USA Cycling Jim Miller

Jim Miller: Developing A Winning Mindset

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About this episode:
In this week’s episode, coach Adam talks with USA Cycling Chief of Sport Performance Jim Miller about developing a winning mindset, what he’s learned from mentally tough athletes like Kate Courtney and Kristin Armstrong, and how you can improve your own mental game even if you’re not competing professionally or chasing a gold medal.

Guest Bio – Jim Miller:
Jim Miller is the current Chief of Sport Performance at USA Cycling and a successful coach who has helped the United States win 14 Olympic medals over the past two decades. Miller has worked with many top U.S. riders across all disciplines, including World Champion Kate Courtney, Olympian Kristin Armstrong, as well as many other top road racers, mountain bikers, and track cyclists.

Read More About Jim Miller:

https://www.usacycling.org/article/usa-cycling-announces-jim-millers-return-as-head-of-elite-athletics
https://twitter.com/JimMiller_time
https://www.instagram.com/jimmillertime/

Episode Highlights:

  • Improving mental toughness and resiliency
  • Developing a winning mindset in sports
  • Chasing audacious goals
  • Improving self-talk and developing your personal mantra

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform


Thanks To This Week’s Sponsors:

Stages Cycling

This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by Stages Cycling, the industry leader in accurate, reliable and proven power meters and training devices.

Stages Cycling offers the widest range of power meter makes and models to fit any bike, any drivetrain and any rider, all manufactured in their Boulder, Colorado facility. They’ve expanded their offerings to include the Stages Dash line of innovative and intuitive GPS cycling computers covering a full range of training and workout-specific features to make your workouts go as smooth as possible.

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Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

Jim Miller, Head of Elite Athletics at USA Cycling. If he actually updated his coaching resume, on there you’d see countless national and world championship athletes, Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist and all these spanning across multiple disciplines in the sport of cycling. You’ve heard him on the TrainRight Podcast before in episode 14, with one of the athletes he works with Kate Courtney. If you haven’t listened to that one, I really suggest going back and listening to it. It’s hilarious. And there’s a lot of good golden nuggets of training and coaching wisdom in there. But today is special because I sit down with Jim, it’s just him and I talking about the athlete mindset and how the physical plays into that. We talk about how he actually coaches and trains athletes. And then we try to bridge that gap between the science in the art of coaching.

Adam Pulford:

I think that when you listen to it, you’ll pull out a lot of good stuff that you can apply to your own training. And I’ve known Jim for years and I’m still learning about him. I’m still learning from him. And that’s exactly what I think your experience will be today on the TrainRight Podcast. Well Coach Miller, you’ve been on the podcast before, so no need for a big intro. But for those listeners who haven’t checked out the podcast with Kate Courtney, one of your athletes, go ahead and have a listen to that. But Jim, instead of an intro, can you tell our audience a little bit more about what has kept you in coaching in Elite Athletics for over 20 years now?

Jim Miller:

Oh yeah Adam. Thanks for having me again. Coaching. What is it? It’s super addictive. And I think to some level is that desire to feel a competitive need when you’re no longer an athlete, you get this competitive outlet from coaching athletes. It’s a bit of the pursuit of goals and having some process to tackle for me, I love the big audacious goals. I love chasing them. I don’t necessarily get not necessarily obsessed by them, but I love the process of working towards them and making a small step after a small step after a small step. And then by the time you lift up your head, you’re at the goal and you’re like, wow. That’s phenomenal. So I think all of that has some sort of attraction to it that pulls you in and just keeps you in it. I’d like to say I had a CEO at TrainingPeaks who we had a conference and he asked anybody who had ever been part of anything, winning. Winning a state championship, winning an intramural league, winning science projects, anything like that to raise your hand.

Jim Miller:

And of course, everybody’s won at some level. He’s like, is there any greater drug or addiction than that? I literally thought to my, as he’s talking I’m laughing. I was like, no, actually there’s no greater drugs. There’s no greater addiction than that.

Adam Pulford:

[inaudible 00:03:43]. That’s a wonderful question.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. It just pulls you back in and you can’t get it off your mind. And it’s really, it’s funny because it is like I said earlier, the winning is awesome. But it’s really that process of working towards it and putting the little pieces together that accumulate to this big goal or this win.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s super interesting. And this is like already off script Jim, but a question I was thinking about earlier today for you is, if you had a magic ball and you could look in it and it said that Jim, you will never again win as long as you coach. Would you still coach?

Jim Miller:

I wouldn’t believe that crystal ball.

Adam Pulford:

I like that answer. But the process, I think that’s it. And I was thinking too. Okay. If you had the crystal ball and said that you would win every time, would you still coach?

Jim Miller:

Probably, yeah. But again then I also wouldn’t believe that crystal ball either.

Adam Pulford:

Right. I was going to say that same crystal, yeah.

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

You wouldn’t believe it. And that’s the elusiveness right of competition, that’s it.

Jim Miller:

It is.

Adam Pulford:

There’s just no guarantee. Yeah. Well, that’s cool. I like that perspective. I like that outlook. And I’d like to hear more of your history. I learn more every time we talk. So but for our audience, please note this is actually round two of a one-on-one with Jim. The first time we tried this, we had some really bad audio and it was bad on me because I couldn’t figure out how to solve it. So this is round two. We had to scrap the first one, some really good stuff in there. So we’ll bring that out again. And as well as just add onto it because it’s going to be really good stuff. And what we’re going to talk about today is the mindset of the athlete. So let’s get right into it here Jim. And where I want to start is the why? So the question is, why is mindset such an important part of an athlete’s success?

