The Elite Sporting Techniques of Stephen Potter

It is about time we introduced the work and techniques of one of the great sports philosophers to triathlon.  At age 16 I came across his writing and his ideas instantly resonated with a young impressionable athlete.  The book was Stephen Potter’s ‘Complete book of golf gamesmanship’.  As someone who has never played golf, has no interest in golf and can see very little reason for golf, it was surprising that I would ever pick up this book let alone read it.  However, what I read had a profound influence on me and the adaptation of his philosophy to different sports especially triathlon, to business, and to life has been a life saver.

Stephen Potter’s sports philosophy was first developed in 1937, it’s called ‘gamesmanship’, or how to win without actually cheating. Let me give you an example from this weekend of Potterism in practice.

You will notice from the photo my training companions were three strapping, super fit athletes, all in the early to mid 20s.  Needless to say, I am none of these things. They are my sons, Will and Sam, and their friend (and top poster designer) Tom.  They live in London and invited me to come down for the weekend to join them on their regular Saturday training ride.  In reality I was to be flogged around 32 miles of South London and the Sussex Downs at well above my normal training / racing pace.  They were unlikely to ever look behind them to see if I was still there.  The day would likely end with them sitting in Will’s Crystal Palace apartment drinking tea while I tried to find my way back in the dark.

Luckily, as someone proficient in Potterisms, I was in with a sporting chance.  The initial pace was frenetic but at each red light (London has just over 2 million traffic lights all set to go red as you approach) I was able to engage in little asides like; 'Have you been to that restaurant?''Which way is it from here to the Tower of London?''If one needed a spare inner tube where is the cheapest place to get one ‘round here?'  Gear and ‘directions to’ questions are always good because it can involve the whole group in protracted arguments for quite some time.  The sole objective at this point was to slow things down and achieve some recovery.

As the town became country side we’d stop at junctions and I’d suggest that it might have been good for one or other of them to do up a front / rear wheel a bit tighter because it seemed to be out of true.  (3 more rests).  As we passed some horses I made with a very loud: ‘Behind you’, which scared the bejeebees out of the animals.  I was then able to spend a leisurely period giving a full in-depth lecture on the correct way for a cyclist to pass horses.  I have to say after 5 minutes I was beginning to bore myself.  But, recovery was complete.

A word of warning.  The ‘Counter-Potterism’ has to be expected from people who, like my sons, have had a lifetime of exposure to these techniques.  I have to say their cry of: ‘It’s the sprint’, took me by surprise.  They shot off into the distance like Mark Cavendish on Red Bull.  I was knackered by the time I caught up with their triumphal faces.

As we reached the end of a great ride I was still in one piece, just. They were wearing all my spare clothes and had each carried an extra 0.75 kg of unused drink round with them.  All good Potter techniques.  However, they won:  it turned out  we had completed the ride 15 minutes faster than their record for the route! ... back to bike

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