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Bad Day, Good Day – Making the Switch

By Morgan Johnson

bikeI have moments with all of the athletes that I coach where they reveal their potential in ways that I didn’t expect. I saw this not long ago with a younger athlete, a nationally competitive amateur who participated in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. He didn’t have the day he had hoped to have (or prepared to have) – GI distress plagued him on the run, and kept him from earning a qualifying spot for the world championships in London in 2013, his goal for the day. He called me shortly after the event to give me the details, and despite the disappointment of the morning, our conversation demonstrated far greater potential than he himself probably realized.

We talk a lot about the “mental game” in endurance sports, and why it is so crucial to success at any level – one of my favorite quotes (from an anonymous source) says that “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way – if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” It gets to the heart of the mental game, because in every situation, we have the option to move toward, or away from, success. That morning when I talked to my athlete, even though his day did not go as planned, he chose to use it as an opportunity to move toward success. Instead of sitting in his disappointment and frustration, he demonstrated the mental abilities of an elite athlete by focusing on the part he played in what went wrong, and how to make adjustments in his next qualification attempt. I am happy to say that he placed fourth in his division at the USA Triathlon Long Course National Championship only one month later, putting him well within the qualifying standards for the Long Course Age Group World Championships.

So how do we make the switch – how do we choose to move towards success?

It begins, in my mind, with the “Bad Day/Good Day” syndrome. I tell all of my athletes (ages 6 to 60!) that there is no such thing as a “bad day” in triathlon – there are only days when things go the way we planned, and days when we learn something that will help us to do better in the future. Try talking to an elite athlete – regardless of what happened to them in training or on race day, they will inevitably find a way to pull a positive out of the day, instead of wallowing in the frustration of what went wrong. To a true athlete, it is always a “good day.” When my athlete chose to turn his failed qualification attempt into a lesson in patience and even greater determination, he acted like an elite athlete, and performed as such at his subsequent goal races.

So-called “bad days” are, in fact, the best thing that can happen to us as athletes, because they always have lessons to teach that will make us stronger, faster and more successful in the future – should we choose to learn from them.

Because we are creatures of habit, making this switch to the “good day” mentality won’t happen overnight! Just like any aspect of our sport, it takes training. A simple exercise you can do at the end of every training session and/or race that will help you flip your thinking patterns from negative to positive is to answer the following questions:

  1. What was one thing that went right, and why?
  2. What was one thing that I can improve on next time, and how?

Again, instead of becoming frustrated over what went wrong, we are choosing to accept the situation and use it to make ourselves stronger. This is the mark of a great athlete. Does this mean we are not allowed to feel disappointment when things don’t go our way? Absolutely not – it is appropriate to mourn a lost opportunity, but don’t get stuck in the grieving process. In every lost opportunity, there is another opportunity, to learn and grow and make forward progress towards the ultimate goal. It takes patience and determination to prevail, but practice can make these qualities come more and more naturally.

I encourage every athlete, no matter of ability levels or goals, to practice making the switch from “bad days” to “good days” – it will make your experience in our sport much more positive and rewarding, and it will bring you progressively closer to your goals, whatever they may be.

Morgan Johnson is a USAT Level I Certified Coach and the Lead Developmental Coach at the Playtri Performance Center in Dallas, Texas. Morgan has been coaching triathlon for three years, and specializes in youth and developmental athletes. She can be contacted at morgan@playtri.com.

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