Sports Psychology Q & A Returning to Confidence After a Major Crash

by KC Wilder, PhD

Question: I had a pretty major crash in a criterium two years ago. I cracked my helmet in two and separated my left shoulder in the crash. I took a year off from cycling so that I could rehab my shoulder and to find the confidence again to mix it up in criterium. How do I overcome my fear and get my confidence back?

Answer: Excellent question. Fostering cycling confidence is sometimes easier said than done. Cycling can be an intimidating, and sometimes dangerous sport. As you know first-hand, crashes can and will happen in bicycle racing. I am going to do my best to help you overcome your fear of crashing to achieve your cycling goals.

First, what is cycling confidence?  Cycling confidence means that you are able to ADAPT to a situation, and BELIEVE in yourself when it matters most.  Your cycling confidence allows you to exercise your personal freedom to eliminate anxiety, self-doubt, and indecision during a criterium, road race or time trial.  This cycling confidence will help you to overcome your fear of crashing in challenging, and high-speed situations.

Second, where does cycling confidence come from?  Simply put, cycling confidence comes from how you choose to PERCEIVE yourself as a bicycle racer.

Let’s breakdown the definition to the ABCs of Cycling Confidence.  A is for Adaptability.  B is for Believe in Yourself.  And C is for Competitiveness.

 A:  Adaptability:  Cycling confidence comes from your ability to adapt.  Why is this important?  Imagine for a minute, you narrowly escape a crash with four laps to go in a criterium.  What are you feeling in the final laps to the finish of the race?  It is likely that your perceived pressure to perform and to stay upright will be greater as you’re near the final turns to the finish.  The key is to adapt, and to race aggressively (and safely) regardless of outside expectations or obstacles. 

Ok, you may understand this concept.  But your next question may be, “How do I learn to adapt?”  Learning to adapt, in part, comes from racing experience; though there is another method that will facilitate your ability to adapt.  This method is Mental Imagery.  Mental Imagery gives you the ability to re-play a difficult race situation over and over again.  And, you choose the successful outcome.  Mental Imagery is something that I teach to my clients, and it is incredibly effective.

B:  Believe in Yourself:  Cycling confidence comes from your ability to have faith and to believe in yourself.  This unquestioned faith provides the inspiration to follow through on your short and long-term goals in bicycle racing.  It gives you that extra boost to be free of your fear of crashing.  You are free of this fear of crashing because you believe in the competency of your cycling skills.

In sports psychology we can teach a client confidence through a model called the Process of Performance.  This model teaches you how to overcome mental obstacles, revisit your dream, and re-gain confidence.  Working with a client for three months is ample time to teach you to be free of fear and full of confidence.

C: Competitiveness:  Cycling confidence comes from the ability to tap into competitiveness, which is your drive within.  Competitiveness provides the energy, intensity, and persistence to improve your cycling skills.  Tap into this competitiveness and foster your cycling confidence to feel more in control during your race.

Building your confidence, and overcoming your fear of crashing may take “baby steps.”  These baby steps are best taken with the guidance.  Inventories on Competitiveness will help you to tap into your personal strengths and minimize the your weaknesses.  Self-awareness can be gained through numerous “competitiveness” exercises, so when you need the control and confidence that you desire, you have it.

Be patient.  Trust that it can and will be done. 

Best wishes for sustained cycling confidence, and keeping the rubber-side down.