The Importance of Mental Toughness

By Billy Rainford

Give the mental side of your training the attention it deserves. Be more like Cooper Webb. | Feld Entertainment photo

Alan Goldberg writes in his ‘8 Qualities of a Mentally Tough Athlete‘ article on the Competitive Edge website that there are a few characteristics successful athletes all share. Here’s the list shortened down:

  1. Calm under pressure
  2. Unfazed
  3. Amazing powers of concentration
  4. Laser focussed
  5. Winning attitude
  6. Does the work
  7. Confident
  8. Setbacks do not shake their belief in abilities

When you skimmed over that list, did you knowingly nod your head to yourself or did you see one or a few that you think you need to work on?

Obviously, this list could be modified and lengthened, but these are 8 characteristics you could question about your own approach to your life and your racing.

I always go back to one of my best friends in University who would play even better pool when the stakes got higher. How did he do that? Why didn’t he play worse when more was riding on every shot? It’s an important question. But what’s the answer?

I think a life skill that should be adopted early on in a child’s development is competing and learning how to be as good a winner as they are a loser. This skill will ensure confidence throughout a person’s life to not be afraid of competing, regardless of the outcome.

Sure, winners want to win. In fact, they expect to win. However, getting into a competitive situation doesn’t sway this person’s willingness to actually go to the line in the first place, and that’s equally important in the process.

As they say, “You lose every race you don’t line up for.” Never be afraid to go to the line. Never be afraid of the outcome. Sure, you can go in with the attitude that you are there to win, but if that doesn’t happen, you need to accept the outcome. You don’t have to enjoy it, but you will need to accept it.

If you get beat on the day, you got beat on that day. Period. There’s no need to make a long list of excuses. Having the confidence in yourself to accept the result is a skill that will take you far in life.

How fast you went that day is how fast you went that day. If it wasn’t the result you wanted or expected, ask yourself why and do the work to correct it.

I bring this to your attention now for two reasons:

  1. We’re heading into a new racing season and you may not be sure where you’re going to stack up and this may be causing you some stress
  2. Cooper Webb seems to be the Pro racer right now who exemplifies all these positive qualities of a successful athlete
How could Eli Tomac come so far only to fall short? | Feld Entertainment photo

It’s not often a racer will come from the back of the pack, catch up to the leader, and then not be able to get around them. Eli Tomac‘s charge to the front at SLC#6 should really have resulted in a win for him, but it didn’t.

Cooper was able to pick up his pace, win the race, and force Eli to go to the line this Sunday with a small bit of uncertainty. Anything can still happen and that’s an edge Cooper will try to exploit.

Cooper showed me a lot with that performance and it’s something I think we can all be impressed by and hope to put to use in our own racing and lives.

There’s another old adage that goes like this: “If you quit once it gets easier.” What that means is that you should always finish what you started, no matter where that finish will put you in the standings. Quitters never win.

You want to be the racer who people fear and expect to keep charging, not someone who has a reputation as a quitter. Do not be a quitter. Ever.

Professional racers are some of the most competitive people on the planet. When some end their careers, they say things like, “I hated losing more than I liked winning.” Interesting isn’t it?

Also, I read Chris Pomeroy‘s race report from the AMO race at Gopher Dunes this past weekend. I wasn’t able to be there and I liked what he said about Cole Thompson‘s performance (3-3 behind Dylan Wright and Tim Tremblay).

He said it seemed like Cole and his mechanic, Steve Beattie, were there to shake a few things down with their bike and program. Cole is always on the line to try and win, but finishing behind a couple riders was acceptable on this day because it was part of a bigger picture for him – the Rockstar Triple Crown Tour championship.

We’re all out logging the miles on our bicycles and turning laps on our bikes, but are we taking the time to make sure we’re where we need to be, mentally?

I hope you read some of this and a lightbulb went off with regards to your own program. The mental side of the game plays a huge part in your success. Give it the attention it deserves.

All the best for a successful 2020 season.