What It Takes to Succeed

To achieve a top performance an athlete must be both physically and mentally prepared. It's the mental piece that can be the toughest to coach.

Joe Friel talks with Coach Julie Young about how she develops athletic potential and resilience over the course of training her athletes.

Video Transcript

Joe Friel  00:04

Julie Young, glad to meet you, we’ve never met before. I’ve followed your career for many, many years. I know a lot about you. But, why don’t you give us some background, and share what’s brought you to this point in time as an athlete?

Julie Young’s Athletic Background

Julie Young  00:18

Well, I’ve always been athletic, since I was a little kid. I’ve just been driven—swimming, baseball, alpine ski racing, soccer, and then actually played golf at UCLA. And after completing my college degree, I came back home and just started riding my bike for fun. As it happened, just again, I think about like how it’s happenstance, that things happen. But the McKinley brothers were from my town, and the McKinley brothers were 7-Eleven era racers and local news did a story on them. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I had no idea bike racing was even a thing, or a possibility.” So that, like next day, ran down to the bike shop to figure out how I could start racing and, I did, and it just was a really nice fit for me. That my career really, took off [I was] quickly identified by the national team. Then I spent about 10 plus years on the national team racing mostly in Europe.

Joe Friel  01:17

Excellent. I know, you have a science background also, could you fill us in on that?

Julie Young  01:23

During my athletic career, I had this opportunity to work with some of the best coaches, physiologists, and apply those different methodologies. When I then went back to school to get my Master’s in sports science and human performance, it was really a fun journey for me to start connecting the dots. You know, the scientific dots as to why I was doing things as an athlete.

Joe Friel  01:49

Then you became a coach . . .

Young’s Coaching Career

Julie Young  01:50

Yes, I did. It’s been, you know, I started out as a coach even prior to having that education and basing that more on my athletic experience. Then, just as a coach, just evolving, and wanting to really provide the best information to my clients, I just felt it was really important to be backing that experience up with the science.

Joe Friel  02:13

How long have you been coaching?

Julie Young  02:15

When I phased out of my cycling career, 2001, I started dabbling in it, and then really became full-time in 2005.

Identifying an Athlete’s Unique Traits

Joe Friel  02:24

So you’re working on 20 years of coaching, that’s quite a long time in a profession. You’ve grown a lot as a coach, are there things that you tend to look for in athletes, when you’re considering coaching somebody? Or if somebody comes to you, and is looking for a coach, I suspect you’re kind of like me, and you evaluate the person you’re talking to see if there are any things there that could make them a good athlete or help them become a good athlete? Could you expand on that idea a little bit?

Julie Young  02:55

I mean, I think the first step for me when an athlete reaches out and is interested in coaching, it’s just having a conversation. You know, just to make sure we’re a good fit for each other. Then just, I think, understanding for me, it’s really understanding that individual athlete and the demands of their lives and then, of course, like, what they perceive as their strengths and weaknesses and their goals. I rarely turn down an athlete, but it’s just kind of understanding, like, where they’re coming from, and how we can then leverage their strengths, but also improve their weaknesses.

Value of Intrinsic Motivation and Mental Strength

Joe Friel  03:32

What might be the things you would consider as being the strengths an athlete might have? What would be those things from your perspective?

Julie Young  03:40

I think, for me, one of the most important things is the mental side of it. I think it’s always important that an athlete is very much in tune with their “why,” like that intrinsic motivation. I think if you have an athlete that has that, it’s hard to coach that. I think athlete has to come to the table with that. So for me, that’s a very important component of success as an athlete.

Joe Friel  04:10

Yeah, I kind of have been the same way. I’ve always felt that I wanted to find athletes who were mentally ready to do the stuff that is required to become a successful athlete, and sometimes they aren’t. They’ve got the talent, but they don’t have the psychological side, it isn’t there. So that’s the sort of thing that I think all coaches kind of get involved in is how to bring out the best in their athletes. So let’s look at more from a physiological perspective since your background is in sport science, physiologically, what do you look for in athletes?

