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February 2017

Sport Psychology and Cycling

By | All Articles, Sport Psychology | No Comments

It is said that Cycling is a sport where the winner is the guy who can suffer the most, for the longest period of time – basically, the last man standing – or riding!

If we look at the greats of the sport like eddy Merckx and Tom Simpson, or Jens Voight, or even modern greats like Chris Froome; and how tough they were: hard, persistent, and relentless; some would venture to call them sadistic! These are guys that loved to see their competition suffer and drop from their wheel under the pressure and pain of what they are dealing out to them! It’s a real hard man’s sport, and if you want to be a champion, you have to be able to go through this pain and suffering for longer than anyone else.

If we look at it from a psychological point of view, these characters and the mental will power and sheer will to win is amazing!

Photo: Detlef Uibel

What is sport psychology?

Sports psychology can be defined as the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes involved in sport and specifically athletes; and the tools it provides to help them perform at their peak.

If we look at the competitive cyclist, we train our physical body for hours and hours on the road or mountain; track sprinters even lift huge weights and jump over high boxes in the gym to be able to produce up to 2400 watts – no stone is left unturned in terms of nutrition and recovery; from weighing food portions to massages and stretching, to wind tunnel testing, to the extremes of altitude training and oxygen chambers – it’s all covered. Just have a look at the Team Sky and British Cycling model of marginal gains.

However, when these same athletes are asked the amount of time they spend on mental training, the answers are mumbles of “not much”, “I don’t have enough time”, and “I’ve seen a guy once or twice for that”. Strangely enough when asked what they believe is the relationship between mental and physical in terms of performance, most say more mental than physical, you’ll get answers right up to 90 mental, 10 physical! Afterwards I always find myself thinking, where’s the logic in that?? If they believe so strongly in it, why not train the mind too??

Well, when we look at the available literature, it can be an even split, or right up to 90/10; however it’s a pretty individual thing and even harder to measure. All that’s safe to say is that one cannot go without the other.

Sport psychology can give one the edge, and in the modern era, it’s becoming more and more evident the part mental preparation plays in success – just look at the work Steve Peters and the like have done at British Cycling and Team Sky in their marginal gains campaign.

How does it relate to or benefit cycling

Cycling is a tough and gruelling sport, and performing at ones peak is no easy feat. Jim reeves defines this as “riding at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions”. One can see consistency is an important part in this, and therefore naturally mental toughness. Mental toughness is a group of characteristics that enable an athlete to perform at their best under the toughest circumstances. Some factors included in this are:

Motivation – motivation is everything, without it we won’t be able to get out of bed, let alone train and race at the highest level. Motivation can come from many places, but I think that motivation from inside is the most sustainable and usable type. Motivation should also be based on the effort taken to achieve one’s goals – otherwise it just isn’t real.

Confidence – self-belief and self-confidence that is based on the evidence of the work put in (preparation) and/or past experiences in your ability to achieve your goals is the only type that really matters. Fake and imaginary motivation might help you through a few pedal strokes, but nothing like what it takes to achieve tangible goals in cycling.

Other factors that play a part in mental toughness are the will to dig deep and give your all, control you emotions, remain calm and perform under the pressure of competition. Although these are only a few, there are many more. From this one can see that to perform at one’s peak, especially in a sport like cycling, mental toughness is a necessary characteristic to possess.

Sport psychology comprises of various mental “tools” that can be used to help perform under these circumstances of pressure and that which require the factors of mental toughness, as well as the athletes overall mental framework and overall mental health.

Some of these tools, which are all able to be learned through practice, are goal setting, imagery/visualisation, self-talk, arousal and breathing control; as well as assessing and keeping overall mental health in check (the last one might require the help of a psychologist or mental coach). Jim reeves describes these tools as being in one’s “mental tool box”, they are there when you need them, and you know how to use them.

Another key aspect of cycling is managing one’s effort, all these tools can help with that; the confidence to know when to go hard or back off, and the ability to control emotions under the pressure of competition.

Sport psychology is not only focused the peak performance of an athlete, but the mental health and overall well-being of your life outside of sport. Many professional athletes face disorders like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, etc. because their mental health is not managed outside of sport. Not to mention family and other relationship issues; and other challenges like life after sport (retirement) and dealing with injuries and failure. All these issues need to be addressed; otherwise you’ll be left with an unbalanced athlete, one which at some point will collapse.

