How making small improvements made Dave Brailsford a legendary cycling coach
In 2003 Dave Brailsford was hired as the new performance director of the British national cycling team. At the time, the national cycling team of Britain had gone through a century of mediocrity. Since 1908, they only won one gold medal at the Olympics and never won Tour de France.
The performance of the British riders of so bad that a top bike manufacturer company in Europe refused to sell their bikes to the team thinking that it would hurt their sales if people saw the team using their bikes.
Brailsford was hired to change this. He was different from previous coaches because of his commitment to a strategy he called “The aggregation of marginal gains.” in this strategy he always searched for tiny marginal gains in everything he did. He said, “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improve it by 1%, you will get a significant increase in performance when you put them all together.”
Brailsford started making small changes everywhere. He redesigned seats to make them more comfortable, rubbed alcohol on tires for better grip, made riders wear electrically heated shorts to maintain body temperature, designed special workouts for each athlete, tested various fabrics for more lightness and aerodynamics. He also tested different massage gels which led to the fastest recovery for each athlete, taught athletes proper handwashing techniques to prevent them from getting ill, determined pillow and mattress for each rider which led to better sleep, etc.
All these small improvements combined to make very huge improvements. In just 5 years British cyclist team won 60% of gold medals in the 2008 Olympic games. in 2012 they set 9 Olympic records and 7 world records. Then they also won 5 Tour De France in the next 6 years. They also won 178 world championships. These 6 years were considered the most successful run in the history of this sport.
Lesson to learn
Habits compound over. These small changes may not be noticeable but making small improvements everyday can lead to a huge difference in the long-run.
*As of today, the investigations of usage of various drugs in the British Cycling Team are still on-going and remain unresolved. I try to maintain a fair approach in my articles, but I will say that it is hard for me to believe that the British Cycling team is entirely clean given the details of these cases and the history of the sport.*