There has always been a misconception about psychological techniques and the way cyclists and other sports people use such skills effectively.
Over the years, I’ve often been asked about techniques that riders have tried and not got to work for them and asked to explain these failures. However, the explanation is not wrapped up in a complex theoretical discussion of psychological research, but is rather simple. It is simply that skills, whether they be physical or mental, require learning and applying over an extended period of time before they can be successfully used. When thinking about the skills you want to acquire – be they relaxation, imagery, concentration or self-confidence – consider the following as the basic stages required to get them ready to influence your performance on the bike.
Stage 1 Learn the technique
The basis of using any psychological skill in a sporting setting must be to have developed a thorough understanding of using the skill in a relatively simple setting first. For example, practising psychological techniques in the relative comfort of your home, in a room free from distractions and when you have the time to focus on them completely is a good first stage. Building a sound foundation will help ensure a good transition to the sporting setting.
Stage 2 Use them in training
Set yourself goals to use the skills you have practised at home on the bike for short periods while out training. Start with those lone training rides and build up to using them in club rides when the distraction of clubmates makes the environment more complex.
Stage 3 Use them in mock competitions
If you can apply the technique to staged competitions, then great. If not, think about designating a training ride as a mock TT or use those club rides to simulate road races and take them as seriously as you would an actual competition.
Stage 4 Apply to competition
Think about your race schedule and practise them in less important events building to the season goals.
If you encounter problems at any point, go back to the stage before and build yourself back up. Remember, acquiring mental skills requires dedication!