Design for hard work, not for comfort
One of my biggest inspirations is Stephen Francis, probably the world’s most successful sprint coach over the past 5 years. I met him for the first time at a hotel in Stockholm four years ago (the video above is from that meeting). At that time we spend a couple of hours discussing the importance of designing a talent environment for hard work and not for comfort. We seem to believe groomed fields, top-level technology and comfortable surroundings are necessary prerequisites for success. We would tend to use poor, overcrowded facilities as an excuse for not achieving better results. In Stephen Francis’s mind that is nonsense. As he puts it:
“A talent environment has to show people that the road to success is long and uncomfortable.”
“I don’t think they’ve got that message in the United States, Australia, Sweden, England, et cetera. When they build big smart training centres they are trying to make life as comfortable as possible for the athletes. But that’s not right. The athletes must demonstrate that they are so keen to succeed that they will ignore the fact that they could have found better, more comfort- able conditions elsewhere.”
I understand if you think this makes the world’s most successful sprint coach sound like a dictatorial drill sergeant, driving his recruits through meaningless physical tests in order to break them down psychologically. However, behind Stephen Francis’s provocative words lie intelligent considerations as to how one can make people reveal what it is that drives them simply through their actions. Francis uses the Spartan conditions to identify factors you cannot read from a certificate, construe from a psychological profile analysis or ask your way to in a job interview. He uses his facilities to penetrate the glossy surface to find out the answer to the critical questions: why are you here, really? How much do you care? What are you prepared to give – and to sacrifice? In other words: who really wants it most?
As he says: ‘By keeping my facilities humble I maintain the focus on what it’s all about, and I automatically separate off athletes who may be good sprinters but who are more driven by smart facilities, fame and comfort than the will to improve themselves.’
The conviction Stephen Francis wants to implant in the subconscience of his sprinters is crystal clear: success is not about facilities, it’s about mindset.