My Practical Strength colleague, Dave Van Skike, has a saying he got from his father who used to race motorcycles:
“Four-fifths is faster than all out”.
This may sound nonsensical at first, but when we put it in the context of racing, you can start to understand that going as fast as you possibly can robs you of the control and precision you need to perform well. If you are going too fast to anticipate changes in the course, you will crash. People who crash don’t win.
I never raced motorcycles, but I trained horses and riders for many years and the same principle applies. Teaching a horse to perform and teaching a rider to control that horse’s performance requires that you build the horse’s athleticism to a high level, but also that you train the rider to understand when she needs to encourage the horse to put in more effort and when she needs to hold back. I trained hunter/jumper horses as well as a few fox hunters and when you are riding a 1200 pound beast who is running full steam at solid obstacles, you had better have a good amount of control over when he’s going to jump. Full speed with no control does not work. The wrong choice can be fatal for one or both of you.
My riding and horse training days are long behind me, but I’ve retained this understanding of how the horse (athlete) and the rider (coach) need to interact. Hopefully, if you’ve trained your athlete well, he or she will have strength and power to burn. Your job is to control how that is expressed for the best performance. In Olympic Weightlifting, one of the sports I coach, consistency on the platform is the most important skill we need to develop in beginner weightlifters. No matter how strong or powerful they are, we need to find where they are going to be the most successful on competition day. There are some athletes who will hold back and not want to attempt heavier weights because they lack confidence. There are other athletes who are very confident and want to attempt their all time one rep maxes and beyond in competition. But, if they do not have the consistency to guarantee success, it is far better to be more conservative when the goal is a higher total. (The competition total is the combination of their highest lift in the snatch and the clean and jerk.)
One of the biggest issues I’ve seen with athletes becoming coaches is that they are still thinking like athletes. They have the competitive drive and enthusiasm to push their trainees to their very limits. However, as a coach, your job is to ensure a good performance and success that can be built upon. Although the original statement, 4/5ths is faster than all out, was in regard to motorcycle racing, I think we can apply this to most sports performances. Save that last bit of effort and apply it to consistency and control over your movements. You may not be as fast, or lift as much weight, or throw as far, but your guarantee of a successful competition is much higher. If you crash, get red-lighted, or foul, you don’t win. As a coach and as an athlete, practicing mastery of your sport is far more valuable to your success than trying to maximize effort.