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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

 

The Importance of Toe Straps

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The history of the toe strap dates back to the dawn of bicycle racing, with the original pedal for racing cyclists being a strap over the shoe with a steel cage as reinforcement. As sprinters, especially on the track, got stronger and stronger, the need for much more durable double leather straps came in and has been the go-to ever since. Even since the invention and rise of clipless pedals from Look, Time, Shimano and the likes, powerful track sprinters have sought more safety and opted for the extra support of the double leather toe straps over and above the standard clipless pedal and cleat.

Why? Simple: the standard clipless pedal alone is simply not enough to support the power these riders produce. With watts close to and above the 2500 marker, a pedal designed for road riding is not enough.   When these riders need every single watt to go through the pedal and into the drive chain to get maximum speed, and when the torque and acceleration they produce being so high it’s comparable with a family sedan, they cannot afford to waste any power!

The BLS toe straps by Photo: Drew Kaplan

Horizontal and diagonal movements by millimetres can waste valuable watts! Pedal strokes that aren’t 100% smooth and efficient aren’t good enough. Cycling shoe manufacturers make big carbon fibre shoes covering the entire foot to minimize wasted watts; and straps only enforce that! What’s the use you have the rider and bike, but no way of making them stick together? Riders need a zero friction connection of shoe to pedal and an efficient transfer of power.

It’s as much as a mental issue than a pure mechanical issue. A rider must have confidence that they’ll be secure enough to put maximal force through the pedals and not have to worry about pulling their foot out! In the space of 5-6 seconds, where a rider goes from 0-60kph and produces the power they do, they cannot afford their mind to wander around other issues like: “will my foot come out?” – They need to feel safe and secure so they can focus solely on the task at hand.

Daria Schmeleva using the much broader BLS Velcro straps, with a larger surface area.

As much as there is a stigma attached to straps, like “you aren’t a real sprinter unless you use straps”, it is an incredibly important piece of equipment, and vital to any sprinter, from part time rider trying to crack the 12 sec barrier, to Olympic champion!

Over the years, the focus has shifted from traditional leather to more aerodynamic options such as the Velcro versions. These are much more aerodynamic as there is no big bulging leather clips and loose hanging leather straps flapping in the wind.   I always wondered how riders can be okay with that – spending thousands of dollars on aero helmets, skinsuits and bikes, but having these leather straps flapping in the wind! It baffled me!

The Velcro straps also offer a larger surface area of up to 50mm in width, which allows a more secure position. They are also at times a lot easier to clip in and out of, and also don’t damage expensive shoes as much a traditional leather.

The difference between traditional leather and Velcro

We’ve seen that in recent years with many of the top riders making the switch from traditional leather to the Velcro options. Riders such as Matthew Glaetzer from Australia trusted Velcro to ride the first ever sub 1 min kilo in at sea level Manchester last week! Olympic champions Kristina Vogel and Elis Ligtlee; and the Russian duo of Daria Schmeleva and Anastasia Voinova trust Velcro over leather. Not to mention the likes of Stephanie Morton, Harrie Lavreysen, Max Levy, Miriam Welte, and Denis Dmitriv all have made the switch!

Although the switch to Velcro has been increasing, especially in recent years, some sprinters still prefer leather for various reasons. Philip Hindes told me that strapping in with leather is so engraved into his mental regime before dong a start he simply cannot get his head around changing to anything else. This seems to be the case with a few of the top start lap riders such as Rene Enders and Robert Forstermann. As anything, it’s always an individual preference, and one that the rider must feel 100% comfortable and confident with.

I have always never quite trusted a product until the world’s best riders have used and put it through its paces and it’s survived, so if all these riders are using Velcro, I can with confidence say Velcro is the way to go!

Kristina Vogel strapping in, by Arne Mill

So if you’re an aspiring sprinter, or an experienced power house, you should seriously consider the importance of straps! Whether that’s old school traditional leather, or newer Velcro, it’ll definitely improve your sprinting and give you the confidence to push harder than ever before!

To emphasize the importance of toe straps in performance, and the importance of proper skills training and coaching – BLS alongside Track Cycling Academy are having a competition this festive season! Simply by entering the competition you’ll stand a chance to win:

  • 1 x BLS Velodrome bag valued at US$175
  • 1 x BLS Velcro Toe Straps valued at US$60
  • TCA Skills Product – Lifetime Access (AU$59.00 once off)
  • 1 Month of Free Coaching and Support from a TCA Physiologist (Value: AU$399)

That’s an unbelievable $693 (over AU$1000) prize!

Also check out a recent blog post by TCA about the importance of toe straps.

To ENTER, simply click HERE and follow the link!

 

 

The Young Rider

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“It’s not how you start that matters, but how you end.”

While growing up racing on the track from an early age (just joking around really), there was always a mate and I against each other.  We we’re similar in many ways such as background, upbringing, schooling, mind-set, etc. but also quite different.  He was pushed by his parents, I wasn’t.  He trained seriously hard, I didn’t.  He made sure he had the best equipment, I didn’t. He was in teams, I wasn’t. He won many races, and I won few.  Surprisingly though, after our junior days when we both left school, he stopped riding and racing altogether, but I continued.  I always wondered why . . .

