We can all agree that the last six weeks have been turbulent, with almost everything we collectively took for granted simply turned on its head.
In our individual performance journey, I believe that most of us find ourselves at a performance crossroads. Whether an athlete, a leader, or a business, the coming weeks and months will determine if we emerge from this situation behind the eight-ball and playing catch up, or if we leverage the opportunity to emerge stronger.
Today, I provide some perspective on a pathway to emerge stronger, despite the rigors and challenges that the situation presents. Yes, you can emerge stronger. If you set your mind straight and take appropriate personal action, for most, there is an opportunity in adversity.
Before I go on, I think it is important to recognize those most affected by this virus and situation. Our thoughts continue to go out to those most dramatically affected and, while not forgetting those who face illness or worse, as well as those on the front-lines of defense, I focus this piece on the majority of us who navigate the situation while retaining health.
As a coach, it has been interesting to provide support and guidance within such a confusing time, with emerging situations around almost every turn. As I come out of the weeds and review, some important lessons have emerged.
In general, most of us have navigated a process that has seen us pass through several phases, from shock and anxiety, then scrambling to control the things we can to find stability. From this platform, many sought to be productive within the confines of the situation but were not immune to the oscillating levels of stress, frustration, and anxiety that align with managing a highly stressful situation. It is now that we find ourselves in what we might call the new normal - a phase in which we collectively get on with life, as much as possible, and begin to look forward. What does a return to normal look like? When are races happening? What is the path ahead?
This is still a time of uncertainty, but within it lays an opportunity for many, likely including you! The question is whether you are going to seize the opportunity, or simply treat the situation more like an earthquake (yes, I live in San Francisco!) and hide under a desk until it passes.
I believe most of us -- athletes, individuals, leaders, businesses -- are at a performance fork in the road. Will you:
- Tread Water
Or will you:
- Emerge Stronger?
It is not without irony that we endurance athletes hold so many of the essential tools and traits that can equip us to navigate situations like this. We train for challenges and stress to enable success on race day, and now we are challenged like never before. But, we can deploy many of the same traits to help here. Let me explain via a case study of two types of athletes, one who will navigate this situation by treading water, and the other who is setting themselves up to emerge stronger.
I should preface these two case studies by explaining that there should be a third case study of the athlete who will experience massive regression and challenge, but I am not even going to discuss this. All I will say is that it has amazed me when I see many athletes and coaches questioning the point of training when there are no races clear on the horizon. Did they not learn anything on their performance journey so far?
Let’s label our first case study, “Bill.” Bill had several races planned for the 2020 season and was in the midst of his ramp toward early season events when the fog of Covid-19 descended. Just like most athletes, Bill hunkered down with a mix of anxiety and frustration. Bill also understands the importance of training and decides to keep aiming to march forward, but his mindset and approach aren’t optimal in leveraging the misfortune of the situation. Bill treads water. By treading water, Bill’s approach looks like this:
- He maintains training as he was
- With swimming pools closed, he simply removes swimming from his program
- He waits, with patience, for the fog to lift and races to come back on the docket
He is treading water, simply waiting for the situation to resolve. There is nothing massively wrong with this approach, as Bill remains healthy and stable, but there is so much more that Bill could do to actually convert negativity into an opportunity and emerge stronger. In fact, one small addition is that I don’t even believe you can tread water here. By doing so, you are retreating.
Let’s compare with case study #2, “Jennifer.” Just like Bill, Jennifer is continuing to train, but has completely repositioned her approach to align with her situation and the times, and create a platform to use for her one performance advantage. Let’s explore her situation.
Jennifer identifies as a runner who dabbles in triathlons. She was scheduled to run a spring marathon but also planned a series of triathlons over the summer months. It is no surprise that her run is a strength, but riding and swimming are a relative weakness. Keenly competitive, she loves to race and seeks to improve her placing in any event. Her racing guiding lights were extinguished in the fog of Covid-19, and following a week or so of frustration and confusion, she decided to take positive action. Jennifer created a routine, maintained training, but asked herself a question that she heard me mention in a Purple Patch podcast a few weeks ago: How can you emerge from this situation in an advanced place? Stemming from this question, Jennifer’s approach looks like this:
- Reframing the ‘why’ behind her sport. She realizes that the structure and benefit of her sport, coaching relationship, and community goes well beyond rankings or finishes. The epiphany is that the journey is critical to her resilience, mental and physical health, and ability to perform across life.
