Dur­ban- based sports psy­chol­o­gist Dr Kirsten van Heer­den points out that con­fi­dence (or a lack thereof) shouldn’t come from your last ride – the one when you crashed; it should be drawn from all your rides. Peo­ple tend to fo­cus on the crash, she says, and for­get about all the other rides they’ve had in which they didn’t crash.

“Our brains seem to have a de­fault set­ting to­wards fo­cus­ing on the neg­a­tive, so you should re­mem­ber those other, crash-free times, when you were great – you have to be quite pur­pose­ful and mind­ful in do­ing this.” Van Heer­den adds that be­ing ner­vous of­ten comes from in­cor­rect fo­cus – in other words, con­cen­trat­ing on the un­con­trol­lable. “Get­ting back on the bike means fo­cus­ing on your job as a rider, pick­ing the right line, and man­ag­ing the tech­ni­cal parts of the trail – the things you can con­trol. If you do this well, more of­ten than not you’ll get through a ride with­out any prob­lems. Fo­cus­ing on the ‘ what- ifs’ (What if I crash again? What if I hurt my­self?) just makes things worse.”

Clin­ton Gäh­wiler, a psy­chol­o­gist at the Sports Sci­ence In­sti­tute of SA, says it’s not cir­cum­stances that make us feel things; it’s how we think about the cir­cum­stances. “It has to do with how we process what hap­pened. While ob­vi­ously we can’t al­ways con­trol cir­cum­stances, our think­ing habits are in fact largely un­der our con­trol.”

Thank­fully, he adds, hu­mans are very good learn­ers. “We feel fear af­ter hav­ing crashed, so that we can avoid sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions in fu­ture. So fear is an adap­tive thing. But there’s help­ful fear and un­help­ful fear – the chal­lenge is to know the dif­fer­ence.”

If your fear is ‘un­help­ful’ (for ex­am­ple, if the ten­sion of rid­ing down­hill af­ter a fall puts you at greater risk of fall­ing again), then it’s worth de­vel­op­ing men­tal skills to man­age that fear. Con­fi­dence, says Gäh­wiler, must be re­built slowly.

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