Even when I look back at my junior year, I went on a training camp for Junior World champs, it would’ve been in Moscow that year, and I really wanted to go. Unfortunately I didn’t make it.  I was really distraught about it, but with some encouragement from some of the senior sprinters and even the selectors (I’ll give them credit for that), I carried on.  But when I look at who did make the team, only a few are left riding, and even fewer racing.  How strange, and actually, how sad is that – all that talent down the drain, and the promise of a bright future in the sport gone.

If I look at those riders now, each has their own reasons for not racing anymore, and that’s okay. Not everyone wants it; others find it in something else, and some move on to other things like studies and work. I’m sure some couldn’t handle the failure of Junior World Champs (as they came last and 2nd last in pretty much everything), and some stopped shortly after entering the Elite/U23 category, probably for similar reasons.

Nate Koch and Max Levy by Drew Kaplan

One thing stands out about the above – is that in most of these cases, the rider was pushed by someone (parents, coaches/selectors, or even themselves – even I am guilty of the latter in my later years) to achieve results (and I’ll note that this can even be subconsciously), and after failure, they couldn’t handle it and gave up. So the issue to me is not so much that riders are pushed, as that is necessary at times and if done correctly can bring out the best in a rider (note that they are pushed, not others dreams lived through them) is that young riders are not taught to accept, work through and learn from their failures. They are pushed and when they fail, they are patted on the back and hurried on their merry way, instead of helping them understand it and learn from it, to make them a better athlete and person. I think this is the crucial aspect that is missing in youth sport today, and specifically a results driven sport like cycling – not so much a pressure free and results driven environment, as I think that it is necessary for high performance and getting the best out of athletes, but one in which riders are taught how to learn from failure and get the best out of this environment.

They need to be taught that even though they are under pressure to perform, and that is the desirable and favourable result of their hard work – that failure is okay, and even needed, and when it happens, should be supported and embraced. Not everyone can win, and not all of the time; the process of striving towards one’s goals should be embraced as much as the end result thereof.

I want to stress that I support the pressure and results driven environment, I believe it’s necessary to get the best out of an athlete, but also prepares them for life. We must be careful not to raise mentally weak people, as although some schools and institutions have removed the concept of winners and losers, and some with results all together, life certainly has not!

The question of why my mate gave up, while I continued – well I think many factors were in play that contributed to it.  I think I’ve mentioned enough reasons as to what could’ve caused it, and the exact reasons are quite vague. An issue I’d rather like to bring up is that of how to raise young athletes to get the best out of them, while at the same time pushing them for results without breaking them physically and mentally, making them quit.

Daniel Grobbelaar

I think if I had to raise a young rider in cycling, or any sport for that matter; I’d do it something like this (note I’m no expert, just an opinion based on some observations and lessons learnt in my life):

Once a rider has taken off their training wheels and started racing, up until the age of 14 or 15, they should develop a love for the sport. So much so that they should be monitored not to do it too much! They should also have balance in between other sports and activities, a good 33% cycling, 34% school (teachers and mom’s smiling now) and 33% other activities. Love and balance far outweigh performance.

From around 15 – 18 years, a rider should be encouraged to choose their preferred discipline (road, track sprinter, etc.) or even another sport if it’s not cycling. From here they can be pushed to train hard and commit to goals like national championships, or even Junior World champs. During this time it is crucial to teach them how to accept, understand and learn from failure. They’ll also develop the characteristics of a champion, as well as others like discipline, commitment, dedication, humbleness, etc.

During this time you’ll also be able to see if they have what it takes to be a real champion (in the sense of going professional), and I mean if they have the mental will in that they actually personally want it.  If so, it must be nurtured and developed over time to bring them to this potential.  If not, rather don’t push them for results, let them have fun and enjoy it, and find their own meaning in the sport.  Find out their goals, and most importantly, help them to continue riding.

I think the main question that should be asked during these years should not be how many wins, or anything like that, but rather: am I better than I was yesterday – in sport and as a person?

Something else I’d like to note, although it has worked for some, I would encourage the separation of the coaching and parenting roles. One must be one or the other, the coach is about result sand pushing the athlete, getting the best out of them. The parent is there for guidance and comfort on a more human level.

I believe if this is done right, by the time a rider reaches 17-19 years old, they’ll have developed the love of the sport as well as their own personal goals, their own mental toughness and character, discipline, etc. and overall perspective of the sport and of life. They will also through right parenting and coaching have developed humility, genuineness, gratitude, generosity, respect and kindness. All the parents will have to do is play a role of support and guidance.  The coaches will sort out the performance and training aspects. Most importantly they’ll develop the ability to go forward in pursuit of their goals independently fuelled by their own desire.

The bottom line is early success means nothing, it’s soon after forgotten and leaves little to no legacy.  I can’t think of any notable junior rider who achieved great success as a junior and stopped after that. But I can think for many who achieved some or no success as a junior but then had a long and successful career. Lifelong riding and love for the sport means everything. It will give memories and emotions comparable to nothing else.

Even if I look at myself, I achieved some half decent results as an elite rider and would not trade that for any results as a junior.  Upon that, in one way it would’ve been nice if my parents pushed me more when I was younger, but in another way I’m glad they didn’t as I learnt a lot that way, and also how to get through failure and disappointment to become the best person I can be.

