Curtis Beach, former international decathlete and head coach at SPIRE, talks through the outlook he believes can lead to athletics achievement

It seems we all know that understanding our why and defining a purpose is important, and yet many of us still skip past this and delve into endeavours without much thought. We often pick our pursuits out of convenience – trading passions for pay, fear of risk, or simply flowing along without intention. 

Let’s dive into the sometimes uncomfortable truths of what you may want, and then address the often overlooked strategies to achieve those ambitions as they apply to athletics and coaching.

How do we know what we want?

I believe it’s important to be deeply honest with yourself when it comes to identifying your abilities, interests and the impact you want to have on others. Ideally, all of these areas can mesh into one focused passion.

Make a spreadsheet and include columns for pursuit, interest level, ability to achieve and impact. Enter your possible pursuits and rate each subsequent column as high, medium and low. Filter the ones rated “high” to the top and if there is one that offers problems you know you’ll love solving, go for it! If you don’t have a gut feeling about any of them, that’s okay too. Pick one and see if a passion develops. 

Next, clearly define your mission. What’s your ultimate goal and who will it benefit? This can evolve over time as you learn more and have different experiences.

At the moment, my mission is to create opportunity and build resilience for track and field athletes at SPIRE Institute and Academy. It’s a simple mission, but it has taken a lot of deep thought to land on it.

Next, find the how of accomplishing your mission. A good start is to define your personal and team core values that will serve as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). As an example, our group lives by these rules:

1. Self-Reliance

2. Strong Communication

3. Belief

4. Collective Success

5. Pride

Values provide the signposts for thought patterns and behaviour. When combined with well-defined and measurable goals, they become more than words on a wall and act as clear accountability markers. They influence all pillars of practicing, competing and living life together. 

SPIRE Institute & Academy

Pillars of athletics success 

Here are the five pillars I believe are necessary to maximise potential in athletics. 

1. Mentality

This is the foundation which allows the other pillars to flourish. I believe self-validation is key here. Do we feel validated from within or seek validation from something outside ourselves? If we can rely on our internal character, while knowing we’re good enough no matter the outcome, we can pursue our goals from a place of confidence and security rather than a place of desperation or need.

If, however, we are dependent on outside things to feel validated (such as needing to win a medal or approval from others), then we may increase our chances of stress and burnout.

It’s also worth prioritising emotional awareness and regulation, framing and reframing perspectives and understanding our deep-rooted beliefs.

2. Lifestyle

To me, having a good lifestyle means manipulating your environment to make good decisions easy to accomplish. I don’t believe that relying solely on willpower is realistic because we are products of our habits, and our environment guides our choices. Can’t get good sleep because you’re on your phone at night? Charge it away from your bed or set limits on apps. Eat too many sweets? Don’t leave them within easy reach. 

Other aspects of lifestyle include building structure and routines, as well as maintaining healthy relationships. This involves setting boundaries for what you will and will not tolerate in your life or from other people.

3. Biomechanics

Now we’re getting closer to more traditional KPIs of training, but I believe proper biomechanical instruction is still underemphasised.

Biomechanics is about moving energy efficiently and letting your body constantly counterbalance itself. For example, a sprinter should have a long back leg pushing out of blocks with an opposite long back arm that mirrors the leg. The angles in your legs correspond to the angles in your arms. 

Movement is a big balancing act with the goal of minimising energy leaks through body position and efficient flow.

4. Mobility

Mobility is about getting your limbs to reach the necessary ranges for proper biomechanics. The most important areas to keep mobile in running include the ankle, hip (particularly the sacroiliac joint and acetabulum), spine and shoulder. Your elbows and knees are meant to have a lower range of motion. 

If, for example, the ankle is jammed up, torsion may flow to the knee and lead to injuries because it will be absorbing forces which it is not built to handle.

Fascia stretching, such as the ELDOA method (look up eldoamethod.com), is a fantastic way to stay mobile.

5. Physiology

In athletics, I view physiology as the study of how we biochemically derive energy. The mainstays of this include the primary energy systems: phosphagen system, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic glycolysis – all of which activate in different levels depending on the context of the activity.

There is a wide range of work pertaining to this area, including acceleration, maximum velocity, speed endurance, lactic threshold and aerobic capacity. One quick take: I believe distance runners should do acceleration and speedwork while fresh, not at the end of long runs, to maximise finishing kick speed.

This article only briefly touches on the areas I feel are necessary to achieve success and fulfilment as an athlete and as a coach. Good luck with the passion you choose—don’t settle!

» Curtis Beach, SPIRE’s Head Coach – Sprints, Jumps, and Combined Events, is a former USA international athlete who spent over 15 years competing in the decathlon and eight years coaching athletes at all levels. He won two NCAA Championship titles and a USATF National Championship

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