The best athletes in the world strike a balance between two contrasting mindsets that are important for success in any sport. These are a practice mindset and a game-time mindset. You are in the practice mindset when you are working on technique and improving your riding skills in corners, working on the jumps, and improving technique on the bumps.
The training mindset is necessary to analyze your skills, work on drills to improve, and train hard off the track to get better. The game-time mindset allows you to race your best and is necessary for peak performance. Ricky Carmichael is the best in motocross today because of his work ethic and dedication to training. However, he also has the game-time or race mindset down pat. When he gets in the race, he has the ability to trust his skills and rely on what he has trained.
The ability to race and perform naturally and instinctively is critical to motocross success. The reason why you practice, go to racing schools, and work the same turn 100 times in a row is so you can trust it at race time. As you practice a new skill, you develop a memory program for that movement. With more practice (or repetition), your skills becomes instinctive, natural, and feels effortless. Developing the ability to ride on autopilot effortlessly is essential for superior performance for racers. When racing on instinct, some of my motocross students have used descriptors such as “in the flow,” “in a rhythm,” or “just reacting.”
All the practice you do must be put aside when you race so you can now “just do it.” Problems start when you don’t trust your natural ability or skills when you race. No more practicing at race events–get into race mode. Let go of technique or body position on the bike and react to the track. See the next section, feel the bike, and let it happen! In pressure situations, the tendency is to tighten up and not trust your riding ability. Focusing too much on clutch release or body position for example upsets the natural rhythm and flow of riding because you are consciously forcing it and not letting it happen. This messes up timing and throws off your natural rhythm.
The purpose of practice is to make it feel reflexive when you perform on the track. When you race, let your instincts, built on a ton of practice, take over. Trust is the ability to forget about the HOW TO of your riding and instead react to the track. During competition, you need to let your creative mind take over.
When the gate drops, it’s time to ride by feel and instinct. Here are some tips to find the flow at races:
- Leave your practice mindset at the practice track. Gear up to get into your racing mindset when you get to the racetrack. You have done your training for the race. Your skills should be second nature by now. If your technique is not perfect, it’s too late to work on it in practice before the race.
- Stop trying to race the perfect moto. Trying to have a perfect moto will only make your try too hard, tighten up, and get arm pump by the third lap. Win ugly if you have to, but just get the job done any way you can. It does not have to be pretty–the fastest time, not the prettiest rider wins the race.
- Let go of errors quickly and do not over-analyze mistakes. Analyzing your faults or errors will only get you off course and back into the training mentality. Let go of errors quickly and put them behind you.
- Dad, stop the race-day coaching! Coaching should stop when you leave the practice track. Dad, you may have the best intentions by giving instructions between motos on race day, but this can make your racer focus too much on your instructions instead of the track. Keep your trackside coaching to strategy only and limit your conversations altogether.
- Commit to a race plan before you get to the line. Indecision will stifle trust in the moto. Commit to your race plan before you get to the line by using your practice and observation or other motos. Know your plan for the start and what lines you will take on the turns, jumps, and bumps. 6. React to the track to get into a flow. Trust your body to do the right thing while you focus on the track ahead of you and feel the bike beneath you. Often, you don’t have time to ponder how to handle a tricky turn. You body knows how to handle the turn–just do it!