Simon Whitfield on metrics and the ‘love of play’
— By Rachel Sovka
How much do metrics matter?
Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield shares his experience of which metrics he pays attention to.
“I went through various stages in my career where metrics were a focus, and other phases where they weren't,” he says.
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Whitfield describes the times he measured different things and how they evolved along his athletic journey depending on what he was trying to achieve.
“Early in my career, I was very pace-orientated, I loved to measure and be precise. In the middle of my career I used the term ‘ish’, as in ‘the pace today will be three minutes-ish.’ I was being defiant of structure searching for simplicity and freedom.”
‘Reviewable metrics are valuable’
In the later stages of Whitfield’s career, he trained with coach Jon Brown and the two of them became fixated on the idea that precision training leads to predictable performance gain.
Around that time he was very cognizant of measuring his pace at all times, but, in the present day, Whitfield has a different outlook on metrics.
“I believe now that reviewable metrics are valuable,” he says, noting the information can help establish expectations and set the tone for upcoming workouts.
Whitfield explains that during the workout, through practice, he tries to continually move toward an increase in his capacity for internal awareness. Understanding how difficult that can be helps him to find joy in the evolving process that he says deepens his mind-body connection.
“Post-workout, it is helpful to have metrics to review,” he says, “giving greater understanding to what actually transpired with the simple goal of establishing patterns, continuity arc, and development of individual potential.”
Pushing limits with N+1 workouts
Developing individual potential is, as many athletes will say, often about pushing oneself just beyond your limit in order to expand your limits each day. Lately, Whitfield has done that through spin classes to get his circulation going, and through yoga, which he uses for emotional well-being.
But back during his Olympic training Whitfield pushed himself by focusing on N+1 workouts with the help of his coach.
“We would do as many reps as we felt we could, plus one,” Whitfield recalls. “These workouts pushed our limits mentally at the same time requiring us to have a keen sense of our capabilities. It wasn't meant to simply be ‘push yourself into oblivion.’ It was more a case of ‘how many would you do if there wasn't a predetermined governor?’
“I really geared up for these workouts because I felt it was an opportunity to prove to myself just what I was capable of, and how focused I could be.”
A no-nonsense diet
Of course gearing up to push yourself in a tough workout requires the right fuel ahead of time. And for Whitfield, simplicity is the greatest sophistication; a simple, no-nonsense diet.
“Meet your energy requirements with simple quality foods, with a focus on facilitating a healthy gut,” he recommends. “I'm a big believer in this; healthy gut, healthy mind and body.”
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Simon believes this is easier than we make it out to be. He suggests fermented foods, and suspects we would be wise to avoid dairy and all but the smallest amount of high quality meat.
“The cappuccino beside me, and the turkey sandwich I ate for lunch be damned,” he says with a laugh.
The theatre of sport
In breaking down a complex idea, Whitfield says metrics are only worth obsessing over if you’re doing it for the right reasons. He advises taking all the numbers and measurements and simplifying the ‘why’ into the great moments in sport which metrics help you achieve or experience.
Whitfield’s favourite moment in Canadian sport is Sidney Crosby's golden goal in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
“That moment was special as a Canadian kid who grew up playing hockey,” Whitfield explains. “Beyond that, it's all about the pick-up games nobody sees, the street hockey games with friends, our weekly soccer games where shoes or sticks go in the middle; it’s the theatre of sport played out with no one watching, playing sport for the love of play, and nothing else.”
So whatever metrics you may be measuring, Whitfield encourages self-awareness for capacity building, but reminds us not to get too caught up in the numbers and remember to embrace the simple joy of sport.