Putting it All Together
by Tim Laskis, PhD
The 2018 Thor Winter Olympics (Mini O’s) is almost here. It’s a classic event during Thanksgiving week that brings food, family and racing together. Racers across the country have been training non-stop for this event. My riders at ClubMx have also been preparing to refine their skills in hopes of a win.
Each week I lead a motocross mental performance group. One of my riders recently asked a great question about his struggle to put everything together at big events. He rides well during the week, has good speed, attacks the corners and even has amazing starts. However, he said that many times he shows up at big events and feels like a completely different rider.
He has struggled with poor starts, crashes and overall a lot of mistakes at events where there is a lot of pressure. He and his family spend an enormous amount of time and money and he feels frustrated that top finishes at Loretta’s and Mini O’s has eluded him.
|So, what is the answer? I have three tips that can help you translate practice into top race results.|
My first response to him is that he is not alone. Many riders also suffer from poor results when their training during the week looks as if they could win, but it just doesn’t happen. One of my first questions to him was about his weekly training. How do you feel during the week? He went on to explain that he feels confident and relaxed. Then I followed up with a second question. How do you feel at the races? He responded, “Not very confident and really anxious." He went on to explain that he wants to do well and that he tries very hard.
This was a great opportunity to point out the difference in his mental state depending on where he is riding. While practicing he has little to zero pressure. He is free to just ride and get into the “zone” very easily. He has no pressure and can rip hole shots all day long against some of his training partners. He can pound lap after lap with very few mistakes. But, during race day, all of this changes. He automatically puts an enormous amount of pressure on himself to perform. As a result, his heart rate increases, adrenaline starts rushing into his body, his breathing pattern changes and arm pump sets in. This leads to a slower reaction time, poor decision making and a tight riding style.
All of these physiological issues are not experienced during training. Why? Because you are not in a state of panic or increased pressure to perform. You are relaxed with a lower heart rate, less adrenaline and a normal breathing pattern. This is what you are used to while training. So, what is the answer? I have three tips that can help you translate practice into top race results.
Change how you think. Your brain will either work against you or for you. You must remove any thoughts about big events as being important. You need to show up and believe that it is just a “typical” day of riding with only a few more riders. Do not assign any importance to the event. This will only create a sense of panic. Think about it as just another day where you get to ride and learn. Every day you practice and every gate drop is a learning experience and nothing more. Leave all the thoughts of having to perform and proving yourself behind. You should only focus on the track. Decide where your fastest sections are, where will you set up your passes, what gate would you like and how best to tackle any jumps. That’s it. Never think that you have to prove something and never think about your competition. That is only wasted energy.
Monitor your breathing. Regulating your breathing can help you stay relaxed. It will help to keep your heart rate lower and help protect you against adrenaline dump from being overly anxious. Breathing is often overlooked because it is something that we have done since birth. However, our breathing patterns change when we feel overly anxious. This is a built in mechanism left over from caveman days when we needed to escape from threats. If we encountered a dangerous animal we needed that extra adrenaline to keep us safe. It’s called the fight or flight response. Deep slow breaths filling your lower diaphragm is best to stay relaxed. Breathe in as much as you can through your nose, filling your lower chest cavity. Hold for a second and exhale out through your mouth. Repeat three to five times and you will notice almost an instant change in your emotional state.
Get as many gate drops as possible before big events. Go to smaller races and get in some seat time. Training for months at a time without any gate drops before the big race can put you at a disadvantage. Going to the smaller events can give you a chance to practice your new skills of thinking differently and practice your breathing. When you show up at Mini O’s or Loretta’s you will have a great advantage over the other riders. You will ride more naturally and without anxiety. You will treat it as just another day of training where you are learning. Before you know it you will find yourself on the podium and on your way to reaching your goals.
About the Author: Tim Laskis holds a masters and doctoral degree in clinical psychology from The California School of Professional Psychology. He also graduated with honors from Rutgers University with a bachelors in psychology. In addition to his work as a clinical psychologist, podcast host, professor and author, he works as a Motocross Mental Performance Coach at ClubMX. Since 2014 he has worked with amateur and top pro riders on factory teams in the 250 and 450 classes. He offers individual and group mental performance coaching sessions. Have a question? Email Tim.
Tim developed a NEW online Motocross Mental Performance Coach Certificate Course. This is designed for riding coaches, fitness trainers and parents of riders who want to develop a new arsenal of skills to help their riders reach their goals. Take his free Intro course today! Click here
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.