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March 2017

The controllable vs the uncontrollable: what you think matters

By | All Articles, Sport Psychology | No Comments

In any sport, and specifically a highly tactical, complex and unpredictable sport like cycling, there are many factors that culminate towards an outcome. Some factors play a bigger role than others, but all play a unique role in the eventual outcome, whether that be success or failure.   The way we interpret and think about the role these factors play is crucial to our performance in training as well as racing.

If you really look at it, success is not the result of one big thing done right, but many small things done right; and failure is not the result of one big thing done wrong, but many small things done wrong. To say we fail or succeed because of one factor is delusional, and even more so when so many of them are totally out of our control. We cannot predict a result because of one single factor either, for example hard work.   Yes – it is of paramount importance, but if success was the direct result of hard work, we may as well hand in our training diaries on race day and leave the race all together! We forget about tactics, equipment, opposition, mental preparation, nutrition, weather, etc. – it all comes together to form an outcome. In fact, the unpredictability of these factors and the result as a whole is what makes sport so beautiful!

Burton Witbooi at the Bellville Velodrome with his Velodrome bag

We tend to get two types of riders who each interpret these factors very differently:

The one is focused on the things he can’t control and all the ways it can go wrong, and to what extent. For example, on a windy day – he’ll focus on the wind, if he get a puncture – he’ll focus on the puncture, and if the opposition breaks the record – he’ll focus on the opposition. They are easily distracted from their own performance, to the factors around them out of their control.

The other is focused on his own performance, what he has done (preparation), and how well he has done it. For example, on a windy day – he’ll focus on the fact that everybody has to ride in the same wind, if he gets a puncture – he’ll fix it and put it behind him, and if the opposition breaks the record – he’ll think rationally about it, i.e. the conditions must be conducive to breaking records.

Milan san Remo 2017

Which one do you think wins?

Which of the two above riders won is not the point, as the factors involved in the outcome are far too many to mention, from experience, to luck, to simply who is the best on the day. The real issue is who will get the best out of themselves, and who will handle the outcome better regardless of what it is. The way the rider interprets and thinks of the factors involved is directly related to that.

Let’s discuss those two riders:

The first rider was focused on the uncontrollable factors. He was easily distracted, and this could be due to lack of mental skills, inexperience, pressure, etc. As soon as something from outside of himself played a role in some way, he shifted his attention to that. He took something small and insignificant and blew it out of proportion. These factors include the weather, officials, mechanical issues, the opposition, and even team mates. The scary part about this, it’s so easy to forget about ourselves and focus on them! We see it even in the world tour and Olympic Games!   Look at the mind games athletes’ play before a big competition, or when riders complain about the weather in a race. Yes, sure, these factors can play a big role in the eventual outcome, but if we can’t change it, why waste energy focusing on it? When we do, results become inconsistent, the true impact of training becomes less and often we start to lose focus of what really matters, our own performance relating to our own personal goals (the controllable factors).

The second rider was focused on the controllable factors, i.e. himself, his own preparation, his own metal space and his own personal goals. These factors include his equipment, nutrition, mental preparation, training, tapering and recovery, sleep, etc. The thought of the outside world did not cross his mind. He knew that he had absolutely no influence on it; at best he could play an influencing role (the market in business terms), but it’s so minimal that the effort to do so would be a waste. So he focused his attention on where it mattered, and where it could actually make a difference. Look at the marginal gains model of British Cycling and Team Sky, focus on what you have control on and get the most improvement there, the rest will sort itself out.

Steve Peters Chimp Paradox was built on this type of thinking. Focus on what matters and what can be changed, and think rationally about it – manage your inner chimp!

Helena Cesr by Fransis Mersiy in Ghent

If the above makes sense, you’ll see that goals should always be process first, and then outcome based. By outcome I mean the end result, either win or lose, and by process I mean by the way you played the game.

Outcome goals should only serve as a means for direction and motivation, but for an individual race, it should be process, and doing what you do right, and the best you can.   As Grantland Rice once said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”.

A golfer has to learn to enjoy the process of striving to improve. That process, not the end result, enriches life.”  ― Bob Rotella

The result of all of the above mentioned: the outcome actually doesn’t matter! Or at least the way we tend to look at it – who won or lost. Rather, it’s the rider who did his best and came closest to their true potential, who improved the most from who he once was, and the one who can walk away in the same way he came in, regardless of the result. In humility and with satisfaction if they won, and without regret and disappointment (okay a little disappointment is fine if they played their best and worked hard, but it mustn’t take over their entire view of the race) if they lost.

