I remember reading an article once by a guy named Derek Hynd, Derek is a writer for Australian surf media. He was one of Australia’s, if not the world’s, first surf coaches. He is also an eccentric character, a bit of a loner and a very depth thinker. Just the sort of person it takes to pick up on things that other people would otherwise miss.
I was and remain a big fan and I remember reading an article of his about 20 years ago regarding competition. It’s often interesting to draw parallels between different sports, what are the common denominators etc. By accident, I came across the article re- run as part of the history of Australian surf coaching and that article centred around what Derek referred to as “Bastard Desire”. He hinted at the fact that you can’t be truly great without it and that Bastard Desire is the father of success metered out by hard times survived, the digger spirit, if you will.
Triathlon has become a bit of a complex animal, we tend to like to market the idea that it is complex but the juice of it, at least for me as a coach, is in the competition and accountability of each person. When I look at new athletes these days who tell me they want to achieve a certain goal or develop into a competitive athlete the first thing I ask myself as I work with them is “do I see the Bastard Desire”? That desire can be loud in some personalities and that desire can be silent in others but it’s always obvious to me.
Competition is a psychology in itself. I often find that the drive for greatness comes from a less than perfect childhood or history of being bullied, being the youngest, being the smallest. Sometimes the resolve that is created to survive childhood intact creates winners and sometimes people are just born with that fire.
Bastard desire will always trump talent simply because the juice in that desire is the fuel that allows an athlete to survive the setbacks that are necessary for true development. In my view, the tricky element is to allow the Bastard Desire to be, and to draw energy from it, without it becoming anxiety. I think it’s absolutely key for an athlete to learn about themselves and to take responsibility for their own commitment and, more than that, to take responsibility for the way they think and feel. I believe that all greats find this space by accident or design. At some point these people must realise that their juice is, and has always been, inside themselves.
Unfortunately, anxiety is the flip side of Bastard Desire. From my observations, too much future too much past are often the weights that hang around athletes’ necks. I think it’s important to understand that without these traits of desire and anxiety it is difficult to find the drive to be a good athlete and the trick is to allow that Bastard Desire to be and to learn to deal with the flip side not through self- judgement, but through self-observation. “The only way out, is in”.
There are many examples of Bastard Desire throughout history. Anyone who has done any reading around the Japanese Samurai code will see that the development of that desire and the control of it has been in play for thousands of years through meditation. An athletes almanac of how to control pre- race anxiety and how to deal with the moments that a race hands out hides in the pages of Samurai warrior code or sections of Sun Tzu’s “Art of war”. A text that is so very old points to optimal performance coming from stillness of mind and the energy of desire.
In these days of ever increasing technology, screens, data, time trial preoccupation, rampant marketing through fear, I often wonder what advancements we are ignoring at the hands of this anxiety.
From what I have experienced and witnessed: In the end, the only single thing that is concrete is the athlete’s accountability to themselves. Success is a product of an athlete’s inner journey not an outward journey. If you are looking for answers don’t look for them out there, there’s nothing you need out there.
Your juice is in the place it always has been. Monks and the military leaders from centuries past realised that the real juice of performance excellence exists deep in the gut of each human and can be accessed for optimal performance through self-observation and stillness.
Want something that’s real? Tune your Bastard Desire. It will do a lot more for you than that next 20min FTP. Thanks Derek.