Athertons California Training
Athertons California Training

“I want to be world champion", is a phrase that’s been said to me a number of times. In my role I never hear someone say, “I’d like to be a bit better than I am". That’s the nature of elite athletes and exactly the way it should be – getting them there though is another matter entirely. However the key word is, “want".

From Dirt Issue 129 - November 2012

Words by Darren Roberts. Photo by Sven Martin.

We all ‘want’ something, I don’t ‘want’ chocolate to make me fat, but guess what? What we want and what we can have are quite often two very different things…for lots of different reasons. I’m less interested in what someone wants to do, but extremely interested in what they are going to do.

The athletes I work with are curious creatures, strong personalities and non–conformity are what defines them – along with a total lack of an understanding of the word ‘impossible’. This means that having structures and plans in place isn’t exactly their forte, as High Performance Manager it’s down to me to attempt to keep them pointing in the right performance direction. Given the characters they are this is not an easy thing to do, they have some very clear ideas on what they think they should be doing and have often achieved great things already with little or no help. Whether you’re a 17 year old DHer with World Cup and World Champion aspirations, or a weekend warrior simply looking to improve – each has something in common, a desire to ‘progress’. Whilst the routes may seem wildly different, the process for each of them is in fact the same – goals and plans.

Windham UCI  MTB World CUP
Windham UCI MTB World CUP

In simple terms define what exactly what the goal is, then work backwards from that point to where you are now. Getting ‘fitter’, ‘better’ and even ‘become World Champion’ are extremely sweeping statements which encompass a massive amount of possible interventions. There are tonnes of acronyms you can use for goal setting processes, from simple to extremely complex. You have to be specific and break everything down into its component parts.

Technical: Line selection, setting the bike up, being able to understand what the bike is doing and what you need to do about it

Mental: Do you stall on certain parts of a course because you have limiting beliefs? “I’ll never be as good as they are", “I’ll never be that fast", “I’m always slow on this part", etc.

Physical: What areas do you want to improve? Why? Define the end goal.

You have to write all of this down, define the end goal (specific), then work backwards from the point to where you are now in measurable chunks so you can constantly re–assess your progress and modify things if needed. None of this is written in stone and you have to be flexible so the plan to help you doesn’t end up holding you back. This is your plan not someone else's, what works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. Elites can and do get distracted by what someone who is beating them is doing both in and away from their sports – concentrate on your own game, not someone else's. The end goal will always determine the methods you use, it will also define the sorts of practice and training sessions you do. This will mean you can distinguish between a structured session with an outcome, and simply being out shredding with mates. Both are extremely important, but one has defined outcomes towards the goals you have set and the other is ensuring you still enjoy the sport.

The problem with this process and why a lot of people from elite’s to weekend warriors struggle with it, is that it’s not a shiny piece of brand new kit that you can put on yourself or the bike. All it requires is some time, a piece of paper and the discipline to follow through on the plan that comes from your own goals that you have set. It also may highlight something you don’t want to see, that your end goal is in reality unachievable or even worse your true end goal IS achievable and fear of success makes it easy to sit back. In either case it can show you what is and isn’t realistic, more often than not a lot more is within someone’s grasp than they realise.

Darren Roberts is Head of High Performance at Red Bull UK working with the likes of the Atherton family, Danny MacAskill, MX enduro star David Knight and many, many others. He’s also worked with premiership rugby and football teams and individuals, and presents conferences on performance management of extreme sports athletes right through to more traditional sports. He’s a man with fingers in lots of pies!

Next issue: Training.

This article is part of the Work Out series. You can find the rest of Darren Roberts' training tips through the links below:

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