Stay in the comfort zone or strive to go further?

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While coaching the USA Cycling Talent ID Mountain Bike Camp this past June, a young athlete asked me: “So, do I just need to lay it all out there and go faster on the downhills?”

We were mountain biking and I thought to myself, “Yeah, pretty much. This is mountain biking, after all.”

But I knew better than to just say that. This was a perfect coaching opportunity to help her strive to her potential. And her question was loaded – requiring more than just a yes or no. She was tentative on the descents, coming in at the back of the pack during our single track session. Rather than letting her brakes go she would skid out on the loose scree, making it harder on herself and for anyone behind her.

“Well, were you out of your comfort zone?” I asked.

“Yes, all the time. It’s like I have two voices. One telling me I need to be careful, that I could hurt myself. The other tells me that it won’t be that bad and that I should hang it out there,” she responded.

My suspicion is that she listened to the voice telling her to be careful more often than not, and it was limiting her potential.

“Have you hurt yourself going downhill?” I asked

“I have crashed a couple of times. But nothing really serious like some of the other girls,” she said.

Our conversation continued as I was trying to get a sense of what really was behind her first question. Being a young athlete –whether in actual age or new to the sport –can be humbling.  When you’re faced with the reality of whether or not you want to take your sport to the next level, do you embrace it and strive to go further? Or are you comfortable with staying right where you are?

Coming to terms and asking ourselves this question is something we all face in our journey as athletes. And no one can answer that question for you.

Cycling is a sport with great risk for injury. This risk factor is the unspoken language we all feel. So how do we manage those fears that keep us from being the athletes we want to be?

For me, I’ve found positive self-talk keep those doubtful monsters at bay. I’ve found what works for me and how to use it, especially when I’m out of my comfort zone.

| Related: The importance of self-talk

To progress and push beyond your comfort zone, you cannot keep listening to the battle between those little voices in your head. As rational as they may seem at times, you will at some point need to turn them off and just move your body.

So here’s what I told that young athlete:  “Tonight, before you go to bed, visualize yourself going downhill and pushing yourself. Not the self you are now, but the self you want to be. And tell yourself that you are better, faster, stronger. The dream downhill descender. See yourself practicing perfectly, floating above obstacles, looking to where you want to be, moving effortlessly. The more you can practice in your mind, the more you can apply it to the trail.”

So much of cycling is a mind game. Practice in your mind how you want to perform. Believe in it, and the rest will follow. Cycling is about the process.

Got questions for Jennifer or the rest of the ALP Cycles team? Post your question in the comments below or send it to us on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #askalp.


ALP Cycles Coaching alpcycleslogo - edited is a Boulder-based coaching company with three female coaches at the helm: Alison Powers, Jennifer Sharp and Patricia Schwager.

Each coach brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. Road racing, track, endurance mountain biking, time trialling, making the leap to living and racing in Europe – they’ve got you covered. Find out more about Alison Powers and her Alp Cycles coaching company at here.

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