Results as an elite or even veteran and master for that matter mean more than a junior.  Look at my previous blog on early success, it can have detrimental effects.  Nurture with patience the talent in your hands, and develop a complete athlete and human being, rather than a one hit wonder soon forgotten.

Sport is amazing and I believe every kid should try many sports, and if they can find one that gives them a break from ordinary life, how wonderful. In some cases it can even be a life saver, taking them away from bad influences. Maybe even a chance to be great, to leave a legacy and be an inspiration!

I hope this advice can be applicable to you and your young rider, and that they will develop into the best they can be, but more than that develop their love for the sport and for life long riding, because at the end of the day, their happiness in life should be the main priority.

 

Matthew de Freitas

Interview: Paralympic star Wiliam “Billy” Lister

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While he was out in South Africa during the para-cycling world champs, we spent some time with William “Billy” Lister and heard insight into his inspirational story of how he dramatically turned is life around over the course of 12 years after a stroke in his teens, to a professional cyclist and Olympian.

We hear about hard work, overcoming, sacrifice, and the daily motivation of a singular goal of the top step in Tokyo. We find out about the differences and similarities between elite and para cycling, as well as what it takes to be on the top level.

We also find out about his use of sport psychology, what it’s like to be a full-time professional athlete, and his future aspirations inside and outside of para-cycling.

Tell us more about you background and how you got into Paralympic cycling?

My background starts out when I was 17 years old and suffered a slow and regressive stroke, as a complication from invasive Brain surgery I had to save my life from a fatal brain abnormality. My life was devoid of any activity or ambition for the better part of 12 years as I navigated through a state of self-preservation purgatory. It wasn’t until 2011 when I met the Challenged Athletes Foundation; in San Diego, CA that I got on a bike for the first momentous time since my 17th birthday. It spanned the next few years, but I taught myself how to ride all over again; and in 2014 I entered my first ever Paralympic Cycling bike race – an Individual Time Trial on the Road. I did pretty well, and ever since then have been racing bikes.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

The greatest highlight in my career has to be Paralympic Trials last summer in Charlotte, NC – where I finished 1st overall among 2 wheel male cyclists and qualified for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2017, have had a crucial build-up year securing 2 World Championship podium positions (Both on the Track & the Road World Championships), as well adding a Road World Cup medal.

What are your goals leading up to the future?

The short term goal is currently all sights set on the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. I have personal aspirations to compete through Paris 2024; as well as on home soil in Los Angeles 2028 – becoming a 4X Paralympian.

What motivates you in your daily training?

The singular motivation I have is to achieve my ultimate goal of a Gold medal at the Paralympic Games. Every day is an effort and progression towards obtaining that objective.

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister

What frustrates you about Paralympic sport?

I do wish that the Paralympic movement gained the notoriety it deserves as Elite athleticism, on the same level as our Olympic counterparts. However, the exposure and acceptance in the United States lags behind the rest of the World. It’s a slow process acquiring awareness; but over the past few quadrennials, Paralympic sport has gained dramatic momentum across the globe.

I think in comparison to other Paralympic sports, Cycling gets a fair amount of recognition; being one of the top-tiered sports. Over the years the UCI (International Cycling Union) has increased its awareness into Para cycling; however the sport is dwarfed in contrast to the coverage, interest & recognition of Professional and Olympic Cycling.

What makes Paralympic sport so great?

To me, the greatness of Paralympic sport is its humbling unfettered athletic prowess. Paralympic sport is very much the lesser distinguished platform compared to its Olympic sport counterpart. However, what is little understood about Paralympic sport lies in the comprehension that Paralympic athletes are just as elite, strong, fast and powerful as their fellow Olympic competitors. Paralympic athletes dedicate themselves, and sacrifice as much – if not more – than any other elite & professional athlete on the planet; with a fraction of the recognition. That self-effacing quality is something that can only be found in athletes who compete for the love of sport – and the love of life!

Do you feel you get the support you require?

I am tremendously fortunate to receive support from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team; in terms of financial assistance and resource disposal. I have the opportunity to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO – which affords me the greatest athletic care available. The USOC does an extraordinary job in delivering the support and resources directly to its athletes, and their athletic benefit.

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister by Bill Whitehead

What do you enjoy most about being a full time athlete?

I no longer despise Mondays like I used to when I was a part of the corporate world! Every day has the freedom to get better, in any possible way – in every possibly way!

What do you think gives you a competitive advantage?

I like to think my athletic upbringing mixed chemically with sport being torn away from me at the age of 17; and for the better part of a decade living a sedentary life – my mindset is transformed into a willingness to sacrifice everything I have for the chance to win Gold.

Do you make use of sport psychology, and if so, what techniques?

Yes! I use Sport Psychology on a regular basis, and have been for the past 2 1/2 years. Leading into the Paralympic Games and currently, I’ve been doing a lot of Mindfulness technique work. I have found it clears my mind, and focuses on the process – which so far has been translating into an increase in results. I’m very excited for future progression in this aspect of sport performance.

Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?

I am a very obsessive superstitious individual – so my pre-race rituals are all based on routine. Leading into any big race, I like to establish a routine leading into race day – And then rise & repeat each day and on race day!

