By Dr. Jim Taylor
In my first post I introduced you to Prime Cycling, which I defined as riding at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions. When you clarify your attitude in these two areas, you will be better prepared to win the mental race and to achieve Prime Cycling.
Attitude Toward Competition
If you’re reading this article, cycling is probably important to you. You likely put a great deal of effort into your training and competitive efforts. Because of this, you put your ego on the line every time you ride. When you don’t ride well, you’re disappointed. This may not feel good, but it’s natural because it means you care about your cycling.
There is, however, a point at which you can lose perspective and your feelings toward your cycling can hurt how you ride. The key red flag is what I call the “too zone.” You want to care about your cycling, but you don’t wan to care too much. You want how you ride to be important to you, but not too important, You want to try hard to achieve your cycling goals, but you don’t want to try too hard.
In the “too zone,” your self-esteem is overly connected to your training efforts and race results, when how you feel about yourself as a person is too influenced by how you ride. If you find yourself in the “too zone,” you have lost perspective on the role that cycling plays in your life. You should reevaluate what your cycling means to you and how it impacts your life and your well being. You will probably find that it plays too big a role in how you feel about yourself. When this happens, you not only don’t ride as well as you could (because you feel far too much pressure with your self-esteem on the line), but you may find that your cycling is no longer as fun as it used to be.
The Prime Cycling attitude toward training and racing means keeping your cycling in perspective. To ride your best and to have fun, you need to keep your cycling participation in a healthy place in your life. It may be important to you, but it should not be life or death. Cycling should be a part of your life, not life itself. Remember why you ride: it’s fun, you like the exercise, you like the camaraderie , it feels great to master a sport, you might even like the suffering that comes with it, and, yes, you like to compete and have success. If you have fun, work hard, enjoy the process of riding, and do not care too much about winning or losing, you will enjoy training and competing more, you will ride better, and, somewhat paradoxically, you will be more likely to achieve your goals as well.
Attitude Toward the Ups and Downs of Cycling
To achieve Prime Cycling, you must also recognize and accept the ups and downs of our sport. In the history of road cycling, very few cyclists have had perfect or near-perfect seasons: Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain, Armstrong, Contador. Even the best cyclists have ups and downs. Since they do, then you should expect to have them as well. It’s not whether you have ups and downs in your riding, but how big the ups and downs are and how you respond to them. In fact, my contributions to PezCycling News are devoted to assisting you in minimizing the ups and downs of your cycling.
In a down period, it’s easy to get frustrated, angry, and depressed. You can feel really disappointed in how you’re riding and can feel helpless to change it. You may want to just give up. But none of these feelings will help you accomplish your important goals: getting out of the down period and returning to a high level of riding. This is a skill that makes the great cyclists great. The best athletes know how to get back to on their “game” quickly.
How do they do this? First, they keep the down period in perspective, knowing that it’s a natural and expected part of cycling. This attitude takes the pressure off to rush back to a higher level of riding (which actually keeps you in the hole longer) and keeps you from getting too upset. It also enables you to stay positive and motivated. Most important, never give up; keep working hard, no matter how bad it gets. Great cyclists look for the cause of their slump and then find a solution, whether physical or mental. If you maintain this attitude toward the ups and downs of riding, your down periods won’t last as long and you’ll more quickly swing back to an up period.
Attitude Toward Love and Fun
It’s easy to lose sight of why you train and compete. There are the races, awards, rankings, and attention. Yet, when you get focused on the external benefits of cycling, you may lose sight of the more important internal reasons why you train and compete. You may not have as much fun and you won’t ride as well either. When this happens, you need to remind yourself of what cycling is all about. Your cycling should be about two things. First, about love: love of cycling, love of others, and love of yourself. If you feel the love for your cycling, you have a better chance to achieve Prime Cycling.
Second, cycling should be about fun. Working hard, getting better, the intensity of competition, and enjoying the process—win or lose—should all be fun. If you always remember that cycling is about love and fun, then you will enjoy riding and you will likely ride your best.
Attitude Toward Winning and Losing
Your attitude toward winning and losing will determine your ability to ride your best consistently and will either promote or interfere with achieving your goals.
Too often, cyclists define themselves in terms of whether they win or lose. The rider who wins the game is successful and everyone else loses and is a failure. But how many times have you ridden really well, yet lost. The fact is you can’t always control whether you win or lose. What you can control is your attitude, the effort you put in, and how well you ride. It’s fruitless to strive for something that’s out of your control, so winning and losing should be defined in terms of things over which you have control.
With this in mind, I define winning as giving your best effort, riding to the best of your ability, and having fun. I define failure as not trying your hardest, riding poorly, and not having a good time. The irony is that if you have this attitude and don’t worry too much about winning and losing, you’ll feel less pressure, you’ll ride better, and as a result, you’ll be more likely to achieve your goals and enjoy the experience.
Both winning and losing are essential to achieving Prime Cycling. Success builds confidence and reinforces your belief that you can ride well and meet the challenges of training and races. There are, however, problems with too much success. Winning can breed complacency because, if you succeed all of the time, there’s little motivation to improve. Sooner or later though, as you move up the competitive ladder, you’ll come up against someone who is just as good or better than you, and since you haven’t been motivated to improve, you won’t win.
Winning also doesn’t identify areas in need of improvement. If you always win, your weaknesses won’t become apparent and you won’t see the need to put in the effort to improve. Winning also doesn’t teach you how to constructively handle the inevitable obstacles and setbacks of cycling. You may become so accustomed to winning that when you finally do lose, it will be a shock to you.
There are also benefits to losing that will ultimately enable you to be more successful. Losing provides you with information about your progress. It shows you what you need to improve on. Losing shows you what doesn’t work, which helps you identify what works best. Losing also teaches you how to respond positively to adversity, persevere in the face of setbacks, and be patient in your cycling development. Rather than becoming discouraged by losing, you should focus on how it will help you to become a better cyclist.
If you can develop these attitudes about your cycling life, you’ll gain the perspective toward your riding that will allow you to achieve Prime Cycling, ride your best, and have tons of fun.
About Dr. Jim
Dr. Jim Taylor is a clinical associate professor in the Sport & Performance Psychology graduate program at the University of Denver. He has worked with professional, world-class, junior-elite, and age-group athletes in many sports for over 26 years. He has been the team sport psych consultant for two professional cycling teams. A former internationally ranked alpine ski racer, Jim is a 2nd degree black belt and certified instructor in karate, a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, and an avid cyclist. Jim is the author or lead editor of 12 books, including Prime Sport: Triumph of the Athlete’s Mind, The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training, and Applying Sport Psychology: Four Perspectives, has published over 600 articles in popular and professional publications, and has given more than 800 workshops and presentations throughout the North America and Europe. He publishes the Prime Sport Alert, a bi-monthly e-newsletter and blogs on sports. To learn more, visit his web site.