6 Tips for Plotting Your Endurance Athlete Career Path

Dealing With Achievement

Achievement is a funny thing; once a goal is realized, there is satisfaction, even joy, but then there is the question of "what do I do next?"

I believe this has even been put under the umbrella of "post-race depression." Overachievers must be fed a steady diet of achievement in order to be satisfied. For this reason many leave the sport or move on to another challenge after a string of a few unsuccessful races, an injury, or an unsuccessful season. At this juncture the emphasis should be on figuring out what is not working, and how to change it.

If you are competing in endurance sports it is probable you like, or even need, a challenge. Keeping a challenge in front of you becomes very important, as it is a primary source of motivation. But after achieving a goal, a physical and mental break is equally important—often for more than a month. This does not mean shutting down physical activity, which would also be highly detrimental, but taking a relaxed, unstructured, and enjoyable approach to training. Once you are through this phase you will likely be itching for a new challenge and now is the time to define it.

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Going Pro

Becoming a professional athlete is something many aspire to but few will attain. It is tempting to believe that hard work, discipline, and desire will get you there, but the truth is that there is a genetic sieve athletes are sifted through. The ones that have the aforementioned qualities, combined with a genetic propensity for a sport are the ones that will make it to professional competition.

As I indicated earlier, a great many things must come together to bring an athlete to this level. But one of the key indicators that I look for is an athlete that is competing well locally or regionally, while being relatively new to a sport, with little quality guidance or support. Applying high level coaching and resources to these athletes is what brings them to the next level and perhaps their pro card. Identifying what areas these athletes need to work on—be it run form, nutrition, or race execution and tactics—is the first step in their development process.

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In the case of an emerging athlete it is often best to leave them in amateur competition a bit longer than they like, even if they qualify for professional status. A focus on performance metrics and objectives, and even plotting these out over several years, creates a long-term focus on athlete development versus placement. A highly talented amateur may make a very mediocre professional. It is humbling and perhaps demotivating. Having a long term plan and focus on performance metrics gives the athlete confidence in the process, as well as a more patient outlook.

Athletes always want to be their best tomorrow, but those that understand that fitness is a slow, steady, and often painful process of progression, if everything is coming together, will be more invested long term. And it takes years to bring an athlete to their very best, albeit a limited number of them. For this reason it is tantamount to make the best use of your own window of achievement.

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Matt Russ is a full-time professional coach with over 20 years of experience working with athletes up to the elite level. His athletes have won numerous regional, national, and international titles. He holds the highest level of licensing by both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is Head Coach and owner of The Sport Factory, a USA Triathlon Certified Performance Center. Visit The Sport Factory for more information or email him at coachmatt@thesportfactory.com.

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