So heres the thing, in Sport Science we follow a set way of doing things to learn stuff. Physiologists use complicated and expensive tools to measure what happens in the body. Biomechanists take measurements and use complicated maths to work out kinetics and kinematics. And, Sport Psychologists, well, they ask athletes stuff and for all intense purposes take the athletes word for it. While there is a stack of research on goal setting, the science behind it is not as rigorous as the information backing interval training or measures of rolling resistance for different tyres. So here is Coach Ferg’s take on goal setting that I use as a framework for the riders I coach.
I break the process down into three stages.
These are the goals you set when you try something new. When you watch Shane Archbold in the Tour de France or Eddie, Sam and Ethan rocket around the velodrome in Rio and think, WOW, that looks cool. So you dust off your bike in the garage or wander down to the local track to see if they have bikes for hire. Discovery goals are to learn about this thing that has caught your attention. What is racing? Why do they wear lycra? Why do they shave their legs? Why do you have to keep pedalling on the Track? WHY ARE THERE NO BRAKES ON A TRACK BIKE??? These types of goals help you to learn fast, and learn safely as you come to grips with the World of Cycle Racing.
As you progress in the sport you still keep setting discovery goals. As you progress from Development, Junior, Entry Level grades and programmes you move into higher levels and find you discover new challenges. On the track U15s move into U17s and go from 4 events to 7 at Nationals and must learn to ride pursuits, sprints and the Teams events, as well as the challenges of riding a longer scratch race and points race. On the road once you have mastered local fun rides you may want to step up to a Le Race or a Round Lake Taupo and need to learn how to ride for 4-5 hours in larger groups at faster speeds and how to fuel yourself while riding.
AKA process goals. Once you start to build a base of understanding about the events you are doing, and what it takes to prepare for them, you start to set Performance goals. So you know what the flying 200m time trial is, at the start of the sprint event, you know the Baileys – Seafund Circuit at the Te Awamutu Junior Tour, and you know just how steep Bluff Hill is at the end of a Tour of Southland stage. Here is where you start to focus on the performance elements. This is breaking down the event into its key components.
In a flying 200m you break it down to gear selection, equipment selection, warm up, lining up, the slow roll to the top of the banking, where you jump from, how hard, when to dive down into the lane and how fast you want to hit the timing strip to ensure you sustain the pace for the distance.
At Te Awamatu Tour you know how many laps you are racing, you know the competition so you break the event down to your strengths, the challenges of the opposition, your weaknesses and the opportunities the course or conditions offer you.
With the Bluff Hill finish looming you break it down to saving as much energy as possible in the hard 30km run in to the finish. One year while Gordon McCauley and Cam Karwowski were averaging over 300 watts for 4 hours in the break, Hayden Roulston was averaging under 200 watts as his team protected him to the base of the climb where he unleashed 500 plus watts for 7:30min to take the win.
Performance goals help you to focus on what is needed to get the best on the day. For minor events you may decide on the plan of attack as you warm up. For a major single day race the performance goal setting process starts 3 months out and for something as challenging as a Tour of Southland or NZ Cycle Classic the process starts 6 months out. All National Olympic programmes start their thinking a minimum of 4 years out and most work 8 years in advance. Which leads us to…
AKA Outcome Goals. For our team headed to Rio there has been a massive investment in time and money to prepare them. This support is very limited and only comes for those sporting codes, and to those events, that can deliver medals. This places a unique external pressure on the athletes to perform, the coaches to support and the HP Managers to be ruthless with funding and carding to ensure the continuation of the programme. Medals in Rio will ensure that HPSNZ continue to support cycling which provides funding for athletes, funding for coaches, funding for logistical support, and funding for sport science. There is more on the line than just personal ambition, and this places the riders in a situation where they have to perform to sustain their place in the team, and to provide the inspiration for others to discover cycling and for those that are hooked to enhance their own performance!
These high performance athletes still set discover goals as they learn new events, race in different and new locations, absorb new training methods, try equipment like the new Avanti bikes and new Disc Wheels. They constantly set new and higher performance goals on a daily basis. What it does highlight is that for those not in this pressure cooker environment, is that outcomes only affect them, not the Nation or the sport as a whole, which allows for a more relaxed approach to competition, health and fitness. A really big aspect of sport is developing a community of cycling. We see that with major events like Taupo or K2 where thousands line up to compete and enjoy cycling for more personal and social reasons.
So, with these three different types of goals you can have something that helps you to focus on your area of the sport, and at a level where you will benefit the most. The top athletes and coaches in the sport are still learning and discovery, still refining their performance process daily. Achieving goals is a rewarding exercise and I remind myself and the riders I coach to strive for better than yesterday but not as good as tomorrow!
Hamish’s first of four academic qualifications was a Degree in Psychology where he learned what science was and how to do it. This also led to to dislike for much of what was called science in the area of sports psychology!
For more from Coach Ferg, check out his coach’s page.