areUfit 2 Ride? - Part Four

by Robin Akers

You often hear athletes and coaches talk about the psychological aspects of competition. There is a great deal of evidence that not matter how fit you are, if you do not believe you can perform well then you won't. Some riders lack self-confidence and belief to such an extent that these doubts limit and determine their performance and they never realise their true potential. By way of an example I happened to be watching a TV programme recently about the training of female Army officers. The cadets had to complete an obstacle course as part of their training. One element consisted of a high level traverse 9 metres above the ground on three tension wires. One of the cadets needed constantly convincing by the instructor that she could achieve the crossing. Climbing up to the starting platform she was telling herself she couldn't do it and how terrified she was. In the end of course the candidiate did complete the traverse but at one stage it was touch and go whether or not she would. Failure to complete the course would have meant failure to pass out as an officer. So it was an important hurdle to overcome.

As a coach I have often heard the words "I can't do that".

How many times have you reached the foot of a climb saying to yourself, "I hate hills" or "If only I could climb better it would improve me as a cyclist". Both of these are negative thoughts and counter productive.

If you could arrive at the foot of the same hill saying to yourself;
"Cycling uphill is good because it teaches me lessons and makes me focus on the road and task in front of me. It will also improve my overall fitness and therefore my cycling" or "After I've climbed this hill, everything to follow will seem easy" not only would you be adopting a more positive aspect but you never know, you might actually start to enjoy climbing as much as the rest of your ride! On the other hand avoiding hills because "I can't climb hills" will mean that you never give yourself a chance to improve.

Of course its only right that we have a natural element of caution, if only from a self preservation point of view, but a positive aspect and confidence in our abilities are essential if we are to realise our true potential.

In his book "Embracing Your Potential", Terry Orlick examines the mind games we play with ourselves and how important it is to maintain balance, self-confidence and positive thinking in our lives.

So next time you get out on a ride and the going seems to be hard take the Orlick approach and ask yourself:
"Am I approaching this situation with a positive or negative attitude?"
If the honest answer is negative then ask yourself:
"Is there anything I can do about that?"

Orlick goes on to explain that:
"The key to positive channel changing is to initiate a shift in focus from something negative and distracting to something positive and absorbing.
The goal is to focus on something positive, do something positive or find something positive in what we are doing. To accomplish this we must begin to think, look, listen, act, and imagine more positively."

For all you racers out there another aspect I come across very often is an undue concern about the opposition and how good they are. That may well be true and they may well beat you because of it. But that's what natural talent is all about. The point I am making is that you have no control over that. But what you do have control over is your own performance. By directly comparing yourself with another rider you have immediately shifted the focus from your own performance to that of a rival. In psychological terms you have already been beaten! You can only do your best at that particular time and that is what you should be concentrating on because you have control over that aspect. So give yourself the best chance you can to do well. Prepare properly concentrate on what you are going to do in the race and how you are capable of performing. In other words:

Control the Controllable Ain't no use worryin' bout things beyond your control, cause if they're beyond your control, ain't no use worryin'...
Ain't no use worryin' bout things within your control, cause if you got them under control, ain't no use worryin'...
Stay in the here and now Forget what if, when & why. Concentrate on the task in hand.
Adopt a positive approach A positive approach - one of self-confidence and a feeling of being in control - is more likely to facilitate concentration on the crucial factors that influence the quality of the performance.
Try to follow a routine Routines can help focus or refocus attention. Elite performers seem to adopt well learnt and consistent routines they execute each and every time they prepare for and perform during competitions - imagine the sprinter going down onto the blocks, the basketball player on the free throw line or the golfer on the tee. They seem to do the same things, in the same order and with the same timing. Elite performers, unlike novices, seem to develop these rituals or habits which might include technical, physical and psychological routines. They may provide some security through familiarity, they may ensure you control all the variables you can, and also ensure a sound focus on the right things at the right time. Not only will this benefit performance, it will also help to negate the distractions and potential negative thoughts that may otherwise invade the mind.

Robin Akers is a qualified British Cycling Coach. If you have any questions about training or fitness generally, Robin can be contacted via www.areUfit.co.uk or by email robin.akers@virgin.net