or as in the case of an health care business the long term health of your patients… that is plain and simply wrong. You can try to convince yourself all you want but there ain’t no convincing me.

There is a middle ground, and its called compassionate capitalism… but that requires standards, it requires ethics, a moral compass, it requires us to be able to say ‘no’ to one another, it requires not giving in to the debasement of excellence in pursuit of short term gain; but thats work… and today the belief seems to be that work is for losers… winners don’t work.

Let me share one experience that puts a tidy bow on this…

I had a patient come to me complaining of knee pain. After assessing the joint, surrounding joints, muscular strength, neural health and function, there was nothing that I could find ‘wrong’. Instead of the patient being ecstatic that nothing is wrong, they were upset… they wanted something wrong in order to justify the pain, to justify the need for treatment, to justify who knows what else in their life they needed justified. Instead of a treatment plan including some modalities, and manual therapy, the prescription was for the patient to start exercising… like walking on a daily basis as they did none, as in no exercise whatsoever. It was evident based on the evaluation that the increasing level of a sedentary lifestyle at work and at home was leading now to signs and symptoms that made it appear that something was wrong with their joints. Nothing was wrong… yet, with the joints, the joints were just starting to make noise to the fact that what was wrong was how inactive the joints were becoming, and that any small amount of movement, even standing up from being seated was becoming problematic. But this is not what the patient wanted to hear… they wanted to hear that they have degeneration in their joints, perhaps even a diagnosis of arthritis would have likely tickled them because then it would validated even further whatever they wanted validated. If I suggested an orthopaedic surgeon consult because of the potential for knee joint replacement surgery, then perhaps they may have even done cartwheels in excitement that something that horribly is wrong with their joints that they have to have surgery. That is how upside down, backwards is the thinking of so many patients. And you wonder why there is a crisis in public health care budgets? With patients excited about the degree of disease and hoping for expensive and extensive treatment, then budgets are only going to be more and more challenged in the years to come… that is unless we actually get excited about being healthy, not diseased.

I read a recent article how a physician had to deal with a patient who recovered from cancer. Again you would think that the patient would be ecstatic… nope. Instead they were now depressed that they were healthy and MISSED HAVING CANCER! Well, it wasn’t the cancer they missed, but the support group, the other cancer patients on the hospital unit that they were on while receiving treatment. They missed the smiling friendly faces of the nurses, they missed belonging to a group… a real live group, not a Fb community or other online fake community, but a real live group of human beings interacting honestly and openly with one another on a regular basis. Imagine that… a patient depressed that they are healthy. And we wonder why there is a crisis in our health? Wonder not.

How do we change course? As per the video… we have to allow ourselves to breakdown and realize its not a sign of weakness, its a sign that we are broken… and been broken for a long long time and all the external efforts to stucco, renovate, upgrade and remodel over the brokenness is no longer able to keep all the plates spinning. We need to drop the pretense, the spectacles, the show that everything is alright, that we are holding it altogether, that we have it all figured out, that there is nothing whatsoever wrong. We have to give ourselves permission to not be perfect, to admit that perhaps not all aspects of our life is as magazine cover as we want to pretend they are. And then we need to sit down with the pieces and start to piece together a life that is worth living, a life where we pursue health, and not disease, a life which leads us to jumping out of bed in the morning excited to see what will come with this new day. Not living that way… why not? Hoping instead that you contract a deadly disease today… just so that you can get some real human interaction? There is an alternative way of living…

Maybe Not A B-Lister

In the prior post I suggested that Lionel Sanders is a B List level pro athlete.. then it occurred to me, maybe I was generous.  Let’s think about this for a second…

Who would be on the A List of pro triathletes (specifically focusing on Ironman distance triathlon, leaving ITU accomplishments aside for the moment)?

You would definitely have to have Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Paula Newby Fraser, Natasha Badmann and Chrissie Wellington on the list. Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, and of course Daniela Ryf would need to be on the list.  All of these athletes won in Kona at least 3 times. Athletes such as Canadian Lori Bowden could be on the list as a 2x winner in Kona, but considering she was on the podium for 7 consecutive years… thats gotta count too. Would this years Patrick Lange be on the list… considering his back to back wins, plus the course record, plus the first sub8 hour time at Ironman Worlds, I would bet he would be on the list too.

