Multi-Sports and the Inescapable Fundamentals

triathlon-pic.jpgI happen to be a part-time, amateur, middle-of-the-pack triathlete.

Since 1997 I have been competing in races that involve a swim, bike and run at a variety of distances, the longest of which was an iron-distance race I did that included a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.

In this sport, like any of the multi-sports such as the pentathlon, duathlon, biathlon, or decathlon, the athlete comes to learn rather quickly that that there are certain fundamentals that must be mastered.

In the triathlon, an athlete must swim, cycle, run and “transition” (from one sport to another on the fly). In most races, depending on the length, an athlete must also drink and eat.

That’s it for the fundamentals. They are, in 2Time language, inescapable. An athlete must undertake these actions in a race in order to do the sport, as they are mandatory for a race to be successfully completed.

Some limits are physical, while others are determined by the design of the sport itself.

An athlete who practices, therefore, is better off working on the fundamentals than on anything else.

A beginner might very well be distracted by the millions of tips floating around, and forget what the fundamentals are, but their inability to finish races eventually teaches them what is important, versus what is not. They learn that they need to spend time mastering these basic building blocks, and that time spent doing a step class in the gym might be fun, but it does little to help the result on race day.

Even useful principles or maxims like “preserve your energy”, “draft wherever possible” and “plan far ahead” pale in comparison to demonstrating expertise in the fundamentals of the sport. Others who spend time shopping for just the right racing outfit, or aerodynamic water bottles come to learn that that time cannot replace valuable practice time.

The successful triathlete knows that their attention and practice time must be focused on mastering the actions in the important areas.

When a triathlete practices, they seek to provoke their mind and body to improve performance by giving it different kinds of challenges. As they do so, their bodies respond by becoming stronger, faster or by developing more endurance.

They develop deeply ingrained habits in each of the fundamentals that drives improvement.

The principles at work in the triathlon are different than those underlying personal productivity, yet the fact that these principles DO exist in both is important to realize.

The major difference between the areas of multi-sports and personal productivity is that in the latter, no-one knows what the fundamentals are.

A quick study of the books and blogs written on the topic shows that people have lots of great ideas, and thousands of tips. However, there is no common agreement on what exactly the definition of a fundamental is, and what the fundamentals are.

In fact, there is not much of a discussion on the importance of knowing fundamentals in general, and whether or not they exist in the world of professional productivity.

The sequence should be simple – find the fundamentals, focus on them until habits are developed, improve them, and then sprinkle in useful tips here and there without losing focus.

What is encouraging is that masters and peak performers say the very same things. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice Practice.

The masters demonstrate by example that this true. In triathlon, the top performers practice relentlessly, often twice per day. In basketball, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were known for the hours they spent alone perfecting their technique. In piano, the expertise demonstrated by Mozart is now being revealed to be more related to the number of hours that he put in at a young age, than any extraordinary talent.

Pity the professional who muddles through the day with an imprecise set of practices, habits, maxims, goals, principles without any properly coordinated approach.

No wonder the Blackberry has become so popular. In the absence of fundamentals, gadgets rule. Without an understanding of the essential structure behind professional productivity, it seems that getting email anywhere and being able to reply to it is the same as being more productive.

It is the equivalent of spending hours shopping for the latest sports watch to use in a triathlon race. After a few advertisements, the triathlete becomes convinced that they need to upgrade to the latest models, and after hours spent searching for the right one and conducting comparison tests, they make the purchase. That time and focus would have been better spent on the fundamentals, as the new watch is unlikely to make a difference in their performance.

The same goes for the working professional. While it’s easy to be distracted by everything else other than the fundamentals, it just doesn’t make a difference in the end.

What does make a difference is simple – find the fundamentals, focus on them until habits are developed, improve them, and then sprinkle in useful tips here and there without losing focus.