Tim Noakes had this type of experiential evidence in mind when he suggested that the first thing he would do with a son who dreamed of breaking a world record was to find him a coach who believed Noakes’s son could break a world record. A coach who believed that this boy could break a world record might be able to cultivate this belief in the child in much the same way that Susan’s 19:56 5K performance cultivated in Liz the belief that she could break the 20-minute barrier as well. Noakes told me he had lost count of the number of times he had asked elite runners how they achieved a certain performance and had received the answer, My coach said I could. I can cite a few examples as well. Here’s one: In 2009, only 10 weeks after switching to a new coach (Alberto Salazar) at a low point in his career, Dathan Ritzenhein broke the American record for 5,000 m, running 12:56.28. When I asked Ritz how he did it, he said that Salazar’s expressed beliefs about what he was capable of doing were a major factor. When your coach is as accomplished a runner as Alberto was and he tells you how well you are doing and these goals that you are on track toward, that just makes a huge difference, he said. If he sees and believes, then I can, too.
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