Jim Miller:

It really differentiates similar athletes from one another. In my opinion.

Adam Pulford:

How so?

Jim Miller:

You can have a lot of athletes have the same relative ability, talent, drive. But there’s always that one person with that mindset of I’m going to get this done period. Versus the person who’s like, yeah. I would like to get it done, but not at this cost or not at I’m not giving up this or I’m not going to give up that. But there’s always the one who will. And that mindset is the winner. And that will be everything all equal that’s what separates them.

Adam Pulford:

I like that. Because it is so important, let’s take a step back even further and let’s define it a little bit further if we can. So give me the Jim Miller definition of mindset for an athlete.

Jim Miller:

It’s probably all over the board. I think everybody wants to find the one person with the killer mindset, but I don’t necessarily know that they come to you or they find their way to you with just this killer mindset. I think it’s something that has to be cultivated. It’s cultivated through experiences and successes and failures and processes and training and racing. And it’s one of those things that I think you have to continually cultivate, you have to praise it, you have to criticize it. You have to challenge it. And over time, it’s one of those things that just, all of a sudden, you have this killer mindset that allows you to be this competitor. And I think that happens in all walks of life, whether it’s business, whether it’s sport, I don’t think it necessarily is critical at what level. But I think it’s just this collection of experiences. I got a Slack call. This collection of experiences that help cultivate that mindset, if you will.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Because you can’t unravel the athlete’s life with, or the competitor with the rest of their life. Right? The athlete is one without, and the mindset is how they think about their training, their racing, their life, the obstacles, the challenge, the victories the defeats. It’s everything. Right?

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s all wrapped into it.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And I guess, could we go into some examples since we’re cycling. Who in the cycling world, and this could be past, present, if you will, has one of the strongest mindsets you’ve ever seen.Who’s a good example?

Jim Miller:

I’ve seen some really good ones. I think the strongest for me is Kristin Armstrong for sure.

Adam Pulford:

One of your athletes, right?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. Mentally an absolute warrior.

Adam Pulford:

How so?

Jim Miller:

When she clocked in, she clocked in. But also a nice personality. Because when it was done, she could clock out and done with it. But once you got her on a bike and once you were in that competitive zone you’d better be buckled in because she was not giving up easy.

Adam Pulford:

I like that will. I’ve got a great Kristin Armstrong story here that we’ll get into later and we’ll see that side of her a little bit more. But so, okay. So Kristin Armstrong, one of the strongest mindsets out there. What are some, so go to the opposite end of the spectrum. And not necessarily to say one person, but what are some classic characteristics of an athlete who may not be strong mentally or an athlete that needs to toughen up between the ears? What are some characteristics of an athlete like that?

Jim Miller:

I think you can see it when they don’t own the responsibility for the outcome. If they say pointed solutions like well, it was because of this or because of that, or I just did what I was told. I think when you don’t own the outcome, then it allows you an out. So you can say well, look, I did my job. And that was that. And I came in 15 minutes late, 15 minutes off the group or I was 50th in the race because this wasn’t my A race. So it doesn’t really matter. I think when you start seeing people that point to other things, will blame other situations to answer their result, then that’s a fairly weak mindset.

Adam Pulford:

Excuses.

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

Right?

Jim Miller:

Exactly.

Adam Pulford:

Everybody’s got one and they don’t smell good.

Jim Miller:

Except the champion, the champions never do. They just take it on the chin. They get knocked down, they get back up and they move straight on.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that’s right. As a coach, can you separate mind and body or do you? And are there benefits in that way of thinking?

Jim Miller:

Yeah, I think you can. I do anyways. If I write training, I’m busy logically trying to prepare an athlete for a competition and work through specific adaptations, you want to see happen and develop. But in the process of that training, there’s moments where you endure some hardships, it’s tough training, right? That’s the point of endurances. You endure. And it gives you the opportunity to push and challenge somebody and mentally get them to go further than they were capable of going, or they thought they could to be comfortable, more comfortable longer than they had or they thought was possible. But if you push on power and you want them to ride a little bit more power than they typically do in that workout, then you’re challenging them. And it’s the brain that has to make that happen not necessarily the body.

Jim Miller:

I always have this story that I’ll tell with Kristin that I started working with her in 2002. I don’t recall exactly if it’s the fall of 2002 or the spring of 2003, but she called me and says, “It’s raining here today. It was supposed to be a high of 40, it’s 33 right now. What is the alternative workout you want me to do?” And I’m like. “What alternative?” I was like, “I want you to get on your bike, go outside and ride the workout I gave you.” And she’s like, “But it’s raining.” And I’m like, “What’s that got to do with me?” Kind of thing. And she was mad, hung up the phone, went out and rode. Never in 15 years after that, did she ever call me and ask me to change her workout ever. And years later, 2007, winter of 2007, we’re in Beijing, doing a recon on the Beijing time trial and road race course. And it’s like 90% humidity, 25 degrees amid freezing cold.

