How To Smash Your Triathlon Goals In 2020

It’s a New Year, a new decade and you're motivated, inspired & pumped to make 2020 the year you smash your triathlon goals.  Perhaps it’s to do your first triathlon, your first Ironman or even trying to qualify for Kona.  But why is this year going to be different?

It’s not how motivated or determined you are. If you want to have a better chance of achieving your goals in 2020 it’s about having an understanding of how as human’s we have 3 distinct psychological needs that need to be met if we’re to get better. And in a triathlon sense that means getting faster and continually improving.

We all have basic physical needs such as air to breathe. However, we also have basic psychological needs that need to be met for our emotional health. And the 3 basic psychological needs we have as humans are mastery, connection and autonomy.  There has been much research done around the World on these needs but Richard Ryan, PHD at the University of Rochester is considered to be World leading when it comes to validating their importance. From a triathlon perspective they are crucial and they guide the way I coach on a daily basis.


We need to be able to connect firstly to the process. There has to be an emotional connection to the daily process of swim, bike and run. This comes back to our ‘why’ and the reasons we’re doing it in the first place.  If there is no emotional connection to what we’re doing, then there is no way as humans we can continue to get the consistent training done required to improve.

Secondly for the great majority of triathletes they like to be part of a ‘tribe’. Part of a club, squad or group of friends they connect with. Fellow triathletes to share the ups and downs of training. Within the tribe there is also a connection needed to a coach, someone to guide them on the journey to their triathlon goals.

In all my years of coaching I get as much pleasure out of seeing people make life long friendships with people they met through our squad than I did with particular race results. We had people meet, get married, start families all through our squad. They still do triathlon, keep fit and spend time socialising away from triathlon. That sense of community and connectedness was everything to me as a coach and something I am very proud of. When people feel connected they want to train. And when they want to train they’re consistent which means they will be more likely to achieve their triathlon goals.


When I first started my coaching/teaching experiences as a physical education instructor at the Police Academy in Brisbane, Australia in the mid 1990’s there was no autonomy given to the recruits I instructed. They did as they were told. Run till they dropped and then run some more. And when I first started run coaching at my local run club I took a similar approach to the people I coached, I say, you do and don’t
ask questions. Run till you can’t run anymore.

There was no autonomy given to the person. It was only when I started coaching kids in swimming and running a few years later that I realised to get the best out of them I had to give them a sense of autonomy.  When I taught kids to swim I realised that if I guided them in their efforts to learn freestyle but at the same time gave them the freedom to do it on their own, they developed the skill better. And they enjoyed the process much more.

And now coaching elite athletes if we’re trying to develop a specific skill in swim, bike or run we’ll sit down, talk about the problem and what the potential strategies are to fix it. They’ll experiment with a couple of different approaches, see what one feels the best, I give my feedback and we come up with a plan.  However through the whole process they have a sense of being autonomous with me guiding them along to help them make the right decision. It’s about creating independent athletes who can make the right decisions at the right time.

I know which strategy has led to much better results too. People are not robots. While organisations such
as the Police require a level of discipline, I’ve learnt with coaching across all levels from kids, to adults and elite if you try and force them to do something they won’t be fully engaged. And if they’re not fully engaged through having some autonomy in the process then the outcome won’t be what they desire.


Finally the process to getting better people have to feel a sense of mastery. They need to know they’re mastering the specific skill or sport. If they don’t feel any sense that they’re not getting better or becoming more masterful then they won’t continue.

If you’re a parent then teaching your kids to ride their bike. We guide them, but they steer the bike and when they feel confident we take our hands away from the back of the bike and away they go. The whole process is about guiding them in the right direction but giving them the autonomy to steer and pedal the bike before  eventually taking complete control.

My job as a coach is to provide an environment that allows athletes to develop in a similar fashion. Whether that be a daily training environment with the squads that I lead or helping people set up a routine in their life that gives them the right environment.

I can’t motivate people, but I can challenge and inspire them to be better. When a person has these psychological needs being met it also leads to a higher sense of intrinsic motivation.  To be able to continue on when it feels like they’re not improving and can be taking a long time to reach their triathlon goals.

triathlon goals

Triathlon is a sport that real improvements takes years, not days, weeks or months.  Continual strength endurance training over years is when we start to ‘master’ our sport. And in age of instant gratification and where we live in a society that is all about making things easier this can be hard for some people.

That is why it is important to celebrate the little victories along the way. The first time you did a tumble turn in the pool, the first time you did a flying mount in a race, the first time you went under a certain time in a race or made the podium in your age group.  One young woman I am coaching at the moment achieved a personal best time recently for her 5km run.  This was on the back of 3 years of consistent training, much of it very repetitive but right from the start she saw small gains in the training we were doing and she was mastering her skill – running.  At times I had to remind her were on the right track but if she continued to be connected to the process, we gave her a sense of autonomy in terms of what races she wanted to do then the mastery would come.

If you are looking for a program to achieve your triathlon goals this year then check out our Tri Goals program where you can customise to your swim, bike and run ability.

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