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February 2018

Interview: Matt Rotherham

By | All articles, Interviews, Sport Psychology | No Comments

Matt Rotherham is a GB track cycling sprinter, para-tandem word champion pilot, 6 day rider, and all round nice guy!

I remember when I first met Matt in T-town, PA back in 2015, one Saturday afternoon after a Saturday afternoon GP had finished he bought me a hot dog and chips, and we had a great chat.

He was one of the first riders to test BLS straps, and his initial feedback helped develop the products we have available today.

We asked him about his path to track cycling, his big gear antics, sport psychology and the rainbow stripes.

 
How did you get into cycling, and more specifically track cycling?
Matt: I never really got into sport until I was nine years old. I enjoyed bits of cross country running and (badly) attempted football, but when I was nine my dad took me to watch some track league racing at the Manchester Velodrome. He was hoping that I would ask if I could have a go so that he would have an excuse to have a go himself. I said I wanted a go so I started at my current club, Eastlands and Sportcity Velo on the Monday night beginner’s session, and it went from there.

Did you do any other sports before taking on the track?
Like I said before, I enjoyed cross country running, maybe got top 100 in the town but that was about it really!

You made the GB team fairly young, and then got booted before coming back, tell us about that journey?
It was a fairly easy journey to start off with to be honest. I got into the GB development system at 14 and progressed from there. I was lucky that there was only really myself and one other track sprinter my age at that time and we made it through the U/16 team up to the junior team pretty easily. Once on the junior team, I had some good success. In my first year I made the Junior World Championship Keirin final and the semi-finals of the Junior European Sprint Champs. I also won both Junior and Senior 1km TT national titles in the same year.
After junior, I made it on to the GB U/23 academy squad and went onto full-time training. During this period, there were various factors which affected my performances. Thus, my performances were never that great as a U/23.
It got to the point where I had hit a massive plateau and stopped progressing, so had to leave the U/23 squad.
I had a tough 6 months following this. However, my parents, thankfully, encouraged me to continue my cycling – so I did. I hit the gym and did a bit of track training, but not much else.

In the summer of 2015, I ventured out to T-town in the USA for some training and racing. I struggled in the UCI races as I was nowhere near my fastest, but afterwards I started picking up a few results and getting a little prize money; and really found the love for cycling again. I had such a great time out there and really came home with the best form I had ever really had!
I started to become a little more successful after that trip, picking up national medals in sprint, keirin and team sprint and had some success abroad.

In late 2016 I was speaking with my ex-coach, Jon Norfolk, who at the time was head coach for the GB Para-cycling Team. I suggested that I would make a great sprint tandem pilot and he agreed to give me a go at it. Luckily for me, a World Championships was announced in early 2017 and I got selected with James Ball to go to Los Angeles, USA to race. We came away with two World Championships and that meant I had gone full circle and was given a place back on the GB team, but now as a tandem pilot.

Matt Rotherham by Robyn Stewart

You’re famous for your big gear antics, like 64/12 (check out Matt’s website www.60×12.com), how did you get to putting on and being so successful with such big gears?
I’ve found in my recent career, that strength is one of my, well, strengths! When I tried using a 60+ chainrings I found I could hit more peak speed.
When I was towards the end of my time on the academy, I was using gears like 53×12, the biggest gear I could make at the time. I started to go pretty well on gears like that (although that was clearly too little too late!) but when I started racing again I thought I’d give the bigger gears a go. I’d seen the mighty Ed Dawkins from New Zealand using gears like 60×12 so I thought it could also be for me.
Besides going faster on those gears, I also think the combo with a big ring looks great!

Tell us some of your stats?
Squat: 215kg
Trap bar deadlift: 260kg (working towards a new PB at the moment 😉 )
Peak power: 2200W
Flying 200m: 9.99
Tandem Flying 200m (with Neil Fachie): 9.85
1km TT: 1:01.9
Tandem 1km TT (with James Ball): 1:00.7

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

Do you think tandems need to race more on the track like the old days?
I love tandem racing! I’ve won the National Tandem Sprint Championship a couple of times and hold the track record for the flying lap at T-town. However, for these races, I have always been the stoker (the guy at the back) – and I love it!
It’s a whole new ball game being a pilot but I love doing it too.
I think tandem racing would be an awesome event to bring back, but there’s no denying how unsafe it became when it was raced at World Champ and Olympic level.
On the para-cycling side, we mostly compete in time trials and we have a bit of unwritten law to keep the sprint racing safe, because we can’t go back to how it used to be!

Do you think para sport gets the recognition it deserves?
I think in the UK it does. As a rider on the para-cycling team, I feel equal to any other rider on the squad, and sports in the UK have worked hard to make sure that culture is developed. If you win a Paralympic gold medal, you definitely get good recognition!

How does it feel to have every cyclists dream, the coveted world champion stripes?
It was special to pull on the stripes! Albeit in a different field, it felt just as special and I will treasure those moments forever.

