Mental Training

Mental Training

Stay in the comfort zone or strive to go further?

by Jennifer Sharp, ALP Cycles Coaching

ALP Coach Jennifer Sharp was in Colorado Springs this week coaching the USA Cycling Talent ID Mountain Bike Camp. While there, she was asked a question by a young athlete that spurred this blog post. 

A young athlete asked me recently: “So, do I just need to lay it all out there and go faster on the downhills?”

I thought to myself, pretty much, this is mountain biking after all. But I knew better than to just say that. This was a perfect coaching opportunity, to help her strive to her potential. And her question was loaded – requiring more than just a yes or no. She was tentative on the descents, coming in at the back of the pack during our single track session. Rather then letting her brakes go she would skid out on the loose scree, making it harder on herself and for anyone behind her.

“Well, were you out of your comfort zone?” I asked.

“Yes, all the time. It’s like I have two voices. One telling me I need to be careful, that I could hurt myself. The other tells me that it won’t be that bad and that I should hang it out there,” she responded.

My suspicion is that she listened to the voice telling her to be careful more often then not. So much so that she was limiting her potential. 

“Have you hurt yourself going downhill?”

“I have crashed a couple of times. But nothing really serious like some of the other girls.”

Our conversation continued and I asked more questions, trying to get a sense of what really was behind her first question. Being a young athlete, whether in actual age or new to the sport, can be humbling. Sure you may have surpassed your friends that recreationally dabbled in the cycling, which quite honestly, is most people. But once you put yourself in an environment where you really see how you stack up against your peers and come in the back of the pack, you feel like you’re back to square one. The skills you mastered to get ahead of most people are just the tip of the iceberg and an eye opening experience.

When you’re faced with the reality of whether or not you want to take your sport to the next level, do you embrace it and strive to go further? Or are you comfortable with staying right where you are? Coming to terms and asking ourselves this question is something we all must ask ourselves in our journey as athletes.

In a sport with great risk for injury and potentially death, this risk factor is the unspoken language we all feel. Do we sit comfortably on our couch and hope we don’t die from boredom or do we get out and live? And if we choose to live, how do we manage those fears that keep us from living the lives we truly want to live? Or to be the athlete we want to be?

As an athlete, I’ve found positive self-talk keep those doubtful monsters at bay. I’ve found what works for me of when and how to use it, especially when I’m out of my comfort zone. It could be when you’re climbing, descending, cornering, in a pack, out in the wilderness on single track – where ever you find yourself listening to the battle between those little voices in your head. As rational as they may seem at times, you will at some point need to turn them off and just move your body.

Back to that young athlete…

“Tonight, before you go to bed, visualize yourself going downhill and pushing yourself. Not the self you are now, but the self you want to be. And tell yourself that you are better, faster, stronger. The dream downhill descender. See yourself practicing perfectly, floating above obstacles, looking to where you want to be, moving effortlessly. The more you can practice in your mind, the more you can apply it to the trail.”

She was quiet, I could tell she was thinking about something. I let it sink in and then added, “Practice in your mind how you want to perform and the rest will follow. Cycling is about the process.”

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jen sharp - alp cycles coachingJennifer Sharp, a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach, started racing in 2004 as a means to fulfill her competitive itch. Previously a national level boxer, she grew tired of getting hit in the head and decided to pound the pedals instead. She bought a pink Kona road bike completing several recreational rides and found herself passing as many people as possible. Since then she has multiple podiums at elite track national championships, master track national championship titles and world cup finishes under her belt.

Jennifer, a Seattle native, joins the ALP Cycles Coaching with a background in road and track. Her experience as a USA ParaCycling team tandem pilot, part-time work at USA Cycling in the Coaching Education Department and love for all things cycling is a welcomed addition to the ALP Cycles Coaching team.

About ALP Cycles Coaching

ALP Cycles Coaching is located in the mountains of Colorado, and is a cycling coaching company with over 25 years of professional sports experience. ALP Cycles Coaching is unique in that we have 4 coaches, Alison Powers, Jennifer Triplett, and Patricia Schwager who each brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. We work together to create a training plan that works for each and every person. Visit them online at