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Inside the Helmet

by David Amato CSCS, NSCA-CPT,

The beauty of organized racing is that we have the opportunity to put up our best performance against all others. Everyone has the same goal. Everyone wants to get to that finish line first. Seems simple, but it ends up being so complex.

Winning truly is fun, and I have never met anyone who didn’t like it when they won. Nice things happen when we win. People congratulate you, maybe people you don’t even know. The crowd cheers for you! At that all too brief moment in time, you have the honor of putting your personal stamp on the field, having out ridden everyone else. You set the standard.

However, when we don’t take that top position, which applies to all but one person in the race, what happened? How did it work out that way? What are the causes? Well, given the variables that we can’t always control, like the bike, the track, the competition, any number of things can go awry. Sometimes, though, it’s good to look inside our heads to see if there is anything we can do better. After all, most of us have the ability to control our own thoughts. Developing what goes on inside your helmet is a great way to improve your racing.

Motocross takes more than just skill and detemination. Mental toughness is one of the most important ingredients.

As a coach, I have seen well prepared athletes fall short of where they want to be in the results even when everything is finely tuned. Everything, that is, except that one all-important thing: their mind. This article is, thus, about presenting you with some mental tactics that can help put your energy where it can best be used and hopefully help you seize that sweet victory.

So moving right along, and in the absence of any technical psychological terminology, here are some tactics that make for racing success.

A racing season will undoubtedly have its high points and low points. Sometimes widening the view can get you through the low points.

One quick note: I want to point out that every athlete is unique and different. If you feel that you are already dialed in on your mental race strategy, then by all means stick with what you are doing. Your game plan is working. But if you are open-minded, you can always incorporate some or all of this coach’s suggestions.

Realize That You are in Charge

When an athlete recognizes the fact that they control their emotions and their actions, good things can happen.

Be Ready to Line up With the Next Ricky Carmichael

I am always perplexed when I hear a racer say, “I just wasn’t ready for the level of competition out there….” Interpreting a statement like this suggests to me that we must have underestimated the competition. If we asked ourselves the question, “Will all the other racers roll over and not put up a fight?” I think we would all know that the answer is no, they would not. Therefore, we should always make sure to bring our best to the line, each and every race. Our ensuing actions should then be to do what it takes to get amply pumped up to go out there and race and not hold anything back. Look to make your riding flow. That way you are starting the race fully loaded and ready to do battle.

Don't Wait for the Big Races to Hone Your Craft

Every race is a chance to sharpen your race craft. You don’t have to wait for the big races to develop your “A” game. With our senses fully alert, and our bodies ready to wage the competitive war on the field, our brains will send the signals to our muscles to act and react without hesitation. Many times an athlete’s perceived exertion level of a given race is lower if their initial perception is that it is going to be a difficult challenge. An example that you have probably witnessed is when the winning rider getting interviewed looks like he or she could have done more laps while the rest of the riders all but collapse at the line.

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Push Through the Event and Evaluate After

What do you do in the middle of the battle? Recall your mindset in the middle of a race. Are you thinking about the uncontrollable variables or are you focusing and getting zeroed in on what exactly you have to do? I like to encourage my athletes to let themselves focus on the moment, instead of conducting some kind of real-time race analysis and evaluation. You will do much better to let your energy be expended on performing racing actions. “Racing actions” are those things we do in the race, like jumping, cornering, controlling the bike and passing opponents. Evaluating how you are doing includes things like looking around and taking notice of where you are and where certain other racers are too. This is probably not the best place for your attention. Maybe your top rival is behind you. Great – does it really matter? Although knowing your position in the race may help some riders gain momentum, for others it may start to interfere with their ability to race well. Realize that shifting your focus away from your racing actions and onto what someone else is doing can compromise your abilities through lack of attention.

If you think about it, would you expect to do your best at something giving it only half your attention? Even the self-proclaimed masters of multi-tasking would probably not expect this. So once again, push through the entire event and evaluate after all is said and done.

Manage Your Mental Energy

In a multiple heat, moto or race day, you need to manage your mental energy as well as your physical energy. For example, when we are hard on ourselves and dwell on a performance that wasn’t quite up to par, we essentially lower ourselves into a mental deficit. When we do fall into a mental deficit, we have to climb our way back up, spending valuable energy just to get to a neutral point. Those around you as well will be essentially dragged through the mud. Racing is exciting and thrilling. It can put excitement and awe into anyone who is around it. That can lead to a gravitational pull towards you from potential sponsors and fans regardless if you are pro or amateur.

Here is a great thought. There will always be dirt to race on. What I mean is that we can always look forward to the next race. A racing season will undoubtedly have its high points and low points. Sometimes widening the view can get you through the low points.

Finally, going through intense race situations and handling them has a tempering or strengthening effect on racers. Experience can always be an asset. Good experiences are a great asset. So why not prepare for each race like it is an AMA National? Why not let yourself focus on what you need to do in a race and executing race actions as best you can? Why not always assume you are going to have to fight for every place you get and show up to the starting line 100% ready to go?

Take charge and go get it!

About the Author: David Amato brings 20 years of coaching experience, knowledge of training principles and managing athletes to the sport of motocross and motorcycle road racing. He trains racers from the professional and amateur levels. Along with his coaching experience of swimmers at the NCAA Division I college level, top age-group and professional triathletes and amateur cyclists, David is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

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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