Coach Tip Tuesday: “I’m not trying to win at my hobby.”
It’s that time of the year when the main racing season is winding down. There is less volume and intensity in training than there was earlier in the year, and once those final late-season races are complete, athletes are entering Maintenance Phase. This makes it a great time to talk about some keys to success during this time period…and they may look a little different than you think.
I follow the work of a lot of deep thinkers, and two of my favorite deep thinkers are the creators of The Growth Equation, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. On one of their podcast episodes awhile back, Brad mentioned how he asked his friend (and fellow deep thinker) Ryan Holiday the question, “Do you ever compete?” regarding his physical practice and training. Ryan answered, “I’m not trying to win at my hobby.”
This really resonated with me, as I watch so many athletes try to win at their hobby. So many athletes set goals and focus so much on the goals that they lose sight that what they’re doing is, in fact, a hobby. Now don’t get me wrong; goals are great! But unless you’re a professional athlete, winning (and/or goal setting) should not be the only objective and measure of what you’re doing. And even if it’s sometimes an objective or measure, it shouldn’t be what dominates one’s plans. The majority of us (age group athletes for whom sport is how we choose to spend our disposable income and time) are seeking many more benefits from endurance sports than an objective. In truth, we’re seeking a physical practice.
Let’s break that down. “Physical” means that you are using your body. “Practice” is something that is undertaken for its own sake. So, a physical practice is one that you do something with your body for its own sake. It is about the process. Goals are good, but only as long as they guide that process. I’ve watched far too many athletes get caught up in the goal or result at the cost of the process. Basically, they lose all of the wonderful benefits of a physical practice because they get too focused on outcomes. Outcomes can come in many forms, but most often in sport, they revolve around numbers (pace, overall time, etc.).
Many athletes will say that they care about the process, but their actions and words clearly indicate that they care about outcomes. This is especially true on race day and in the days that follow a race. In truth, many athletes are telling themselves a story, and it’s not a particularly accurate one. They tell themselves that they are process-oriented because intrinsically they do know that this is what yields the highest quality experience and happiness over the long-term. However, they don’t truly know how to embrace that process since it’s often intangible. Instead, they cling to what they can measure: outcomes.
One of my other favorite deep thinkers, Cal Newport, strongly advocates for people to cultivate high-quality leisure activities in their lives. Activities. Plural. This is important because I observe that many, many age-group athletes do not have high-quality leisure activities beyond sport. Like it or not, many age-group athletes’ lives are comprised of the following:
Other things may follow these, but if we’re being honest here, that’s the Top Four for a lot of people in 2022. Yep, it may be hard to hear. But it’s true. This lack of high-quality leisure activities becomes a really big problem if something happens to limit one’s participation in sport, whether that limit comes in the form of an off-season, an injury, or some other reason. Without something else to turn to that brings joy, athletes often struggle greatly if they aren’t doing workouts (no matter the reason).
Even if it’s hard for you to admit, do you resemble this? If so, cultivating some high-quality leisure activities beyond sport might be really useful for you. What is a high-quality leisure activity? Well, “leisure” means “free time; use of free time for enjoyment; opportunity afforded by free time to do something.” It’s about enjoyment; doing something just for the sake of doing it. It’s not leisure if you’re trying to win. While sport is a high-quality leisure activity, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on others. Examples of non-sport high-quality leisure activities include (but are not limited to):
Making something physical with your hands/body (such as painting, ceramics, knitting, sewing, woodworking, machining, etc.)
Think you don’t have time for something like this? I challenge that; I bet you do. I encourage each and everyone of you out there to take stock of how you actually spend your time each day for a full week. This doesn’t have to be super high-tech; you can use a notebook to note the times you start and stop activities and note exactly what you do for each time block. (If you do want to do a high-tech version of this, Clockify is a great free tool that will work.) Now, the trick here is that this is an observational task; we are not seeking to make any changes. (Yet.) This is just to observe how you are actually spending the hours you have in a day.
If you’re spending more than 20-60 minutes a day on digital media (TV, social media, video games, etc.), I propose that you do have the time for high-quality leisure activities; you’ll just need to decide if you are going to choose to budget your time differently in order to make room for them.
My point with all of this is that you will get so much more happiness and enjoyment out of life if your life includes you doing some things just to do them, without trying to win at them. Don’t try to win at your hobby. Use this upcoming downtime and off-season to cultivate quality additions to your life and see if you aren’t feeling happier once the new year (and next season!) rolls around.
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.