Since the IAAF World Championships always occurs in the year leading up to the Olympic Games, it serves as one of the most important preparation opportunities for US track & field athletes. Every other year, this iconic athletics championship brings together the very best in the world from each event to duke it out and secure a podium spot.
This championship has been host to many world records and outstanding performances over the years. Though an Olympic medal still remains the pinnacle of any athletes’ career, the level of competition at the World Championships is so on par with the Olympic Games, that a medal there is an extremely close second in meaningfulness.
So how then do we prepare for such a huge event that is basically preparation for an even larger event? Here are 5 tips for new athletes on the scene:”
1. Set a big, ridiculous goal
Before you even think about a training plan, your nutrition, or all those other preparation necessities, you need to name your goal. It should be specific, detailed, and time constrained. It should also be big and scary enough that it makes you feel a little uncomfortable whenever you think about it.
“Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.” – Will Smith
One aspect of goal-setting literature that has always bothered me is the advice to make your goals “realistic.” But let’s be honest; When you look at some of the best athletes of all time, such as the Jordans, Usains and Serenas of the world, do you think they had “realistic” goals? It seems more likely to me that what these wildly successful people all had in common was the ability to set outrageous goals, and you should do exactly the same.
After naming your big goal, chart a detailed and measured path toward it by breaking it down into its most basic, core elements and steps. You can do this by setting intermittent goals, ones that you know you can achieve in defined timeframes. These should be set to push you past your margins, build on each other, and take you closer to the big goal. Don’t forget to celebrate the microvictories along the way!
The nice thing about these kinds of smaller, intermittent goals is that with each one you achieve, the “ridiculousness” of your big goal becomes a little bit more “realistic.”
2. Build the foundation in the offseason
Okay, so you’ve set your goals. You’ve charted a path to world records and Olympic champion titles, your intermittent goals are more detailed than a Chinese restaurant menu, and you’ve planned your victory dance routine down the last step! Now what? This is the part that many athletes dread: offseason training.
Offseason training is when you transition from your resting period (aka “vacation bod”) from the end of the previous competition season into a period of getting back in shape (aka coach prescribed torture). This is the general idea, but of course, the specifics look quite different for each athlete.
One thing that is consistent for everyone, though, is that this season is all about laying the foundations of strength, agility, flexibility, power, and speed physically and mentally to achieve the goals you’ve set.
You really want to maximize this period for focusing on the core elements of being a good athlete: fitness, fuel, mental tenacity, and rest. So now is the time for putting in those difficult training sessions, honing in on your nutrition, establishing a routine of adequate rest and quality sleep, and making time for mental work.
The offseason is also the right time to prepare a preseason training plan and a meet schedule, which should include plans for qualifying for the championship. You should work closely with your coach to figure out how your progression of training will look:
- When will you ramp things up?
- When will you taper?
- Will you need to include more technical sessions?
- What do the training blocks look like?
- In what timeframe and what meet options do you have for qualification?
Make your offseason and preseason training plan, work with your coach to chart a path to qualifying, and trust it. Track your progress by keeping a training diary, then you can look back midseason and know that you’ve put in the work and feel confident that the foundation is laid.
3. Stay motivated
One of the most challenging parts of being an elite athlete is maintaining motivation when the big goal seems awfully far away. Your intermittent goals will help you stay on track with the literal performance targets, but it certainly helps to incorporate some “motivational checkpoints” along the way.
This is a method I use to surround myself with constant reminders of the big goal. Basically, I try to incorporate some aspect of motivation into my daily habits.
Here are some examples:
- Clean up your social media. In this age, we all spend quite a bit of time on social media. So you should really make sure that what you’re looking at is aimed at helping you! Maybe unfollow some of those cat pic profiles and other junk and fill up your timeline with motivational profiles, and follow people you admire and look up to. I find it especially useful to follow someone whom I know is more technically sound in my event than I am, to continuously cue up in my brain what good technique looks like.
- Fill in the gaps of wasted time. Do you spend time on public transportation? Do you binge watch Netflix? Great! Those are fantastic opportunities to fill in those “time wasting gaps” with motivational checkpoints, such as:
- Listening to a sports & nutrition podcast. There are endless options, and all you have to do is listen! It’s the easiest form of learning ever created.
- Reading a motivational/sports performance book to learn from those who have more experience than you do.
- Create literal checkpoints. Write down your goals and stick them up on your bathroom mirror or somewhere you look daily. Even if you don’t pay active attention to these notes, you’re planting seeds in your subconscious.
4. Prepare adequately
So you’ve qualified, and you’re over the moon! Soon you’ll be on a plane to the destination of your athletic dreams to compete in front of thousands of people! How thrilling!
Here are some things to consider in the weeks leading up to your departure:
- Don’t start something new. Your wheel works; Don’t reinvent it. We often get tempted to throw in extra, unprescribed workouts, activities, meal plans, etc. Stick to the plan that you and your coach worked so hard to prepare.
- It’s ok to be nervous. In the book,” The Pressure Principle: Handle Stress, Harness Energy, and Perform When It Counts,” author Dave Alfred said something that really stuck with me: “It’s not a case of getting rid of the butterflies, it’s a question of getting them to fly in formation.” You will get nervous, so you might as well use it for good.
- Know where you’re going. Take some time to consider any factors that are specific to the travel to the location and the competition site which could potentially throw you off your game. Is there a time difference? What will the weather be like? What’s the food like? Will you need to take some of your favorite snacks or even just a couple basics to maintain your normal routine? Another consideration is the time of day you will compete. A few weeks ahead of the competition, it might be a good idea to change your training time accordingly to make sure your body is accustomed to performing its best at that time of the day.
It’s the day of competition. You’re ready. You’ve laid the foundation, you stayed motivated, you charted a plan and a path with your coach to success, and you’ve arrived prepared and ready to go for the big goal!
There are so many different pieces of advice I could recommend for this last tip, but the most valuable in my opinion is…just have fun with it.
The moment you do anything else, you give your mind a chance to start overthinking, bringing all the implicit cues that you’ve engrained into your subconscious during training into the conscious and clouding your head!
Realize that at this point, your body is a well-tuned machine, ready to execute what you’ve done in practice over and over again. All it needs is for your mind to hang back, lighten up, and let your body do its thing. You’ve worked hard for this moment, so make sure to enjoy it!