Jim Miller:

And I’m like, “Well, it sucks. We can’t ride. It’s too cold to ride.” I’m like, “We’ll just drive it and we’ll get a feel for it.” And she looked at me she’s like, “I didn’t fly to Beijing to drive in a car.” And she’s like, “And if I recall you ride in all weather conditions, period.” [inaudible 00:14:27]. And I’m like oh Lord, I’m going to have to ride in this stuff. And we rode four hours a day, four days in a row, five days in a row in this cold. And the very last day as we’re getting ready to go outside, she hands me these little foot heaters that fit in your shoe. That stick on ones that you get from DICK’S or whatever. She’s like, “Oh, do you want to try some of these? They keep your feet warm all day.” And I’m like, “Oh my God. Have you had these the entire time?” And she’s like, “Yeah. You can’t survive in this cold and this weather without some storage heat.”

Jim Miller:

And I’m like, “You could have shared these sooner.” Then she’s like, “You didn’t have to make me ride in bad weather for like the last eight years.” And I’m like, “Okay. Touche.” But the point of being rider is just by saying no that day for eight years, she mentally processed this. And she mentally was like I’m tougher than the weather. And I can’t call and ask for another workout because he’s going to say no.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

And sure. There’s times to be smart. Right? If you’re sick and it’s raining, yeah. You don’t do that. But for the most part, that kind of response just, it elicited a mental change in her. And consequently, I recall in those years racing too in the springtime, never drop out a race in the spring classics, raining, snowing, whatever. Never phased her. And I’m like, well, it’s because you train in it every day. You do this all the time. When you see the rain on the window and you haven’t gotten out of the car yet, it’s just, it is what it is. And you just move on.

Adam Pulford:

That’s it. Yeah. That’s it. And recognizing the facts without receiving the emotion that could be attached to it. Right?

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

That’s what it is. And you just say, okay. At the moment, this is what I have to do. And those are the facts. Okay. Let’s do it. And, yeah.

Jim Miller:

[inaudible 00:16:28] mental conditioning, right? Nobody wants to go ride in four hours of 32 degree rain. And if you said do that straight out of the box then you probably have nothing but failures. But as you do it and do it and do it and do it and do it all of a sudden, it’s like oh, you know what it? It’s not that bad.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And there’s that physical training and kind of that pain or the uncomfortableness of 32 and raining, let’s talk about that. Because there is kind of mental training or kind of mental sharpening that comes through the physical. Right?

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

How does the mind get cultivated through that physical training process? If you could explain that to our listeners, why is hard training so important? Why is that train… What goes on mind body connection to make that happen?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. This is probably the way I explain it. I think there are times when you have to show an athlete, how tough they actually are. We don’t know really how tough we are until we’re put in a situation where we have to get through it and fight through it and do it. And I think all the time with an athlete, I get to a point where you’re at this turning point and you just have to show them how tough they are. This Kate Epic that Kate does. I’d always wanted mountain bike athletes to go to South Africa, race the Cape Epic before world cup season. I’m like what a perfect preparation. You get a nice seven day stage race in with lots of volume, hard riding. It’s a different format to ups, so it’s fun. And then you recover from that and you’re essentially launched into a world cup season. It’s perfect. And if you’d watch years past, it was like every European guy did that and I’m like, there’s got to be something to this.

Jim Miller:

I hadn’t coached a lot of mountain bikers until right around 2016. And so I kind of had to put my money where my mouth was on that, take on an opportunity to ride the Cape Epic with Anika Langvad, who at the time was reigning world champion, had won Cape Epic three times in a row. She asked me if she should do it. And I was like, yeah. Absolutely. She’s like, “I’ve never done a stage race before.” And I’m like, “Whoo, that’s a tough one to start with.” [inaudible 00:18:59].

Adam Pulford:

And for our listeners, the context here is Cape Epic, South Africa, early season March time period. And it’s like the world series of mountain bike stage racing. It is Epic. It is crazy. It’s gnarly to bring some context here.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. And ideally we would have started with like a three day stage race or a four day stage race, but it wasn’t available. And I’m like, yeah. Tell them yes. And I’m like well, we’ll make sure you’re prepared for it. Yeah. So we essentially devised a training plan that concluded with the Kate Epic and the Kate Epic simply replicated the race demands and the kilojoules or TSS of what the Cape Epic would be. And so we built her up to a point where she could give the Cape Epic a good go. And it was hard and she’s in day seven of this and I finished it with the what I think is the world’s most nasty workout, which is five by five [inaudible 00:20:04]. She’s already got a ton of load in her legs and she sees it. I know she’s going to call me that day and ask me if she should do that workout. She does. I didn’t pick up the phone. I’d let it ring. Wait. I’m sitting there waiting by the phone, essentially.

Jim Miller:

It rings like 45 minutes later and it’s her. And I’m like, “I know what that the question is. But you have to work through this yourself. This is where you become mentally tough. You’re going to decide whether you’re going to complete this or you’re going to quit.” And I was just curious on what it was going to be. Is she going to finish or is she going to quit?

Adam Pulford:

So how hard were these five by fives for our listeners to get the context?

Jim Miller:

Five by fives of year two, so right around 115% of FTP.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. And she was doing this the final day of a seven, eight day block?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. Correct.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Okay.

Jim Miller:

Probably oh man. Oh, if I’m guessing, I don’t know. I couldn’t guess on the kilojoules at this point. Anyway, it’s not important, but a lot of load.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

Probably, we’re probably up around 25, 30 hours at this point.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. So over 1200 TSS plus probably for the week.