What would you say are the essential mental characteristics required for elite level cycling?

I would say a twisted ability for self-suffering agony & determination; along with a mindset to outlast the rider next to you. I’ve found in elite level cycling where many within a field are on similar levels; the mental battle of attrition often will be the decider of success.

What makes, in your opinion, a champion?

That’s a tough question – Because I think champions are made from within. I think what’s necessary to become a champion is the belief that your mind is stronger than your heart; but that your heart is the strongest part of your body.

 

“I think what’s necessary to become a champion is the belief that your mind is stronger than your heart; but that your heart is the strongest part of your body” – William Lister.

 

What is your daily routine (on and off the bike) like?

My training regimen is 7 days a week – Not all of those are hard days of course. Day-to-day looks similar to on my bike – anywhere from 90 minutes active recovery to 4 hours hard – followed by some light stretching and rolling a lot of sore and fatigued muscles. Depending on the day, I’ll do Strength & Conditioning 3 days a week for roughly 2 – 3 hours. And the rest of my time is perfectly filled with Recovery – Sports Medicine, Cold Plunge, Normatecs, Massage – and juggling meetings with Sports Psych & Nutrition – it’s a full time gig!

Other than cycling, what hobbies/interests do you have?

I gotta admit at the current moment, I don’t explore many hobbies – simply for a lack of time and commitment. While I do take some time off each year, a lot of that time is spent relaxing with friends and family. Although I have started to get an itch to learn how to Scuba dive!

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister

What are your plans post your cycling career?

There’s no better feeling than riding and racing my bike – so I have a sense that after my career is over, I’ll still be out there pushing the limits – just maybe not every day. I’d like to start my own business one day, centralized in the Adaptive Sports world.

If you could give the readers one insight into what it takes to be an elite level cyclist, and especially a Paralympic one, what would it be?

Treat every day as an opportunity to better yourself – the little things add up at the end of each hour, day, year, and decade.

What motivation or advice would you give to young athletes, especially Paralympic athletes?

My biggest piece of advice to aspiring young Paralympic (And Olympic) athletes is develop a mindset that positively allows you to always say Yes. Put yourself in a position for opportunity, and when it comes, say YES and take the ride on the journey.

If you could have the readers remember only one thing about you after reading this, what would it be?

I would tell the readers to ignite their Never:

Never Believe

Never Learn

Never Known

Never Past

Never Now

Never Future

Never Give in

Never Stop

Always Never

Always always!

Be sure to follow his journey onto and beyond Tokyo 2020!

 

Matthew de Freitas

A mentally tough mindset for success

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The total mind set or psyche of a person is in direct relation to your thoughts – if you think the right thoughts, you’ll have the right mind set; it’s as simple as that!

A persons mind set is the group of characteristics that an individual has acquired throughout their lives through both genetics and various life experiences, and it’s constantly changing as we go along in our lives. One of the ways of referring to this in high performance of sport is mental toughness, which is a set of positive and resilient attributes that help a person to cope with a difficult situation, and there are hundreds of characteristics associated with it from confidence, emotional intelligence, adaptability, fear of failure, etc.

Having this positive and rational thinking mind set associated with good levels of mental toughness allows you to change your perception and make the best of any situation. It can allow you to transcend your circumstances and achieve the goals you desire.

BLS blog: a mentally tough mindset for success

But what does this type of positive and rational thinking mean? Well simply it means thinking about the goal you have in a positive and confident way, and blocking out negative or hindering thoughts. Not overthinking and putting everything in context. If it’s not going to help you achieve your goal, don’t think it! Thinking the right way prepares us for every step along the journey, both up and down.

Now mental toughness can only be built in, yes you guessed it, tough times (I favour nurture)! You need to, and undoubtedly will, experience tough times, and this will build up your mental toughness characteristics. Hard times are a natural step along your journey and the fuel in the furnace of your growth.  Suffering and pain is at the core of cycling, and what make it so damn great!

Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel by Frank Hammerschmid

Questions like “why is this happening to me” is a common example of the wrong type of thoughts when in a tough situation. “Why should it not be happening to me?” is the question we should be asking! Is this hard time or challenge not a blessing? If you get through this, you will be more mentally strong and experienced than before, more equipped, and have more tools in your mental tool box (Jim Reeves).  So embrace it and learn from it.

Do you see what difference a simple perception of a situation can make to your entire psyche? The world owes you nothing and success is the direct result of hard work.  Sitting back and feeling sorry for yourself will get you nowhere. You need to be smart, pro-active, and you need a little bit of luck. But here’s the thing – with the right positive and confident thoughts, you’ll create your own luck!

Burton Witbooi by Robert Ward

Now success to you is not what it is to me, it’s a personal quest.  For some it’s the lifestyle they want to live, for some it’s the achievement of goals in sport or business, for some it’s time, for some it’s solely the money they have in their bank account, and for some to have a family.  I might want to win the tour, and you to finish the epic, and our other friend to have 6 figures in his bank account, while my sister a handful of kids. We are all individuals with different mind sets, and this needs to be understood.

