Looking at Yourself Naked in the Mirror: Assessing Your Season
No matter what your sport and when the season for that sport ends, it’s important to look back and do an assessment on the season– what went right, what went wrong, what to do differently next season. It’s a critical step in the lifecycle of a season (mesocycle) and lifecycle of an athlete’s career (macrocycle). If you work with a coach, a season end assessment is an important communication tool to adjustment your training accordingly.
Assessing your season should like looking in the mirror naked at yourself: fully transparent, exposed, and hiding nothing. It’s a time to be honest with yourself and your coach– don’t hide anything. Talk about what you did wrong and where you could improve. On the flip side, give yourself heaping praise when it’s appropriate. No one is perfect and always has room for improvement, which is why the season assessment is done in the first place.
Also, in addition to a self-assessment done by the athlete, I will always provide my own, independent assessment as a coach to my clients. The athletes I work with always get feedback from me throughout the season, but at the end of the season I like to do a ‘final wrap’ and provide pointed areas where I think things went well and not so well. This is often very valuable feedback to the athlete and gives them insight as well as motivation for planning out the next season. On the flip side, I also ask my athlete’s to assess me as a coach. For me, this is a great way to get pointed feedback on what I did well, and what I could improve upon. That’s a topic to drill into another time, but worth mentioning at the moment as part of assessment time.
The key things you’ll want to assess about your season include the following:
- Season’s Strategy- I always start every season with a planning process with athletes (and if you do not work with a coach, this should be where you begin on your own). There’s an annual plan of how the season will be approached, periodizing the year around selected races. This is the place to start. Every athlete’s plan changes 100% of the time due to family, work, health or other issues. Assess why these changes occured and how you would plan differently next time. Were the goals of the season achieved (why/why not)? Were they the correct goals? Did you achieve the objectives planned throughout the season (why/why not)? Was the volume correct? How about the intensity? Were the races the right ones or far enough apart? Did scheduling work as planned?
- Physiological training– A general look back at how you performed overall physiologically is critical. The main questions to ask yourself are: how well did I execute? How did I handle the volume and intensity perscribed over the course of the season? I typically ask my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in their discipline (in triathlon: swim, bike and run), and then provide open-ended feedback as to why they assessed themselves the way they did.
- Mental skills- Mental skills is one of three main pillars of multisport training, so it’s important to look back and assess your mental performance for the season. Were you relaxed or agitated? Did you think positively or negatively? How did you do with the mental skills exercises perscribed in your plan? Often times mental skills training is ignored, so understanding if this is an area for improvement is critical.
- Nutrition– Another of the main pillars of multisport training is nutrition, both everyday and race day nutrition. Everyday nutrition is what you eat on an everyday periodized in line with your physiological nutrition. Questions to ask include: did I stick with the outline of total calories, and breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates targeted? Did you eat the right quality of foods? Did you develop a routine with your nutrtion so it became an integrated part of your day (often times the biggest challenge for people)? Also, you will want to look at race day nutition, which is fueling for the days preceeding, day of and days after a big “A” race, such as an Ironman, or shorter distance races. I always work to make sure my athletes have a very methodical (but flexible) approach to race day nutrition, but execution is key. Questions to ask: Was the plan leading up to race day work for you? Did you follow it? Did you “bonk”, have GI issues, or other issues the day of a race? If so, why?
- Race Strategy– Having a sound strategy for each race (particularly “A” races) is key, so looking back on how the planning and strategy execution worked for those races is important. Questions to ask: Did the race strategy planning process work? Did you execute against the strategy effectively? How would you adjust the strategy?
Be sure to document all of your thoughts on the season assessment. Having it in writing is important to capture the data, and a way for you to communicate it to your coach if you work with one. I typically provide my athlete’s a form to capture the input. I have them save it as part of their athletic journal.
Finally, the most important step of the season assessment is to analyze and optimize. It’s one thing to have collected all the data, but it’s another to look closely at it and undertake concrete changes. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s one that surprisingly gets omitted since many folks feel that if they’ve at least documented it (or had the discussion), then they’ve done what they needed to do. In fact, it’s critical that you outline exactly what changes you plan on making for next season. For instance, if in the season assessment you note that “I had difficulties getting my bike speed to where I would have liked. I really think had I spent the time on more bike speed work, it would have made a big difference in my performance”, then you’re going to want to do things to analyze and optimize this:
- drill into the why’s behind this (why didn’t you do more bike speed work? Was it because you didn’t plan it or was it because you did not execute what was planned? Or perhaps what you had planned did not work for you– then you should undertand why this was the case. )
- what are you going to do about it? Let’s say you did not execute appropriately against what was planned for bike speed workouts since they were difficult for you to hit the splits over the course of the season and you did not accurately measure your baseline bike fitness to set those split times (hopefully this would have been caught while executing at the time, but let’s say it was not). You’ll want to then be specific in optimizing by having a recommendation of “next season I will set my bike split times for my speed workouts based on results from my periodic bike tests.”
Once you have your specific recommendations, you’re good to go for planning out next season. I will be addressing this exact topic– planning out your multisport season– in my next blog post (stay tuned!).
There are certainly different ways to approach the season assessment, and I’ve outlined some ideas that have worked for me and the athlete’s I work with. Perhaps you have some ideas on what has worked for you? What are some of the things you look back on and assess? How do you see yourself when you look naked in the mirror at season’s end?