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. – John Wooden

So after all this, I hope you can see the difference your thoughts make in a situation. How you think and what you think about, and to what extent you allow it to – can make you win or lose, by getting as close to your best as possible, but more than that – it can help you after that, in training, to the next race, and the one after that, and in life.

Matthew de Freitas

Why too much talent can be your worst enemy

By | All Articles, Sport Psychology | No Comments

I’ve seen many talented riders, as young as 15 or 16, burst onto the cycling scene with early results promising a bright future in the sport; all because of not much more than their natural God given talent. However, strangely enough so many of them fade away shortly afterwards and are never heard of again.   Years later you’ll hear the old crowed asking “what happened to that kid?”, or “now that was a wasted talent”. Other words you’ll hear are “pressure”, “burn out”, etc.

On the other hand, you’ll also see many guys struggle and grind away on the average path for years and years (10,000 hours if you’re a Gladwell fan) before only starting to get a sniff of success; and sometimes they even end up beating the more talented athlete. They have very little natural talent and have to work much harder than their fellow talented athletes, for it they’ll get praised for their perseverance, hard work and continuous improvement when they too come out on top.

Of course, here comes the age old question of nature vs nurture.

Well I’m not going to get into that today, as the literature in favour of both sides is as long as Mont Ventoux, and is nowhere near getting decided on, but instead I’ll give more of an overview of the original question and issues that arise from that.

Koenesen training at the Bellville Velodrome

Why failure and hard times are necessary?

Anyone who has ever gone through a hard time or failure will know, once you’ve gone through it and come out the other side, you’re so much stronger, wiser and experienced than before. You learn more and it equips you for life in a much better way than success ever can. The lesser talented athlete is forced to work harder, get through more failure than the early bloomer. This in turn builds their character, gives them confidence and self-belief, and experience no money can buy. Through this initial period of hard work and persistence towards success, if the athlete can get through it and not give up, it equips them so much more for the future.   They are often more respected because of it, and have a far more humble attitude. It’s also much easier to fail and learn from it at a lower level or younger age, than at a high level and more mature age; there’s less pressure, often the ego hasn’t fully developed, and they are still doing it purely for the love of it – recovery is much easier. If an athlete never fails in the beginning, and miserably at that, they never learn how to fail, they never learn how to learn from failure, and they never learn how to accept it. Many a guru and motivational speaker will speak of this, and they’re all right – one thing that every champion has in common is failure. It is one of the crucial steps along the ladder to success. If you don’t experience it early, it could be your end when it does eventually come your way.

UCI para world track champsionships

Why some quit?

Unfortunately, many kids give up and quit the sport at a young age, before ever even getting close to their true potential.   Some just aren’t that into it, and that’s okay, you can’t force someone to love a sport and dream bigger, some just don’t have it, or some find it in something else. That’s all perfectly fine. I think now’s a perfect time to mention something: parents should never try live their own dreams through their kids!

Of these athletes, the less talented might give up due to early failure because they fail to persist. The more talented early bloomers might choose to quit after their initial success, as once the high settles it’s a bit of an anti-climax, the hard training to go to the next level is too hard, they get distracted by other things, or they get lazy because they don’t understand what training is and how it works. They might go to the next level, but the athletes there are too much for them, and they simply can’t handle the pressure and failure; all because they’ve never experienced it. Often you’ll also find these early bloomers don’t take latter amazing opportunities when presented to them. Why? Fear of failure is the obvious, fear of the pressure, etc.

I think now’s a good a time as any for a personal confession: I don’t respect someone who doesn’t take an amazing opportunity when it’s presented to them for pretty much any reason, or who always make excuses for their performance (I’ve dubbed this the “excuse syndrome” and think an article on this at some point might be good!), and bring other unrelated issues into their performances. The reason to follow…

I think when you look at all of this; there are 2 types of athletes, and the 2 paths they tend to take to success:

  • The early bloomer who builds on their success, but still value hard work and the reward thereof, and at some point in their development stage learns the significance of failure.  They are able to use their early success and talent, couple it with hard work, and achieve their goals.
  • Then you’ll get the athlete with lesser talent, who has to work harder than their counterparts right from the get go, learn to get through and value failure from an early age, and uses their experience of that to achieve their goals.

Of the above mentioned 2 athletes, I think the question of who wins at the end of the day, or who is the better athlete and person, is not the correct question. What we should draw from the above is that the Individual goals of athletes, and to transcend one’s own unique circumstances are more important than simply winning. As through this personal journey is how one’s character, winning mind set and overall outlook of the sport are formed. The aspects of mental toughness and personal growth are developed. But most importantly, the preparation for success in later life, not only in sport, takes place.

