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This email made my day. 11 year olds rock!

I got this email after a fun but long day coaching in the rain.  All the way from New Zealand!  I am  stoked to be helping him and stoked for him to be so darn cool.

“Hi Gene

My name is Dino Rutten and i am 11 years old . I started downhill last year and rode my hardtail school bike in 4 competitions which was really challenging as i only had v brakes. Mum said i had to do the season on my old bike to see if i was keen so i rode really hard and for xmas i got a second hand softail a marin quake 7.2 2008 which i love. I have just done the Raboplus series and came 6th in the under 15s at the Nationals so I cant wait for next season. We dont have a downhill club here so my mum has just started one called Gravity downhill club and she has just got us some land to build tracks in, its really cool. There are about 12 boys some big like 19 who have joined up and now we need a coach. So your riding tips is really helping me  to be a good rider. I have lots of pictures of Greg Minnaar on my bedroom wall and i think he could nail Sam Hill any day.

Thank you
Dino

How cool is that!  The kid’s hero is Greg Minnaar!  A much better role model than my hero when I was Dino’s age (Evel Knievel) and not some rugby player or soccer player.  Dino you are the coolest 11 year old I haven’t met (which makes you the coolest 11 year old in the world as I don’t know any 11 year old kids)

The number one thing holding you back isn’t real!

Are you letting fiction hold you back?!

All the skills coaching, personal training and fitness coaching in the world will not allow us to reach our goals until we overcome this factor.  The number one factor holding you back from reaching your potential is your mind!  Specifically self-limiting beliefs.  We all have self-limiting beliefs, just some of us in areas that greatly effect achieving our most important goals and some of us are fortunate enough to have them in areas that only effect minor goals.  I hear some of my students say these self limiting beliefs out loud, “I stink at climbing!” but often we are not even aware of these beliefs, they are in our subconscious.  The interesting thing is that many times these self-limiting beliefs are completely unfounded!  That’s right, quite often the thing holding you back has no basis in reality.

Any belief that holds you back is a self-limiting belief.  When your subconscious says, “I am not good enough” that is a self limiting belief.  Sometimes they actually start out positive “I can do that well but I never will be as good as ….” but in the end they set a limit to your achievement.

They are often caused by failing at something (as you may or may not know I believe that, “failure is a nature and necessary part of the learning process” quote from Dan Millman).  For instance, a former self-limiting belief I had was that I could not do a trackstand.  One day a friend and I each tried to trackstand and I ended up falling over. For years after this when asked if I could trackstand I would reply, “no, I can not trackstand” and for years I couldn’t trackstand.  Was this limitation real?  Of course not, one day I decided I would try using baby steps (working my way from 1 second trackstands to 20-30 second trackstands) and in less than a hour I was doing 10 second trackstands!

How to do you stop this often subconscious self defeating cycle?  Step one is to identify the belief, “I am a good rider but will never be great” or the most misguided one I heard the other day, “I only weigh 140 so I don’t have the muscle mass to climb like the bigger guys” (this is misguided because in general the lighter you are the better climber you are, most great climbers are short and stick thin).  Once you have identified the belief check to find the source of the belief and see if it is real. Where did the belief come from? Does it make sense? Is there proof that the belief is true? Once you have these questions answered you can create a strategy to rid yourself of the belief.  If the belief was caused by a past failure tell yourself, the past doesn’t equal the future and practice doing the skill/section of trail that you feel you can’t do correctly.  If it has no basis in reality (your friend said, “wow you suck at descending 10 years ago”) tell yourself, “that was ten years ago, I now understand body position and vision better, my bike is way better and I have the skill to descend much better now”.  Often you will find that once you identify a self limiting belief you laugh, realize that it is preposterous and you move past it.

Don’t let fiction, fantasy or conjecture hold you back.  Attack these self limiting beliefs and achieve your best.

Mountain Bike Mental Game, Are you tough? Part 1

In mountain biking and other sports the most “talented” or “gifted” athlete is rarely the most successful. At the higher levels of competition most competitors have a similar combination of skill, talent and fitness. To out-perform competitors or simply ride your best you must be mentally tough. James E. Loehr, Ed.D, world renowned sports psychologist states, “Toughness is the ability to perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances”. If you are not riding or racing to your potential it is time to get tough and work on your mountain bike mental game.