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

[inaudible 00:21:32].

Jim Miller:

It’s probably closer to 1400 TFS. So she has a lot of load in her.

Adam Pulford:

Yup.

Jim Miller:

The phone rings. I don’t answer it. The phone rings again. I don’t answer. And I know it’s hard, right? I’m very empathetic towards what she’s going through at this moment in time. And then the phone rings the third time and I pick it up. I’m like, “How’d you do?” And she’s like, borderline tears. And she’s like, “That was mean. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” She’s like, “You will never do that to anybody else.” And I’m like, “But did you finish?” She’s like, “Yes.” I’m like, “Did you hit the bower?” She’s like, “Yes.” I’m like, “See you’re capable of it. And guess what? The Cape Epic will be nowhere difficult near as difficult as this.” So I’m like, “Now you know you can do the Cape Epic.” And she’s, and then you could almost feel her demeanor change. And she laughs. And she’s like, “I literally laid down on the ground between reps.”

Jim Miller:

She’s like, “I didn’t ride, I didn’t recover. I laid down and cried sometimes.” And I’m like, “But you got up and you did them.” And she’s like, “Yes.” And I was like, “Because you didn’t, you’re not a quitter. You didn’t quit. And now you know how deep you can dig.” And now two, three years later on, she is absolutely a mental warrior herself. She is as tough as Kristin mentally. I have as much respect for her warrior spirit as I do Kristin’s. But that was like a big step for her to realize that hey, I can do this and I can dig way deeper than I thought I could.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Those are huge moments in an athlete and what you’re talking about is building that resiliency and the belief that they are resilient enough. And I was there that year in South Africa. And I remember because we had a group of athletes that we were kind of shuttling through and making sure that they, and they were at the poignant and all the way at the tail end. And I was at the finish line every stage. And I remember seeing Kate. Because I, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that no American had won that race before. And that was actually how we and Kate both actually won that year, which is ironic. But I remember just… She was in the pan cave shoes. She was going for it, but like pretty much every stage coming in at Anika’s wheel just like charging hard, just like that classic Kate, like I am doing this, I am getting this. And it was impressive man. Because it was, that’s a gnarly, gnarly race.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. And at that time she’s coming out of year 23 so that’s her first year-

Adam Pulford:

She was young. Yeah.

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

She was young.

Jim Miller:

And Anika was definitely the queen then. And reigning world champion. Big strong girl, probably had better absolute powers.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s right.

Jim Miller:

[crosstalk 00:24:38] Kate’s in the flats [inaudible 00:24:40]. So she could turn the screws to Kate big time in that terrain.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. But that resiliency. And that’s just a wonderful example of how to build resiliency in an athlete. Because you have a goal that they don’t know that they can do, and you walk them through it. Right? You simulate the stress, you simulate the intensity, you simulate the gnarliness that will be achieved. And how soon did you end the Kate Epic before the Cape Epic? How much recovery did she have in between?

Jim Miller:

We gave her a fair amount. Because she hadn’t done that large of a week before. I think I gave her a good two weeks after that. Pretty light riding, pretty much recovery. Then we had a week that we could open back up. That takes a little bit. And then she flew over to South Africa and joined the team. And they also had a world cup before the Cape that year. So she had bit of a chance to fire the engine before the Cape.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I know. That’s good. And so when we’re talking about resiliency, it’s the capacity to recover quickly from those difficulties or the toughness. Right? And that, I guess where I’m going with that is you’re building that throughout the lifespan of an athlete too. So it’s not only just for that one, what she learned during the hashtag Kate Epic, she’s now applying to after her world championship and leading into Tokyo, right?

Jim Miller:

Yup. Daily. Those are cumulative experiences and they build upon themselves. And I think that’s what ends up making champions and winners is they become so resilient and they can move past failure and move from it so fast that the normal person just blows in the way. But that’s what really, what resiliency is. Right? It’s like get knocked down, stand back up, keep moving.

Adam Pulford:

That’s it. So let’s shift back to the mind. And in particular what goes on in the mind during those tough tested moments. When resiliency is being built I guess, or maybe denied. Right? And I think in sports psychology or coaching we talk about self-talk for an athlete.

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

Okay? And so it’s a word or words that are repeated throughout this process. So how important is self-talk for an athlete? Would you say?

Jim Miller:

I think it’s super important. I compare it to checking the gauge in the car. When you’re really deep into an interval or a race or you’re in the gutter or you’re climbing and it’s massively uncomfortable. You have this deep desire to always check the gauges. What is that? If you check the gauge and say, I can’t. You immediately blow up. But if you check the gauge and say I can, you tend to go to the next reflector pole and then the next reflect pole and the next reflector pole and you can survive. That’s, I don’t know if that’s a great analogy, but that’s how I [inaudible 00:28:13]. And I think, Kate’s famous for her mantras. She always says mantras. She even comes up with weekly mantras. That’s her thing. I actually really like them and started adopted mantras for myself. So it’s a bit of the student teaching the teacher now, but and I think they’re really good. In those very moments, you don’t have a lot of cognitive process anyways. And if you can have just one or two things that trigger that positive outcome it’s awesome. You need those.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I completely agree with you. And oftentimes like you said, whether it’s one word or phrase, you make it very simple. And because everything else hopefully is a bit on autopilot at that moment. Right?

