Week 1 – Settling In

If you read the About page, you know I’ve been reading The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. Inspired by Stuart McMillan, head sprint coach at Altis, I will write my thoughts on the meditation of the day, along with my observations from my time at the track/gym/poolside chats.

This one is going to be a bit disjointed, since I am starting late.

Day 1 : Control & Choice

The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. – The Daily Stoic

Can you control the wind on race day? No, but you can make a point of practicing in many different conditions, to feel comfortable in the worst of cases.

In GCM sports, can you control whether or not you will win? Much less than we’d like to believe; if you’re faster than me, I can’t exactly get in your way while staying in my lane… You can, however, do everything you can to be your very best.

Ultimately, we don’t have much control over what happens to us. There are simply too many external factors that can get in the way. What we can control is how we react to it all.

Mark Manson said it less eloquently, but certainly more hilariously.

Day 2 : Education is Freedom

“What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated – tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 2.1.21-23a

Take every opportunity to learn about your craft. As the Altis team preaches, you should strive for a PhD in your sport. The better you understand it, inside and out, the more perspectives you have to understand how to achieve your full potential.

Balance out the deep learning and learn from outside your field. Having a wide breadth of knowledge only increases the number of combinations and permutations of perspectives you can have. I’ve learned from business to organize your sports club, from psychology for athlete management, and from Ancient Philosophy for fulfillment in sports (yay at being meta!). This is a concept that Altis truly lives and breathes.

Day 3 : Be Ruthless to the Things That Don’t Matter

It may hurt some feelings. It may turn people off. It may take some hard work. But the more you say no to the things that don’t matter, the more you can say yes to the things that do. This will let you live and enjoy your life – the life that you want.

– The Daily Stoic

Training you “should” be doing – and then you end up injured from doing too much.
Parties you “should” be going to – but then wake up late to tomorrow’s practice.
TV shows you “have” to see – and now you have to cram for the next exam, spiking your stress.
Relationships you feel bad for parting from – yet you only feel worse because of it.

This one mustn’t be easy for most. It takes a certain level of confidence to “stand your ground” in the face of social pressure. I think the simplest (though certainly not easy) way of keeping a clear mind when making decisions about could/would/should’s is to imagine you are offering advice to your best friend. Tackling issues from a third person POV helps because you tend to think more rationally, unhampered by emotional biases.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb would call it, Via Negativa – Growth through removal.

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Although I’m now at day 8 of The Daily Stoic, I’ll leave my thoughts on those for the next days to prevent this post from getting longer than it already is.

Finishing off with some random thoughts on my last two days at Altis :

  • I’m continuing to appreciate the importance of balance (for lack of a better word). Some will become very good coaches because of their sharp, precise, Cartesian, scientific methods. Others achieve it from their free-flowing, adaptive, personal, creative, artistic approach. The best can do both.
    This also bleeds into how to approach training : when it’s time to go, f***ing go. There’s enough research out there suggesting that most beginners just need to work harder. That said, when it’s time to recover, do it like it’s your job.
    Same can be said of training always fired up: for every person who achieves success this way, probably burns out a bunch others. That said, it most definitely works for short term boosts in focus and intensity, something a constant stoic approach probably can’t do.
  • The training program is relatively flat-loaded, instead of having obvious fluctuations in volume and intensity. When asked about it, it was more about removing variables : all the training manipulations came from what is done on the track. This way, when things improve (or not!), it’s easier to see why. Weight training becomes more about just adding a supporting, or complimentary stimulus, but the bulk of the stimulation comes from doing your sport. This makes a ton of sense, though I also somehow feel this might not work as well with a sub-elite population, where there are still many things to improve that can’t be achieved simply through doing your sport (or can you…?).
  • Self-directed learning is a big thing here at Altis, and it annoys many who feel that there isn’t enough structure. I can sympathize, because it can be really disorienting. I feel this comes down to stages of learning (shout out to Lil Louis). You don’t want to come here when you’re still in stage 1 (Unconscious incompetence aka Don’t know what you don’t know), because you don’t know yet what you want to learn. Stage 2 is a minimum (Conscious incompetence aka know what you don’t know), but I’d argue Stage 3 is best. If you know what you know, that can also feedback and help you get a better sense of what you don’t. This should set you better for figuring out how to get the most out of what the Altis crew has to offer. Arguably, many of us are indeed at stage 1 compared to the brains here, so maybe it does need more structure…
  • Franz Bosch’s influence on the training of the sprint group is readily apparent, and it makes me wonder if I need to integrate more of these ideas with the paddlers back home. This could help with understanding the proper vectors needed (directing top arm pressure through the paddle vs punching forward or pulling down, or learning to initiate bottom arm pull with derotation). Problem is…how?
  • Paddling is, as far as I can tell, a concentric-only sport. Should I be doing more dead-stop exercises? (again, thanks to Bosch for these considerations)
  • In a cyclical and sagitally dominant sport like sprinting, regen days are the opportunities to explore all the movement patterns that aren’t stimulated.
  • A good pre-practice talk sets the tone for what we want to accomplish. A good post-practice talk ensures that we leave having learned the right lessons today.
  • Therapy has both an influence on the cells (mechanotransduction, fluid circulation, NOT “scar tissue breaking”), but an underappreciated element is the influence on the nervous system. The amount of pressure, the length of the treatment, how long you sustain your contacts…all should be manipulated depending on which nervous system you’re trying to influence. You can also get clues on what the athlete needs by looking at their personalities – a far easier thing to evaluate than the concentration of different mechanoreceptors in each individual.
  • Good coaching, good medical services, good environment. Optimize these before you start looking for the latest marginal gain. Lets put the egos aside and make sure we’re nailing these basics like never before for our athletes, because they are the number one priority. Not us. When they feel that, they believe in us. Belief in your coach probably trumps all.
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