Does Your Head Get in the Way of Your Racing?
The cyclist’s most formidable opponent can be found in the mirror.
What does it take for you to reach your potential as a cyclist? The challenges in cycling are the competition between you and the other riders, you and the course, you and the clock – but primarily between you and your mind. Success in cycling and other endurance sports is all about your mental ability to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt, about your ability to master the limits that you think you have. The endurance sport athlete’s most formidable opponent can be found in the mirror. Look at yourself! You are both the problem and the solution!
Are you mentally tough as a cyclist? Is mental training an active part of your preparation or simply an after-thought? Do you know how to consistently harness the power of your mind to lift the level of your performance? Or are you your own worst enemy out there? Do you do better in training than in actual races? Are you regularly beaten by athletes you know you should own? When the going gets tough, do you get scared and break down?
Mastering the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt.
- You need to learn to keep your focus on what you are DOING and not on what you are THINKING.
- You do this by keeping your focus on FEEL, on your rhythm, your timing, pace, etc.
- Be aware whenever your focus drifts to your thoughts, and immediately being it back to the FEEL of what you’re doing.
- Be prepared to continue to “reset” each and every time your focus drifts.
- Remember, thoughts about your time, your opponents, or what others might think of you, take your focus away from the feel of what you’re doing.
- Keep your focus AWAY from the pain and discomfort and ON your rhythm, timing, etc.
Do you have a meaningful goal that helps keep you focused and moving forward through the brutal – and often monotonous – grind of daily training? Without a “big enough why” or a personally compelling goal, your motivation will stall out. You have to be able to ask yourself on a daily basis, “How is what I’m doing today and right now going to help me get to where I want to go?” Far too many athletes make a “deal with the devil.” That is, they trade what they want the most for what they want right now.
Remember, you can’t become a winner without first paying your physical dues. However, once you’ve put all that time into your physical training, you need to then work on systematically developing the mental toughness of a champion. Don’t leave this all-important part of your sport to chance.
Developing mental toughness.
- Consistently “pushing the envelope.” You have to be willing to regularly bust your butt. That is, you must live the winner’s creed; get comfortable being uncomfortable!
- Developing the ability to handle competitive pressure. If you can’t learn to control your nerves, then you’ll never race to your potential. Staying cool in the clutch is a mental skill that you can easily master with practice.
- Ability to deal with adversity, setbacks and failure. Winners build their success on their failures. They learn from their mistakes and then leave them behind. When things go badly for you, don’t get mad, get curious. Ask yourself, “What did I do that didn’t work?” and “What do I need to do differently next time?”
- Mental preparation ahead of time. Use imagery or mental rehearsal to maximize your chances of success? Mental practicing what you want to feel and have happen can significantly help you stay calm in the clutch and build your confidence?
You’d never go into a race and leave the physical part of your performance to chance! So why compete and leave this all-important mental dimension to chance? You have to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence to focus on yourself – not your opponents – when you’re under pressure. You have to be able to handle last-minute negativity and self-doubts. You have to be able to master your fears.
With a little work, these mental skills, as well as a few important others, can be systematically trained to the point where you develop the reputation as a mentally tough competitor.
As a Sports Performance Consultant Dr. Alan Goldberg works with cyclists and other endurance sport athletes helping them develop mental toughness, better handle competitive pressure and perform to their potential. As a regular columnist several sports journals, Dr. G writes on the subjects of peak performance and mental toughness. He is the author of This Is Your Brain on Sports, Sports Slump Busting, and his CD program, 14 Steps to Mental Toughness. And check out his popular Mental Toughness Training Packages.
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