Kids - Going the distance

Andy Mouncey

Andy runs his own training, coaching and speaking business. He started a 17 year career in triathlon in 1987 competing round the world and achieving age group representation at World level for Britain in 1992. He graduated to Ironman and raced successfully five times over this distance. From the lessons of this experience he created ‘Doing Big and Scary’. This is his unique model for consistent high performance at the heart of which is a six step goal- achieving process, and an inspirational presentation and workshop of the same name.

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Andy Mouncey uses his experience as a professional sports coach and father of two young boys to explore the relationship between sport, endurance and how this impacts us as we grow older.

Children, young people and endurance – yeah, that ole chestnut: How young and how far is enough? How to judge it? What’s the evidence? And what are the implications for later life?

This is not a review of the pile of scientific literature out there, not least because I suspect plenty of people have been there, done that. This is an evidence-based piece though, it’s just that the evidence in question is my experience as a parent to two small boys and as a professional coach who has worked with children and young people for the last 25 years.

Let’s start with a universal truth:

Kids Like To Have Fun

...and while I do know a bunch of adults who’d sign up to that as well, for an awful lot of people it would appear that the ‘Wake Up New Day Gonna Have FUN’ default setting has been crushed out of them a loooooooong time ago. Now all parents know that a sure-fire way to keep engagement levels high is to make it fun – and if that fails then it’s time to play the ace: Distraction. Maybe it’s because the little guys don’t do shades of grey – so it’s either TOTAL fun or a TOTAL disaster – and/or because they do TOTAL trust and belief in the adults around them…before you know it the journey is over and distance has been successfully travelled. I know with our own two boys that unless we pack fun and distraction with us, odds are we wont be completing the planned outing.

What we’ve noticed over time is that they start to want to do the activity for the activity’s sake. Part of that is because they associate good stuff with it and part of it is that while mum and dad have been orchestrating the fun-distraction bit, their bodies have been adapting to the demands of the activity. Behold The Training Effect: Our brain seeks to get maximum performance out of our body for the least amount of effort, which means we get really good at what we do most often. Hello to those lovely twins Efficiency and Effectiveness: double-edged swords if ever there were any.

(Maybe the lesson for us old guys is right there: Make it fun, allow ourselves to become totally engaged in whatever’s around us, and have complete and utter belief and trust in ourselves and the people close to us that we do have the capacity do what whatever we choose and they do have our best interests and security at heart. Then give our bodies time and space to catch up.Maybe).

Move it on a few years and we have the kids at our junior running club. Same principles apply except now we’re also getting them to set targets, pay attention to how they feel, and give them strategies and skills to manage that so that they can get more of what they want, less of what they don’t want, and learn from each and every experience.

Except now they’re BUSY – boy, have these kids got packed lives! After school clubs, other sports/games/matches, music, study, parties to go to – ‘makes me think I really need to get out more. What we find is that invariably they can cope with whatever we throw at them on a club night, and the races are well within their reach – as long as they’re not stuffed from everything else.

Fast-forward into adulthood and we have the periodic complaint from pro teams/players about packed competition schedules, too many games etc. In my experience – and I do have some – it ain’t the packed fixture list that’s the problem: It’s the training that happens between the fixtures.

Fast-forward again and just this morning I had a message from an ultrarunning friend of mine in his late 60’s commenting on my latest newsletter piece about racing and stress.

‘I’ve just completed 1002km in 21 days,’ he told me. ‘No problems, injuries or nothing. I raced one week after that and won my age category. I don’t do much between races these days except walk the dog, but I do race often at all distances. When I’m on the start line I’m fresh, ready and want to be there – the adrenaline’s flowing - which makes me think too many people obsess about training and blow it before they even reach the start line...’

Make it fun. Be absorbed. Trust and believe. Remember the goal is to perform on the competition stage not the training field. We all have incredible capacity to do amazing things, and maybe the challenge is to free ourselves sufficiently to do that.

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