Jan Frodeno, Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack, Peter Reid, Tim DeBoom, Normann Stadler, Scott Tinley, Erin Baker, the Puntous twins, and Fernanda Keller along with others could be A Listers, but more likely B Listers (again, just looking at IM WC results). If we add on the contributions that someone like Scott Tinley made to the sport, well then we are into an entire different categorization system.

Point being… yes, Sanders may be an A List athlete in Canada, but internationally… B List may have been generous, especially if ‘other’ contributions to the sport (e.g. ITU wins) are taken into consideration. Sanders make be a C or D List athlete, making those who I compared him to D, E or F list pros.

Why go through all this trouble?

Because I believe its important that aspiring athletes appreciate that making it to the top of anything, including sport, is not a straight line from unknown to family dinner table first name recognition status.  For those on the A List, their years of consistent success was on top of many many years racing at lesser known events, and on top of many many years of training. But this is not what sells in the sports media…

And, this is not what the sports media does… it doesn’t respect that the development of an individual to the point that they achieve A List status and more importantly develop to the point of being able to maintain such status is a long long journey. Instead the sports media is always trying to find the ‘next great one’ and commentators and coaches alike are always trying to link themselves to the hopeful ‘next great one’ so that they hopefully gain fame and perhaps some fortune as a result of ‘discovering’ the talent.

What is not disclosed or discussed is how many athletes this destroys – first psychologically, and then physiologically.  But, hey … who cares is the attitude.  Blow one athlete up, there is always another one coming up that we can try again with.

Case in point, the story of Canada’s first top swimmer: Elaine Tanner. Not familiar with the story.  Click here to read a post summarizing it, but in short… at 17 and returning from the Mexico City ’68 Olympics with 3 of the 5 medals the entire Canadian Olympic team won… all that the sports media wanted to know (in order to sell sell sell) was why did Tanner fail? You see, the expectation was that Tanner would return home with gold, not medals of any other colour. Can you imagine being 17 and being considered a national failure, a disgrace?

Athletes, learn the lesson and learn it good… the sports media will chew you up, and spit you out. They only see you as an opportunity to further their own agenda, to serve themselves, to profit themselves; there is no goodwill towards you, you are just the story of the moment. If you get lost in thinking that you are something or someone because your name was mentioned, your picture published… well, when you have your first setback, you may not be prepared for how ruthless the media can be on the other side. If you aren’t prepared, then in all likelihood the treatment you receive – like Tanner – could be career ending.

Athletes, be cautious of those who are eager to blow you up to A List status. They are not doing it to serve you, but to serve themselves, their own agenda. If you want a long pro career, don’t be in a rush to get into the spotlight, and don’t seek those who rush to get you into the spotlight. It will likely be the worst goal you have ever set for yourself.

Athletes, you need to build a support system that will be there all the time… not just when the wind is behind your back and you are climbing the ranks as you climb on top of podium after podium. In all careers there are setbacks, obstacles, tough times, challenges… those who came across eager to celebrate you on the way up, are not likely to be there when times change, and they may very well become those who want to pull you down. 

Athletes, you need a support system if you are going to see your journey to the end… pick your team wisely, for it is upon their shoulders you will stand on when succeeding, and upon their shoulders you will be carried in difficult times.

Make sure those around you have good shoulders.

Life Not On The A-List

Comedian Kathy Griffin had a show called “My Life on the D-List“. It was a show that awakened me to the striations within the world of actors, actresses of celebrities. I mean if you stop and think about it, its something we would all appreciate, but if you don’t stop and think about it… well, its one of those things that aren’t necessarily self evident unless you have lived your life on any list other than the A-List. In short, living life on the D-List ain’t anything like living life on the A-list… which was probably the entire point of the show: to show that life for those not on the D-List may appear as glamorous, as fabulous as the life of A-Listers on the red carpet, but the rest of the time… its work to be a D-Lister. There is a lot of hustle, a lot of struggle and challenge to remain in the industry when producers, directors, script writers aren’t chasing you.