Being tough sets you for peak performance on race or ride day. Ever have your focus and confidence slip away on a race or ride day because of a previous crash, injury or the weather? How did you perform that day? My guess is you probably didn’t race up to your potential. Have you ever had a weaker and/or less skilled rider beat you or out ride you? Those are painful examples of not being tough. To have peak performance, you must reach what my snowboard coach called your “optimal performance state.” This is the level of focus, arousal, relaxation, and confidence where you perform best. Tough athletes can reach this state consistently and quickly return to it after a mistake or let down.

I consider Nicolas Vouilloz and Julie Furtado two of the toughest mountain bike racers. Nico faced very skilled competitors like Steve Peat, Nathan Rennie and Cedric Gracia. Week after week, he was able to out perform them. The same can be said for Julie Furtado. Her competitors Alison Sydor, Susan DeMattai and Paula Pezzo were all very strong riders, yet more often than not, Julie was on top of the podium. Julie and Nico didn’t simply dominate the competition by huge margins though; they won a lot of close races, had a few second and third places along with the occasional poor showing. What made them tough was their ability to be tough and come back from that rare bad race to win again.

Consistently performing at your peak like Nico and Julie is easier said than done. Life tends to send you with falls, injuries, emotional upsets and the stress of trying to train 10 to 20 hours a week and balance that with a career and a social life. Creating a healthy balance between the rigors of training and life challenges is a must if you want to get tough. Being tough requires physical strength and stamina as well as mental and emotional flexibility.

It is hard to be tough when you are exhausted. Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” He’s right—being fit, rested and ready for the challenge is very important. Most cross country racers are physically tough but some downhill racers could use improvement. Most downhill racers have trained their anaerobic system required for the five minute sprint of a typical downhill race, but they are often worn-out from the days of practice leading up to the race. To improve your ability to recover physically from training and racing be sure to develop a strong aerobic base in your training.

Controlling and using your emotions is an important element of toughness. Many different emotional states contribute to being able to perform at our best. Unfortunately, emotional stress takes away our focus and drive; emotions that have nothing to do with your competition like feeling sad because your dog passed away or feeling upset from a bad break up of a relationship can have a negative effect on your energy level. Dwelling on mistakes and negative self-talk lead to feelings of helplessness, despair and anger and put you in a less than optimal performance state. Being detached will protect you from emotional upset, but you will also miss out on the positive emotions that lead to and come from success. Emotional flexibility means being able to summon the emotions that you need to perform well while taking care of the ones that hold you back.

Can you handle the mental stress of training and competition? Mental stress can be just as tiring as the physical stress of racing or training.  The focus of riding tight singletrack, thinking about race strategy or visualizing your race can wear you out and take away from your performance. Consider the following —You are leading the point series and need to simply finish eighth or better in the final race to win the series. Thirty seconds before the start of the series final, your number one competitor (who is the previous year’s champion) says incredulously, “Oh, you’re using those tires,” and rolls his eyes. You may laugh while reading this, but it actually happened a few years ago.  What happened is a lesson in mental and emotional strength: the series leader had such a bad run that the title was lost. Being able to handle the mental stress and head games and dealing with competition is one of the toughest challenges to an athlete. In this situation the racer lacked the mental strength to control his emotions. Had the racer been tough enough to say (and believe), “of course I am using these tires, they hook up great and roll fast” the outcome would have probably been quite different.

The good news is you can get tougher. To get tougher you need to be able to handle more stress, physical, emotional and mental stress. You probably already know the training theory that by gradually increasing our physical workload combined with adequate recovery we will get stronger.  The same holds true for mental and emotional training.  Often cross country racers who do a lot of their training on the road aren’t subjecting themselves to enough of the mental stresses of trail riding to become mentally stronger.  Downhill racers have the opposite problem, riding downhill trails exposes them to a great deal of mental stress but they don’t effectively recover from the stress. One way to increase your mental toughness is to practice imagery  (visualization). Start with three, two minute imagery sessions followed by recovery (emptying your mind, reducing mental stimulation). Work your way up to three, ten minute imagery sessions while decreasing your recovery time between sessions.  Taking emotional risk through entering races and facing your fears creates stress.  Recovering from these risks strengthens your emotionally flexibility. Emotional recovery comes from having fun, laughing out loud, watching a movie or having a few beers with friends.