So the bottom line, if you want to be successful, think the right thoughts, to create the right mind set, to achieve your own personal journey of goals and success.  Embrace its every nook and cranny, like squeezing the last bit of gel out of a sachet, and learn as much as possible from it. You are not the result of your final goal, you are the person you become while pursuing that goal.  Realize and recognize that it won’t be easy, and you’ll need to be tough and stand strong, you’ll need to get over a few obstacles, but it’ll all be worth it.  Whether you get there or not doesn’t really matter; as long as you are happy with who you are as a person, not only as an athlete.

As the great Sir Edmund Hillary uttered: “it’s not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves”.

 

Matthew de Freitas

Enjoy The Journey

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While writing this article, I have my own personal struggle with inconsistent training, unavoidable obstacles along the way, and other things in my life that are more important in the long term than cycling, which lead to lack of motivation, and the question that keeps arising of: what is this all about, and am I still enjoying this?

One thing I’ve noticed a lot in sport, is too many people pursuing their goals without actually enjoying the process, and even the end result of achieving them!

I’ve heard these quotes from Mohammed Ali and the like about absolutely hating their daily training.  Although they’re professionals being payed huge sums of money, as well as their efforts helping and inspiring others all over the world, for most of the general sportsperson, I don’t think it’s the right, or a heathy way of approaching training, or goals.

by Robert Ward

Now training and competing is by no means supposed to be easy and always enjoyable, it’s supposed to be hard, but you’re supposed to enjoy it. If you hate it, then something isn’t right. The commonly accepted definition of a champion is someone who can push through this hard training and the pressures of competition more than anyone else; but here’s the conundrum, if it’s horrible and you hate it, there’s little to no reward at the end of the day, and you’re not a professional being payed to do this – what’s the point?

Sure, you might say personal pride, the joy and thrill of competition, pushing past your limits, and the list goes on. And you’ll be 100% right!

Migle Marozaite by Jaoa Fonseca

You’re probably thinking, contradiction right? Well I think the point I’m trying to make is that training and competition vs the enjoyment of it and the quality of life that results from it, is largely a balancing act. Pursuing a goal is a lifestyle, and we must embrace that lifestyle we have chosen and enjoy each moment of it; each moment of the process is precious.  We shouldn’t waste it by hating what we’re doing.

These little moments of up’s and downs add up; the hard days and the good days make the big picture.  We shouldn’t lose sight of what it’s all really about.

It’s not so much about the end result or outcome, but the journey and process, and who we grow into while pursuing our goals.  Whether we get there or not, I think this is the most important thing.

Now I’m not saying stop training, competing or stop pushing your limits, that’s after all what sport is all about.  Focus on the bigger picture and don’t let the negative moments take control of you. Don’t do something you don’t enjoy, and especially don’t feel pressure from anyone or anything other than yourself, and If you don’t like something, whether that’s training, competition, the pressure, or anything else, take a look at it and change it. And you’ll know what that change needs to be.

This is supposed to be something we enjoy to do, and we should try maximize that enjoyment. That’s a personal thing, and you’ll find out what you enjoy most as you go along. But every now and then, ask yourself the question, and don’t be afraid to be critical, and don’t be surprised about what you answer.

by Robert ward

Achieved goals, medals or records don’t mean much if you hated achieving them, they won’t bring back fond memories, and other than others looking up to you, you won’t get much pride out of them. But if you enjoy the journey and embrace all the little moments along the way to becoming a better person, you’ll remember it forever, and you might even inspire someone out there to do the same, and as an athlete, there’s nothing better than that!

Always remember, in between goals, there is something called life, your life – live it! I think at the end of the day, it’s about setting these goals, and working as hard as you can to achieve them. Regardless of the outcome; focus on the little daily moments of enjoyment on this journey of pursuing your goals. If you aren’t enjoying it, find out why and change it!

 

Matthew de Freitas

The true meaning of outcome

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“What if you did your best but it just wasn’t good enough”

This is often the question that athletes are faced with after a competition that didn’t go according to plan, or the outcome just wasn’t what they wanted. They did their best, everything went well, except the end result – the outcome of winning or losing.

People often only look at this outcome as the measure of success, without looking into the details and factors of the race that lead to that result, the opposition, etc. And they are quick to label an athlete a failure when they lose on the line, or have a puncture in the final km. This is unrealistic and quite unfair towards not only the athlete, but the coaching staff and supporters.

by Joao Fonseca

The problem with outcome goals as a measure of success or failure, is that they don’t tell the whole story, rather they only focus on a fragment of it, and use it as the pinnacle to sum up an athlete. I think we need to look at success or failure as the result of our process goals, i.e.: have we improved, did we ride at our absolute best, was our preparation the best it could be, was our mind set in the right place, and was everything in place the way it should be. These are all controllable factors and in our control to almost 100%. The other factors like the opposition, the referee, the weather, equipment failure, etc. are out of our control, and cannot be used as a measure of success. We need to differentiate between these factors if we have any plans of analysing performance, otherwise we will in fact be analysing outcome, and although related, they are worlds apart.

If we look at it in terms of all the above mentioned controllable factors being covered, it can be looked at as success, if not, regardless of the outcome, it should be looked at as failure. It’s against the grain thinking, and unconventional in terms of how the public and amateur athlete thinks, but in terms of high performance, it’s the only way. This is the attitude of the best athletes in the world who have had the longest and most enjoyable careers, notice the “enjoyable”, as many athletes have had long and successful careers but hated every moment of it, and if you look at them years later, have no part in that sport anymore, which is sad.