So, the answer to my personal confession above: everyone goes through tough times, everyone experiences failure, everyone has to work exceptionally hard, and being an Olympic champion or even reaching your athletic potential is by no means easy! Look at all the great athletes: on the track, the likes of Anna Mears, Josiah ng, Vicky Pendleton spring to mind, then there’s Graeme Obree, the brutal training regimes of the great Eddy Merckx, and just recently I heard of local South African rider Willie Smit’s path to becoming African Champ. All these athletes transcended their unique circumstances on their own path and came out on top. A more blunt way of putting it, they get over whatever or whoever is in their path, and do whatever it takes to be successful!

Kristina Vogel at the UCI track world cup in LA

Being a champion isn’t easy! If it were, everyone would be one, and it wouldn’t be special at all. Champions are born with a great inner-conviction to be their best, but most importantly, they act on this conviction with perseverance towards their own goals and get through anything that comes across their path. Of course, not everyone has this, and that’s okay!

This is not only applicable to Olympic champions or pro-tour riders, but to everyone. If you can transcend your own circumstances, and come out as a better athlete than you started, as close to your athletic potential as you wish; and most importantly be satisfied with your own progress and the person you’ve become while doing so, then you win! You are a champion! Cycling isn’t about being the best, it’s about having fun, the freedom of the road, and associating with the history of this incredible sport – saying “this is who I am” – a cyclist!

 

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves

  • Viktor Frankl

So back to Olympic champion or pro-tour rider: what is the recipe for success?

Well, it has to be talent, early failure that can be learnt from, character, loads of hard work and perseverance, and a deep inner conviction to be the best. We must also not forget the importance of a good support network and resources, but that’s not the topic today!

To me, the most dangerous athlete (and person for that matter) is someone who is born average, with a fear of staying average.

So can early success and talent overload be your worst enemy? Yes, ironically, success itself can kill an athlete with the best chances of it.

Can you make a champion? Yes, you have to be born with the genetics, and they are necessary, but circumstances and environment determine your mind set and path towards it. The bottom line – a champion transcends their unique circumstances and becomes the best they can be! Whether that’s an Olympic champion or finishing the coffee shop ride on a Sunday morning. You are your own champion!

Some advice: when you get a talented athlete, teach them about hard work, the importance of learning from failure, and staying humble. When you get a lesser talented athlete: teach them to persist, not give up, and learn from their failure. Build their character and self-confidence. Often the longer path to success, is the better path; the longer the initial building phase, the higher the peak of their success.

 

Note: no bias towards either nature or nurture. I think most will agree both are necessary, one without the other won’t get you very far at all…

 

Matthew de Freitas

The Cape Town Cycling Culture

By | All Articles, Cape Town Lifestyle | No Comments

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, by Owen Lloyd.

It’s Argus week here in Cape Town, and what better way to bring it in than with a little look into what makes this place so special!

 

There are many great cities that claim to have a unique cycling culture; from San Francisco to New York, to Europe’s Amsterdam and Copenhagen, to Melbourne, and up to Hong Kong – the list goes on. Cape Town is no different with its very own culture, and I think you’ll all agree (if you don’t you haven’t been here yet), it’s simply on another level compared to the for-mentioned! I mean, just look around at the sea, the mountains and the rolling hills, filled with the historic buildings and stories of ages gone by, all mixed with interesting characters you’ll meet along the way – it doesn’t get any better! Now before you bring me the results of the G20, or Q20 or whatever it’s called – I’m not simply referring to whose got the most cycle lanes, or the most laws protecting cyclists (although we’re at the forefront there too), but all the little things that add up to make the entire package that makes it an unforgettable riding experience!

The roads in the cape winelands

Cape Town is the home and inspiration base of BLS. Personally I was born, raised, and pedalled my first revolutions here in the northern suburbs. My first road rides happened on the roads surrounding Stellenbosch, and my first track experience was on the Bellville Velodrome. From an early age, I knew this is a special place, and with the love of cycling, grew the love for this place.

 

If you’ve been here, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and most likely reminiscing about your fond memories. If not, you’re wondering what’s all the fuss about right?? Well let me tell you what makes this place so great, and why it’s a must visit, and a perfect place to get a few shades more golden, for any cyclist.

