Thursday, February 13, 2014

Confidence is everything - the psychology of cycling

Or the psychology of everything, really.

I can tell you how to train your guts out, how to identify your strengths and weaknesses and how to position yourself to win, but none of that will help at all if you don't truly believe in yourself.

I used to train 10 to 15 thousand kays a year - not enough, I know - but it got me into the ballpark (as an A-grade clubbie, anyway). I had some condition. I had some strength. I didn't fade too early. I was there.

I enjoyed the physical side of training and it got me fit enough to be in the game - but I needed some psychological help, too. I needed both the skills of a racer and the motivation to execute my plans. The skills came about by watching, by listening and by practising. By running it through my head as well as actually racing it out on the road.

Winning is first of all about surviving. Getting dropped is the pits. And if you have the condition - enough of it - then it's all about timing and positioning from there, really. Positioning and timing to avoid crashes, to avoid missing the break and to be there - in the right place, on the right wheel - for the sprint. Simple, eh? But how do you get it right?

For me, my head had to get it together. The training helped, the sprint repeats and intervals, the mindless laps all played a part. But it was my head that desired to win and it was my head that had to learn the hardest lessons.

My head had to understand that getting dropped hurts enough that I didn't want to get dropped ever again. And I had to be smart enough to recognise the signs and avoid the danger zones, those points in a race when getting dropped is a very real possibility. Sometimes it's positioning for a hill, sometimes it's just gritting the teeth, chasing and absolutely not letting them go!

My head also had to handle the fight for the break - be in it! Get in there, but only when it's the right move. Size it up, make a judgement. Then commit. Totally.

My head also had to mix it up in the fight for the pre-sprint positioning as well as the tussle for line honours. Sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes just plain dangerous. It's reactive and exciting, physical and mental. It's the end game and it's mostly played out in your mind!