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

And I think that the importance of a mantra, what I’ve communicated with my athletes, the importance of a mantra is to have something in there that repeats you of kind of why you’re there to keep you grounded in the present moment. And also because of the potential negotiations that happen, the negative self talk if you will. To say, okay. This is hurting, now you need to slow down. I’m going to die. I’m going to… All these things that we say to ourselves. And so I think the mantras are huge. Right? And so how can, for our listeners, how can they check the gauge? How do you do that with your athletes? Is it a reflective process after a hard workout or a race? Is it a journaling thing? Do you talk to them on the phone? How do you do it in coaching?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. All the above. Right? For me that, and we talked about this with the last review with Kate. That relationship with the athlete is critical for me. I can look at metrics. I can look at any set of data. I can dice and slice it any way I want. I can even get that data to tell me the story I want to see. But there comes a point where I want to hear what they have to say. And especially in the feedback stage, with coaching I think the feedback is the hard part. One doing it. Because if you’re delivering bad or if you’re critiquing, it’s difficult. Because it’s not fun. Nobody wants to tell somebody they were terrible. Or they did a bad job, or they could have done this better, but that’s a critical step of the process. But I always start off with, what do you think? And let them talk. And I want to hear what they have to say.

Jim Miller:

And I may have had a different view in my mind of what happened in the race or how the tactic played out or what I thought I saw. They walk me through what they think. And a lot of times they can even change my mind where I’m like, okay. Well look, I agree with that. But is that communication and hearing what they say and listening to it and digesting that along with all the analytics you take in.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s beautifully put. Yeah. And so how would you… So Kate’s kind of creating her own mantras and she’s teaching you a thing or two. One that I really liked was she believes she could, so she did. And that was before she won the world championship. How do you guys do it? Or how would you say listeners here could create their own mantra? Where do you start from in terms of finding that one word or the phrase?

Jim Miller:

I think the key is it has to mean something to you. You can adopt mantras. Use I think with Instagram and memes now, you see mantras all day long. And sometimes you read mantras on Instagram and you’re just like, yes. And that could be a mantra. So I think they’re just things that have to mean something to you. And if they do, then they resonate with you. And because they resonate with you, that’s typically a positive thing in your brain. And in those moments like we said earlier, is you get in the box and in your cognitive processes are just not that powerful, and you just need the one thing that you can rely on and that pulls you through.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I like that. So would you say you have self-talk as a coach before big races, big events, or I don’t know, devising a training program?

Jim Miller:

All the time. I have so many conversations going in my own brain that it’s crazy. But I’m more of an introverted thinker, more so than an extroverted feeler. So that’s natural to me, but yeah. All the time I’m thinking about things and working through it. And even at times, reminding myself that we checked the boxes and this is going to be okay, this is going to go well.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. For sure. I would agree with you on that regard too. Much more introverted in the way I’m thinking, but there’s, despite what my wife might say, there’s always a lot going on up there between the ears.

Jim Miller:

You can not say a word for hours, but in your mind you’ve had these full conversations and you’re exhausted.

Adam Pulford:

Oh, it’s incredible. I can just stare at a wall and think for our future.

Jim Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Easy.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Jim Miller:

I rarely ride with music lately. Lately I’ve been riding with audibles and podcasts, but almost always I ride just so low and just churn on things and ideas and I can commit three, four hours to almost a single idea, just thinking about it and processing it

Adam Pulford:

100%. In fact, we’re recording this during our little pandemic here. And so we’re riding a lot solo. And I have to, it’s like, I’m enjoying it. It’s three, four hours. I know no one’s going to want a ride. I know that there’s not a lot of traffic out on the road and I know I’m not going to see anybody. So it’s like time alone. It’s great.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. And you get some great thinking done.

Adam Pulford:

Oh, it’s incredible. Yeah. So as we kind of bring back to the athlete in the mindset, clearly there is a process to developing a winning athlete. And you’ve done this at the highest level in sport for years and years. And there’s not only a desire to win, but there needs to be that relentless pursuit to do what it takes physically, mentally, tactically, to sacrifice. And so now I want to talk about competing versus winning. Okay? And I’ll first start with a quote. I want to hear your thoughts on it. And the quote is, “You don’t compete with anyone. You find your opponent’s weakness and you strike.” That’s by Tim Grover. What are your thoughts on that Jim?

Jim Miller:

It makes me smile.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. Why does it make you smile?

Jim Miller:

A little bit [inaudible 00:35:42] but that’s competition. That’s what you’re doing. You’re trying to figure out how to beat somebody. And the easiest way to beat them is if you could beat them through their weaknesses. Because that’s where they’re not the best. I think if you break down races, tactics, events, disciplines to what they are, and that’s what you’re really doing is searching for those weaknesses in teams, those weaknesses in athletes, where you can beat them. And sometimes it’s just a long, long, long poker game until you get to that scenario. And then you’re like, boom. Play the card and down they go. That book, Tim Grover Relentless is how does [inaudible 00:36:29] one of my favorite books. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read back-to-back a couple of times.

Adam Pulford:

It’s a good book.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:36:37]

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

It’s a little bit dark.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. It is. And you have to… And truth be told, I wouldn’t say it’s for everybody. Because it’s offensive at times. It ruffles some feathers.