- Focuses on advancement. She cannot improve swimming, the pools are closed, but she can use this weird phase of training to develop athletically. This includes:
- Increasing her high-end capacity in biking (higher intensity)
- Develop her efficiency in riding (very low intensity and technical improvement)
- Set positive habits. When life was crazily over-scheduled, and with the next race always around the corner, the capacity to build new habits was limited. Now, she has committed to always fuel well and prioritize sleep, two areas of common weakness.
- Improve the training mindset. Typically judgemental in her training, Jennifer is her own biggest critic, but intuitively understands that the pass-fail mindset isn’t productive. With no upcoming races, she is committed to improving her mindset and management skills of training performance. This is going to be a journey for her, and she is leaning into coaching to support, but it will lead to great gains in the long-term. The situation has enabled the capacity to embrace these changes.
- Get connected. Typically a lone-wolf, the ‘shelter in place’ environment enabled Jennifer to realize the benefits of actually sharing the journey, but also that coaching feedback was not about judgment, but, instead, helping her improve. Always hesitant to join any group, she now attends my video bike class weekly, as well as a strength session with Coach Mike Olzinski, and a swim-band session with Coach John Stevens. She realizes that sharing the journey is powerful, but also gains from the high accountability and live feedback on form, posture, and execution that rains down on her.
Quite meaty, eh? But the truth is that the removal of the racing immediately felt like a huge negative and a collapse of purpose. With a shift in lens and approach, it can actually become a huge opportunity to advance and emerge stronger.
Our case studies today are focused on two athletes, but I could tell the same story about case studies for leaders, for businesses, and much more.
Many people have been terribly affected by this situation, and it is awful, but if you are one of the lucky majority that has relative stability mixed with large inconvenience, then I suggest that you should be cautious of allowing self-compassion and empathy from falling into apathy and self-pity. It is time for you to seize the opportunity, step forward, and seek a route to actually advance and improve.
So, what has Purple Patch done?
Many have noticed that we, as a company, have been very busy over the last six weeks, and we have launched a lot of programming. The reason for this is that we have a mandate to guide and support our team of athletes and fitness enthusiasts in the best way possible. We must do this aligned with the situation and times, and this situation forces us to innovate and adapt, then tailor our offerings to the situation. We could also decide to tread water, but have instead adopted to evolve. I am guessing that it doesn’t surprise you. Our approach has included:
- Completely reimage the programming and training for all athletes to synchronize with the situation at hand. There would be no point driving toward things that no longer exist, so we’ve built programming in pursuit of athlete development and helping people actually advance.
- Amplify live coaching. While always being a goal, we accelerated the chance to deliver live coaching to our global athletes. Video live Bike Sessions, Video Swim Band Sessions, Video Strength, Zwift-Coached Bike Sessions... Central to these efforts are creating genuine bi-directional feedback to the athlete, ramping up accountability, and connecting athletes to share the journey. It has never been more relevant and we are excited that we are miles ahead of many of our capabilities here.
- Increase live education. A backbone of Purple Patch is education, but we have pursued a path to make much of this education bi-directional, with our coaching team and the Purple Patch Pro Squad, as well as key experts in their field. These recorded live sessions create a forum for discussion and more personalized Q and A sessions on performance topics.
- Bring the Pros into the fold. Or Pro Squad has stepped up. Now, Purple Patch athletes can join the Pros for a live strength session, be led through a Zwift ride, join them for virtual Q and A sessions, or even train ‘side by side’ with them as I punish them in the video bike sessions. The good news is that we don’t need to try to keep up, but we can be inspired and learn from them.
Oh, and we also launched the Purple Patch Scholarship Program, which has already awarded 50 full and partial scholarships to athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are in need of financial support due to the situation at hand. A magical program that has allowed us to enhance our community even more.
The goal of all this is to serve our athletes better, to drive performance, to enhance learning and community, and develop a better business despite the challenge of the situation. You can be darn sure we are not aiming to tread water; we are going to emerge stronger. I hope that you take this reading and commit to that same spirit. Are you coming on the journey, or going to stick your head in the sand and wait for this to be over? Let’s go together and charge towards a better future. Your resilience, health, friends, and family will thank you.
To the future -- it is ours to create despite the uncertainty.