The Big Rocks - Where Does Your Focus Go?

There is a great story about accomplishing things.  It floats around various books related to coaching, to management, to leadership or simply personal improvement.  That story discusses what to do when faced with the challenge of placing rocks, gravel and sand into a jar.  If you want to get as much of each material in the jar as possible, do you start with the sand and work your way to the rocks, or do you go the other way, and start with therocks?

You start with the rocks.  In doing so, you can wiggle and shake the gravel in, and likewise the sand. 

The concept here, is simple.  If you approach training, racing or life (the jar) from the mindset of heavily focusing on the small things (sand/gravel) you won’t be able to get as many of the really important big things (rocks) in!

So often, this is the case in athlete development.  Today, we are completely inundated with training ideas, strategies, and opportunities via many portals…  Some ideas may be strategies to assess fitness, a software platform, a recovery strategy, an athlete readiness monitoring strategy or something else all-together.  While many of these may be great when in context relative to the whole person that each athlete is, if we are overcome with them… We are dumping gravel and sand into our performance jar, and we are forgetting the rocks.  By the time we can try and take care of getting the big, important rocks in, we are unable to do so – there just is not enough room.

Thinking back over my 20 years-worth of coaching experience.  Thinking of athletes successes and challenges.  Thinking of my successes and failures.  Thinking of the conversations I’ve had with other coaches and professionals and the continuing education experiences I’ve tackled (and continue to tackle) one thing keeps becoming more-clear.

The rocks matter!

The rocks matter a lot!

The sand and the gravel are really cool.  They are exciting.  They feel smart, intriguing, cutting edge.  They feel like they are what will take us to the next level.

But they mean nothing, without rocks.

What are the rocks?

They are a few key areas:

1.)    Lifestyle and wellness

a.      Sleep, diet, down time, life balance, etc.

2.)    Mentality

a.      Understanding how to be relentlessly positive in your approach. 

b.      Always asking yourself: “how can I” or “what can I”

3.)    Training consistency

a.      It doesn’t need to be perfect, or matching a great plan… but if you want to improve you best be consistent in your training!

4.)    Individualized approach

a.      We are the sum of our experiences, decisions and genes.  That history dictates how we are going to respond to training/racing situations.  Our sport experience needs to be individualized to “us” to work best.

5.)    Intelligent, individualized racing

a.      Training and recent racing performance based plan.

b.      Pacing smartly, smart nutrition, smart strategy and modifications.

If something is not overtly one of those 5 key areas, it best for that “thing” not to be taking up time in your sporting “jar”… Unless you already have the 5 key areas covered.

An easy example of putting sand/gravel in before the rocks could be paying for massages or buying the latest home massage kit to improve your recovery when you sleep 5-6 hours most nights.  Massages would be gravel and sleep a rock! (Note: I love massage, but if we are talking about what impacts recovery more, sleep wins hand’s down.)

So, as we start to head into the twilight of this 2015 endurance sports season, I would like to put a challenge to you.  Look back at your year and ask yourself two questions:

1.)    Did I focus on the rocks?

2.)    Can I do anything to improve my “rock” focus?

The answers to those questions, can make huge differences in how your next season goes, and in how you progress athletically long term.

Keep well, and keep loving training and racing!