Jim Miller:

It does. And there’s times where you’re like, I don’t know if I agree with that. Because it doesn’t make the nicest person in the context of sport or competition, It resonates.

Adam Pulford:

Well, so it’s interesting you say that. Twofold. One, don’t read it before bed. When I first started reading I was like, Oh God. There’s no way I can go to sleep right now after reading like 20 pages. So for those listeners, if you do pick up Relentless by Tim Grover, don’t read it before bed. But secondly, I guess the questions are, is this essential? Is this thought essential, or this concept essential for the highest level of sport? Do we need to think this way as coaches and athletes?

Jim Miller:

I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. That’s not the only way. This book talks a lot about Kobe and Michael Jordan, the way they processed sport, the way they thought about sport, the way they approached sport. And it’s probably a really timely now with this Michael Jordan series out on ESPN which is also really good. It just gives you a glimpse to how they live their life. I think to when it really high levels, there is some misbalance in life. If you look at it straight up, but I think in their lives there’s no loss in balance. They’re pursuing what they’re pursuing. I find myself after big Olympic games or world championships, even where you’ve won, the very next morning thinking about what’s next. Or I’ve already thought what we have to do in the next three months or the next six months.

Jim Miller:

And this is just something that has always happened with me, where as quickly as I move on from failure, I as quickly move on from success as if it didn’t happen. It wasn’t long ago that I’d have put together a bio and I never put together bios. I never put together resumes. When I was a bike racer. I had a saying that if you’re fast enough, you didn’t need a resume, they would just call you. And I’ve kind of carried that into my professional life too. I’m like, if you’re good enough you don’t have to have a resume, they just call you. And then as I was doing it, I’m like, I almost don’t believe this bio myself. And it kind of struck me because I primarily, I’d never stopped even looked at it. I never thought twice about it. When Kristen won a gold medal it’s like, we we’re just moving straight on. Most of the time it’s to a world championships that was happening in six weeks.

Jim Miller:

You would enjoy the moment, have a great night. But for me, when I was in those Olympic games, then we were just onto the next event and the next discipline and you just moved on that fast. So I think it’s an odd mindset. I don’t think it’s every person has that mindset, and I think some do. So to answer your question, that was a perfect answer non-answer. I don’t think it has to be that way. No. I do think it’s probably common amongst people at that level that that’s how it works. But I don’t think it’s required.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. It’s a classic characteristic of high performers. You can find a lot of examples of that, but yeah. Not every high performer is necessarily like that I think. I think we’re all quirky in our own ways. And the higher you go, the more pronounced kind of that is. But in terms of stomping on throats like Grover talks about that is one way. Right?

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

And I guess to talk, I guess let’s transition to some Kristin stories because she definitely was like that when it was time to go. She was ready to stomp on any throat that was in the way. Right? But through that she didn’t win everything. Right? There was failure along the way. And I remember, I think it was, yeah. It was 2015, 2016 into the Olympics and I was working with a 2016 UCI team and she made her come back and at the national time trial championships, she just got on podium. She took third and that did not secure a spot for Rio. So she was in a tough place. And I remember Joe drove her back to the home stay or wherever we were staying. And I remember driving the rest of the team back. Right? And it was, it was dark. Right? Because everybody expected her to win and thought she would and she didn’t. But it was the darkest of clouds, the craziest of crazies. And everybody was like quiet.

Adam Pulford:

We were packing trainers up and it was just no talking, right? So I’m driving the girls back and not really knowing what to say. So we’re trying to make some light humor just didn’t work really. But later in it… But that’s how she received failure. But it wasn’t this woe is me. It was like, oh. There was like this fire lit that I had never experienced before. And she just got real focused, real angry. And it was like she was a different… And you’ve seen this, you’ve worked with her for years. But for me, before that time trial and then after that time trial all the way through, and she ended up winning the gold at Rio. So she was changed. But I guess the question is how did you and Kristin devise a plan? Or how did you navigate through in order to win the gold medal after that failure?

Jim Miller:

Yes. Her intensity in racing especially with time trials, it wasn’t comfortable for anybody. It wasn’t necessarily comfortable for her, wasn’t comfortable for me. It definitely was not comfortable but for anybody around her.

Adam Pulford:

And poor Joe. Joe [inaudible 00:43:28].

Jim Miller:

Joe used to always say in time trial weeks, he’s like, “She’s yours this week. I don’t want her.”

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

And he meant that. And she was mine because I was the coach and somebody had to deal with her. So with those personalities there comes some, they can be tough. Their strength can be their weakness. And she could be wicked tough in those time trial weeks. But for her, that was the process of mentally preparing for what was coming. And that was the laser lock-in.

Adam Pulford:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim Miller:

That year in particular, she had met some criteria. There was a piece in the criteria language that said you had to show that you were capable of riding at a world tour level. Because she was had a family, had a kid, had Lucas. Was a mother, she couldn’t just go to Europe and race like everybody else. So there was two at California that year, world tour event and she had to race it. And she had to show that she could ride at that level. And in the language it didn’t say, this is how you demonstrate you can ride that level. So we took it in the literal terms of oh, if you’re asking me can you ride at that level? I’m going to ask you, can you [inaudible 00:45:01]? And if you can’t, then I’m going to say you can’t ride that level. Sorry. Yeah, you can follow but you can’t ride. So she went to California ended up third on GC, I think. Maybe second, I don’t recall exactly. Again had to fly out to, was it in Georgia, South Carolina somewhere?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. South Caro, maybe Winston-Salem maybe.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. It was. In California, that year it was cool and rainy, just four days and it’s blazing hot and high humidity.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

The thing with the Olympics is if you want to win them, you can’t dance around it. That has to be your peak. In a normal year I would say, yeah. We can have two, three peaks. Two for sure. If there’s a third one that we want to try for, we can try for it. But the Olympic year, everybody brings their A game to the Olympics. Everybody’s on and you have to have a true high peak. You have to be that player on that day that does it.

