Posted On:
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Updated On:
Sunday, December 17, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Self-Coached Athlete Mistakes: Avoiding Specificity

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Green sand (held by the great Coach Chris Palmquist!) is a good example of zooming in on specificity; when you look closely, you see how the little details help to make up the beautiful whole.

My goal as a coach is to help all athletes - those who hire me, and yes, even those who don’t.  I want each and every person who wants to be involved in endurance sports to do so in a healthful and joyful way so they can continue being active for as many years as they’d like to be.  For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about common mistakes made when athletes are coaching themselves; this week, we’re going continue the conversation by discussing how self-coached athletes will often make the mistake of avoiding specificity.  

Specificity Matters

Over the years, I’ve written several times about how specificity matters. In truth, it matters much more than most people want to acknowledge. Athletes don’t want to admit how significant and important specificity is because it often means that they will need to lean into behaviors and activities that are not their favorite. All of this means that - left to their own devices - many athletes will (consciously or unconsciously) avoid specificity.

This all-too-easy trap that self-coached athletes fall into is often a three-part issue:

  1. They may not truly know or understand exactly what specificity is going to serve them best enroute to the goal that they have selected.
  2. They have trouble seeing how a seemingly “little” choice today snowballs into something really important over the course of a training cycle and/or when race day comes.
  3. Even if they do have an idea about what they should be doing when it comes to specificity, they don’t have anyone (such as a coach) holding them accountable and challenging them when they make choices that deviate away from what will serve them best.

Furthermore, athletes will often seek feelings, rather than function.  For instance, many athletes will often say something along the lines of, “I feel like I get a better workout” or “I like the way [insert thing here] feels” when defending a training choice they made.  This generally (correctly) signals to me that the athlete wants to feel something specific, even if it means sacrificing a valuable skill or training opportunity in order to attain that feeling.

Separate Emotions from Facts

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I am a massively big fan of Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), and that I recommend that all athletes at least include it in their training, if not base their training completely off of it. So, it may seem contradictory that I’m advising athletes not to select workouts based on feelings. However, what I’m talking about in this post as it pertains to specificity is separate from RPE; the feelings that athletes are seeking when they say something like “I feel like I get a better workout” is often purely emotional, not necessarily based on their physical body. Most often, athletes are seeking to feel the exertion of the workout; specifically, they are seeking to feel like they worked hard during a workout.

The simple and hard truth is this: Not every workout is going to be - or should be - a workout that feels physically challenging.  Sometimes (many times!) things that are mentally challenging (while perhaps feeling physically easier than a “hard workout” as defined by the typical definition) are what athletes need most in training.  This could manifest in a lot of different ways; here are some common examples:

The Bottom Line

There are so, so many elements that make up a solid training plan. While all of those elements and details can feel overwhelming at times, the truth is that specificity matters. If you are self-coached, don’t pretend this isn’t true and don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of doing what feels best instead of what really is best. Take a hard look at all of the things that can help you be successful, and incorporate those specifics into your daily training. Your future self will thank you.


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

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