The view from Chapmans Peak in Hout Bay

I’ll start off with the roads, as any cyclist knows, we’re always looking for the perfect roads – or Strava KOM’s for that matter (I think an article on the best roads and Strava segments in Cape Town is a must!), and there’s no shortage here! From the ride around the world renound peninsula that could give Monaco a good go (the route of Cape Town Cycle Tour route that 35,000 riders will be doing this very weekend), to inner city riding on a fixed gear down the insanely steep cobbled streets of the Bo-kaap, to the rolling hills of the wine lands surrounding Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, to the climbs of the surrounding mountains; and that’s only on tar; Cape Town is home to some of the best mountain bike trails in the world (just watch the Cape Epic or Wine2Wales)!   Along with this is 450km of cycle lanes and a strategy by the city to get more and more people commuting. It’s also home to the Bellville Velodrome, currently the only indoor Olympic standard velodrome in Africa, and choice of Team GBR for their summer training camps; and Paarl track, which hosts the oldest running track event in the world, Boxing Day sports featuring the 25 mile. I don’t think you’ll easily find a combination of all of these in one city! The sheer natural beauty of the surrounds is absolutely breath-taking, Table Mountain, coastlines, sunsets, rolling hills, historic building and monuments – it simply has to be seen to be believed!   It’s no wonder that Team Di-data and many national teams choose this for their off-season training camps.

The Sea Point promenade

Cape Town is also home to some of the best coffee shops and restaurants in the world. Cyclists tend to be coffee snobs (don’t even try to let your cappuccino-sipping persona deny it), and as every cyclist knows (could only be me and my sprinting buddies, but I’ll generalise this one time), a coffee stop is an essential part of any ride, and Cape Town surely won’t disappoint. On literally every corner of every town or suburb, there’s a local guy roasting his own take on the age old drink for your judgment, coupled with some French inspired pastries. Although some places tend to not like the descent of a group of cyclist into a coffee shop and complain about the bikes and the noise and the good looks – he he (I think this is a worldwide phenomenon though . . .), they soon get over it and embrace us; as I mean, who doesn’t like cyclists?? A whole lot of places even offer a discount or special deal for cyclists (those that don’t – take note!!).

 

Now once you’ve had your coffee and refreshed after your ride, it’s time to get serious! Cape Town is also home to some awesome craft breweries and world renound wineries. A beer or wine tasting tour is an absolute must when visiting (or a typical weekend for a local, although we don’t so much taste as we drink!). There are also some world class restaurants to choose from, most with a view to match! It’s genuinely a place that fulfils the lifestyle of a cyclist – good roads to train on, good coffee to drink and good food to eat!

The streets of Stellenbosch

When you’re not on the bike, there are literally a million and one things to do and see; from hiking and other adrenalin pumping activities (tough choice after a ride though), to exploring the history in the museums and monuments, to tours through the many natural wonders. There are also loads of awesome cycling shops each with their own unique vibe and ex-pro to tell you countless stories about the old days. It’s also only a short drive from other amazing parts of the Western Cape like the west coast, garden route, whale coast, Cederberg mountain range, and more (you can Google the rest!).

 

Now, I know you’re thinking, this guy is biased, a local, come on it can’t be that great right?? You’re right – I mean I haven’t even mentioned the girls from around here; damn they’ll literally make your eyes pop out and can give any European podium girl a good run for her money (or her bottom as Peter Sagan would suggest)! HA HA, Well yes, as with any city it’s got its bad points, it’s a terrible place to be in winter with rain and rain, and a little more rain; the wind howls in summer like Team Sky is doing wind tunnel testing, and sometimes it gets a little crowded. But seriously though, the bad points are only a little golf ball dimple on a Zipp 808 compared to what this place has to offer. Not only that, but filled with friendly people (sometimes the guys in the Southern Suburbs don’t wave back, but we forgive them anyway) and an all-round great vibe! Did I mention the Rand? You’ll get a good R13 for one of your dollars (guys from Gauteng are laughing as they also use the Rand!), so along with all I’ve mentioned, an affordable destination too! It’s a place guaranteed to leave you with stories to tell and feelings you won’t forget!

Common weekend group ride

So to draw to a close, I think if you’re lucky enough to be a local, well done, you win at life bru! If your travel bug is jumping around in your belly, and you feel that inkling to ride your bike in another part of the world – come on over, and bring the bike, take some Instagram shots or even a story, and have the time of your life!

 

I like to think visitors will feel the same way I felt when I landed in New York for the first time – absolutely in awe of where I am!

 

If you’re riding this weekend, good luck and have a blast!

 

Note: If you have a coffee shop that is cycling friendly and would like to feature in a future article, contact us.

 

Matthew de Freitas

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