As a cyclist and fan of pro cycling, I follow the sport quite closely. One of the biggest names in the sport over the past 10-15 years has been a British sprinter and former world champion by the name of Mark Cavendish. He’s won over 140 races as a professional, with 30 of those wins coming from the biggest race of them all – the Tour De France! To give you an idea of how monumental this is, he’s second on the all-time Tour De France stage win list, just four stage wins behind arguably the best cyclist ever… Eddy Merckx!
However, up until April 12th, 2021, it had been 1159 days since Cavendish last won. Moreover, he was not selected by his former teams to participate in the past two editions of the Tour De France.
For the 2021 season, Cavendish switched teams to one that he had ridden for previously, Deceuninck – Quick Step. This move has seemed to bring about a new sense of confidence as Cavendish won not just one, but four of the eight stages at the Tour of Turkey in April. While it’s true that the Tour of Turkey doesn’t have the same caliber riders participating as the Tour De France, they are still top notch and to win four times at the same race is very impressive!
Even if you’re not a cycling fan, there is a lot to take away from Cavendish’s Tour of Turkey results.
Surround yourself with the right people
It took switching to a team and team director that believed in him for Cavendish to flourish. Likewise, whether it be at work or in sport, surrounding yourself with the right ‘team’ that believes in you and wants to see you succeed is critical. In respect to sport, whether it be a coach, teammates or friends, they should foster an encouraging environment to set you up with the best possible chance for success.
Success breeds success
There is a saying that the first win is always the hardest and after that, the wins come easier. This is likely because until that first win is in the books, it’s hard to be 100% confident that you can do it. Now, when I say ‘win,’ I don’t necessarily mean winning a race. It could be hitting a specific PR or race placing (other than first place), or qualifying for a big race such as the Boson Marathon.
Regardless of your definition of a ‘win,’ knowing that you can accomplish something makes it that much easier to repeat it, as you have greater confidence because your achievement is no longer an unknown quantity.
Don’t quit – Believe in yourself
Many teams as well as fans wrote Cavendish off after he didn’t win for so long. Many of the comments pertained to him being ‘washed up,’ or ‘too old’ as reasons why he wouldn’t win again. In sports where it’s often said that you’re only as good as your last race (or game), this bearish outlook of Cavendish’s future prospects was understandable. However, while I’m sure that some doubt creeped into his head, Cavendish clearly had the fire and confidence to keep going – knowing that he still had the ability to pull off a top result.
At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself… period. No matter what anyone says, if you believe that you have the potential to achieve what you set out to do, go for it and keep at it until you achieve it!
I often read business-related stories about individuals that pitch their idea to tons of investors only to be told no by each and every one of them – often because they don’t believe in their idea. However, many of these entrepreneurs persist due to their inherent confidence and because of that, become quite successful despite the lack of support from investors and other substantial headwinds.
So listen to that voice in your head that says you can do it, and not the doubters or naysayers.
From a training perspective, this is why creating process (short term) goals is so important. A grandiose goal that is way in the future can often seem unattainable. However, by creating and achieving process goals that are progressively meant to build to the main goal, it makes staying confident that much easier.
This term is often used in respect to the field psychology where a phobia is gradually introduced for the purpose of decreasing one’s fear of a particular thing or experience. For example, if someone is agoraphobic to the point where they are afraid to leave their house, a systematic desensitization process may have them start by standing on their front porch for one minute – gradually increasing that amount of time. And then next move to the sidewalk in front of their house… and so on and so on.
As you can see, this is largely an issue of confidence – confidence that the individual can exist in a particular environment with nothing bad happening to them and then based on this new found confidence, gradually get farther and farther away from their house.
While not clinical in the sense of a formal psychological treatment, desensitizing oneself to particular areas is important for success in sports as well. For example, maybe an athlete has a mental block of running past 20 miles as they fear that they can’t do it without blowing up. Or maybe it’s a cyclist that always backs off in the final sprint for fear that they will crash if they come in contact with another cyclist. In respect to the runner, successfully hitting 20 miles in training not only eliminates the mental block of that particular mileage, but it opens their mind up that they likely be successful a longer distances. As for the cyclist, performing drills in training such as bumping on purpose into other cyclists in training (and in a grass field!) often helps to build confidence in one’s bike handling skills so that they don’t back off in a race.
In summary, attacking one’s fear head on but in a safe and progressive manner is often the ‘trick’ to build confidence and thus, continue progressing.
There are many variables as to why some athletes perform a high level and consistently get great results. Genetics, coaching and access to the best training methods/technology are often noted. However, it is my belief that while the aforementioned variables play a role, the main contributing factor is near unshakeable confidence that is likely both inherent and learned on the part of the athlete.
Rick Prince is the founder/director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science-based endurance sports education company. UESCA educates and certifies running, ultrarunning and triathlon coaches (cycling coming soon!) worldwide on a 100% online platform.
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