By Jean Marc Wiesner

Now I’m not saying we should not celebrate a win, and mourn a loss. That’s after all the beauty and thrill of sport. But what I’m saying is that single factor shouldn’t be the one to define you as an athlete. A win is still what we aim for, and what we will celebrate, but not what we should define our self-worth and character on.

Do you see the actual definition of success and failure, and that even if you win it could be a failure in terms of personal performance; and even if you lose it could be a win in terms of personal performance, improvement, and the process?

At the end of it all, if you can enjoy the sport and the competitive aspect of it, if you can push your limits, if you can do our absolute best, and if you can improve; then you are successful. If you look at yourself and your character and can be proud of the person you are, then you are successful. Whether you won or lost is not in that equation and never should be.

by Robert Ward

If the above is not the case, then learn from it and aim to be that person, and not simply the winner. The glory of the victory fades away, but your character and the thrill, enjoyment and emotion that sport gives will live on forever and make you a champion not only in sport, but in life.

 

Matthew de Freitas

Is Cycling A Team Sport?

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We often hear people talk of cycling as a team sport, but what does that mean? I mean it’s individual riders riding their bikes, and only the winner gets to stand on the podium (most of the time) and enjoy the success and put the medal in their cabinet.   How does this equal a team sport?

Well let’s look at the dynamics of cycling. On the road it’s probably most pronounced, even though only one rider wins the race, no rider can do this on their own. They have teams of domestiques who help them. Look at guys like Chris Froome, who have literally assembled a team to help him win the tour de France on numerous occasions. Albeit boring for some of the public, he and his team gets the job done, and he is as quick to thank them afterwards as he accepts the glory of the win.

Another part of road cycling is the lead out trains for the sprinters. A guy like Mark Cavendish who has one of the most prolific records at the TDF would undoubtedly not have won a fraction of them without his lead out train, who he has compiled and fine-tuned over the years. He celebrates the victory, but is probably one of the sprinters who shows the most gratitude to his team mates for their help.

If you look at these great champions, they are of course extremely talented and have the mental and physical fortitude to pull off a win; they can handle enormous amounts of pressure and can deal with victory. But more than that, they have to be great leaders! These riders have to somehow convince and motivate riders who could sometimes win themselves (look at a guy like Chris Froome working for Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 TDF, or Ritchie Porte working for him the year after), to put themselves on the line to enable another rider to win. It must speak something of their leadership skills, their character and the type of person they are. I think the domestique must have huge respect for the leader, and visa-versa.

Of course, sometimes it’s just a job for a domestique, they do a job and they get paid, they’re not fussed about the win or anything else. Others absolutely enthral themselves in the role and give their all for their leader. Those guys are the special type, those that can self-denyingly and self-sacrificially give their chance of winning for another guy.

What reward could a domestique possibly get? Sometimes a simple nod and a pat on the back is all they need, the recognition by the public for their sterling job, or a fat pay check from the team boss. Either way, their role is as important as any other, and needs to be recognized somehow. Each accepts a different way I suppose.

Why would anyone do it? Why would anyone want to be a domestique? I mean you’re one of the best riders in the world, yet you give it up to work for someone else.   Well not everybody wants to win, some just like to be a part of the win, but know that they can’t actually do it, or simply don’t want to. Others don’t like the limelight the victory gives them, and others view it as nothing more than a job that pays the bills. Domestiques are some of the more interesting characters on the road and have their own little sub-culture in the peloton, just read some of their books or interviews!

Team Australia Nathan Hart, Matthew Glaetzer and Jacob Schmid

Another part of cycling where team events are more prominent is on the track. There are specific team evets like team sprint and team pursuit, where they not only work as a team, but they share the victory as one too. They are also totally dependent on one another.  They start as a team, and finish as a team. Each guy has to put the same amount of effort out to achieve the goal, and if one fails, often the team fails as a whole. The saying, “you are only as strong as your weakest rider” rings true. In the modern era, countries put the team events as the main focus as it’s a reflection of the depth of the countries riders, it’s a controllable event against the clock, and often it has the most pride involved. It’s a beautiful journey to train as a team for a united goal, and then achieve it together and share the celebration!

“it’s great to win, but it’s better to win as a team”

In mountain biking, there is also a key team aspect, the 2 man teams of multi-day stage races. Look at the Cape Epic, a brutal 8 days where a team have to get through every km together. Not only that, but they live together, eat together and suffer together day in and day out. If one suffers, they both do. If one has a bad day, they both do. I’ve heard of guys saying how it’s sort of a balancing act between the 2 riders, and how the momentum shifts between the 2 as they carry each other along. They share the pain, and feed off each other as they go along, but also, they share in the glory at the end. And that must be an amazing experience!

The dynamics of a team in a sport like cycling, is that it offers a cause greater than oneself, it allows for belonging and gives the opportunity to be more than one could have been alone. It often allows the rider to get more out of themselves and be more courageous than they could’ve been alone.