Mountain bike racing requires fitness, talent and skill. However, the racers who perform best are the toughest, the ones who can access and use more of their fitness, talent, and skill than their competition. Toughness is based on physical strength and endurance; it is hard to be tough when you are exhausted. The next component of toughness is being emotional flexible and in control of your emotions. A strong and resilient mental game able to handle the pressure and stress of competition is the final component of toughness. Your mental game and emotional flexibility can both be strengthened and I will focus on more ways to do this in Part 2.

Skills Tips and Old Interview with Ashwin Amanna

The Following can also be found on Ashwin’s cycling blog http://www.ashwinearl.blogspot.com/ , it is from 2006?

Ashwin: Why does it seem there is resistance to mountain biking skills coaching? People don’t think twice about golf lessons?

Gene: I think there are a few reasons for this. There is a big difference between men and women in this area. If a woman can’t do something as well as she would like to she seeks out a teacher. If a man can’t do something as well as he wants to he simply tries harder.

I have read a lot of books that cover this subject (why men don’t ask for directions) and it goes back millions of years. Men feel like failures when they can’t grasp a task well in front of others, especially loved ones. To ask for help is a sign of weakness. This is why men often rib each other about taking lessons and why a guy who won’t ask for directions with his wife will ask for directions when he is alone.

Secondly, almost anyone can “ride” a bike so they don’t often realize how much skill is involved in riding a bike off road. Riding over roots and rocks is quite a bit different from riding your bike down the sidewalk to school.

Thirdly, many riders think the only difference between themselves and the best riders in the world is fitness and / or fearlessness. These riders don’t realize how much skill is involved and how much time and energy they could save with better skills.

Ashwin: Plenty of people are fast riders. What makes someone a good teacher?

Gene: There are many aspects to being a good teacher. A good teacher must be able to break down what they are teaching into to digestible parts, he must have the ability to articulate what he does and why.

Experience and coaching education are two of big factors that help an athlete become a good teacher. In the 17 years that I have been coaching I am constantly learning how to do it better. I learn from my clients, from taking coaching courses, and from reading. A good coach realizes he doesn’t know it all and is constantly trying to improve his methods.

Ashwin: Why can’t someone just read about skills in a book?

Gene: Well you certainly can read about skills in a book. There is nothing wrong with that. Why go to a camp? Getting coached by a good coach is a much faster and more effective way to learn any sport. That is why top athletes in all sports have coaches. Learning from a book is limited by how well it is written, how well the reader understands the book, how internally motivated the reader is and how often the reader returns to the book.

Reading about something gives some people an understanding of a skill while coaching gives a 3d example of the skill and allows the student to realize how it feels. A good coach explains the technique, why the technique works, how to do it, how it should feel and what it should look like. Then the coach makes sure the student understands it on all of those levels.

In addition coaches can answer questions, explain things in different ways, physically adjust your position (many athletes are kinesthetic learners, i.e. they learn best through manipulating their bodies) and evaluate the rider and tell them what they are doing right and wrong. Often you think / feel like you are doing something correctly but are actually doing it wrong. Top coaches also inspire an athlete to perform / practice at their best.

Ashwin: How important is the mental aspect of skills training and how do you teach that?

Gene: The mental aspect of skills training is equally important as the physical skills. What good is skill if you can’t access it when you need it? At the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club I learned that sport is a metaphor for life, confidence gained in sport makes the athlete a more confident person. This is a circular pattern, as you get more confident in sport you get more confident in life as you get more confident in life you get more confident in sport.

I teach mental skills throughout my camps as a situation arises where a certain mental skill will help a rider. The mind is very powerful, Henry Ford said, “those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right”. As both an athlete and coach I have found Mr. Ford’s statement is true.

