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Unlocking Athlete Success: Shifting Focus from Results to Achievements

I asked one of my athletes how her race went last weekend. 

“I got fourth,” she said. 

While getting fourth is great, especially if you’re a performance-minded endurance athlete, that’s not quite the answer I’m looking for as a coach.

I want to know how the athlete felt, whether they were satisfied with their effort, and did they play the race right. 

So I’m asking the wrong questions. 

What’s the better question, though, for someone finishing a gravel, cyclocross, trail running, or other endurance event?

Unlock athlete success in endurance sports coaching by shifting focus from results to achievements. Learn strategies for a growth mindset and continuous improvement

Focus on effort and personal achievement

I want to foster a positive mindset and encourage continuous improvement in my athletes. 

By asking the right questions, I can help them reflect on their performance, learn from their experiences, and set meaningful goals for future races.

Focusing on performance rather than results is essential because it shifts the athlete's focus away from external factors they may not fully control, such as finishing position or time, and towards aspects of their performance that they can actively work on and improve. 

This approach encourages a growth mindset, resilience, and a deeper understanding of the sport.

It also helps athletes recognize their progress and achievements, regardless of whether they achieve their desired outcome in a particular race.

Four questions to ask after races

Here are four questions I’ll ask after races:

  1. How did you feel during the race? Did you encounter any unexpected challenges?
  2. What strategies did you use to overcome those unexpected challenge?
  3. Can you describe a moment where you felt particularly strong or in the zone?
  4. What are you proud of, regardless of the outcome?

Athlete accomplishments, not outcomes

These questions get at athlete accomplishments during a race, regardless of outcome. 

One of my athletes had a tough time trial recently. 

It was their first race of the year, and they went a little hard during the warmup and didn’t refuel after the warmup before the race. 

Their time in the time trial was a bit slower than last year, despite a great winter of training. 

The post-race recovery time was tough, with tears and questioning all the training. 

I clearly need to spend more time focusing on the process with this athlete. 

We need to focus on pre-race preparation and having a plan to follow during the race.

Maintain motivation and focus in the race

One of the questions it’s important to discuss is how the athlete maintained focus and motivation in the race. 

For example, a time trial is all about suffering and going as hard as possible. 

This question helps athletes focus on their mental resilience. What strategies is the athlete using to stay focused and motivated. 

Are my athletes using techniques to stay focused and motivated during a race, such as visualization, positive self-talk, or setting short-term goals. 

By asking about these strategies, I can identify what works best for each athlete and encourage them to continue using these methods in future races.

Reflecting on moments where athletes maintained focus and motivation can boost their confidence and self-belief. 

It reminds them of their ability to overcome challenges and perform at their best, which can be invaluable for future races.

Focus on the positive

Asking about what went well can help remind the athlete of things they did that were good. 

  1. Reinforces positive behavior: Highlighting positive experiences reinforces the behaviors and strategies that led to success. By acknowledging and discussing what went well, athletes are more likely to continue using those same approaches in the future.
  2. Boosts confidence: Reflecting on successes and achievements can boost athletes' confidence and self-belief. It reminds them of their capabilities and strengths, which can be particularly motivating during times of challenge or self-doubt.
  3. Promotes a positive mindset: Focusing on positive experiences fosters a positive mindset and outlook. It shifts the focus away from shortcomings or failures and reinforces the idea that success is achievable through effort and effective preparation.

Growth mindset is the main outcome

With all of these questions, I’m trying to get my athletes to think about their event in terms of how they felt and their accomplishments, rather than a result. 

Growth mindset is the idea that success is not just about innate talent or luck but about the willingness to embrace challenges, learn from experiences, and persist in the pursuit of their goals.

Developing a growth mindset helps an athlete with: 

  1. Embracing challenges: A growth mindset encourages athletes to view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. Asking reflective questions about effort and personal achievements fosters this mindset by encouraging athletes to see setbacks as learning experiences and opportunities to improve.
  2. Learning from feedback: Athletes with a growth mindset are open to feedback and see it as a valuable tool for development. I want to encourage my athletes to reflect on their experiences, identify areas for improvement, and adjust their approach accordingly.
  3. Persistence and resilience: A growth mindset emphasizes the importance of perseverance and resilience in the face of setbacks. By focusing on effort and personal achievements rather than results, let’s reinforce the idea that progress is a journey marked by continuous effort and learning, rather than a destination determined solely by outcomes.
  4. Encouraging continuous Improvement: At its core, a growth mindset is about believing in one's ability to improve with effort and dedication. Training doesn’t guarantee success, but there is always the potential to continually improve and excel in their sport.

Three things to know about shifting focus on achievements:

  1. To improve performance in the long-term, focus on the positives of racing and training. 
  2. Focus on what challenges you face and overcome in the race or training, including overcoming tough results.
  3. Focus on understanding the parts of an event or race you can control (warmup, nutrition, race preparation, mental toughness). 

Need more? 

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Paul Warloski is a:

  • USA Cycling Level 2 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer
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