With all of the above mentioned, I will touch on an absolutely key part of any success however small or big: the support team. We all have this, whether you think so or not. It could be in the form of your coach, masseuse, and chef; or in the form of your family and friends. These people form a crucial group of support that carry you to your win. Great coaches and mentors are invaluable, mechanics and sponsors, to family and friends providing the emotional support needed.

Kristina Vogel by Jean-Marc Weiser

Whether you feel you are an individual going for an individual goal, or a member of a team doing the best you can to fulfil your role. You are not alone, you are carrying the team, your family and friends; if you don’t see that, you need to assess your situation and look for that, because you are nothing alone. Along your journey there have definitely been some people who have helped you, albeit in a small way, but you wouldn’t be where you are now without other people. Appreciate them and that.

At the end, cycling, as much as any other sport, is as much of a team as it is an individual.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb

 

Matthew de Freitas

What is Focus?

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In the last article we spoke about being “in the zone” or in the ideal performance state, and a key aspect to being in this zone is focus and concentration. In this article we’ll look at what it means to actually focus, how it can improve your performance and some techniques to use that can help you do so; so that you can find yourself in the “zone” more often and get more out of your efforts while you’re there.

We’ve all been there, trying to focus in a crucial moment, but simply cannot get our full attention to a task we need to complete. We are distracted by the opposition, nerves, other factors outside of sport, etc. Our performance suffers due to such a simple principle we’ve been taught our entire lives; but have we? Can we really focus as we ought? Is our performance suffering because of it? How then can we improve this? These are questions every athlete needs to ask themselves.

What does it mean to focus?

Another word for focus is concentration. Focus can be defined as the centre of interest or activity, having a clear vision of what is required and how to accomplish the task while blocking out external stimuli. If an athlete lacks the ability to focus and concentrate, their efforts won’t be applied effectively to the task, or they won’t be able to get the maximal potential out of their efforts. As we well know, at the top of the sport, where high performance and marginal gains come in to play, when an athlete can’t get 100% out of their effort, they could well lose to a weaker athlete who is able to do so.

This ability to focus is in all intents and purposes high performance! If we can get into the zone and optimal performance state, and focus on the task at hand, there is no doubt we’ll get the best out of our efforts. We will as a result improve the characteristics of mental toughness and become a much better athlete.

Nate Koch by Drew Kaplan

There are also many types of focus that are used in everyday life, as well as in sport, namely:

Broad/external – broad noticing may things outside of ourselves; ex: assessing a situation.

Broad/internal – broad but directed internally; ex: planning.

Narrow/external – focus externally on a specific action; ex: executing a technique.

Narrow/internal – focus internally, on preparation of what is to come; ex: relaxation techniques.

The main concern is not our ability to focus but the many factors preventing us from doing so! These factors are mainly from outside of ourselves and we can label them as uncontrollable factors. Examples include anxiety, making a mistake, fatigue, negativity in a team environment, opponent, etc. The extent to which these factors have an influence on the athlete is directly related to the extent we allow it to. The more we think about it, the more it controls us. If we look at it as an uncontrollable factor, we have no need to focus on it, we need to shift focus back to the controllable, namely ourselves and our own performance.

Jim Taylor calls it prime focus, which is to focus only on the factors that are immediately influencing, or relative to the performance. When in prime focus, you are consciously making this decision, so it is quite different to being “in the zone’, but the characteristics present themselves similarly, as with this prime focus come automation of other decisions and blocking out external stimuli.

Max Dornbach by Jean-Marc Weiser

Let’s not be pretentious, it’s not easy to really focus! It takes consistent practise over time to improve levels of focus, but it can be done. Luckily for us, as being in the zone is an autonomous and unconscious effort, focus is largely as well. Most external stimuli is blocked out by the unconscious, we aren’t even aware of it!   It is not necessary to make a conscious effort to block out external stimuli, but rather by focusing on the task at hand that will be accomplished unconsciously.

Some techniques that can be used to improve focus can be:

  • Using pre-race rituals and routines, find a routine which gives you optimal focus and experiment with it.
  • Using key words/phrases, find words or phrases that increase your focus and use them.
  • Setting process goals for each training session or each action.
  • On/off techniques, this technique means to focus on a set action and then back of completely, and then repeat. Like a cricketer facing each ball individually.
  • Study yourself, look at where you lost focus and why, and then try to address what went wrong so you can better focus next time.

For more techniques on how to get into the zone or ideal psychological state, please see last week’s article: https://www.blsglobal.net/int/being-in-the-zone/

We must remember that as being in the zone, focus is as much of an individual thing. We all do it in different ways, and through trial and error, you can find out how to focus at the most optimal way for yourself.

I hope you can see that the ability to not only get into the zone, but to be able focus as well is an essential tool for any athlete to possess, and could separate you from winning or losing!

 

Matthew de Freitas

Being “in the zone”

By | All articles, Sport Psychology | One Comment

In this 2 part series, we will be looking at getting “in the zone” as it’s commonly called, peak levels of arousal, as well as using focus to get there.

The phrase “in the zone” is thrown around quite often in sporting circles, and if we understand it the same way, then we’ve all been there. Smooth pedalling, tactics just flow, and the muscles are warm and elastic just ready to fire; we’re excited to race and everything just goes right. If we could write a script of the race, this would be how it plays out.