At the end of the day though, the real challenge is that the only way one can really measure these concepts (theories as it is in the field of applied psychology), is actually being in the situation of a race, under pressure, and a finish line. So the best way to build these characteristics and become a better athlete is to be continually faced with these situations, get through them, and then assess how one did so.

Burton Witbooi

Psychology specific to disciplines?

Sport psychology in cycling is also quite different across the various disciplines. Such as:

Road: which is a truly endurance sport (just look at the 3 weeks long Grand Tours and other stage races) with its long seasons, and the entire professional era. Road cyclists need to be consistent and have extremely high levels of suffering, as well as confidence.

MTB: which requires even higher concentration, sometimes up to 8 days in the case of the Cape Epic. Downhill is probably the top of the spectrum regarding concentration.

Track & BMX: which is the most intense, a mostly all out sprint which is short and explosive, requiring high levels of focus and arousal, and even higher confidence; probably the most tactical too.

Triathlon: which is at the end of the spectrum of endurance sport, mental adaption and perseverance are important.

You can see that sport psychology is a highly individual tool, and all factors unique to that individual and even to their discipline and riding style within cycling need to be taken into account. What can also be seen is that it can make a huge difference to an athletes overall performance, and possibly tie up all the physical work an athlete has done, so that they can perform at their peak.

If you would like to learn more about the specifics mentioned above, please feel free to follow this blog for more articles on sport psychology relating to cycling! We’ll be focusing on areas like the controllable factors and rational thinking, psychology behind certain races and scenarios, and the tools that can be used.

Cycling is about the freedom of riding your bike, setting and achieving goals, but most importantly having fun!

I’m no expert, just a passionate and competitive cyclist, doing some psychology. Feel free to drop a comment below with any opinion or question.

 

Matthew de Freitas

Welcome to the BLS BLOG!

By | All Articles, Cape Town Lifestyle | No Comments

Welcome to the BLS blog!  We decided to start a blog to share more about the BLS brand with you!  This is the first article and a little welcome and introduction to what you can expect in the future.

 

BLS was founded in 2016 with a simple idea of making high quality products that we couldn’t find in South Africa – specifically to track cycling.  Before we knew it, we were sending our first product, the Velcro toe straps, all over the world!  They even got the attention of some Olympians, and proceeded to be used by our ambassador during her gold medal winning ride in Rio.  We saw an opportunity to grow this into a brand that we wanted to see in the market!  We started developing other innovative products like luggage, and before we knew it, we had clothing, kit and a plan to expand into a global cycling lifestyle brand in 2017.

 

The vision of BLS is to give every cyclist, from Olympian to weekend warrior the means to portray themselves to the world.  Something we feel is very limited in current mainstream brands, and that doesn’t quite fit in the hipster subculture.  We wanted to create a brand that celebrates the performance and achievements of athletes resulting from their dedication and commitment to their personal goals; and to give them the recognition they deserve.  This is where the concept of VeloRacing (road and MTB) and VelodromeRacing (specific to track cycling) came in – serious, competitive, racing cyclists need a way to express themselves as just that: dedicated individuals living a lifestyle acquainted to their goals; not only while on the bike, but throughout their everyday lives.  We want you to sit back and say: “this is who I am” and be proud of it!

Table Mountain, Cape Town. The home of BLS.

There are many blogs out there, but very few giving a unique look at the world from a cycling specific point of view, and even less with you, the competitive racing cyclist, at the forefront!  What you can expect in this blog is:

  •  No hold back opinion pieces covering various topics in cycling
  •  Sport psychology articles specific to cycling
  •  Training and nutrition tips
  •   Stories and interviews from our ambassadors and featured BLS clients (you!)
  •   All with the attractions of our home town: Cape Town, South Africa as the backdrop

 

If you feel this is who you are, or who you want to be; we encourage you to be a part of it!  Join us on this journey of discovery, a journey to the new, and a journey to be great!   It is said that the journey and who you become when chasing to your goal, is more important than achieving the goal itself, so embrace it and share it with us.

A typical weekend coffee stop in Stellenbosch.

Remember to share your stories and photos with us and we could feature it in this blog!  Also don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for daily doses of the BLS cycling lifestyle!

 

Matthew de Freitas

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