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The importance of the post-race debrief

Everyone can have a bad race every now and again.  Sometimes things just don’t go our way, we make silly mistakes or the actions/behaviours of other riders upsets us.

This can not only negatively impact the race but also the post-race emotions and even training in to the next week.  The reason this happens is that the negative outcome isn’t dealt with appropriately immediately after the event. This is where the post-race debrief comes in to play.

Whether you’re racing as a member of a team or just as an individual, the post-race debriefing is a valuable process that can help you deal with the outcomes of the event, especially when those outcomes appear to be negative.  I consider this one of the most important parts of my job as a coach, but you don’t have to have a coach to be able to get the benefit from a post-race debrief.

A post-race debrief is a process whereby you objectively go back over the events that transpired and basically try and make sense of them.  It’s usually best to work through things logically, looking for reasons behind what happened so that you can develop strategies for next time.  Having the assistance of an external party (e.g. a good coach or team manager) can provide a more objective view of things but you need to be able to trust them, and most importantly you must value their feedback as sometimes it won’t always be rosy.


When do you need a post-race debrief?

On the surface a post-race debrief might only seem required when something went wrong during the race, however that’s far from the truth.  The fundamental purpose of the debrief is to analyse what happened in the race and to learn from it for next time.   Additionally, if something negative happened during the race that has left you upset or disappointed, it can assist in a faster mental recovery.

Therefore a post-race debrief should be done after just about every race you do – the main difference will be how detailed the debriefing is.  A debrief after a victory may only last a few minutes and cover the main actions that lead to the win, thereby re-enforcing the positive actions and outcomes, where a full team debrief after a race with poor teamwork may last for as long as an hour and may include a full team debrief (all riders and management present) as well as additional debriefs with individual riders.


What types of things should be addressed in the debrief?

To answer this question we first need to understand what the purpose of the debrief is and what it is not.

Firstly, a debrief has got nothing to do with identifying who is to blame for anything that didn’t go to plan.  It’s not about assigning blame or being negative and it’s certainly not about a rider or team management ‘having a go’ at anyone.

A good post-race debrief is actually quite simply and all you really need to do is follow a couple of rules:

  1. A post-race debrief should be a positive experience
  2. The focusing should be on what worked well and identifying areas for development
  3. Where something didn’t work out or where there were other issues then the focus should be on developing strategies to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

So, with this in mind let’s look at a few examples of things that might happen in a race and what the post-race debrief might be like.


Scenario 1 – You are racing a criterium as an individual against a lot of teams.  You are a strong rider and keen to prove your ability in hope that you can get picked up by a good team next year.  Your primary tactic for the race is to get into a small breakaway and hopefully stay away.  You make several attempts at a breakaway hoping that you will be joined by other riders, however every time you attack you get chased down by the big teams.  You also try and bridge across to a few moves but invariably these get caught as well.  

By half way into the race you have spent a lot of energy and when the race-winning attack goes with about 20 minutes left you miss it and don’t have enough energy left to bridge across.  Ultimately you finish well back in the pack.


Debrief - The debrief here should first focus on the positives, such as the rider was able to establish a breakaway.  Then start to look at why those breakaway attempts didn’t work.  Were they too early in the race?  What other teams were represented in the break?  What were the abilities of the other riders in the break?   Additionally, look at the dynamics of the breakaway that succeeded.  At what stage of the race did it occur?  What was the speed like just before and at that point?  What team’s were represented and did the teammates effectively block or stifle any chase.

After looking at these details it should be obvious that the main change required was the timing of the attack and having more awareness of which other riders make the break.   Generally speaking it’s better to get in a breakaway with members of the major teams as you can then use their teammates to do the blocking for you.

The outcome from this debriefing would be to modify the timing of the primary attack, delaying it until after the half way mark of the race.  Additionally it would be to be watchful for moves with representatives from the main teams.


Scenario 2 – Your team is racing a major national event and you have been tasked with protecting your team leader during the first half of the race.   The instructions from your team are to stay in the top 10 places and the team leader will stay on your wheel.  Any breakaways are to be covered by your other team mates.    At half way there is a significant climb that has been chosen for your team leader to attack on and your job from that point will be to cover any counter attacks and prevent your team leader from being caught.

