"...the biggest limiter is what happens to athletes between their ears; self-confidence."
by Alison Powers, ALP Cycles Coaching
At a recent event, to talk about and grow women's cycling, I was asked what the biggest limiter I see that athletes have to overcome to achieve success. My thoughts went right away to things like; kids, a demanding job, lack of financial resources, living in a place that's challenging to get quality training, etc. But the more I thought about it, I realized motivation can overcome hurdles like these. Schedules can get made, resources found, trips to train can be made. No, the biggest limiter is what happens to athletes between their ears; self-confidence.
Over the past 10 years of coaching, directing, and managing a women's cycling team, I have come to realize that there are 3 types of athletes:
Athlete #1 - The athlete who excels on race day. This athlete works hard and does everything right in training. When it's race day, they bring their 'A' game and rise above their training level. They are ready to perform and have the confidence to do so.
Athlete #2 - The athlete who excels in training. This athlete works hard and "does everything right in training. However, when race day comes, they become a shell of their training level. They lose all self-confidence to succeed and instead focus on not failing.
Athlete #3 - The athlete does not excel. This athlete does not excel in training or racing. They don't have the self-confidence to challenge themself in either training or racing. This athlete is very afraid of failure (and sometimes success) and because of this, they never see their hard work come to fruition.
It would be nice (and easy) if everyone were in the Athlete #1 category. Unfortunately, not many athletes are and these athletes have to really focus on their "headspace" and self-confidence both in the race, before the race, and most importantly, in training both on and off the bike.
As a bike racer, I was often Athlete #1. I brought my best on race day and felt ready to win no matter what the race I entered or how my energy levels were. How did I get to this level of self-confidence? I practiced. During training, I often did things that were out of my comfort zone. I trained my weaknesses (repeated anaerobic efforts, climbs steeper than 10%). I rode with faster people, I rode in the cold, I road in the heat, I road in the morning, I road in the night, I road technical things, I road easy things. If it was something I didn't like or wasn't good at, I forced myself to do it. I did hard and uncomfortable things until soon they became comfortable and "normal". I did mental imagery almost every day. I imagined myself riding smoothly, riding fast, having good legs at the end of the race, overcoming fears of a bunch sprint, holding wheels, moving up through the pack, having confidence on race day, etc. Race days were a chance to show off all my hard work and that got me excited. If something happened, and I failed on race day, while it was a bummer, at the end of the day, it was ok. Failure was a chance to learn and get better for the next race.
If you are reading this and find that you fall into either the Athlete #2 or Athlete #3 category, I encourage you to start working on your self-confidence. You can train as hard as you want to. You can spend all $$ and make the correct sacrifices, but if you don't bring it on race day, it will all be for nothing.
The more you can grow your comfort zone and feel comfortable doing a variety of things, the more confident you will be. Challenge yourself. Challenge your comfort zone. Challenge and fix your weaknesses. Challenge yourself as a cyclist and athlete. Make yourself become better and take that confidence into 2020.