One of the most frequent comments I hear from the athletes I work with is: "I had a lousy day of training." This statement was almost always accompanied by a variety of emotions that are neither pleasant nor helpful including frustration, anger, worry, doubt, and disappointment, and, occasionally, despair. Moreover, I saw that this assertion hurt athletes' motivation, confidence, and focus, and, as a result, their subsequent training and competitive efforts often suffered.
Given the frequency with which I heard this sort of judgment and how much harm it does to athletes, I wanted to explore it further in the hopes of finding a way to lessen its impact and even change how athletes evaluate their daily training experiences.
To be sure, a good training day is not hard to miss and certainly always welcome. You perform technically and tactically well. You learn something new that makes you better. You perform consistently with few mistakes. You are mentally there; motivated, confident, intense, and focused. Most importantly, you perform your best. It helps when the weather and conditions are good. It also helps when you are healthy, rested, and life away from your sport is going well for you. After training, you're super psyched and happy. As the saying goes, "It's all good."
Equally sure, a bad training day is also hard to miss and most certainly not welcome. When I asked athletes why they would make such a pessimistic assessment of their training days, several themes emerged from their most common responses:
- Bad technique: "My form was terrible today."
- Difficulty learning a new skill: "I tried all day, but just couldn't get it."
- Mistakes: "I was screwing up constantly."
- Slow: "I felt like I was in slow motion."
- Mental: "My head just wasn't in it today."
- Not fun: "It was a slog getting through the day."
All of these statements seem to give good cause to conclude that "I had a lousy day of training." At the same time, I would argue that such a discouraging conclusion is both inaccurate and decidedly unhelpful as you pursue your sports goals. The problem is that this perception of the quality of the training day is defined too narrowly and actually prevents you from seeing the many benefits you get from a day that you might ordinarily decide was awful.
I believe that every day can be a good day of training. Some days, the benefits are clear: you make technical, tactical, or speed gains. But other days, you or the conditions conspire to ensure that no matter what you do, good skiing just isn't going to happen. Those days certainly suck, but they are also inevitable. So what matters is how you respond to them. Let's start with my one definition of a bad day of training: When you turn against and give up on yourself. That is the worst kind of training day and can only hurt your performances. The great thing about this definition of a bad training day is that it is completely within your control because it is all about how you think about and react to the challenges you are faced with.
Those are the days that you need to broaden your definition of what constitutes a good day of training beyond good technique, tactics, or good play. This narrow definition of a good day ignores another piece of the "success" puzzle that is essential to ultimately achieving your sports goals, namely, training your mind. On those so-called bad days, you have an incredible opportunity to become a better athlete by strengthening your mind while everything else may be going to hell. You can do this in several ways.
First, I'm not asking you to say "I'm lovin' it!" That's just plain unrealistic given that there are plenty of good reasons why you don't love it. At the same time, you can't hate it because, if you do, you will probably give up and your training day will have been a waste. You need to find a middle ground between the extremes of love and hate. That happy medium to just "accept and deal" meaning acknowledge that it's going to be a tough day and decide that you're going to get the most out of it you can.
Second, on bad days, it's easy to go to the "dark side," meaning you get negative, discouraged, and maybe even quit. Instead, you could stay positive and motivated, and choose to keep fighting through the challenges. Training and ingraining this more constructive reaction is so important because you're going to have a lot of those "bad days" in your sports career. And you can decide whether the Force is going to be with you or against you (apologies for the Star Wars reference).
Third, those bad days are really uncomfortable and they don't feel good in any way. These days are great opportunities for you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. These experiences are so valuable because there is a lot of discomfort in sports. Plus, the only way you're going to continue to progress toward athletic goals is to get out of your comfort zone. So, on those uncomfortable training days, you want to embrace, rather than give in to, the discomfort until the discomfort becomes comfortable.
Fourth, sports are rife with adversity including weather, conditions, and tough competitors. Moreover, everyone in the field has to perform in many of the same conditions. So, it's not the conditions that matter, but rather how you perceive (threat or challenge) and react to them (fight or give up). Bad days are a great way to figure out how to perform your best (or just survive) in those tough conditions, so when you get to game day with similar bad conditions, you have the attitude and tools necessary to respond positively to them and perform as well as you can.
Fifth, as I noted above, so-called bad days can trigger in you a number of unpleasant emotions such as frustration and disappointment, all of which can make your bad days even worse. You have the opportunity to turn those emotions around and generate more positive emotions, such as pride and inspiration, that will keep you positive and motivated during the rough times. Clearly, this "emotional mastery" will serve you well on race day.
Finally, reinterpreted so-called bad days will make you a more resilient and adaptable athlete. Resilience means you'll be better able to react positively the always-present adversity of sports. You will have a stronger mind for everything that sports (and life) throws at you every day.
The end result is simple, yet powerful. When you make every day a good day of training, you have fewer ups and downs, you have more fun, you perform better, and you progress toward your sports goals faster.