I remember one of those days on the track; it was a keirin race at a Grand Prix at my local velodrome a few years ago. The race came and I just felt unbelievably good, everything was just going great. I remember being thrown into the race by my holder, and I was in 2nd or 3rd position behind the derney. I even remember thinking to myself, “I can win this, I’ve got this”. It was a great feeling, when the bike pulled of and the race started, I just went to the front and did a usual tactic of mine – ride from the from and control the race, I did that and with about a lap and a half to go I just started picking up the speed and the more I saw guys coming from behind the more I picked it up. I ended up winning it on the line, but that race literally everything went well! I’m sure most of you have a similar story, regardless of whether it was the world championships or the local derby, we’ve all been in this illusive zone at some point.

max Levy by Jean-Marc Wiesner

But what does it mean to be “in the zone”?

Well the terminology in sport psychology is slightly different and most refer to this “zone” as the IPS (ideal performance state) or peak arousal. Arousal refers to the psychological levels of being awake and ready to react to stimuli. It’s based on instinct or autonomous decision making and the resulted action.

Often this zone lies in an area in between too relaxed and over excited. It’s a fine line to cross either way. Too relaxed is never really a good idea except for more psychological sports like chess or target shooting, but for cycling we need to be highly aroused or pumped up. Of course, only to a point, too much and it also can be negative. Too pumped up means too alert, too angry, etc. and it can easily lead to basically being out of control. Look at some rugby players or boxers!

The ideal is to start and finish at your peak level of arousal; so not starting relaxed and finishing too psyched up, it should be a continuous period in this peak zone to perform at a high level. If we have too many erratic spikes along this period, it’s not good or manageable, and has negative side effects in the long term.

Of course this peak arousal level is highly individual and differs from person to person, some athletes peak zone is more towards the relaxed and others are more towards high levels of arousal, either way both are in an ideal state for their own psyche, not too relaxed and not too psyched up. This state even differs from discipline to discipline; an example is a road rider or time trialist vs a track sprinter or BMX racer. The one has to maintain a stable level for hours, while the other has to activate an extremely high level for a brief period of 15-30 seconds!

Now of course all this knowledge is nice to know, but how is it practical to improving performance in sport?

Well, we are all able to regulate these arousal levels ourselves. This technique is known as self-regulation.

by Rob Ward

Clarifying this ideal state is an individual act, and can be done using a basic criteria below, which you can think about when trying to formulate your own ideal state. In your best performance when you were “in the zone”, how did you act concerning each of these? Try and remember and when you’re in the zone again, take note of it. A good athlete is someone who knows and understands their own mind and body, and knows how to fire it up for peak performance at any given moment.

The 3 factors are:

Attention: what are you focused on at any given moment?

Ideal: being focused on the moment, on controllable factors and only yourself.

Psychological state: the state of mind influencing your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, etc.

Ideal: muscles relaxed and breathing under control.

Behavioural aspects: basically anything that is visible from an external view, i.e.: how you are riding, how your form is looking, etc.

Ideal: confident, purposeful and precise actions toward the goal.

To be in this state, like any practical aspect of sport and life, takes consistent practise and time. If you’re too relaxed, you need to learn how to psyche yourself up, and if you’re too psyched up, you need to learn to calm yourself down.

But how? Well here are some basic tips on how to do it:

Calming yourself down:

  • Rational thinking. Think and focus on the controllable factors that are in place, like your preparation.
  • Take deep breathes to centre yourself.
  • Rub your muscles gently to relax them (if you’re on a big budget you could ask your masseuse, or you could ask your girlfriend)
  • Imagery. Imagine the positive outcome of what your about to do, or imagine any situation that would calm you down (you’ll need to practise this!)
  • Self-talk. Tell yourself vocally to be calm (in a calm way of course!), tell yourself what to do and what you require at this moment, and that is to be calm (again this comes through practise).
  • Music. Put on any music that calms you down and centre yourself.
  • Just relax! Don’t do anything unnecessary that can distract you.

Psyching yourself up:

  • Listen to a motivational talk, from anyone. YouTube is filled with them, or ask your coach or dad. If not, look at the next point.
  • Self-talk. Vocally tell yourself what you require, and that is to be psyched up, scream and shout if you have to!
  • Imagery. Imagine yourself winning and being in the zone, whatever that is! (Again this needs to be practiced).
  • Music. Listen to any music that gets you going! We all have that song!
  • Rational thinking. Think of the controllable factors that are in place, which in this case must be your goals. You’ve done the work, now act on it to achieve them.
  • Get aggressive! Whatever gets you pumped up, do it! Some hit themselves, some jump up and down, whatever it takes.

Jolien d’Hoore

It’s helpful to some to create a pre-race routine. However I’ll address that in a separate article. What’s important to remember about that is it must only be a guideline, and if you use it for racing, it must be used in training as well.

I hope you can see that most of these are very easy to use effectively, but it takes practise and awareness to the task. Being “in the zone”, at peak arousal levels or in the ideal state is a highly individual task, and with consistent practise you can learn to regulate yourself and get into that state at any given time to produce a champion performance!

Be sure to keep a look out for part 2 on this topic, where we will be exploring the details of focus and how it helps you to get into the zone.

Matthew de Freitas

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