Adam Pulford:

So what you were saying is, in an Olympic year, you’re aiming for one peak, right?

Jim Miller:

Correct.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. And that year, 2016 when Kristin took third at nationals that was… Maybe looking back on it, maybe part of the plan. Because you’re going for Rio? Which was in August, right?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. So that event itself wasn’t part of the selection criteria. So when we looked at the season as a whole and how to build it and how to set it, up that was an event that she didn’t have to prioritize or she could sacrifice if you will. For her in a time trial, she never wanted to lose anyways. It didn’t matter if it was a prologue or a hour record, if it involved trial bars she expected to win. And for a long time she expects to win by a significant margin. So later in her career it got to the point where if she didn’t win by a large margin, then people started questioning her. Even though she still won the race.

Adam Pulford:

Right.

Jim Miller:

So in that year it’s just the way it was set up and the way we attacked it and approached it was that, that was a sacrifice a little event. And to factor into the entire picture or body of work that was supposedly to be reviewed by a selection committee. And so, yeah. She got cut out. She got cut on a day where she wasn’t a 100% was probably 85%. And for a lot of reasons coming off a hard stage race, coming from cool weather to warm weather and humidity and she got beat.

Adam Pulford:

Yup.

Jim Miller:

That’s about all I can say to it. For her and that analogy of a post-race we always… You can be mad for 24 hours, you can be furious, you can be irate. But after that 24 hours, then it’s over. And we will debrief and we’ll have a fair conversation about it and move on. And that’s essentially what she did that year. And the plan wasn’t in May. The plan was in July.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. Yeah. And if I recall right now, everybody was cracked too. The athletes were not performing well coming off to California, like you said. And it was, I think it was one week turn around. California ended. We had six days. And staff, athletes, [inaudible 00:48:54] everybody.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. Most everybody drove straight across country and-

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Everybody was cracked.

Jim Miller:

And had-

Adam Pulford:

I remember that.

Jim Miller:

Two days to preview and shake out and go for it.

Adam Pulford:

Which is, it’s all part of it too. That’s part of the other challenge of being an athlete.

Jim Miller:

[inaudible 00:49:13].

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. So, okay. So even if you’re not competing for a gold medal, like many of our listeners probably are in that boat. Right? They’re not going for a world championship or anything like that. But could our listeners benefit from cultivating this winning mindset that you do with your athletes?

Jim Miller:

Oh, absolutely in everything. I even work on it with myself, my own kids.

Adam Pulford:

How so?

Jim Miller:

And it’s just that. That continuing to challenge yourself to try to be better, to do something more efficient, to think about it a little bit differently. I think those all play into just everyday life and how you approach life. So I think a 100% that kind of mindset cultivates into a lot of different things. I also think that’s why you see so many athletes become great at business when they retire. Is they have that drive, they have that work ethic. They challenge themselves in [inaudible 00:50:25]. They don’t need a boss challenging them to do it better, to do it quicker, to make it cheaper, to sell it faster. It’s just something that they do because that’s how they’ve lived their lives.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s it. With every one of my athletes, professional athlete or professional person, they carry over from sport to everything in life is it. And if I’m working with a professional athlete, I always bring that up. In terms of like, we think long-term. Where are we going to take this ability, this itch that needs to be scratched, this perspective of something needs to get won today. Something needs to get crushed. Where are you going to take that? Right?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. It crosses all genres.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. It really does. Yeah. So reflection time here coach. You’ve mentioned a little bit of what you learned from your athletes, but what else have your athletes taught you about mindset?

Jim Miller:

I give them this. I would give the athletes I’ve worked with as much credit for teaching me about mindset as I’ve taught them. It’s one thing to challenge athletes and to push them and taking them places they don’t want to be, or they haven’t been where they didn’t think they could be there. But I think if you’re the coach that does that, you also have to take it back. You have to accept that when they do that to you. And consequently it forces you to be more prepared. It forces you to think through what you’re doing longer or with more clarity. So I think it’s absolutely a two-way street. I think they absolutely have taught me as much as I’ve taught them. And I expect it. I certainly, I don’t necessarily always like the challenges or invite them, but I allow them. And that’s part of the deal. If you’re going to challenge then you have to accept challenge.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I like that. And I think if you’re going to coach high performers, you better be ready for a little resiliency training yourself as a coach.

Jim Miller:

Absolutely.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Oh, I love it. I love it. Well, Jim. We’re kind of rounding off our time here together and we’ve talked a bunch about mindset training, resiliency, self-talk, and all really good stuff that I think our listeners are going to really appreciate. But now I want to transition into our takeaways where I ask you some questions and answer away and it’s going to kind of come from every angle. So if you’re ready, we’ll get into this thing.

