What’s the biggest difference between elites and amateurs?
In high school, my competitive sport of choice was wrestling. I was a decent wrestler throughout my career. I improved steadily from my freshman to senior year. At the time though it felt like I wasn’t progressing at all. At that time in my life I was much more of a hothead. (I’m still a bit of a hothead but I’ve become better at controlling it.) I also tended to blame others for my problems more readily. I’m not winning matches, it must be the coach’s fault. Coach doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I know way more than everyone else. I and so many of my high school wrestling teammates kept searching for that wrestling move or style that would turn us into winners.
The summer between my sophomore and junior year I attended a camp run by former Olympian Ken Chertow. Some of the camp coaches taught some advanced/fun/flashy techniques and styles that went way over my head. However, at the beginning of every session we started with simple, basic drills and techniques that I thought I mastered. Eventually, I learned though that if I couldn’t hit a double or single leg takedown in a match I hadn’t mastered two of the most basic ways to score points in wrestling. Going into Ken’s camp my biggest weakness in wrestling was being taken down. I was decent and strong once we got to the ground but opposing coaches quickly realized this and began playing what I called “catch and release.” My opponents would take me down, disengage and stand up releasing me to score one point (since they were scoring two points per takedown they’d win easily). Ken’s advice when I told him my problem was remarkably simple and basic
 get stronger
 don’t get taken down
 take the other guy down
It short “don’t over complicate things.” I eventually did what Ken advised me to do. I went on to have a better junior year than sophomore year and a pretty good senior year.
Eventually, I made my way to triathlon a sport that encompasses swim, bike, run, and so much more. Triathletes are known for pushing the envelope on innovation. Triathletes are quick to adopt new techniques and technologies especially if they think it’ll make them faster. My friend and one of my triathlon mentors, Mike Melton, and I often joked that we could make a fortune by turning our old race T-shirts into blankets and marketing them to triathletes saying that if you wrap yourself in this special blanket you will recover better and be faster. But I digress… So often we think more is always better. More gadgets, more information, more distance, more opinions. Sometimes more is better, other times less is better, more often than not we need to find the middle.
One of the biggest barriers to people getting into triathlon is worry over complexity. Triathlon today seems to outsiders to be this immensely complicated sport, especially when you get people talking about their functional threshold power, training stress score, swim drills, single leg pedal drills, bounding drills, and whether functional strength training, HIIT training or olympic lifting is better. Not to mention all the various recovery techniques such as foam rolling, compression boots, dry needling, electrical stimulation, mindfulness… And I won’t even mention the debates that rage around nutrition. Is there any wonder why triathlon seems intimidating and complicated?
The first mistake that 90 plus percent of amateur/age group triathletes make is the same one that my high school wrestling teammates and I did. They look for the magic tool or technique that’s going to make them faster with less effort in the shortest amount of time. Fans, friends, family, and others that I’ve spoken with in passing so often remark “Oh I’d be an elite athlete too if I had all that time, those tools and techniques that you have at your disposal at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.” This is the second mistake that so many people make when distinguishing between elite and amateur athletes. Elites don’t have some secret training program, diet, recovery tool, technique, gadget, gismo, or what have you. The biggest difference between elites and amateurs is something my coach Derick Williamson preaches to everyone and it’s something that has sunk into my being over the length of my athletic career. Elites “Do Simple Better!” Or as my dad taught me throughout childhood, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Or flip it around as my friend and USA Triathlon teammate Jamie Brown does and say “Keep It Stupid Simple!”
There is no secret when it comes to training, racing, recovery, nutrition, etc. The same goes for our general lives as well. Do simple better and you will succeed. True success does take time though and unfortunately my generation appears to be the most impatient generation. My dad often says that today’s kids are significantly smarter than generations past, however we do lack a certain wisdom which only comes through hard work, and time. I’m not immune to impatience but I know that as long as I continue to do simple better and keep it stupid simple I will progress and succeed in triathlon and life.