As the race unfolds you do a good job protecting your team leader but your team mates are poorly positioned and are therefore unable to cover the early attacks and a strong break of four riders gets up the road before the main climb.   With your teams strategy now compromised you decide to go to the front and chase, leaving your team leader back in the pack.    You successfully catch the break by the bottom of the climb and your team leader attacks as planned but is unfortunately caught late in the race as you were too spent to be able to cover the counter attacks and chases.


Debrief – There a several aspects that need to be covered in the team debrief here.  Firstly the fact that you did your job well in the first half and did everything possible to get your team leader into the right position at the right point.  Obviously the team leader has executed the plan well and that’s a second round of positive feedback.   

What didn't work so well was the lack of control of the pack in the first half of the race.  At this point of the debrief the riders need to be allowed to provide their input as everything is not always at is seems.  One rider may have flatted or had mechanical issues, they may have been feeling ‘off’, caught behind an early crash and stuck at the back of the pack, etc.  If it just came down to poor positioning, bunch skills, etc then there are two important things that need to happen.  The individual riders should then be assisted by coming up with strategies to improve their skills (generally speaking this is usually fed back to the coach so that they can develop a plan with the rider), secondly the team management need to adjust their teams tactics in subsequent races.

It’s worth remembering that a post-race debrief is for the benefit of all parties, riders and team management as well.


So, while the list of things that can be discussed in a post-race debrief are nearly endless, here is a short list of things/questions that you should at least consider:

  1. What worked well in the race? 
  2. What would you have done differently?  (focus on positive changes, for example, if your initial response to this is that ‘I wouldn’t have attacked just before that climb’, then the response should be something like, ‘so when would have been a better time to attack?’)
  3. Was there anything you think you could have improved on?



What’s said on the bus, stays on the bus!

When riding as a part of a team it’s almost inevitable that some ‘issues’ will arise at some point.   Personality clashes, someone feels that another rider is letting the team down, or one rider is super disappointed or upset about what happened in a race.  It’s really important in these situations to defuse the issue as quickly as possible and without pointing the finger at anyone.  Sometimes things can be said in the heat of the moment and it’s important that once the debriefing is finished that everyone agrees that the matter has been addressed.  This may require some extra individual debrief sessions but it’s really important for the team and everyone involved that no one holds any grudges, etc.


The real value of a post-race debrief.

Have you every targeted a race, felt super motivated in the lead up and then after the event felt disappointed or unmotivated?  

Poor results or performance can sap the motivation and energy levels of even the best rider and the real benefit of a post-race debrief is to provide an opportunity for these feelings to be expressed and to help move forward to the next goal.

For example, last week I raced the Australian Masters Individual Time Trial Championships.  This wasn’t an event that I was specifically targeting, rather I saw it as another opportunity to get in a solid workout and to get in another time trial (which I am sorry to say are sorely lacking in my home state).   Anyway, I had completed several TT sessions in the lead up, had all my equipment sorted and had a rough idea of what time/average speed I would like to achieve.  Come race day, everything started out fine.  Warm up was good, bike and equipment all working fine.  However my execution was poor.  I really suffered during the event and was well off the time/speed I thought I could achieve.  After the race I wasn’t especially happy with how I rode but after undertaking my post-race debrief (which included my ride file analysis and talking things through with a friend), I came up with the following:

  1. Despite feeling really good for the first few kilometres I started too hard and that my target power was a little ambitious.   Problem accepted – got over the disappointment quite quickly.
  2. Bike position – I had made a couple of minor adjustments to the seat position in the lead up as my flexibility was improving, but I would have benefited from more core strength work as I felt I was unable to maintain my position very well in the later stages (backed up when I saw a photo from near the end of the race).  Strategy – more core strength work.
  3. What went well.  I felt the wheel choices were optimal.  My usual warm up routine was fine although I have a few ideas on how I can modify it to improve my time trial performance.
  4. What I would have done differently. Essentially the main thing I would have done differently was started out a lot easier and let my perceived effort dictate the target power a little more after the first few minutes.  I may have lost 15-20 seconds with a slower start but they would have been way better than the minutes I lost by going out to hard.
  5. What I could have done better. I should have been more thorough in checking my target power before the race.  Post-race meal.  I belatedly realised I had left it in the fridge!

After going through this process I went from feeling disappointed with my effort to realising that my next race result will be a lot better – in other words I went from a negative emotional state to a positive one and that in itself is the number one goal of a good post-race debrief.




Jason Mahoney Tuesday 22 October 2013 at 09:55 am | | Tips

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