Where is this coming from?

Recently a C3 Newsletter congratulated Lionel Sanders on his ‘win’ at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells. The post from the newsletter seems to have made its way to Triathlon Magazine Canada as you can read on the website. These posts made me think…

Back to his winning ways?  Really?

When Sanders came 30th in Kona at Ironman World Championships, there was not a single mention that Sanders even existed in the world of triathlon. All of a sudden, all the build up that accompanied Sanders going into Kona vanished. No one could remember his name… there was no mention from the C3 Newsletter that came out after Kona, and there was no mention from Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Then Sanders heads to Indian Wells, wins, and everyone remembers his name again and are quick to tout that Sanders is ‘back’!

Back from what?

At Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells, Sanders’ competition was a list of Pro Men that few would recognize by name. Joe Gambles? OK, so Gambles has placed in the top 10 of a variety of events, but he has not qualified to race in Kona so calling Sanders’ win a win… its a bit of a stretch. I don’t think Sanders was celebrating his win as if it was equivalent to a win in Kona.

Lets say Sanders is a B-List level athlete, what kind of win is it when you compare the success of a B-Lister to the performance of a bunch of C & D listers? I don’t think it says anything about anyone, yet this is exactly the point that is trying to be made about Sanders… he’s back.

Put Sanders up against Lange, Aernouts, McNamee, et al and if he podiums then I think it would be fair to say he is back… for how long… well, thats a different point altogether.

So why did Sanders go to Indian Wells?

For those unfamiliar with the less glamorous side of professional sport, there is the reality that pro athletes are not exempt from bills, need a roof over their heads, food on the table, etc..

My guess would be – and I think its a fairly accurate one – that Sanders went to Indian Wells in pursuit of an easy paycheque. Having gone to Kona figuring that he would podium which would pay off the expense of traveling and competing in Kona, and leave a bit over for life back at home and that not happening… Sanders was in need of some positive cash flow. Thats it. No back to winning ways… he needed a paycheque, plain and simple.  With Kona in the rear view mirror it probably wasn’t hard to find a race where there wasn’t going to be competition from A-List level athletes, and Sanders could bank on an easy (relatively) win.

On top of a paycheque, we have all read that Sanders has a new sponsor in Canyon. So.. why not check off two items from the to-do list at once… race Indian Wells, get a paycheque AND get a podium which would impress his new sponsor and put his new bike setup on the map.

If Sanders is back as is being claimed… then we will see it next season at Championship events, and we will see it consistently for years to come (as Crowie said… its easy to win once, winning year after year, now thats the hardest thing to do in sport)… not at some B or C List event.

In the meantime, Sanders has to make a living.  That’s what life is really like for a pro athlete. It ain’t all sponsor events, media interviews, and photo shoots… there is the necessary aspect of figuring out sometimes just how to get another paycheque.

It would serve well if we stop blowing the bullshit and put perspective on what athletes are doing so that up and coming aspiring athletes can start to appreciate what life really is like as a pro. Indeed, there are A List athletes who are paid to race, paid appearance fees, are paid through endorsement deals on top of podium wins… and then there are all the pros not on the A List… all the pros that have to “work” as in race in order to eat & sleep in comfort.

If we used these opportunities to educate aspiring athletes, then the culture shock of life as a pro being a rise from couch surfing to potentially red carpet would be far less of a shock. Lets stop pretending that all pros live on the A List and it ain’t anything other than fame & fortune… or more importantly that the A List is within reach with just a handful of wins.

Those actors and actresses on the A list didn’t just get there… for the majority it was years and years and years of D, and C, and B level movies… years and years of acting classes, and perhaps waiting tables in LA as they awaited their big opportunity. Aspiring athletes need to know that there are no short cuts to the top of anything and reflecting on the lives of current pro athletes can serve as a greater learning opportunity.