One of the hallmarks of the MTQ mental toughness framework is its strength and relevance across so many walks of life. One of my teenage memories was watching motorbike scrambling on the BBC Saturday afternoon sports’ program ‘Grandstand’. I marveled at the riders’ ability to navigate their machines over mountains of mud. So, imagine my surprise at seeing a recent article on 10 things about mental toughness and motocross (as its known nowadays) in the online magazine Motocross action mag.
There were too lines I especially liked:
Only worry about yourself, what you can control and what you can do better
Make the best of it. You’re always going to wish you had more time or money.
Although not directly related to the Clough and Strycharczyk MTQ 4C’s framework, the article nevertheless highlights 10 important features of mental toughness:
1. Push through
Mentally tough riders tend to have very positive attitudes. They encounter challenges like everyone else, but when the trials come, they push through. The strongest riders enjoy the challenges because they know they’ll gain mental strength conquering them. The first key to becoming mentally tough is realizing that challenges will come. The second step is tackling them head-on.
Pre-race visualization is as simple as closing your eyes and riding a lap in your head. The more detailed you are, the better you’ll ride. Envision getting the holeshot and completing the perfect lap. That way, if you do get the holeshot, you’ll feel like you belong at the front and won’t get tight. Also, envision getting a bad start, and plan two or three different alternate lines on the track where you can make passes. Doing mental laps in your head prepares your mind and body for what it’s about to encounter.
Everybody who rides makes mistakes, especially if they’re racing hard and trying to win. It’s easy to get frustrated about a crash, but it’s important not to dwell on it. Getting frustrated only leads to negative thoughts and more mistakes. The best riders can forgive themselves for the mishap no matter how big or small it was—and rebound from it. There are many examples of riders in Supercross who have had a big crash in practice and rebounded to win the main event that night.
4. Setting goals
Set goals you want to achieve and have a plan of attack for each day to accomplish them. Goals give you something to shoot for and a reason to push through resistance. Reasonable and achievable goals have a huge impact on your mental strength. When you accomplish a realistic goal, you’ll gain confidence.
Most people aren’t naturally confident. For example, spelling bee winners are flustered when they are asked to spell a word they don’t know, but with each spelling bee they learn more words and get more confident. It takes work to gain confidence, whether it is spelling or skimming the whoops. By accurately assessing your abilities, working to improve them and then doing the reps, you will build confidence.
6. Selective memory
Selective memory means that you only remember what you want to remember, leaving out anything unpleasant. A good motocross racer has selective memory. He remembers how it felt to win. He remembers exactly what he did with the clutch to get a holeshot. But, he blocks out the big crashes, the pain and the injuries. Those memories can haunt a rider if he lets them. To be great in a high-risk sport like motocross, you have to choose to block out the bad memories and remember the good ones.
It’s harder to be mentally strong if you aren’t physically strong. Whether you are 14 or 40, a Novice or Pro, on a great bike or a mediocre one, you will still benefit from a regimented training program. Each rider should train his body for the level of exertion he must endure. That doesn’t mean that a Vet Novice needs to go to the Baker Factory, but he needs to show up in as good a physical shape as possible with his busy life.
8. Worry less
Don’t worry about what your competition is doing, how trick their bikes are or how fancy their trucks are. What’s the point? Only worry about yourself, what you can control and what you can do better. Don’t give the edge to your competition before the gate drops. Focus on having the best race you are capable of and let the cards fall where they may. You should be humble enough to learn from your competition—both the guys who are faster and slower than you. Don’t psych yourself out with envy.
9. Forget pressure
All riders—from Novices to National Champions—have to face pressure. It is like the famous Gene Romero line from On Any Sunday before the final AMA Grand National of the Year when he said, “I don’t wanna hurt anyone, but I just gotta get third. It’s gonna be either one. I gotta get third, or come visit me in the hospital. I dig carnations, man.” That is pressure personified. Pressure can motivate some people, but just as many crack under it. The key to overcoming this issue is to forget the dream goal and focus on what you can actually do to achieve it. Stop thinking about winning, and start thinking about riding to the best of your ability.
10. Make the best of it
You’re always going to wish you had more time or money. But, most rich guys are slow (except for those who got rich winning races). Some of the slowest riders at the track have the fanciest bikes. Truth is, you’ll never be fully ready. There is always someone with more time, money, resources or skills. The fun part is trying to beat that person.