Jim Miller:

All right.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. All right. So this is for the young developing athletes out there or the parents listening to the podcast. What advice would you give them if they wanted to start now in developing into a professional athlete?

Jim Miller:

Play sports, play all sports, play any sport you like. Play it at any level you like to play it at. Race all bikes. Cycle across road, gravel, track, whatever you have access to. Do it all. The experiences are what creates the knowledge. And the more experiences you take away, the more knowledge you build. But I would say do it all.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:54:10].

Jim Miller:

If I have junior athletes that run cross country in high school and they’re like oh, my cross country season starts August 1st. I’m like, great. Go do it. Run away. Race bikes on the weekends if you want. But get after it.

Adam Pulford:

I like that. And it’s for that broad base and that broad diversity early on?

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

Yeah. And I think in athlete’s an athlete, right? At the top of the… The higher you go an athlete is just an athlete. It doesn’t matter when you got into the sport or where you came into it or what your background is. But training yourself to be an athlete that’s key. And it’s a question of sports and in balance, and in [inaudible 00:55:01] coordination and depth perception on a road bike or something. It all comes from various experiences and situations you put yourself in.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And all the more important to develop that when you are young and you’re more of a sponge to absorb. And I think coaching’s very similar, right? Where it’s like if you consider yourself an elite cycling coach is it well can you… Are you an elite coach? Can you coach anything? Can you coach other things? And I remember, I think the first time we talked, you talked about coaching your daughter’s volleyball team. Right?

Jim Miller:

My son’s fourth grade basketball team.

Adam Pulford:

Son’s okay. That’s who it was. So what was your experience?

Jim Miller:

And it’s tough. It was tough. It was super tough. I have, this was 2008.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

And that year I have an Olympic gold medalist in the stable. And that fourth grade basketball team, I was spending half a day at work coming up with practices for that afternoon so that we could have good practices and they would learn something and it was incredibly tough. But it makes you… I think to coach, you should just coach. Coach it all. For the same exact reasons we talked about an athlete is experience is knowledge, and more experiences is more knowledge.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s it. Okay. We’ve got a little, we answered a lot of questions there, but let’s go on to question two. For the weekend warriors out there, what kind of mindset should they bring into their group rides and races once, I guess, once this pandemic is over?

Jim Miller:

Yeah. I’m a bit different on this. I know the warrior mentality that I cultivate in my athletes and they bring to a race. But on a weekend, if I’m a masters racer, I want to be there. I want to be fit, I want to have fun, I want to race hard. But I don’t want to take massive chances and break collarbones. At the end of the day, you still have to go back to work on Monday. So I think it’s for the weekend warrior, it’s just sometimes you do have to keep it in perspective and you can show up and you can absolutely compete. You can absolutely challenge, you can challenge yourself, but you don’t have to take all the risk that maybe a professional athlete takes as part of their profession.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I would a 100% agree with that. It’s a cost benefit in that regard. And I think the takeaway there is just, as amped up and as exciting as high performance culture and gold medals and talking about some of this high level stuff is, bring it down to where you’re at. Right?

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Okay. So question three, what is one thing that our listeners can start doing right now in their training to improve their mental toughness and resiliency?

Jim Miller:

Not give yourself an out in workouts.

Adam Pulford:

That’s good.

Jim Miller:

I think that’s really important. If in the back of your mind when you’re starting a hard [inaudible 00:58:36] set, you’re already starting to think of ways that you could make it acceptable to quit. You’ve lost the plot. So I would say don’t give yourself an out on those hard days.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s gold. That’s truly gold. Well, because that answer was so good Jim, you get a bonus question. And that is what book or podcasts, because we’ve been sharing podcasts lately. What book or podcasts would you recommend to our audience if they wanted to cultivate this winning mindset?

Jim Miller:

Well, we already talked about Tim Grover’s Relentless. I like that book a lot. Yeah. I’m trying to think of what I’m listening to right now. Right now I’m on to a different kind of topic. I’m listening to a lot of Rich Roll.

Adam Pulford:

Oh, really?

Jim Miller:

He gets a lot of really interesting guests and it’s a lot about a lot of things I don’t know anything about. So I find it, I’ve just found it captivating lately.

Adam Pulford:

I like it.

Jim Miller:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Cool.

Jim Miller:

So that’s where I’m at.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Jim Miller:

I’ll always recommend Tim Grover.

Adam Pulford:

Cool. Okay. So Tim Grover and Rich Roll. I remember I’ve listened to a little bit of Rich Roll, but I’ll go back to it on my next four hour ride in solitude.

Jim Miller:

He’s super good. And his podcasts are long, so it’ll suck up some time.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Good. Okay, coach. Well, if our audience wants to follow you on the road to Tokyo, where can they find you on the socials?

Jim Miller:

Both Twitter and Instagram are Jim Miller time.

Adam Pulford:

Jim Miller time. Okay. Excellent. Well Jim, thank you again for what is actually round three, if we include the duo podcast with Kate. So thank you so much for being a very frequent member on the TrainRight Podcast. And if it happens again, I’ll be stoked. So.

Jim Miller:

Yes. Excellent.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, well go out there in Colorado and go get a ride or a hike in today.

Jim Miller:

All right. Thanks guys.

Adam Pulford:

Okay.

Jim Miller:

Have a good day.

Adam Pulford:

Thanks Jim.

 


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