As as a coach and health-care professional, reflective practice has informed a good chunk of my learning and development. In order to progress, we must assess what we are doing and whether it serves us to reach our goals. This is especially important for athletes on their coaching journey to success, and building resilient, self-aware athletes is a huge part of what we strive to do at Anna Beck Coaching.
A good way to really get inside an athlete's head is to ask them to write notes daily in regarding to their training; how were they feeling, what else is going on, what are their fatigue levels doing, and how did the session go.
In order to get better at racing, the goal is to analyse what happens during your races, and a post-race analysis toolkit is a great way to do this. Athletes get a lot out of these when they answer truthfully (not just saying what they think the right answer is, or what I want to hear!), even better growth can come from having a coach go through the answers and discuss them after the race. Perhaps you are thinking one thing and your coach will offer a different perspective?
I’ll give you an example of useful vs. less-useful feedback below, with samples of race reflections from different athletes and different events (hence they won’t seem consistent with each other!)
How would you describe your lead up to the race in the day prior, and morning of the race? Please go into as much detail as possible.
Athlete A: The day before the race was super hot, I was feeling fatigued during my course practice but hoping for a good sleep that night. We rode for almost three hours, probably a bit long. My legs felt pretty heavy and I tried to mitigate that by conserving energy where I could. The morning of the race I hadn’t slept well and felt awful, but after breakfast and a coffee I began to feel alright. I believe I was a little dehydrated from the heat the day prior and that potentially affected my sleep
Athlete B: I rode all the track, I was happy with my lines. I woke up and was ready to race.
Coach: Athlete A goes into a lot of key details about the lead up to the event: including the temperature, how they felt, how they slept, their pre-race nutrition and hydration status. We can correlate this to a good or a poorer performance retrospectively. Athlete B offers some feedback ('rode the track') but omitted a lot of the specific details we can use to recreate good performances, or mitigate to avoid poor ones in the future.
How was your pre race preparation in terms of bike and nutrition?
Athlete A: I believe I could have increased the amount of electrolyte I drank in the days leading up to the event, and also made sure that I drank my protein and carbohydrate drink after training to maximise my recovery; I forgot both of these things and think I suffered! Had a good carbohydrate meal the night prior. Bike preparation was good, I had no problems and was running well. Suspension settings were perfect for course practice I was using all of my travel on the bigger features and I had thought about what settings and gearings I wanted to use for the race.
Athlete B: Bike was mint. Ate well.
Coach: Athlete A has a really solid grasp on the specifics of their nutrition and hydration plan. Furthermore, their reflective practice has allowed them to already draw some of their own conclusions about their actions and outcomes ("I forgot both of these things and suffered"). He also indicates that his preparation was specifically looking forwards towards race day in terms of their bike settings, and was already thinking in terms of race game-plan. Athlete B gives me some insight into their bike, that it's not a problem. While that is helpful, it would be good to be able to understand what their variety of 'eating well' consists of. For example if their 'eating well' is low carb, this could be deleterious in terms of endurance racing outcomes.
How was your nutrition and hydration throughout the race?
Athlete A: I aimed to take four feeds (5-600ml) during the race, two with water and two with electrolyte and carbohydrate powder. This is due to the race being a 5-lap race in the heat and being a heavy sweater. I also took on two gels on lap 2 and 4 which were the laps without the electrolyte; I only had one and missed the other one, feeling like I faded towards the end. Because it was hot I did question my need for more electorate vs gel sugar? Ideas?
Athlete B: Had three gels.
Coach: Athlete A had a plan for nutrition which was well executed, however did question their approach given the weather. Given that nutrition is key in endurance performance, we can draw a lot of valuable information from what's consumed, general feelings (fatigue, skill, legs) etc as the race continues. While Athlete B's three gels may have been enough for the race, when did they have them? What did they drink? Was it enough, did they correlate good or bad feeling with their nutrition plan?
Describe your mental approach to the race, how were you thinking, what went on for you?
Athlete A: I was excited but nervous. I had a good warm up and visualised riding smooth and fast. I embraced the nerves in the lead up to the stage to have a good fast start and kept my self talk to simple words during my runs. After my crash (not sure if it was a hole, rock or poor line-choice?) I immediately thought I was out however unclipped my feet, got up and turned my bar and remmounted speedily enough; I wasn't being run down by the competitor behind me. I tried to exhale throughout the rest of the run to steady myself, but felt pretty shaken and sore. Managed to get through the rest of the runs but felt a lot more tense than usual and not riding as smooth, fast and loose as usual.
Athlete B: I kept saying “keep pedalling”.
Coach: Athlete A identified their nerves and acknowledged their pre race anxiety, however went on to use some good tactics to keep in the flow zone throughout the race. They also identified what derailed them and though they really had a good attempt at getting back on track, struggled after being rattled. This gives the coach and athlete something solid to work on; they both want to improve the post-incident rebound! Athlete B is giving us something to go on; they seemed to have a mantra of just keep pedalling, but how did they deal with any adverse events on track?
What could you have done better next time? What did you do really well?
Athlete A: I felt really good in the lead up and to the point where I felt pretty unstoppable however when in the competition zone with extra speed I found it very difficult to ride as smoothly as before. I need to work on my focus and maintaining a relaxed style through the race. Nutrition and hydration was pretty good, I feel. I pushed hard to the end despite thinking I had no chance of being in contention for position. I would like to work a game plan to recover from a large physical setback (crash or similar) in order to continue riding smoothly in this particular discipline.
Athlete B: Think I need to be faster. Everything was good.
Coach: This is a really important question that prompts self-analysis from the athlete themselves and encourages the self awareness that's integral in elite performance. Athlete A has already started to link together some points using reflective practice; they can take courage from the fact that they are riding the best they have been but unable to link it together on the day. A dose of kindness as well as together putting together a plan to deal with incidents and race brain will be top of the priority list. Athlete B has put down their race result to one thing: needing to be faster, and as we have discussed, a race comes down to speed but many other factors contribute!
So get into some reflective practice, you won't regret it. If you have a coach to discuss your race reflections with, too, then even better!