Racing Q&A: Ask Doc

Dr. Cohn receives and answers questions from racers everyday to help you reach your peak. You can read Dr. Cohn’s answers to questions on race psychology and teamwork in racing. If you have a question on race psychology or a particular mental game challenge in racing, please contact mental game expert, Dr. Cohn. Please give a brief background of your racing and the specific details of your mental game challenge in racing.

How Do I Stay Confident After A Poor Moto?

Motocross Racer:

I just got home from a race yesterday and I am troubled I rode really good in practice. I was one of the fastest ones on the track. I felt great, but by the time it came for my moto, I started to have questions about my riding and ability to do well. I tried to visualize getting a good start in my mind and I still messed up what should I do when something like this happens on race day? Do you have any suggestions to make it easier to see my self doing well even if I have not been doing well in my motos?

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

When you ride well in practice and then do not perform up to your ability in races, this just tells me that you are having trouble with taking your practice game to races because of a lack of confidence, doubt, or putting too much pressure on yourself to perform well. I see this all the time in my work.

Based on your question above, it sounds like you lack full confidence in your ability in races as you start to doubts yourself. In addition, I can tell that your confidence gets damaged after a poor performance, which makes you doubt to the point of not being able to see a good start or moto in your mind.

My suggestion is that you learn how to be proactive with your confidence.

This means taking responsibility for how confident you feel in races instead of leaving it to chance. You have to get off the confidence roller coaster and on the steady confidence train. You can do this by using your past success and experience in motocross. A good product to help you with this is my new program, The Confident Athlete.

How to I Stay Focused and Memorize the Track?

Personal Watercraft Racer:

I currently race personal watercraft. I have been racing for 15 years now and I currently race two classes Expert Stand Up and Pro-am sport. My current issues are staying focused on the track and memorizing the track before my race. It seems that I have lost my aggressive drive off the start.  How do I need to get back in the right frame of mind?

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

Staying focused on the track and memorizing the track might be two different issue altogether, but at the same time, not being comfortable with the track could cause you to lose focus. So they might be related to each other.

I think you are not being aggressive off the start because you are unsure of the track and your lines. You must get committed to a plan – a race plan – and your lines before you get on the start line. One way you can do this is to mentally rehearse the track in your mind, what I call doing your mental laps and see the lines you need to take on the track.

Second, I want you to identify 2-3 cues you must focus on to have a good race. When you get off focus, you must be able to pull your mind back to the present task at hand or the cues you decided to focus on.

For example, maybe you decide to focus on driving harder into the corners and being smooth through the apex. Then you job is to stay focused on these cues to the best of your ability.

How to I Stay Focused and Memorize the Track?

Motocross Racer:

I have been ridding now for about three years. My question is regarding, getting my mind on track. Basically how to focus on the matter at hand, rather than thinking about problems or mistakes in the last moto. Being more confident I guess is the main concern. This would keep me more focused overall. I seem to keep what happened in the past as an anchor to keep a positive attitude towards the future.

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

I look at focus and confidence as two different issues. However, it seem like you fragile confidence is causing you to dwell too much on past problems or mistakes. Yes, confidence does come from past success for many athletes, but in your case, doubt is coming from past errors or poor motos.

I talk a lot with my students about getting off the “confidence roller coaster.” Confidence is something that develops over years and years of training and racing. For example, if you have been racing for 6 years, how long do you think you have been working on your confidence? 6 years! Do not forget this simple idea.

Next time you have a setback, you need to take a long-term approach to your confidence and remember all the successful motos you have raced. Do not let on moto or mistakes cause you to flush 6 years of training confidence down the toilet.

How to I Race Without a Comfort Zone?

Motocross Racer:

I am a veteran racer. I have been working out through the winter, I have a brand new bike (06YZ450F) and was able to get some riding in by traveling outside Alaska during our long winter. I have several old serious injuries. I have metal in both legs and conditioning is a big factor. I usually get excellent starts and do really well until 3/4 distance of the race. I have trouble closing the races up. It is not uncommon for me to have 10-20 seconds on second place early in the race. I then get into a comfort zone when no one is “racing” with me and begin to fade until the pack catches up with me. I then have to gather back strength to rise to the occasion so to speak. Sometimes I hold them off, but usually one or two guys get by me at the end. I won my championships by being very consistent but not dominating with wins.

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

It sounds like you are limiting yourself with a comfort zone in that when you get ahead of the pack, you might be too protective. A comfort zone is not good in my work – I have studied this extensively. I see this in all sports, not just racing. Your goal should be to lap the lapers. For example, attempt to focus on increasing the distance between your competitors and keeping consistent lap times.

Challenge yourself to improve your lap times as you get further into the race. The issue is that you become too protective (or complacent) when you are in the lead and have the attitude to stay ahead of the others behind you. This sounds good, but might make you more defensive and then make more mistakes in this mindset. It’s almost the opposite of arm pump where a racer is trying so hard.

I will say though that Carmichael wins championships because he is consistent, not because he wins every moto. So you have to decide is the championship is more important than winning races.

How Should I Prepare Mentally Before a Race?

Auto Racer:

How should I prepare mentally before a race?

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

Do not neglect your mental preparation before a race. After you have adjusted your equipment and fueled up, it’s time to fuel your mindset for a successful race. Many racers prefer to have a set prerace routine they use 30-40 minutes prior to the start of the race. In fact, I teach all my students prerace routines because this is an excellent time to integrate all the mental skills we learn.

I suggest that you remember the Three C’s in mental preparation:

  1. Clarity
  2. Confidence
  3. Commitment

These are three big buzzwords in my work.  Clarity in my plan and strategy is the first step. You want to be clear in your mind what lines you will take and the strategy to outlast your competition.

Confidence in you skills is number 2. I suggest to my students to fuel their own confidence before the start of a race and be proactive with their confidence.

Hint: avoid playing other races on the box before the race has even started.

Commitment to the race plan is number 3. You must be committed to your plan for the first two or three laps at least. I know track conditions with change and your need to be flexible, but you need to commit to a strategy before the green flag or gate drops.

How do I Stay Focused After Making a Mistake?

Auto Racer:

I lose my focus after making a mistake and can’t forget about it. It affects me on the next lap or two. How do I stay focused after making a mistake?

Dr. Cohn’s Answer:

Mistakes can only hurt you if you dwell on them and give the mistake mental power. Mistakes are a natural part of being human. The driver who can respond well to the mistake will prevail.

Your lack of focus is probably a result of one word: Dwelling!

Dwelling in the past about how awful the mistake was and how stupid you were to doing it, only serves to keep you stuck in the past. The faster you can let go of the mistake, accept it, and move on with your driving, the faster you will race. You have to make a commitment to focus on the current lap instead of staying stuck in the past on an event that you can’t change!

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