You also race 6 days quite often, how do you find that?
I love the side of cycling that the 6 days showcases. It’s different to world cup or world championship type cycling and people can clearly see that us sprinters try to put on a bit of a show and entertain people, and I hope I do that well! I sometimes don’t go my fastest at the 6 days but for sure I have fun!

Are you racing CWG, and how big of an event is that to you?
I am hoping to be selected to ride as a pilot for Neil Fachie (since this article, Matt’s selection has been confirmed) at the Commonwealth Games, so therefore I would end up representing Scotland. As an Englishman it will be an interesting event in that respect, but I really cannot wait to go there. We probably would fly straight from the Para-cycling World Champs in Rio, Brazil to Brisbane, Australia for the games. We expect to go to to the Worlds in our best form and would hope to carry that form to the games so we would expect some solid performances!

What would you like to see change or happen in track cycling?
I would love to see a resurgence in 6 day racing. Recently, some of the six days have had to end because people stopped supporting them. The pro men’s racing is amazing and the six day riders are some of the best athletes in the world. I think it’s an exciting form of cycling that, if advertised well, could be also exciting to the masses. I would love to see a six day back at Madison Square Gardens in the USA – that would be the dream!

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

Do you use any sport psychology techniques?
I sometimes use a “thought stopping” technique in high pressure situations.
If I start thinking about the outcome of the event too much or overthinking the tactics for a race I have a set routine which stops me thinking too much about it, and gets me back on track with the race.

What makes you “tick”? What motivates you to be the best; and keep you going in tough times?
I love racing! I always try and make sure that there is a race on the horizon. Then I’ve always got something to look forward to which helps to keep me motivated when the going gets a little tough.

How do you handle race day pressure?
I feel like I have a “need-to-achieve” mentality. So when I get to a race, I don’t tend to get fearful of losing. Instead, I look forward to potentially winning!

What would you say is your best mental strength/characteristic?
I love my sport and I love competing in it!
I’ve learnt to try and enjoy every aspect of training and racing. I even enjoy the 1km TT and the pain that comes with it as well as the process of building up to the race.
As long as I keep that mentality then I feel pretty mentally strong on race day!

What are your goals for the future?
My focus at the moment is directed towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games where I would love to take gold there in the tandem 1km TT. I would love to see where my career takes me after that. I would hope to be in the form of my life and who knows, I could start picking up results on my own again…

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

What are your interests outside of cycling?
I love coffee, maybe too much! Manchester has a great speciality coffee scene so I can often be found in a coffee shop, but I also love making it at home. I enjoy the process and methodology of producing a cup of coffee. I would like to get in to roasting coffee a bit as well.

What advice do you have to young riders?
Everybody says it. Just enjoy cycling. I know how my performances suffered when I stopped enjoying the sport and I can see throughout my career that when I performed the best was when I was enjoying it the most.
Even if that means entering small races that no one else is turning up to, having that chance to put your hands in the air is special. Enjoy every victory, whether that be in the first round of a sprint tournament or after winning the Olympics, I think it’s important to celebrate.

If you could leave us with one though, what would it be?
I was speaking to my dad about this the other day; we were talking about how I celebrate my results quite often and quite outwardly. I think that it’s a really important thing to me. I don’t win every sprint tournament I enter, so that’s why I think at whatever stage of a tournament I’m in, or if I’m in a small race somewhere, I show that I’m happy to win. I dread going through a tournament and not celebrating only to be knocked out, or loose in the final, and have never celebrated. I might look silly at times, but I’m just showing that I’m loving what I’m doing!

By: Matthew de Freitas

 

Motivation or Character?

By | All articles, Sport Psychology | 2 Comments

Throughout my riding life, I’ve always found motivation to probably be one of the trickiest aspects of sport psychology, and one that not many fully grasp.  It’s a direct influencer of performance, but for most it comes and goes with no understanding as to why and how. Many look hard for it but simply cannot find enough of it, and others without trying have too much of it! But what if it wasn’t as complicated as we think, and what if I told you, you can influence it and control it like any other controllable factor of preparation. What makes some get up at 5am in the winter and go for a ride in the rain, and others sleep in as soon as they hear the drops on the roof? What makes some persist for years until they reach success, while others stop just before reaching the top?

In this article we will explore more of what motivation is, where it comes from and how to get it, and crucially to keep it! We will also look at how it relates to confidence and character.

Motivation is the foundation of all human behaviour, whether that be in sport, or life in general. It’s the ability to initiate and persist in a given task. Motivation is to want something; and then start and persist in the process of getting it.

Motivation is a crucial factor in performance, as it’s one of the factors in preparation that we have absolute control of (like training, diet, rest, etc.), and therefore something we can actually train and improve on.

Roy van den Berg

There are 2 basic types of motivation, namely: Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation, simply put is the motivation that comes from within. It’s related to the self-efficiency belief, which is the perceived ability to perform at a certain level, it’s a person orientated view, and it also has strong genetic ties, as some are naturally more motivated to perform certain tasks and others not. Extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from outside of the person and is based on the result of the action or effort alone, the expectations or pressure of others like parents, coaches, or even the crowed; or the money and status the victory may result in.

