Team USA In Denmark
Solutions Driven by Positivity
Last week I returned from Fyn, Denmark where I was sent by USA Triathlon to serve as Head Coach for the first week of the “ITU Multisport World Championship Festival”. The first week of races included Duathlon (Draft Legal Sprint and Standard), Cross Triathlon (off road) - followed by a second block which included Long Course Triathlon, Aquathalon (swim/run), and Aquabike (swim/bike). I’ve reflected on my many takeaways from this experience, and feel that my time there was well spent for a myriad of reasons. I will go a bit into the day to day, my personal takeaways, some lessons I took from traveling abroad in a coaching role, and some thoughts on what going abroad does for me personally.
First, I must say the Team USA staff in Denmark was incredible. Our Team included two bike mechanics, two massage therapists, a chiropractor/physical therapist, a team physician, an event coordinator, and of course, the USA Triathlon Staff including Tim Yount (COO), Lauren Rios (Team USA Coordinator), and Meg Duncan (Youth Coordinator). Each of our designated roles with Team USA was to support our age group athletes to the best of our abilities. Athletes competing ranged in age from juniors/teens to men and women in their 80s. Upon being hired by USA Triathlon, my job involved producing a 13 week training plan for each of the first week race disciplines (mentioned above). Coach Karen Turner (Head Coach for second week) and I presented webinars about the race courses, nutrition on course, how to best prepare in the weeks leading up to travel for the event, and held general Q and A sessions.
The days of the festival were structured so that races occurred every other day, with a day between for recon sessions, basic preparation, bike checks, and briefings prior to each race. The ITU is the international governing body of multisport, and the events were put on with great attention to detail. Much like the UCI (International governing body for cycling), the ITU has its own set of unique rules and regulations that athletes need to be aware of before racing. Familiarizing myself with many of these items was new territory for me. But luckily, the Team USA Staff was familiar with all relevant rules, changes in the rulebook, and other details that athletes needed to know (not Tim’s first rodeo after all).
Preparation and Strategy Sessions
For the days between races I made myself available for questions at the info desk, hosted rides on course, and track sessions at the University of Odense. This track was unlike anything I’d ever seen! It was built on a plot of land that had many adverse features. But instead of leveling the earth for a flat, wide open space, they simply incorporated the little mounds and hills into a rolling playground of rubberized ground, sand, and concrete/metal features. Within the center of the 400-meter track were plyometric boxes, pull-up bars, an obstacle course with rope lattices, a suspension bridge, and a pole vault practice area. Most of my track session included mobility, dynamic run warm-up exercises, and a short shakeout run with some strides. I gained a lot from having the opportunity to work with athletes whom I had not met previously, and enjoyed working with athletes who were receptive to my coaching style, and cues to help improve body awareness and mobility.
Along with the general coaching and day to day time commitments, I made some new friends and re-connected with some old ones. Some of the most memorable moments of the week were getting to know Graham and Nikki better, and spending time with their friends and family. I felt at home with everyone I spent my time with. I also had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the inspiring yet humble Patton Sims and his incredible support crew: his father Cole and Coach Lisa Colvin. Patton is a former teammate of mine, and has a boat load of talent - he went on to win the 16-19 Age Group, claimed second overall in the Sprint, and walked away with his first World Championship medal!
Always Find The Positive
My most meaningful takeaway from this experience was reaffirming the power of positive thought. Not only does this direct the focus for an athlete to yield positive results, but has an incredible effect when leaders can perpetuate positive thought with their peers and athletes. My experience working with Tim, Lauren, Meg, and the entire Team USA Staff was nothing but positive, and the athletes felt that too. Anyone who has traveled for racing knows that along with the obvious stress of racing, being in a new country comes with its own set of challenges: cultural differences, logistical and planning variables, and other perceived differences in a new place (even as silly as not knowing what certain road signs mean) might throw a wrench in athletes’ mental preparation.
Team USA not only helped athletes simplify their approach, but when things were truly going sideways, a positive, solutions-driven approach helped athletes find a way to make their trip to Denmark a successful one. Our ability to thrive in the face of adversity is dependent on our ability to evolve and adapt to our surroundings, not the other way around. This is something I have learned, but am constantly trying to improve myself; however, everyone experiences the phases of adaptation in different ways. As a coach, learning what makes others tick is a huge component to helping bring out the best in people. And when we are all placed in a new environment, we must empathize with one another and find solidarity in the fact that we are ALL in the same boat. In order to be an effective team, we all must be honest with ourselves and with one another. Another part of being a good team is collectively putting your best foot forward. It is always so much easier to identify problems than it is to see solutions. Challenge yourself the next time you are faced with a problem and seek the best way through it. Emotion always trumps logic, so let your emotional response wash over you, take a deep breath, and attempt to look at your issue objectively. If you are too invested in the idea of what you want the outcome to be, it blurs the focus on the task at hand. This is where USA Triathlon plays an integral role in helping people toe the line, and I could not be more humbled and honored by the opportunity to play a small part in the success of Team USA.
As a coach, I am my best self when I’m being myself and honoring the person whom I know. I believe as athletes this is no different. Honor your strengths and see each challenge as an opportunity to adapt, evolve, and become better. For the areas you are not as confident, surround yourself with a team who compliments your strengths, fills your voids, and makes you a better person and athlete! I’m grateful for the challenge of being a Team USA Coach and know that my life and career has already been enhanced by this experience. I can’t wait for the next one, and cannot thank USA Triathlon for their trust in me to be a member of the best team in the world!
Pat Casey Pat@PeakStateFit.com
Team USA Coach