Last week I had the pleasure of having afternoon tea with track cyclist and Olympic Double Silver Medalist, Becky James.
Becky, 25 from Abervegenny, South Wales took time out from her busy schedule for a Q & A session. She spoke about the ups and downs of injury and how she had lost her belief and love for cycling after missing the 2012 London Olympics due to illness. She spoke about her lifestyle, marginal gains and how she wants to inspire more women and girls to get on their bikes.
One thing that was very apparent during the afternoon was Becky’s passion for cycling and sport in general. It was great to hear about a day in the life of a professional athlete, how she aims to get 10-12 hours sleep per night and the physical and psychological training, which Becky undergoes to prepare herself for races.
Here follows some of the key points, which Becky spoke about during the afternoon. I have specifically pulled out the relevant lessons, which I thought, would be of interest for anyone keen to improve their performance whilst improving their chances of success.
Cycling is clearly a highly competitive support and the team is known to focus on marginal gains which all add up to create the milisecond advantages which are the difference between a gold and silver medal.
Becky talked about how she has to test and drill different physical positions in a wind tunnel to make herself as aerodynamic as possible. When the most time and performance efficient postures are found, these positions are drilled into their unconscious minds with high repetition to master these patterns. As you can imagine, under intense physical and mental strain it can be difficult to maintain the correct and most efficient position so by practicing and repeating it in training she has a better awareness and chance of sustaining it. Becky spoke about how her coach drives around on a motorbike alongside her on the track shouting ‘Tuck your elbows in!’ to help her to build high-speed patterns, which transfer to competition. This will allow her to keep her mind clear for instinctive responses and executing her racing strategy.
Learning summary: Efficiency and technique is key, small changes add up, repetition and feedback is essential.
You will have heard the Henry Ford quote, “ Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.” Becky was honest about her struggle to believe in herself and told us that after the disappointment of not making the team for London 2012, she lost belief in her ability to get back to form.
She spoke about feeling overwhelmed when she was far from competition ready and how this was causing her to feel frustrated and down. Becky told us how, in the run up for selection for Rio 2016, Mark Cavendish had given her hope and encouragement. He advised her not to get ahead of herself and reassured her that she had plenty of time. She said that this was a turning point, having someone of that caliber and experience believe in her; it gave her the boost that she needed to get her mindset back on track. Her response was to get even more organized and focus on short-term targets to maintain motivation and prevent her from feeling overwhelmed. This pivot in mindset lead to two Olympic sliver medals in the Keirin and the sprint.
Learning Summary: The positive effect of role models, breaking goals down into more manageable chunks can reduce feeling overwhelmed through improving focus and motivation.
Becky talked about specific techniques, which she uses to prepare for performance. She told me that she is lucky to have had access to great support over the years and she regularly utilizes the skills of psychologists, particularly to overcome injury challenges.
One technique, which she reported to find useful is visualisation. She spoke about how she builds her mental muscles, seeing herself performing on the track and responding in all the different ways that she needs to. I would imagine that she rehearses a number of different scenarios and responses so that she has a bank of familiar memories and outcomes to tap in to when she has to make a split second decision to close a gap, overtake or sprint for the finish line.
Becky talked about at times feeling intimidated when racing against certain riders, and she described a technique which she found helpful to de- personalise the competition- labeling the competitors, “Person A, Person B and Person C.” She described how this technique helped to reduced anxiety so that she can stay focused on herself and her own strategy.
Becky talked abut how its important for her to find the right level of arousal, not wanting to feel too relaxed prior to a race, nor wanting to wear herself out with adrenaline. Clearly she has worked to develop an awareness of her optimum arousal levels and the skills and confidence to manager her performance state.
Key Learning’s: Visualization is key, De-personalisation techniques can reduce anxiety and stress, self-awareness and state management are essential skills for high pressure situations.
How can you utilize these learning’s to improve your performance in work or sport?
- What action can you take to improve the quality of your sleep? What could start or stop you doing this?
- How aware are you of your state? What strategies can you utilize to reduce your anxiety or increase your arousal level, so that you can be at your best?
- Where is your lack of self -belief holding you back? What action can you take to improve the results that you are getting? When will you take action?
As always, it’s great to hear how you are utilising these learning’s. Tweet me @performancecirc . Remember to subscribe to the newsletter to get the latest Performance Circle learnings.