Cultures impact on sporting success and what is the culture of triathlon?

Cultures impact on sporting success and what is the culture of triathlon?

It is fair to say that often the country you are born into, will dramatically affect your chances of being successful at a specific sport. Aside from the physical attributes that may be characteristic of specific ethnic groups, or the geographical locations, such as requiring mountains or snow, or coastal waters or large lakes in the example of sailing, perhaps the most important factor driving long term and multigenerational success is cultural factors.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this fact in endurance sport is that of the Kenyan running dominance. What few people know is that the bulk of the best Kenyan athletes in the world originate from a relatively small area within Kenya called the rift valley.  What is special about this specific area is the the way or life of the town and lineage of the sport. When in the running towns of this area it is a daily phenomenon to see packs of 50-200 runners heading out for a training session, whether that is a long run, fartlek session or warming up for a hard track hit out. All runners start together. By integrating young runners early in their careers into this pack, they are groomed for stardom as if through osmosis of the system. In fact the quality of the national cross country championships is so high, that the vast majority of the runners would place in the top 10 at any given world championships if they had the opportunity to attend. So as the saying goes, the cream rises and out of the pack of the most exceptional runners in the world a handful of super stars emerge.

Another cultural example is that of the infamous New Zealand All Blacks. If you ever have the chance to visit New Zealand you will see first hand how much Rugby permeates the day-to-day lives of kiwis. From dominating headlines of national, regional and local media on almost a daily basis, Rugby is in the public’s face all day long. From a young age is it every young boys dream to be part of the team and there is a structure with amazing coaching that starts almost as soon as a youngster is able to walk. From playing, non-tackle (ripper rugby) in the earliest years skills are encouraged and developed from the get go. Further, as there have been so many retired top level players at club and provincial level, the quality of coaching across the entire nation is exceptional. Coaches are groomed and developed as much as the players themselves. There is a clear path that is set down by the New Zealand Rugby Union that slowly builds top coaching talent through the system, often encouraging overseas deployment for both international match coaching experience and also to continue the deep learning of the game, seeking to understand nuances that other nations have, consistently pulling these learnings back to NZ and over time, trying to stay one step ahead of the emerging competition.

So how does this culture apply to triathlon?

Unlike the two examples given above that have clearly defined local and national structures, triathlon is guided by the lights of the major events and the leader is the Ironman series. For the most part, athletes dream to eventually complete and perhaps compete in a half or full Ironman event. The brand permeates not only the triathlon market but also into the public as most people may not know what an Olympic distance triathlon is but they have a fair idea of the absolute insanity of the Ironman branded 3.8km Swim, 180km Bike and marathon 42.2km run! So if the primary culture of triathlon is based around these pivotal events you can clearly see there is a micro culture and that is teams or simply individuals scattered around the world. Starting with individuals, triathlon is attractive to many as it means plenty of ‘alone time’. The many hours needed to be spent with you head underwater or out on long rides or running trails naturally leads to athletes using the sport as a gift of escapism. To take a break from our overwhelming daily people interactions. However there is a second micro culture within triathlon and that is in localized clubs and races. Tri Edge team is a great example of a locally based triathlon club where we encourage culture as a primary driver of members reason to stick out the hard times of the sport and to bring an elevated group dynamic to an otherwise lonely pursuit. Trying to develop a culture in an individual sport is tough. There is often no primary goal such as team sports and individuals reasons for participating vary widely, along with their availability and commitment. However once set in place, the culture of a triathlon squad is an unstoppable force. Just like the runners in Kenya, athletes are guided and lifted by those around them both in learning, mentoring and inspiring! Just like the All Blacks, you simply do not just ‘do triathlon’, it becomes part of your life, with group chats, consuming articles and content to get better and researching equipment to help get all the gains you can.

Overall culture is the most important controllable facet of becoming the best athelte you can be in any sport. We encourage athletes to seek and find something that fits for you. Once it’s locked in your trajectory will be locked in - who knows how good you can be!