What a triathlete can learn from US Soccer in Copa America?
Tonight, (Tuesday, June 21st, 2016), I watched the US lose to the #1 team in the world, Argentina, in the COPA America Centario Semi-Final, which is one of the most prestigious soccer tournaments in the world. (I know many may say the UEFA Cup is better, but the US can't play in that, since they are not in Europe.) Tonight the US lost 0-4, to a team which was flat out better than they were. There is no shame in losing to a team that's better than you. But it is an opportunity to review.
As the game went on and I was frustrated to watch as a fan, I realized so many of the feelings and things I was saying out loud at the TV were things I see in triathletes, and frustrations I have with many of them, from elites to age groupers to elite juniors. I can make it very clear in 2 simple concepts, which if you are a triathlete, you need to seriously consider if you value your performances in the sport.
Lesson #1 - Fundamentals are Key
Passing a soccer ball isn't cool on the playground. Scoring is cool. Being the best passer on the field isn't cool. Saving shots from the goalie position are cool. Headers into goals are cool. Passing isn't cool, that is, until you see a team that has such a basic fundamental skill down so well, they make it beautiful. Argentina passed the ball like it was effortless, while the US passed like they didn't know where it was going. It was such a clear depiction of what the difference of what the best do and what the US does, that I had to write about it, in relation to triathlon. It's a fundamental skill.
What are fundamentals in triathlon? They are bike fit, proper run shoes, basic swim skills, pacing skills, basic aerobic conditioning, injury prevention and therapy, race nutrition, equipment maintenance and its preparation for race day, proper rest and recovery, and of course, consistency of training.
So many triathletes are chasing the highest goals against the stiffest of competition, and don't bother making these fundamentals a focus. They are more concerned with hours of training or their FTP. And it's no surprise when many don't reach their potential or even close to their goals when they haven't addressed the fundamentals! I've literally had athletes supremely prepared and ready to perform exceptionally, only to get in an Ironman and realize they didn't charge the battery of the Di2, and they can't shift! There's no training plan or world renowned coach who can overcome that basic fundamental of making sure your equipment is ready for race day!
There are no nutritional plans which can overcome poor pacing. If it could, then whoever ate the most would win! You can't run your first few miles off the bike at 10K pace in a long course triathlon! There's no way I can help you with training to perform at a high level if you don't have a proper bike fit, giving up effective watts. I can't help you if you treat the swim and transitions as times for photo opps with the family or warm-ups for bike and run, instead of opportunities to close the gap on the best in your Age Group.
There is no training plan a coach can write, or workouts you can do, which can make up for a lack of consistency in your training. You must be committed, and you must put in the work, EVERYDAY.
These are the fundamentals of triathlon, which too often get overlooked. They aren't sexy, like a power file, or bike split, or even passing in a major soccer game, but as Argentina proved, the best in the world are masters of fundamentals.
Lesson #2 - It doesn't matter how good or bad your competition is, if you are your own worst enemy
This concept is related to Lesson #1, but it needs to be stated by itself. If you're ignoring the fundamentals, you are your own worst enemy. If you think you can brush over the fundamentals, as though they are just fodder for a blog, then you will be exposed, especially as your goals get higher, and you face stiffer competition.
There's no way around it, you need to address the fundamentals. If you don't know what they are, or feel like you're never racing to a level which is indicative of your performance potential, then you need a coach, and they should address the fundamentals with you. You can even watch the best, and notice they have the fundamentals down. They don't screw up the basics, they are well beyond them.
I'm pissed off to see a US Men's National Team perform so poorly on the biggest stage, against the best in the world, in a way which shows they lack the fundamentals. I would be embarrassed as a coach of a triathlete if they did the same.
In the postgame, Alexi Lalas stated, "The number of times the US lost the ball, clear unforced errors which have nothing to with the fact you're playing Argentina..." What he was saying is it doesn't matter if they are more talented than you if you give them the victory anyway. Think about that. How much are you giving your competition just because you are not addressing or doing the things which are basic?
Address your fundamentals, stop being your own worst enemy.