Over the weekend I watched the Rayong ITU Asian Cup event in Thailand. It was great to see athletes of all abilities attending, some of whom had never raced at this level before. It was also sad knowing other athletes could have benefited greatly from the opportunity but were not afforded one, even on a self-funded basis. In my opinion, its essential to get athletes into these types of event as early as the ITU permits especially if the athlete is dominant in their local events or in the case of many, do not have a competitive race series at home at all.
Within an athlete first year of racing (assuming they have progressed correctly), I recommend doing at least 6 sprint distance events. In an ideal world, I would choose two at their current fitness level so they are competitive, 2 below their level so they excel, and 2 above their level so they get beaten. This is advantageous for several reasons
- Learn how to be competitive - Racing faster athletes brings you up to their level and massive improvements are seen without much change in training
- Get over the fear of racing - The early races come with a huge amount of anxiety. Getting this out of the way earlier will bring big performance benefits, the earlier, the better
- Learn how to lose - Winning won’t always come easy, learn how to deal with being out of your depth and rebound to train and race again. Remember, sometimes failure is the key to success.
- Motivation - Racing internationally brings huge prestige and is highly enjoyable. New levels of training and life performance will be achieved once competing internationally
- Learn skills and rules - Most local races do not enforce many ITU rules or required skills. These have to be performed at high speeds and under high pressure. Most athletes will learn more in an ITU race than all their previous races put together.
- Expose your weaknesses - No training session can compare to the intensity of a race. Often those who win in training aren’t those who win races. What you think you do well in training might be comparatively weak on race day.
- Improves Confidence - The difference between an athlete who is confident and has self-belief vs one who does not, is like night and day, regardless of their ability or fitness. Regular racing allows athletes to grow, develop and gives the long hours of training a purpose. When you are confident, anything is possible.
All of the above are undeniable benefits to an athlete and push performance to the next level. The ITU offers continental cups (the lower tier of racing) for that very reason yet many athletes throughout Asia are still finding it difficult to get race starts. Over my many years of training, racing and coaching here, our athletes biggest downfall is lack of race experience and the benefits that come along with it. This often ends in them not coping well/ feeling like their time is being wasted and eventually dropping out of the sport.
I hope National federations in Asia strive to put their athlete's development first and politics second. Come up with fair selection criteria and make the criteria available for all to see. At the end of the day, anyone doing well will be representing their country, and the system/governance in place will be credited for the result.