Is Triathlon an Individual or a Team Sport?

I guess you can say, well, it depends. If it’s a relay then it’s a team sport, but if you’re racing in an individual ranking then it’s an individual sport, right? For sure, although it’s not always that easy.

Last year, Paolo Sacchetti (also known as Mr. Plastic Bag; you can read an interview with him here) asked me how important are for an athlete the relationships with the coach and other persons (training partners, relatives, competitors) and what should athletes expect from them.

If you look at triathlon from this perspective, then, you understand why the discipline can be seen not only as an individual sport, but also as one where the individual is part of a team. A team where all the figures play a crucial role.

The persons that are closer to the athlete are normally his/her family, the coach, other team members and training partners, the nutritionist, the physiotherapist, the massage therapist, the sport psychologist and other professionals consulted (even other coaches from other background and specialities).

You now see how many people can influence and have an impact on an athlete’s performance. From how I see it, although the athlete is always alone on a race-course (but he/she is really?), triathlon it is truly a team-sport and the performance of an individual is always the result of a group effort.

1. Your Family

If you have a partner, husband/wife, kids … they are your priorities. Plan your training around your family and work commitments, and not the other way around. It’s important to be supported in what you do, but if you’ll end up sacrificing your family relationships and time because of your trainings, well, first you won’t get the support you need from them, but most importantly you would set your priorities wrong. As the result of a team effort, you would need a strong team around you; and your family is not only part of that team, but it’s the most important one. If you don’t forget they are your priorities, then they’ll become your best supporters; the most important figures helping you succeeding in your goals.

2. The coach

This is a very important figure of course! Not only because it’s the one in charge of you training programs, but because it’s the one that is supposed to guide you through the intricacy of the sport and towards your athletic and personal developments. It’s a crucial role, therefore you need to select your coach very well: there must be a good fit between you and your coach and not all the athlete-coach relationships actually work. If you feel like there is something wrong or missing in the relationship with your coach, speak to your coach first, and if you don’t find a common ground, then look for someone who offers something different and that in line with what you’re looking for. Ask your coach many questions in order to develop, but bear in mind that most of the times not to overthink and keeping things simple is the best way to go. These days most of the coaches’ work is done online, but from how I see it, this is not the most effective way of coaching and be coached — which needs to be delivered in person to be truly effective. Online coaching is setting a training schedule; it’s convenient and a good way to monitor the way people train remotely, but it’s important to have a coach that is close to you or one that you can meet often. You would have more time and room for improvement in this scenario compared to where the human relationships is missing.

3. Other team members and training partners

Training with someone else is also incredibly important. It makes the whole experience of training more enjoyable, more fun, and you’ll end pushing and challenging yourself more if you train with other people. The classic example of how important is to train with someone else are the swimming sessions with a squad, but also the running track sessions and long rides on the bike. We all have experienced the benefits of sharing these sessions with other athletes and not only did we feel better afterwards, but I’m sure even our fitness has benefited from them too. However, make sure you keep a good balance between these sessions and the key sessions you need to perform for your specific goals (easy and long ones for long-distance events). The risk of always training with other athletes is that these sessions can often end up in a ‘sufferfest’ and you won’t get used to be on your own. It’s good from time to time to challenge ourselves with others, but do not fall into the ‘all-out trap’ every time.

4. Other professionals (bike fitter, nutritionist, physio, massage therapists, sport psychologists, yoga teacher!)

Performance is a system. There is not only the physiological development that you need to keep an eye on and bring forward to become a better athlete. It is necessary that you find your optimal position on your bike, as well as you have a good nutrition plan in order to express your best performances. At the same time, it is fundamental to sleep correctly and recover properly after your sessions, it is important to let your body heal from the efforts your put it into, but equally it’s crucial to train the mind skills and not only the physical capacities if you want to perform at your own best. The system of performance can become as complex as you want it to be. Yet, some among us are more capable of dealing with a higher degree of complexity, some are not. And as we mentioned earlier, most of the times it’s important to keep things easy. You can hire as many professionals you believe you would require to improve as an athlete, but make sure that the level of complexity you are dealing with is also fitting well into your life and your various commitments.