One of the most pervasive questions facing psychology researchers, as with many other branches of science, concerns the degree to which a particular outcome is due to nature, and the extent to which it is the result of environmental factors.
The nature/nurture debate has been central to schools of thought about human existence for millennia – are our skills learned through experience or a result of our genes? It’s worth thinking about the implications of this debate for you and your riding.
If you subscribe to the nurture argument, the key to being a successful rider is to grow up and live in a conducive environment for riding. Familial support is a key issue, especially for sports as potentially time-consuming as competitive cycling.
Other key environmental factors could include access to good quality equipment and facilities (a factor often associated with socioeconomic prosperity), access to high-level coaching and team support factors. This final factor has been associated with the recent rise of the GB track riders, where the building of the Manchester Velodrome, coupled with the Lottery-funded coaching structure, has turned British riders into serious world challengers. Those who argue that our prowess on the bike is all down to environmental factors say that the ‘raw material’ of our bodies and minds plays little or no part in determining whether we are successful.
Those proponents of the ‘nature’ perspective argue that it is this raw material that really determines success. The genetics of muscular structure, height, cardiovascular capacity, coupled with the innate psychological qualities such as motivation and effective ability to control anxiety levels are what ‘build’ champions according to this school of thought.
If either position was right, then I believe there would be little point in most of us getting on the bike to strive for success. If nurture is all, then being a long way from some decent hills, having no money to buy a new top-of-the-range bike and struggling to balance my riding with family commitments, I might as well give up. If nature is right then, unless my family are keeping their supreme physiological qualities, passed down through generations of world-class athletes, I’m stuffed too.
To my mind, the answer to what makes you a successful cyclist is clearly a combination of both the environment you are exposed to and your innate natural qualities. This thought is the one that should keep you on your bike, striving to do the best quality training you can to develop every part of your physiological and psychological capacity, and to deliver the best ride possible.