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Practice vs. Race Mentality

by Coach Seiji


The mental component of sports performance is often overlooked and can have a huge effect on race results. How a rider mentally approaches both training and racing will ultimately add or detract from physical performance. Some mental aspects are identical for training and racing but some are unique to each. The purpose of this article is to briefly touch upon some mental approaches that you can utilize in your training and racing to help you achieve your performance goals.

Many pro riders have said that Kevin Windham was the fastest practice rider they have ever seen. He was pretty fast at racing too!

Practice Mentality
When you are practice riding you should have at least one specific goal for that session and this goal should be centered on a current limiter in your overall riding ability. This goal should be process oriented; this means your efforts should be directed at improving how you ride and your focus should be on how it feels when done correctly.

Example: Your current riding ability limiter is corner entry speed and can even be broken down to specifically using less rear brake. This aspect of riding is limiting your race performance more than anything else. You set out to practice a section of the track that has two turns that are particularly slow for you. Your goal through these turns is to gain entry speed by reducing your rear brake usage. You have someone there timing the sections for you to let you know objectively whether a pass was faster or not and you are working on how the faster passes feel.

Ultimately you will ride those turns in motos to replicate this feel. You have to work for the feel since this is your only real time reference available to you at races. You don’t have a speedometer and you can’t view real time video! Feel is all you have!

Practicing technique is about directing your body striving for perfection. I say striving for perfection because it is impossible to attain but that should be the goal. When you “miss,” you review what you did so you know what to correct. You have specific mental images or sets of commands that you want to execute to perfection. You want to repeat these so that they become engrained so that in the future you can execute them automatically without direction or thought. You are actively making the riding happen correctly.

Race Mentality
Mentally approaching a race is similar to the practice mentality in the broad sense that you are focusing on process oriented goals. Again, you want to put your mental energy into how you ride. You will have results oriented goals but while racing you should limit your concern to things you can actually control, which is how you ride. Much of the race result will be determined by how others ride; you have exactly ZERO control over that so you should avoid putting any energy there.

Your process oriented goals for racing should be broad and include your strengths; this will allow for riding by feel and the race will become a series of reactions (NOT specific directed movements). Perfection is NOT a goal; riding your race and staying in that moment is!

Example: It’s race day! Practice has gone well over the past few weeks and entry speed is improving. Although you wouldn’t call it your strength, you know what it feels like to enter corners with speed. Your endurance is as high as ever; you are confident as usual that at the end of the motos you will be picking off a lot of guys as they start to struggle.

Your process goals for the race are to carry momentum everywhere and charge the entire moto. The first goal will help your current limiter but it isn’t so specific that it sets up “directed” riding. The second goal is your strength and adds to your confidence. You know you are not striving for perfection here. You are just here to race. You are letting correct riding happen.

If the mental approach to the race is done correctly then racing becomes a series of reactions and not directed movements. Your broad process goals allow you to focus on feel of good speed and the knowledge that you will be strong at the end of the motos carries you and fills you with confidence. You are racing in your own world; you only care about making your riding feel right. You spend no mental energy on how other are riding since you can’t control them at all. You are racing! Let all your work and skills come out! LET IT HAPPEN!

Mental skills deserve attention just like physical skills. How much of your ultimate race result to you attribute to the mental side of riding and racing? 10%? 20%? 30%? How much of your training time do you devote to mental skills? Give the mental skills the work and time they deserve and you will be rewarded with better results, guaranteed!

About the Author: Seiji Ishii is the head coach of provides online coaching and personal training services to motorsports athletes. Coach Seiji has worked with both pros and elite amateurs including: Heath Voss, Ryan Clark, Austin Stroupe, PJ Larsen, Hunter Hewitt, Drew Yenerich, Rusty Potter, Jason Anderson, and Andrew Short. Learn more at or contact Coach Seiji directly.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Logan287 February 09, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I have a full time job and one of my biggest worries is injuring myself on the jumps. I can't afford to hurt myself but they are the thing I need to work on most to keep up with others. Any tips on mental preps or on jumps to help me move up a level.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer February 10, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Same as the other comment....practice, practice, practice and start off small. Do the same jump over and over slowly building each time. The only way to conquer a fear is to keep doing the thing that causes the fear over and over again until you are comfortable.

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