Posted On:
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Fire the Monday Morning Quarterback

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An American footballer wearing a blue uniform holding a football.

Mid-May through Mid-August is my busiest time as a Northern Hemisphere-based endurance coach.  These are the months when the athletes I work with race a majority of their A-Races, which means that most of them are going through Peak Phase and then Taper Phase (both of which come with a lot of emotions ;) ).  In addition to that, this time period represents the culmination of all of the time, energy, mental thought, and planning that has gone into their goal races.  These races mean a lot to athletes, and as such, there’s quite a bit of build-up and emotion that precedes them.  As someone whose family celebrates Christmas, this reminds me of the build-up to Christmas Day that I experienced as a kid; tons of emotions and excitement, and then a bit of a crash after The Big Day.

Goal races are similar.  It’s a really long runway to get to A-Race Day, and then…it’s over.  That runway can be as short as a few months and as long as four or more years, but no matter what, the timeline to get to A-Race Day is much shorter than the race itself; it doesn’t matter if the race is a 5K or an IRONMAN.  All of this means that in many cases athletes are - very reasonably - going to be reflective of both the process they took to get to their A-Race and then of the A-Race Day itself.

Every year, I observe many of the endurance athletes I work with change sports and turn into American footballers, specifically Quarterbacks.  It happens to many of them after their goal races; they turn into Monday Morning Quarterbacks, people who become very critical of their actions or decisions after the fact, using hindsight to assess situations and specify alternative solutions - both of their training and for race day itself. It honestly even happens after some individual workouts in training.  I humbly suggest that all endurance athletes work towards firing their inner Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

I do think that self-reflection is such an important part of endurance sports.  It’s why I recommend that all athletes keep some sort of training log for themselves.  This is true and it’s also true that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.  Monday Morning Quarterbacking effectively means that someone is using information they have recently learned to evaluate (and often judge) the decisions they made in the past when they did not know what they now know.  

As this pertains to endurance athletes: It is incredibly unfair to hold your past self accountable for what your present self now knows.  If I’m being honest, it’s borderline unreasonable when you really stop to think about it.  Almost every athlete I’ve worked with has made the absolute best decisions they could in the moment with the information, experience, mindset, and conditions that they had at the time they were required to make the decision. 

It’s very easy to look back to say that you could have done something differently and/or better in your training or in your race when you’re well-hydrated, sitting down, having a low heart rate,  resting in a climate-controlled environment by yourself.  But when it’s hot, you’re in the middle of a race with thousands of other athletes, your heart rate is feeling high, your thighs are chafing, you’re seeing a hill that is intimidating you, etc….that's so different.  The reality is that you can’t expect that version of yourself to make the same decisions as the one who is sitting in comparative luxury after the fact.

We cannot change the past.  The future doesn’t exist yet, so we can’t change that either.  What we do have control over is our present, which is the only way we can hope to shape our future.  Thus, instead of judging your past actions - either in training or in racing - or lamenting that you could have done something differently, seek to be constructive for your present and future self.  Now that you know the information you now know, you can use it to inform your choices about training, race selection, race strategy, etc. in the future.

Here are some common Monday Morning Quarterbacking comments that I hear from athletes and suggestions of alternative reflections to consider:

  • “I should have hydrated differently.”
  • “In a similar situation, this is my plan for hydration in the future.”
  • “I could have pushed harder or gone faster.”
  • “I executed the effort that was appropriate for the situation I was in at that moment.” -or-
  • “The next time I feel the same sensations I experienced in this workout or race, I will know and trust that I can push my effort just a little bit more.”
  • “I should have trained on hills more.”
  • “If I sign up for a race with this type of course profile in the future, I will include more specific hill work in my training workouts.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t been as busy during my Peak Training Weeks.”
  • “The next time I have an A-Race coming up that is important to me, I will plan in advance to scale back on other things in my life so I can make space for quality training during this important time.”
  • “I shouldn’t have gone out as hard as I did because I faded.”
  • “The next time I race, I am going to plan to go easier in the beginning and I’m going to hold myself to that.  In addition, I am going to practice executing this skill in training workouts so I have a better chance at being able to do it on race day.”
  • “I faded in the heat.”
  • “I will intentionally plan my workouts for different times of day to help myself acclimatize to these conditions so I can feel stronger in them.

Like all of the examples I ever give, this is not an exhaustive list.  But hopefully it demonstrates how we can look at a situation from different viewpoints: One of judgment, shame, and disappointment. Or, one of reflection, control, and strength.  

Another helpful “trick” to help fire your inner Monday Morning Quarterback is to consider what advice you would give a friend or fellow athlete who is saying out loud the same things you are saying to yourself via your inner dialogue.  How would you be phrasing a response to that person?  Would you be Monday Morning Quarterbacking them by telling them that they should have done things differently and by shaming them?  Or would you be phrasing your advice constructively and giving them insight on what they could do in the future?  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it as long as I’m coaching: Do not speak to yourself differently than you would speak to someone else.  (And if you think you can/should: What makes you so much better and/or different than someone else that you get to speak like that to yourself? :) )

Face it: Your past self (even your last week past self!) did not know what your present self now knows.  Accept this and don't fall into the trap of Monday Morning Quarterbacking your training, workouts, or races.  Embrace the truth that you made the choices you did with the information you had and the totality of circumstances that were in play at the time.  If we really are honest with ourselves, we can usually see that we made the best choices we could have at the time with the information we had.  Instead of judging and/or shaming your past self, seek to see each workout and race experience as a learning opportunity to help you make well-informed choices in the future.

About

Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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