Following on from last Monday’s blog, where I examined the decision making process that an athlete or person considering transferring their talents should go through, today I will expand a bit further on some ideas regarding how to best adapt to your new endeavor. Part Three will follow next week, and conclude the mini-series.
- Set Goals
Specifically, you need to have an end goal, and then plan your process goals leading up to it. Once I had fully committed to bobsleigh, I went through this goal setting process. My outcome goal was selection in the Great Britain Team for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Within this goal, I had a “Dream” goal, which was to win a medal as part of the GB1 4-man team, and a minimum goal of just getting selected for the Games. All my process goals were set with the dream goal in mind, and the minimum goal as a back up. My process goals addressed how this maximum goal was to happen, and were time phased.
To make the GB1 4-man squad, it meant that, realistically, I had to be in the top-3 brakeman. This ranking is decided from a combination on single man pushing, team pushing, and other subjective and objective criteria (the list is too long to write here, but you can find the Olympic Selection document here; and, even if you had fulfilled all the criteria and reliably outperformed other brakeman, they could still appeal your selection through a well set out legal process).
To be ranked good enough for selection to GB1, I decided I had to, at worst, finish 2nd in the on-ice individual tests at the start of the season. To qualify for this camp, I had to finish in the top-8 at push-track testing in Bath a few weeks before, so that became another goal for me. For these two goals to occur, I also set plenty of physiological and skill based goals, again which are too numerous to go through here. I constantly reviewed these goals to see how I was getting on, and used them to measure my progress. Knowing you’re outperforming your goal is a strong motivator, as is knowing you’re falling behind!
- Become An Expert
One question I am often asked at seminars and workshops is “If you could offer one piece of advice to an up and coming athlete, what would it be?” My answer is to become an expert in what you do. If you want to be the best at something, you’re giving yourself a head start if you become an expert in it. Learn all there is to know about what you do. This obviously takes a long time. With my transition, I tried really hard to become an expert, going from knowing absolutely nothing about bobsleigh to being able to hold my own a year later. To do this, you have to immerse yourself in it fully. You can definitely learn via osmosis, so spend time around people that are already experts. Ask plenty of questions; I must have sent Jacko (John Jackson, the GB1 Driver) and Bruce Tasker mental by always asking questions. Fortunately there were very patient with me. I listened to what my coach, Michael Khmel said, and learned as much as I could from Chris Woolley, the bobsleigh performance coach. At competitions and training camps I watched the best in the world push and load, trying to learn from them. I watched videos on youtube. I did video analysis of myself and other GB athletes performing. I downloaded the bobsleigh rules document (it’s a tough read). I decided I had to become proficient pushing on each handle of the bobsleigh, not just the one I hoped to be selected on. I traveled out to Switzerland a few times to work with possibly the best bobsleigh coach in the world, Dominik Scherrer. I thought long and hard about how my technical ability and physical traits needed to be modified. I tried to fully immerse myself in the culture of bobsleigh, to become as much of an expert as I could.
- Understand The Skill Learning Process
Becoming an expert isn’t enough; you actually have to have to perform well in your chosen discipline. This requires you to learn many new skills. Running 100m on a track was something I was used to. Running 40m downhill on ice, holding a handle and having to jump into a moving object wasn’t. You have to learn by doing, and so you have to do it time and time again. If you’re transferring into something new, you’re taking on people who are already experts in this field. You’re playing catch up all the time. British Bobsleigh decided that 200 pushes was a good number for all the brakeman to achieve come the Olympic Games. I decided that, as I was playing catch up, I had to double this number, so 400 pushes became my goal. To achieve this, I did a 5-hour round trip to Bath pretty much once a week in order to use the push track there. I tried to collect as much data as possible on all my pushes, including video, so I could analyse what was going well and what wasn’t. If I ever got an opportunity to push, I took it.
One thing I knew was that skill learning happens best when you are right on the edge of your ability, and feeling uncomfortable. To achieve this, I was constantly pushing myself, pushing in different positions and combinations on the sled. My rule became that if something came up that scared me or that I didn’t want to do, I had to do it. I would break the skills down into chunks, so that I could work on them separately. One day I would work on the hit, another on the first 5-10m, another on 10-40m, and another on loading well. Then I would try and layer them together, so I would have a good hit and first 10m, and in another session a good 10-40m followed by a good load. Then I’d add them together more, until I could perform the whole skill well. I’d make the sled heavier, so that it would be slower to push, magnifying my technical errors. I’d invent my own drills to get better at various aspects of pushing and loading. I’d practice little and often, as opposed to pushing myself into fatigue, which is counter productive. In the end, all these little things added up and I became pretty good at my new skill. (As an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about skill learning, you should read “The Talent Code” or “The Little Book Of Talent”, both by Daniel Coyle).
- Compare Yourself To The Best In Your Field
This tip isn’t specific to talent transfer, but it does make it much easier to decide on what things need to improved on to become an expert. As explained earlier, I was constantly watching the best bobsledders in the world push, including Bruce Tasker, and comparing myself to them. What were they doing that I wasn’t? I was also comparing myself to them on a physical basis; when I started bobsleigh I was about 85kg, and I noticed that the best brakemen generally weighed in-between 95-105kg, so I did a lot of work to get my weight up to this level. I would try to find out everything I could about the best bobsledders training programmes, to see if there was anything I could utilise, or if they were addressing any physiological or skill development issue that I had neglected, or were doing so differently.
Throughout this period though, I wasn’t just copying the world’s best. I was also considering if I could do things better than they could. Were there any skills or techniques or physical attributes that I had that meant I could do what they do but better? Could I do it differently? Was what they were doing optimum?
In the end, through a long process of research, asking questions and critical evaluation, I like to think I copied the right bits, and changed what I needed to, to get the best out of myself.
That’s it for this week. Check back next Monday for the final three tips on a successful(ish) talent transfer process.