Fighting Fit: University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Triathlon Team in action.

I posted the picture in this article the other day with the caption “How do I fix this guy’s hands? Run him in boxing gloves.” Almost immediately one of our followers posed the following question, “Why fix them at all?” This is actually a very good and important question.

At we aren’t interested in fitting in with conventional opinions or practices if those things aren’t making athletes faster. We’re interested in getting to the finish line first. If ugly is fast, then ugly it is.

All that said, this athlete’s velociraptor hand position, in addition to being an eyesore, was a liability. More than just physical, the orientation of his arms and hands were a reflection of his mental state. Additionally, his arms and hands provided a physical point of access to get in and rewire him between the ears.

At the risk of diminishing some of the magic in the art of coaching, I’ll use this example to illustrate how the body and the mind are intimately linked and how we must approach each athlete as an individual. Running him in boxing gloves accomplished three significant things.

First, it provided positive feedback from me, the coach, to him, the athlete. Just bringing the gloves demonstrated that I’m engaged and interested in him personally. It showed that I’ve thought about him and gone out of my way to bring a special training tool from home for him to use in the training session. This athlete is ready to take a huge leap forward in his run performances and triathlon racing. By connecting with him in this way it reinforced that I believe in him, that I’m invested in him, and that I’m willing to push him. Pushing him requires trust. Our lighthearted engagement as well as our serious talks both function to build and reinforce our mutual trust, respect, and positive regard.

Second, for this athlete, in this situation, his weak and uncontrolled body was a reflection of his mental state when running. This athlete has been running far below his potential for too long. This year, his commitment and motivation have been at a higher level and internally he’s at the point where he’s ready to take his running and racing to a higher level.

By bringing conscious attention to his hands and having him intentionally reposition them, I’m helping him focus his own attention into his body. Rather than running with weak and uncontrolled hands, he’s discovering that can run with greater physical strength and by extension greater mental strength. Whereas he had previously run without awareness or control of his hands or internal states, he is now developing the mental pathways to regulate those facets of his body, mind, and performance. I see great things for this athlete. His biggest gains will come from cultivating his focus, drive, intensity, and self-belief.

Finally, if you look at the picture, you’ll see that the rest of the team is smiling and having a good time. Everyone had a laugh and played along when he put on the gloves. That type of connection and team chemistry can inspire a group of athletes to achieve exceptional feats. Physical training is just one part of a much bigger formula. Rapport, chemistry, and trust are essential in positive coach-athlete and coach-team relationships. The gloves are just a tool, and this athlete’s hands are just one point of access to the place where the real work is done.

View Coach Mateo Mercur’s full profile here.

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