You know how important it is to be physically ready for your race. But mental preparation is just as important and is something many riders overlook.
In this article, Dr. Andrew Lewis offers insights into the aspects of effective mental preparation before, during and after a race.
In sport, as with life in general, proper preparation prevents poor performance. Typically, in sport, preparation refers to physical preparation – skills training, strength and endurance – with a small amount of time being spent on mental preparation. Mental preparation typically gets the short end of the stick as it is often viewed as incidental and a less important skill to develop. The purpose of mental preparation is to create a mindset that lets you consistently perform to your abilities and talents in practice and competition and is typically done before, during and afterwards. This helps you achieve a focused, confident and trusting mindset to compete at your maximum level pre-, during and post-competition.
Before The Race
Pre-performance mental preparation can take place days and even weeks before the competition and can consist of concentration and focusing; relaxation and visualization exercises; scoping out and mentally preparing for the venue where the competition will be taking place — either physically or virtually — and even practicing maintaining your composure under pressure. Some further components of your pre-competition routine may include:
- Focusing on the here-and-the-now and not solely on the outcome of the race.
- Taking time to analyze different situations that you may face.
- Reviewing your strategy and goals
- Envisaging yourself executing your ride with success and confidence.
- Listening to music or performing other rituals that prepare and help you transition into the mindset of a competitive cyclist.
- Checking your equipment and making sure everything is in working order and fits comfortably.
- Meeting with a teammate, coach or Sport Psychologist to review your strategy.
During The Race
Even when taking part in a race, mental preparation comes into play. Following your strategy and goals, yet also being flexible to any changes is important in being mentally prepared for anything that may crop up. Maintaining focus and concentration for which you have prepared, even given distractions, can mean the difference of being able to finish the race successfully, avoiding an injury or fall; or even gaining a place on the podium.
After The Race
Post-race mental preparation is just as important as the other two and should ideally become part of your mental preparation routine. Reflecting on your performance can mean that you enter the next competition building on your past performance. Asking yourself what worked in your previous race, and even what you would have done differently all contribute to preparing for flow between competitions. Post-race mental preparation allows you:
- To revisit your goals.
- To learn how to refocus when being distracted before or during a competition.
- How to let go of slip-ups, learn from them and have a greater depth of confidence for future races.
- Consistently build and trust in your skills from practice into competition.
- To constantly practice how to mentally prepare for a competition.
In parting, Benjamin Franklin said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” I agree with this pronouncement and in sport, preparation is vital, especially the mental side thereof. Allowing mental preparation to become an integral part of your sport can make a meaningful difference…try it and see.
About Dr Andrew Lewis
Andrew Lewis is a Health Professions Council of South Africa (SA) and Health and Care Professions Council (UK) registered Educational Psychologist with rooms in Stellenbosch and Somerset West. With a post-graduate qualification in Sport Psychology, he works with individual athletes and teams who compete at all levels―national and international; and those who compete for pleasure. Andrew also collaborates with institutions and schools and publishes Sport Psychology- and Educational Psychology-related articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, newspapers and popular magazines. He also presents Sport Psychology workshops to other health professionals and athletes; as well as scientific papers at international and national conferences. Andrew also has an extensive sporting background and understands the demands and pressures of competitive sport―himself competing in the Ironman triathlon. Andrew is currently a senior-lecturer at the University of the Western Cape and was also a senior-lecturer at Stellenbosch University and the University of South Africa for 19 years where he trained Educational Psychologists and teachers; lectured students and conducted research. He also taught at two primary schools for 5 years.
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