Resident MotoOnline.com.au coach Lee Hogan discusses the pressure of racing and how to overcome it.
Dealing with pressure? Nervous energy can either help you win races or lock you up inside and prevent you from performing at your best. Here is a few tips that will help you tame the ‘butterfly beast’ and turn that negative energy into positive energy!
One of the bad things about nerves or anxiety leading up to an important race is that it has a funny way of making you feel like you are the only rider out there that is stressing. You walk around feeling like everyone else is calm, cool and collected while you struggle to calm your mind down enough for a few minutes to focus on one thing at a time.
One thing I can promise you is that it doesn’t matter if you are a local club level rider or even Chad Reed, everybody feels pressure to some extent or another. That nervous energy you feel can either work for you like we see on so many occasions when elite athletes step up to a whole new level when the pressure is on.
Or it can just as easily work against you like I’m sure we have all seen before. That pressure can either raise you to a new level, or lock you up inside and prevent you from even getting close to your normal work-rate. The trick is finding out a way to tap into that powerful energy source and turn it into a positive effect rather than a negative.
To a certain degree athletes will either deal well or not so well in high pressure situations. Their personality type and background will play a huge role in how they deal with pressure. But even though your gene make-up plays such a massive role in dealing with pressure, you can still work on certain skills that will help when you find yourself in this predicament.
One of the most important things I find that helps when the pressure is on is knowing you have done your homework. If you are sitting on the start line and you scan your eyes across the field of competitors and you know you have done more than they have, it goes a long way in settling your nerves and getting you back to the job at hand.
Those riders with good work ethic, the riders who don’t take short cuts with their training and don’t opt for the easy way out tend to be the ones that can dig deep on race day and keep a lid on those nerves. A rider who always takes short cuts with most things in their life will struggle to stay focused and on top of things on race day. They also seem to be the riders that buckle when they get reeled in on the track.
A handy little exercise that anyone can do with their parents or mechanic that really helps you step up and perform when you need to is to change your training a little bit. Instead of going out and riding the bike for a couple of hours, doing your motos along with some skills work, you might want to pretend that one ride is for a main event.
Eg. You do a handful of starts to practice and get your technique right, then your mechanic says to you:
“Your next two starts are the ones that count. Pretend they are both main events. None of your other starts matter now, these two are the big ones.”
The extra pressure will either make you focus more if you are on the ball, or completely stuff them up if you’re not. Likewise you can do the same with your motos. Once you have a warm-up and get a session under your belt, you can head back out for a pretend main event. The key to doing this type of training successfully is to assess each session critically.
Really go over everything from lap times, to consistency, starts, line selection, fitness, mistakes/crashes etc. The areas that you do well in are your strengths and the areas you struggle with are your weaknesses. Obviously our goal is to turn our weaknesses into our strengths. The way we do this is to specifically tailor modules that work on our weaknesses. For example, if you struggle with sprint speed in those first couple of laps, you may want to throw in a few sprint sessions on the clock that will work on your intensity.
The right person in your corner:
Whether it is your parents, mechanic or even team manager, it’s important to have people around you with the right attitude. These people can either help you by saying the right things at the right time, or they can make problems by getting in your head and saying completely the wrong stuff.
If a person that is supposed to be helping you is doing the opposite by saying the wrong things you need to tell them. They might not like it at the time, but if you don’t tell them they won’t know!
There is nothing quite as handy as experience when it comes to pressure. We see it all the time in world class sport where it generally seems to be the older athletes versus the younger ones. The experienced versus the inexperienced. The calm versus the flamboyant!
Experience seems to calm you down and help you deal with pressure situations because you have felt that same feeling so many times before. You have already dealt with these situations many times and this helps you keep things in perspective.
Personally I feel that remembering why we all started riding is the best way to keep a handle on pressure. We all started riding because it was fun. We couldn’t wait until we could kick-start that bike again and head out for a blast. Keep it fun and the pressure cooker will simmer down a bit for you!