Sport psychology is sometimes seen as a secondary element in preparation for an event. Of course, it doesn't replace your physical training, and it's true that many riders find success without specifically targeting their mental state, however most of us can really benefit from a stronger emphasis on our psychology.
For example, do you think being an emotional athlete is a good or a bad thing? What about an aggressive athlete? How about a logical, questioning or confident athlete?
The thing is, none of these qualities is inherently good or bad. All of them can be good, and all of them can be bad, depending on the context. It's up to you to discover which qualities come naturally to you, so that you can harness them to your advantage, and not them hijack you.
For example, I am an emotional athlete. This can be an advantage because I care a lot and can use those feelings to push myself in training. However, being emotional can sometimes sidetrack me and distract me from the task at hand. In order to manage my emotions, we started using tools such as journaling, training debriefs and short-term goals.
Journaling: Journaling may sound silly, but it has very real benefits. When you journal, you have to think about how you're feeling, and you have to come up with specific words to describe those emotions. This process forces you to use your brain more objectively, which reduces the power of the emotions.
Debriefs: After each race or training session, doing a proper debrief to analyze your performance objectively can be a very powerful tool. It will result in clear takeaways to focus on for the next session. For example, if you did your debrief and found that your tactics were off, then you know where to put additional focus moving forward. Don't assume that important lessons will jump off the page – it often requires a thoughtful, thorough debrief to really see what factors influenced your result.
Short-term goals: For each workout, I lay out specific goals for that session. These are tangible, realistic goals that fit in the bigger picture such as “ride the black line” or “focus on staying smooth in the last half-lap.” I write these out the night before and they keep me right on target for each session, regardless of how I'm feeling on each day.
What about your qualities? How can you manage your unique set of abilities better? If you're a logical athlete, does this mean you are awesome at analyzing power numbers, but unable to read a race? Are you questioning your training too much, or are you trusting the process? Are you overconfident and not learning from those around you, or is your confidence helping you win races?
Each athlete will have an individual response to these questions, but it's worth taking the time to uncover these truths for yourself. They can serve as a great starting point for where to put your focus as we head into the off-season.
Sullivan says targeting your mental state is an additional tool to your physical training.