Face your fears

Overcome mental blocks and perform better

Scared man

After a successful winter’s training it’s suddenly time to turn that commitment and hard work into performances. But is something getting in the way? 

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Facing up to your fears is necessary if you are to turn in the perfect early season performance and pave the way to a successful season.

The term ‘mental block’ is probably overused, but essentially it describes a situation in which your anxiety rises to such a level that it hinders successful performance. Whatever your riding discipline, blocks can develop either gradually over time or suddenly – most commonly due to a dramatic incident. 

For example, the time trial rider who’s had three disappointing 100s in a row could start to convince themselves that they can’t ride a successful 100 in the future, gradually developing a blockage to turning in a successful performance. 

For a downhill mountain biker, a serious crash can lead to the sudden acquisition of a block, preventing 100 per cent commitment to a descent when facing similar challenges again.

While a raised anxiety level – essentially being afraid of a situation – is natural, it can be unhelpful so it needs to be controlled. The sweaty palms, raised heart rates and negative thoughts are all signs that many of us would recognise from situations that we’re uncomfortable in. The key to controlling this anxiety comes from stepping back and looking objectively at the situation. Below are some suggestions on how you might face your start-of-season fears and overcome them.

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Removing the blocks

  • If you’re feeling that you can’t perform in a certain discipline, write down on a piece of paper the reasons why you believe you’re unable to perform. Next to that list, make a new one of the reasons why you can perform. These are likely to be factors such as the training you’ve put in, the fact that performers you know you’re better than can do it, or the fact that you know you can do harder things than this. Focus on your strengths and you’ll quickly see that the positives outweigh the negatives.
  • Prior to riding, use motivating music to distract your thoughts away from the negative comments you often make to yourself in times of stress.
  • Practise riding successfully in your mind, by visualising yourself performing well in the type of situations you’re nervous about. Don’t just do it once, but run through the routine a number of times leading up to the performance.
  • Build yourself up to overcome the block by planning a training and competition programme that enables you to achieve a series of small steps towards the block. Steadily building your confidence about your ability will mean you can remove the block when the time comes.