Leveraging an Athlete’s Physiological Traits

Julie Young  04:43

Well, I mean, again, I think it’s just understanding that individual athlete and, we’re all going to have strengths and we’re all going to have weaknesses. But I think it’s helping that athlete understands how to leverage those strengths, because every athlete is going to have certain strengths. Not every course in racing is going to apply or is going to suit every athlete’s strength. I think, for me, I don’t necessarily look for things in athletes, but I just really understand their profile. But also help them understand like, based on that, let’s leverage those strengths. Let’s select these types of events, so they can really thrive, versus kind of beating themselves up when they don’t perform the way they think they should, on a course that doesn’t suit them.

Again, I kind of go back to the mental side of it, seeing these kids, for instance, this one 16-year-old, become a new athlete. Become a totally different athlete in terms of her durability and her confidence and her ability to do the work. Whereas initially, she was very fragile. It was kind of helping her understand, “Hey, training is hard. Racing is hard. You have to do this work and being tired is kind of part of it, to a degree.” But she was very fearful of it. Now just seeing her go after it, and just become so much more durable mentally and physically.

Coaching Mental Toughness in Athletes

Joe Friel  06:10

That’s interesting how the mental side of it seems to go along with the physical side. Once they start having some success, physically, they can then see themselves as being good competitors, good athletes, and they can achieve at a much, much higher level.

Julie Young  06:23

Understanding how you are improving mentally is not as quantifiable. But to me, it really is that. I think, for example, athletes being at US Mountain Bike Nationals, and they’re getting nervous and helping them understand like, “Okay, nerves, that’s okay. It’s not a bad thing. It’s part of it. That’s the way you’re going to perform at your best.”

Of course, we want it to maintain a healthy threshold, but we don’t need that. I think it’s like also helping these athletes understand, the mental side takes as much training as the physical, and it takes as much consistent practice as the physical.

Joe Friel  07:04

All good stuff. This is the sort of stuff that I think most coaches can really benefit from, how to bring their athlete along from the day you start working with them to the point where they can achieve at a very high level. You’re saying that the physical side is really not as important as the mental side to get to that point in time, to have the athlete achieve at very high level is more mental than it is physical.

How to Focus Athletes on the Big Picture

Joe Friel  07:27

But, when athletes come to us they are always tied into numbers. They want to see power meters and numbers. They want to know about their heart rate, they want to know about their pace, if they’re runners, for example. These things are very difficult to change their opinions on because they’re kind of like, bombarded with this every day about the numbers and training. How do you go about shifting their focus from looking at numbers, to looking at something which is more big picture—the performance, going to the race, performing at a high level? Is there any way to get from one point to the other?

Julie Young  08:04

Well, I think…I have such a love hate with power meters and data. I think it’s such a great tool, but I feel like kind of in this new era, people can become super obsessed. My experience as an athlete, to me, just if you’re chasing numbers, and thinking that’s going to guarantee you a performance, that’s marginalizing really what it takes. I think just having been a competitor, kind of understanding all those components [that] once an athlete does go to a race, they realize, “Oh, my gosh, there is so much more to performing than just hitting numbers.” I think, for me, and of course, everybody comes from different places, like some people are really data-obsessed, and some people aren’t. Then I have some people that just don’t want any part of it. They just want to be on perceived exertion.

Balancing the Athlete’s Perception of Training

I think in both those cases, it’s trying to bring both to the middle ground. Like there are great times to use that power. But then there’s great days, just go ride your bike. Go ride your endurance ride, go be with friends, kind of remember why you do it and why you love it, and work and feel those sensations and let that guide your intensity. I think in both cases, whether they’re really power, data-driven, or they want to work more off perceived exertion, it’s trying to help people come to that middle where they can utilize all the tools to improve that performance.

Joe Friel  09:29

Julie, I really appreciate your time. You’ve given us some new ways of seeing the sport, and you’ve been involved for a long time. This is always fun for me also to run to other people who’ve been around the sport and influence other coaches. Thank you very much for your time!

Julie Young  09:43

I appreciate the opportunity.

Joe Friel  09:45

Thank you very much.

Julie Young  09:46

Thank you!