Ashwin: Your philosophy stresses fundamentals in a way that’s similar to the way other coaches talk about free throws and basketball. In a nutshell, what are the fundamentals for mountain biking?

Gene:

Vision. Where and how to focus.

Balance and body position. How to stay smooth and balanced in all riding situations and conditions.

Braking. When and how to brake effectively, economically and stay in control.

Lifting the bike, (wheelies/manuals, rear wheel lifts, bunny hops, etc.) how to get over obstacles the fastest and most economical way.

Cornering, the purpose of cornering and how to accomplish it through vision, body position, braking.

Slow speed riding and switchbacks, this includes more balance, body position and vision techniques.

Bike set up, a bike set up correctly is much easier to ride. 😉

Ashwin: A majority of your drills are performed in a controlled environment like a parking lot. Why?

Gene: People learn best in a non-threatening environment. When people are concerned about their safety their instincts take over and they revert to old habits.

This often happens on trail where there are all kinds of penalty points for mistakes. It is much easier to learn in a safe, controlled environment then apply what you learned on trail. In all sports most of the progress comes through drills (which is why over 70% of most athletes time is spent on drills) not actually racing/competing. As an example; golfers, ski racers, football players and basketball players spend 60 to 90% of their training time working on skills and only 10 to 40% of their training time simulating competition.

Ashwin: What is the biggest mistake you see beginner mountain bikers making?

Gene: Not looking ahead correctly and looking down at the times when it is most important to look ahead.

Ashwin: What is the biggest mistake you see advanced riders making?

Gene: Confusing fitness with skill, many advanced riders muscle through trails instead of using skill. This approach is inconsistent and wastes energy.

Ashwin: What’s the best way to introduce beginners to mountain biking?

Gene: It really depends on their aggressiveness. Take an aggressive skier / snowboarder/kayaker to some fun, easy singletrack (such as Rustlers Loop in Fruita). Take less aggressive people to a dirt road. The goal is to get them having fun and gradually increase the skill level and fitness level.

Ashwin: There’s more than one way to approach a skill, right? How does someone approach two ways of performing a skill that may be conflicting with each other?

Gene: In most cases there is a best way, I teach techniques that work 100% of the time, not techniques that work well in some situations but not others. Such as bunny hopping, simply yanking up like many people do works over small obstacles with the right speed but bunny hopping correctly (what some people call the J hop) works better and in more situations (going slower or over taller obstacles).

Ashwin: They say you win XC races on the climbs. If that is true why should an XC racer devote significant time to skills?

Gene: Time wise, climbs are probably 70% of a race so climbing ability is very important. A racer should devote time to skills because there is a much bigger pay off per hour of training. Most XC racers are close to their peak fitness level but are far from their potential skill wise.

Improving skill (both climbing and descending) makes a rider more confident, more efficient, and quite a bit faster. Just this weekend at the Sugar, NC national a non-mountain biking friend of mine asked, “why are those guys walking their bikes, I thought they were pros”. We saw a lot of racers walking while skilled racers like Adam Craig, Ross Schnell, Mike West, and Ariel Lindsey were riding and increasing their lead (while using less energy) on the riders walking the tough sections.

Ashwin: What’s the right way to ‘practice’ skills?

Gene: To practice skills you must first understand the skill you want to practice. Simply practicing “cornering” without knowing how to corner correctly will get you really good at your bad habits.

So rule # 1 is: Perfect practice make perfect.

With this in mind quality is much more important than quantity. Coaches in many sports have found that your quality starts to decline after the third attempt at any skill/movement. These coaches have come up with the rule of threes, do something three times then move on to another skill. In doing something 10 times your last 5 times may do more harm to your technique than the first three attempts did good for your technique.

Rule # 2 is: Have a purpose.

Many riders simply go out and ride, some even with a plan to work on skills. But what skills? To improve you must have an exact purpose, i.e. “Today I am going to focus on braking before corners and exiting with speed” or “for the first 10 minutes of my ride I am going to focus on being relaxed with a light rip on the bars then focus on pumping and contouring the trail”.