How Nils van der Poel (who?) will help your kids succeed
Nils van der Poel, after winning the gold in the 5,000 and then 10,000 meter speed skating events at the 2022 winter Olympics, released his manifesto on training, titled, "How to Skate a 10K". The PDF is about 60 pages long but the first 30 pages are where the meat of the philosophy behind his program can be found. Not too long a read and very well written.
"Cut out the sub-optimal, and increase the optimal."
This was the basic premise of Nils' training. It was this line that made me think about how it might be applicable to our kids and their own quests for college entry, employment, overall satisfaction with life. A college admissions counselor explained to me the challenge that he faced reviewing the wide variety of applications from well-deserving young men and women. Is the soccer player more qualified than the violin musician? Is it better to do many different things or just one or two more deeply? While the answers to these questions change depending on which school and even which counselor you speak to at that school, there is some value to depth rather than breadth. The counselor I was speaking to specifically mentioned that the discipline it takes to become really good at one thing is more impressive and possibly indicative of someone who is capable of taking on the new challenges of college life.
"...the main idea of my training program was that you will become good at whatever it is that you train."
Pretty simple stuff right? He even quotes one of my favorite mantras, KISS (keep it simple stupid). What are your kids spending their time on? My friend once asked me whether he should add "Cost Accounting" to his resume. I responded by asking him if he wanted a job doing cost accounting to which he promptly said, "hell no". Are our kids spending time training on things that they do not really wish to be good at? Test-taking instead of knowledge acquisition (there is a difference). The goal may still be there, college, career, etc. but there are many paths to success, and working on something that our sons and daughters will hope to continue with seems a more enjoyable and sensible approach.
While our kids are stressing and putting in the hours, sweat, and tears to please us, compete with their peers, live up to teacher expectations, and hopefully following their own dreams, the mental stress can be unbearable. The 5-2 training day approach by Nils offered mental relief in that his rest days (the 2) were never more than 5 days away. Are your high achiever children putting in 7 day weeks? Perhaps recognizing that a guy who went out on weekends drinking with his buddies and still knocked out not one but two Olympic gold medals with a world record as a nice little bonus. Perhaps a little break from Calculus on Saturday won't ruin her chances at getting into Stanford? These quotes, in particular, struck me as worth remembering
"...in order to be able to train at a high level I also needed a good social environment.""When the training wasn’t going great, perhaps something else in life did and that cheered me up."
The final bit that I took away from Nils' document was about confidence. I have written many times about the importance of confidence in applications, interviews, and life. According to Nils, confidence comes from voluntary confrontation with challenge. He emphasizes "voluntary". Choosing to take on the challenge, working hard to surpass or achieve helps to build the mental strength to take on the next "hard thing" even if it is a different domain. This last quote was a hard one to read. I found myself looking back with some guilt and a little sadness remember the times when I took the more aggressive approach when my son or daughter just needed to hear "I believe in you".
"What I needed from my coach during the race was confidence. I told him prior to races what I wanted him to say to me as I skated. He said things like “You’re so good”, “looking strong”, “I believe in you” which made me feel more confident. He avoided saying things like “Come on, push it!” because it just made me feel as if I was not pushing it at the moment, which I of course was."
Thanks to Jeff at Inc. for his article was the one that first brought Nils to my attention: The article in Inc.