As we can see from the above, motivation is either from internal or external influence. Now which is better?

Well, at first glance we can say that the extrinsic is obvious as it’s more direct, but for long term sustainable motivation which leads to confidence, we need to find intrinsic motivation. Because as soon as the result is not the desired, we have no foundation on which to build our motivation and confidence on; however, if it’s built on a deep conviction to be the best we can be, and even more so on personal character, then it’s a strong foundation that is to a certain degree resilient to failure.

Do you see how this also relates to the fear of failure? If we are intrinsically motivated, we have no fear of failure, as failure doesn’t define us, rather our character and conviction defines us and guards us against negative thoughts.

Another key point to raise on why intrinsic motivation is better, specific to a sport like cycling, is that it’s often a very lonely sport of suffering with very little reward. We chase PB’s and KOM’s rather than gold medals and recognition, the difference is paramount when looking at the types of motivation. No one can train and race in a sport like this with only extrinsic motivation! A deep desire from within is needed.

Do you also see how confidence and motivation are almost one in the same? If you are confident, you are motivated to perform at the level you believe you are on (whether this is accurate to your actual level you are on is irrelevant at this point), and if you are motivated, you are often more confident in your abilities.

These 2 in turn also equate to a high expectancy level, which may be good or bad depending on the situation; a high expectancy level can be good if the athlete has a good chance at winning, and it’ll therefore improve preparation and engagement, and even give more satisfaction in the result. However, if they do not have a good chance, a high expectancy may lean too much on this extrinsic motivation factor or expectation, and therefore cause a negative reaction if they don’t perform at the level of the expectation.

Kristina Vogel by Drew Kaplan

Now we also need to ask the question, what causes a lack of motivation, and what does this lack of motivation cause?

Well it depends on where your motivation comes from, if you are intrinsically motivated, then your motivation levels will be relatively stable, and a decline will usually be gradual. So the cause, whether that be stress from personal life, gradual decline in performance or enjoyment, etc., it’ll be easy to pin point and address. If it’s extrinsic, then it’s more often than not poor performance, or any sudden negative factor.

This lack of motivation usually causes withdrawal or lack of engagement, lack of commitment, and a tendency to give up in a high pressure situation. The last point shows how motivation, or lack thereof, is clearly related to, and a crucial ingredient to mental toughness. So a small obstacle might appear bigger to someone who is not highly motivated and confident in their ability to overcome it.

The results of good intrinsic motivation are clear form the above: higher levels of confidence and self-belief, mental toughness, and engagement in both training and racing; all which equal higher levels of performance! It’ll even improve your technical skills on the road or MTB, as you’ll have more confidence to take risks, and be more engaged to react to the outcome.

It’s also got to do with the expected outcome of your efforts, a balancing act in a way – will the effort I put into training be worth it at the end?

Then subsequently, will it cause victory? Now this is not necessarily the correct attitude to have, as the question should rather be, will this effort cause me to improve? Regardless of the outcome of the race, victory or failure, the 2nd question allows an athlete to see the benefit of putting in the effort in training, as they will be better than before; whereas in the first question, any little doubt, which is inevitable in high performance, will cause motivation levels to drop, and therefore engagement levels too; and too much of that will cause lack of confidence, and an eventual total withdrawal.

Now what all athletes want to know: Where do we find motivation?

Well, it’s an active and not a passive, which means it’s not a constant, but it’s dynamic and something we need to constantly work on and remind ourselves why we do what we do. It’s honest, and only you know the details of it, so you need to ask yourself the hard questions and go find it!

What makes you tick?

What makes you enjoy it, the training, the racing, the suffering?

What makes you want to seek improvement and be the best you can be?

Kobus Cronje and Mariske Strauss by Rober Ward

As the old saying goes: the hard part isn’t getting to the top, it’s staying there. So how do we keep it?

It’s a process of reminding ourselves of the answers to the above questions to build the foundation, setting measurable goals, and like any other controllable factor, keep working on it. Look into yourself to find intrinsic motivation. You require discipline to keep it, and that’s why not everyone does.

A key point I’d like to raise, and draw this article to a close, is that an athletes internal motivation should be built on a sound personal character (your inner network of values, morals and beliefs), and a deep inner conviction for continuous improvement and to be not only the best athlete, but best person you can be – in sport, and in life. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, success isn’t measured by one static individual result, but rather by how much an athlete improves over a given period of time. Therefore that should be the main aim in developing an athlete, in early stages of competition, right through to the highest level – creating a person of character first, and then an athlete. This will create a sustainable motivation built on a solid foundation that will last longer than only a sporting career, and create a holistic human being, regardless of the results of any competition.

“Sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it” – Heywood Broun

To end of, here are some quick tips to build and maintain sound motivation:

  • Ask the right questions and build the right foundation of character
  • Set goals for continuous improvement
  • Most importantly, enjoy it! A happy athlete is a successful one, regardless of the result

 

Written by:

Matthew de Freitas

 

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