Here’s Webster’s definition:
The mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand b: a sense of common purpose with respect to a group.
That seems right on target and will give us a base from which to further understand this topic. We are all aware that in sport, and especially cycling, morale can be very fickle and easily altered in any given race by a variety of circumstances (i.e. win, lose, crash). We all know the feeling that when morale is high, we feel like we can take on the world, that we have the possibility of winning every race, we ride with confidence and “swagger”. When morale is low, we think we need to train harder, we have little confidence in our abilities, we enter races with common excuses like “I am here just to finish” or “I’m here for the training.” These thoughts happen at every level of the sport, from beginning racers to top-level professionals. Some handle it better than others. Others live a rollercoaster of emotions.
Not All Smooth Sailing
Let’s look at some of the common ways in which morale can be challenged in cycling:
Inadequate preparation due to being out of shape or detrained. You are capable of racing in your category; you are just not fit enough at that particular moment.
Sickness/injury –It seems there were a real nasty set of viruses going around this year that took weeks out of people’s training time (including me.) Entering races without adequate training after being sick or just trying to race while not being 100% can begin the process of digging yourself into a training hole.
Setting too high a target – Perhaps you qualified, but are just not ready to be in that next category; you might notice yourself being non-competitive every week and that is no way to race your bike! A common situation is that many riders get their upgrade points in criteriums or easier road races, and then they attempt longer, harder races without knowing how to properly train for the new intensity level. They are just not physically and mentally ready to compete in a higher category.
Team issues – You’re not having fun on your team. Someone or something is bringing the morale down on the team. There is a lot of negativity out there, a lot of excuses that can infect a team and not allow them to perform up to their abilities.
What Goes Down – Must Come Up
OK, so how can you increase your morale and begin to improve?
Practice patience Don’t rush back from sickness; don’t jump up in category just because you can. Make sure you are ready to take on all aspects of the next level because cycling is a particularly difficult sport. If you have an injury, be honest with yourself about when to take up competition again. Remember, it’s a long season and there are plenty or races to compete in.
Take the long view Instead of trying to cure the problem all in one race, try taking smaller steps. For example, since cycling is a team sport, set a goal to help your teammate succeed. Come away from the race with a feeling that you made a difference for your team. It may not feel like a lot, but it is a viable starting point. You should look for other opportunities to take steps towards your goal of improvement and winning (e.g., improving your time trial time on a particular course rather than winning) instead of attempting to attain your goal all at once.
Maintain your emotional perspective It’s always a good thing not to get overly excited when things are going well or to fall off an emotional cliff when you are not achieving your goals. Remind yourself that whatever is happening now, good or bad, will not last. This mental approach is most important during the low points of your season. Know that things will improve and will not remain down too long so long as you can maintain some balance in your reactions. Expect that you will have lower morale at times. If you expect it, you can handle it better.
Know Thyself – Motivate Thyself
Maintaining good morale is a question of understanding how you respond to different types of circumstances. For example, if you lose contact with the pack during a race, does that motivate you to ride harder or to give up and save it for another week? Neither response is wrong, but if you know yourself, you will minimize the negative self-judgments that can bring us down.
In addition to knowing yourself, having some experience with the ebbs and flows that are a common part of cycling can really help. When I first started racing, I would enter my events feeling good and thinking I could do well, but not having much success, which led to disappointment. After learning how important tactics are to bike racing and how to apply them more effectively, I slowly began to improve, which in turn led to winning for both my team and myself.
I learned that there was much more to bike racing than the physical side and my experience was a pretty normal response to the stresses of racing. Like so many things in life, maintaining positive morale is an ongoing quest involving knowing yourself and knowing that your struggles are not just unique to you…..everyone has them…..even Lance Armstrong!
While we may all share the process of struggling, everyone has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, and we all progress at our own pace. Getting on a program with a coach that understands you as an athlete and individual can help you not only to think like a winner, but to become one!
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com