To be elite is to be the best. The mission for elite athletes is the pursuit of a gold medal. Day after day, year after year, athletes are relentless in the way they train their bodies as they strive to optimize their physical ability and technical skills; but to be the best in the world, being fitter or stronger than your competitors is not enough.
Your mind matters in sport, and if you are aiming to stand on the top of the podium you can’t neglect the most critical factor on race day - the mindset to perform under pressure. Athletes that win gold know how to obtain their optimal psychological state during the critical moments that count.
The skills that differentiate the good from the exceptional competitors are not gained in the hours or weeks before a race, but throughout the years of training and racing prior. You can pursue the same mission as an elite athlete to be the best by using the strategies of Olympians who train their mind, along side their body, to attain peak performance.
A pervasive myth that exists in sport is that to be psychologically strong means an athlete does not experience any negative thoughts or uncomfortable emotion. This is a myth only, and is not true in sport, or in life.
No athlete is immune to acute anxiety in the final minutes before the start, athletes will doubt in their capacity to win at some point in their career, and all athletes can make poor decisions in crucial points of a race. It is not an absence of challenges, but the ability to embrace difficult experiences, that defines strength, and will ultimately build a champion mindset.
The way you decide to control your thoughts and regulate your emotions as you ride up to the line for an Olympic final when your heart is pounding and your mind is racing will directly determine the result of a race. In The Cycling Mind, British Cycling's lead psychologist Dr. Ruth Anderson provides a practical and highly accessible guide for anyone who wants to develop the performance psychology skills needed to achieve peak cycling performance.
To equip yourself with the ability to perform in your optimal state you can follow the roadmap of an elite cyclist, and at each stage build the necessary skills, detailed below, to be the best you can be on your bike, at work, or in your life.
The competition environment is chaotic and is full of distractions for athletes, all outside of their control to influence. All that is within your control to change is what you think, how you feel, and what you do. When you understand how you respond under pressure and the psychological process impacting your performance, you will create the foundations required for excellence.
Behind every win is years of hard work, discipline, persistence, and at times, failure. To accomplish any mission you set, you must develop a roadmap that details the steps required to get you to where you need to go. Success will be attained and sustained when you adopt elite behaviors and commit to training your mind for optimal performance.
The most important skill for every elite cyclist is to remain calm when your body and mind are telling you otherwise. Performance anxiety is an inevitable emotion for anyone who confronts a challenge, and can facilitate obtaining a peak performance if you don't let anxiety take control of you. Stay in charge of your mind when anxious and you will perform in your best psychological state.
Elite athletes don’t know exactly what they have the capability to achieve until they win, but they can be certain of their physical, technical, and psychological skills. Paying attention to the way you view yourself, and turning your inner critic into a coach will build confidence in your ability to execute your skills. You will race confidently by strengthening your self-esteem and believing in your ability to succeed.
Transferring the strategies to reset your mind and regulate anxiety from training into the competition environment is the biggest test of skill for all athletes. A competition blueprint will guide you though the actions required to manage the moments of highest pressure and ensure you are competing in your optimal psychological state for peak performance.
To win you must be able to sustain your physical and psychological state over repeated performances. Psychological recovery strategies assist you to recover from the previous race and prepare for the next. A focus on recovering will ensure you effectively deal with the stress of racing and maintain your optimal state throughout the competition.
Paying attention to keeping your mind fit assists in self-regulating your psychological state in competition. How you cope with stress in your life, and use setbacks and adversity to build resilience, directly contributes to your capacity to perform. When you enhance your psychological wellbeing you will not just cope, but thrive, with pressure.
The skills required to achieve a peak performance can go beyond just success on your bike. The psychological ability required to race is not isolated to sport, but can be implemented in any situations that you want to excel. Apply the strategies that create a champion mindset to your work and life to maximize your potential in all that you do, and foster your inner drive to be excelling on and off the bike.
You can aim to be the best, but only if you decide to do the hard work. There is no easy pathway to performance success. Elite athletes don't start with psychological ability to perform, but develop it through a commitment to consistent improvement, and the discipline to train the skills overtime. If you make the choice, you can empower your champion within.