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2021 – a tipping year for coaching in the Alps (and beyond)

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Like probably in many other regions around the globe, coaching in the Alps (in my case Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria) was in the last 12 months heavily influenced by the pandemic, lockdown(s) and subsequent restrictions that limited racing for athletes significantly, allowed for group rides or larger gatherings only in narrow time periods, leading to permanent adaptations in training plans. In short: “Business as usual”, with structured annual training plans, building various levels of power towards specific events, did simply not work as before, and we had to improvise for a full season. I would dare to say that last year in this sense started a development that will make 2021 a tipping year for coaching in the Alps: We will most likely not return to a normal, with another pandemic-influenced season ahead of us, and with growing complexities and uncertainties beyond the current state.

Entering the VUCA world of coaching

Now, is this good or bad? Well, listening to the media and politicians, we are all in crisis mode. Yet, I am somehow convinced that Covid-19 just gives us a taste of additional disruptions that we will need to cope with in future. So, in my view this current shift will have long-term impact on how we coach and train athletes in the future. And I think this also bears opportunities for our passion and profession, as cycling for me clearly is more than a metaphor, rather a whole living system that may help us understand the VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world better than many management courses.

Cycling as a metaphor

Let me explain briefly why I see this close connection between cycling and business: Myself, I have a long track record in large corporations, with more than 20 years experience in middle management positions. Health and mental tensions I experienced at the age of 40 brought me to cycling – and I had the luck to experience the positive benefits of structured training, of teamwork in sports and of racing on myself, and on organizations as a whole – not because I had to do this for a certain reason, but because I learnt from daily practicing and from letting grassroot initiatives develop their impact. This development (10 years later) brought me to the conclusion to start my own coaching business two years ago – and creates the confidence within me that by spreading a ‘cyclist’s mindset’ in our athletes we can significantly contribute to making a positive impact on solving upcoming challenges in our societies. Let me give you some examples of the trends that I see with my athletes, and more specifically in the Alpine region I am active in at the moment.

Time to reflect

My clients, many of them in challenging positions at work, often say that cycling helps them understand and overcome barriers both at work and in family life. A majority is rethinking their own purpose during the crisis. Suddenly being “out of office” creates a new world beyond the hectic daily routines and established power structures. The tunnel journey (ever further, faster, bigger, more successful – and all this in halfway well-established structures) has come to an end – and since we mostly arrived at home (in home office), between family and virtual colleagues, between kitchen, balcony and desk, some questions that have already been answered arise anew: What does it mean to have a fulfilling work day? What are suitable results for value-creation? And how do I, in general, deal with the loss of control that the crisis brings along? Now, with training rides having not been cancelled due to distance and hygiene rules, they provide a protected space to reflect, to make up your mind. I try to accompany my coachees on their individual journey by integrating suitable mindset and purpose reflection tools into the training plans.

Experience nature

In the Alps, we tend to have a close connection to the nature that provides the ground and space for our training. Now, in the pandemic, the potential to dive into nature, seems even higher, and more than a few athletes make use of this: Why not ride up to the next mountain during the lunch break? Why not use the exceptional commute to the office for a brief deviation on a gravel road or even some trails? The flexibility that home office brings along (bike(s) always in reach; immediate switches of attention from work to family to training possible) makes it possible to dive into nature 24/7. It’s more than getting some fresh air and looking at nice scenery, and in addition inhaling, for example, the forest as a microcosm and ecosystem. Learning from nature means learning that there are no (artificial) limits.

Agile coaching and training

Some may ask: How can I set up and execute a meaningful annual training plan if I do not know if and when races will take place? An alternative approach may be to say: Wow, that’s a great opportunity to work on my main goal (e.g. to increase my personal Functional Threshold Power (FTP) this season by 15%) without any distractions. I found that some athletes are pretty intrigued by the perspective that there is not this pressure of having to perform to the maximum on a specific day – but rather to work sustainably, in shorter iterations, on a goal that is intrinsically motivated. I actually made good experience by applying the “Objectives & Key Results” methodology to training plans. It allows to connect to the individual purpose of an athlete over time, yet to adapt it on a quarterly basis and to work on the concrete training elements that are necessary to do over the next training cycle.

Integral perspective

The last year has shown that measuring results in cycling remains important – but, with dropping races as key points for measuring results, it is only one side of the coin. Last year often those athletes continued to develop that were driven by intrinsic motivation and that worked on their mindset. Together with Diana Oser, a yoga coach based in the region, we analyzed this hypothesis as part of the Nova Helvetia journey, a project set up by Swiss NGO Collboratio Helvetica.

To start with, we looked at physical exercising (cycling, yoga) in light of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory – describing that all life conditions are filtered through 4 irreducible perspectives that come from one of “intrinsic versus extrinsic” (ie, subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective perspectives) and “individual versus collective” perspectives. This describes 4 quadrants from which to perceive any life circumstance at any particular moment. In a range of interviews with hobby athletes that work in organizations we found that in conventional training environments there used to be a strong emphasis on the Action and Structure quadrants – yet, now, in tightened VUCA conditions, an even stronger emphasis seems necessary on the Mindset and Culture. In order to address this need we propose Flow Connection, a three month training cycle that combines Cycling and Yoga with agile and “New Work” routines and practices that can easily transfer to work and vice versa back to sports. We are currently in a prototyping and testing phase, collecting feedback from athletes and businesses.

Digital and virtual go hand in hand with physical work

While for sure there is a big trend globally to use virtual platforms such as Zwift (see article in January 2021 issue of The Journal of Cycle Coaching) for cycling and coaching (focusing on Action and Structure), digitalization also has a significant impact on the Mindset and Culture quadrants. One example that I would like to highlight is the field of energetics. “energetisch.fit“, developed by Jürgen Bergauer from Austria, is an analysis and coaching system based on the principles of biorhythm, numerology, bioresonance and radionics. Using a specially developed algorithm, the programme calculates the energy field of systems within seconds and displays the current state. After this analysis, all tested parameters can optimized and be integrated in daily training recommendations. This way, a fully individualized and personalized coaching experience can be developed that considers the mental and health aspects of each athlete on a day-to-day basis. Again, I am prototyping this way of training with athletes at the moment – with encouraging initial feedback.

Conclusion: opportunities for coaching

Should we bury our heads in the sand because of the pandemic? Absolutely not. The pandemic opens up new opportunities for coaching, which we can put to work for athletes with conscious mindset work supported by artificial intelligence and quantum physics. The Tipping Year 2021 increases the acceptance for ways of coaching that were outside our field of vision not long ago – in the Alps as well as in other regions.

The article was originally published in the Journal of Cycle Coaching, April 2021