Peak Power

By David

I’ve just read the sports column in the January 27 edition of the New Zealand Listener. It’s written by someone called Paul Lewis and is the best account I’ve read of the malaise than characterizes sport in that country. Lewis argues that “being fit and strong isn’t enough to reach the top. Sport long ago realized that talent and opportunity are not enough.”

He goes on to extol the virtues of “single-minded-focus, a new mentoring scheme for top athletes.” We are told the concept is to teach athletes “to manage their life. Experts are called in from various fields – among them sponsorship and marketing, media management, financial management, competitive analysis, counseling for coping with family, friends and relationships and career planning.” Unbelievably Lewis says, “Many of us lose sight of such basics.”

I’d bet a thousand dollars the previous author of the Listener column, a guy called Joseph Romanos would have had nothing to do with such a mindless litany of snake oil and pap. Joseph was a supporter of New Zealand’s best coach, Arthur Lydiard. So am I and Lydiard believed, talent, opportunity, fitness and strength were enough. It is relevant that his first book on coaching was called “Run to the Top.” My first book on swimming coaching was called, “Swim to the Top” because of its Lydiard origins.

We didn’t call the books think and manage and cope. We didn’t include chapters on how to treat your wife or mother or pay the power bill. We did however tell you to run the 24 mile Waitakeres every Sunday or swim 100×100 every Saturday if you want to win a decent track or swimming race. That’s why we called them “run” and “swim” to the top.

You see, the problem is that schemes like “single-minded-focus” actually make getting to the top more difficult. They convince some poor bugger out there, trying to win an Olympic swimming race, that he, or she, needs help to talk to their mother, or buy groceries or live with their spouse. The end conclusion can only be, “God, this is really difficult.” According to the article New Zealand’s best swimmer, Moss Burmester is convinced. He says, “They are helping us with things outside sport.” Moss, if you’ve got time to do all that stuff go swim another thousand meters. It’s better for you.

“Coping with family and fiends” are not basics. They are schemes designed to earn their founders a living and are a distraction from the simple, enjoyable and constructive activity of swimming or running a good practice. For the talented out there, being fit and strong is enough.

Lydiard spent his life making the winning of Olympic medals simple. Dozens of Kenyan, Ethiopian and Moroccan athletes beat the living daylights out of ours and have never been anywhere near, “single-minded-focus”. Do you know why? They run a lot.

I have to go to practice now to help two or three swimmers who hope to swim in Beijing. It’s a Sunday so we’ll just be doing a few thousand meters of aerobic swimming; the way it should be.