Have you ever had one of those days while riding or racing that everything just seemed to click? You rode really well and it seemed very natural and relatively easy. You were in the ZONE, a special kind of zone where you could do no wrong! Wouldn't it be great if you could be in this zone every time you threw a leg over the bike? I wish I could have, but just like most riders, it depended upon my thoughts and emotions leading up to that particular time.
Since my early racing days, I've learned a lot more about what enables a rider to get in the zone. Basically, to get in the zone is to get into the moment. Get out of that part of your head that is the analytical thinking mind. This part of the conscious mind is always thinking, reasoning, comparing, judging and trying to make sense of all this info. Sure, this surface kind of mind, the conscious mind, is very necessary. It's why humans are at the top of the food chain. But, racing doesn't need to be distracted with this conscious mind. Racing needs the subconscious mind to be fireing on all cylinders. This much deeper, stronger, subconscious mind allows what you've been training to do unfold. Your racing minds is reacting to what is happening, as it's happening.
To race at your best, you have to be 100% focused in this way. There's no room for any type of analytical thinking. As I have gotten older and more experienced in racing and teaching racers, I have found that being able to stay in the zone is a primary key to success. When a racer can clear his mind of all distractions and just be totally in the zone, in the moment, that is when they can race at their best.
This type of mindset cannot just be turned on and off like a light switch on race day. It has to be practiced and earned through a weekly practice type of routine. One of the best ways to hone this skill is practicing on your motorcycle. I mean let's face it, one of the main reasons that we love to ride so much is because it does put us in this zone, this zone of total concentration or at least it should. Another way to improve this mindset is through fitness training. Certain types of exercises force you to stay in the present moment, where you have to focus on what is happening in order to continue doing the exercises correctly. All these types of things strengthen the mindset that you need when you race, total concentration, 100% in the moment, no distractions and that is what feels so good. So, I guess that the old saying is still true; it takes hard work and sacrifice to be a good motocross racer. That's the only way. There is no easy way.
When an interviewer asked Ryan Villopoto how he maintained his confidence at each race, he said that it was by how he prepare himself each week. When you do the work that you're suppose to do each week, you'll develop the necessary confidence. But, all this hard work isn't going to bring positive results if you can't get in the zone on race day. So, besides doing the hard training work during the week, I've also found it beneficial to practice being in the present moment during the week.
How is staying in the present moment practiced? It's simple, so simple that most people don't do it because they label it as boring. But there we go again, that's the conscious mind, comparing, judging and evaluating. That's the very type thinking that needs to stop in order to totally experience the present moment. Instead of letting the mind follow thoughts, give it a rest and stay focused on what is. My favorite way to practice this is while doing mundane chores like taking the garbage out, mowing the grass, washing the dishes or any other mundane chores that I do on a regular basis. For example, while washing the dishes, feel the water on you hands, feel the dishes, really feel yourself standing on the floor. Are you wearing shoes, just socks or on your bare feet? What do you hear, smell, and see?
Another good place to practice is while driving by yourself. How many times have you driven somewhere and didn't remember much of the drive? This is because you weren't experiencing the drive, but instead, you were following the thoughts in your head. Instead of following these thoughts, focus on what the steering wheel feels like in your hands, how's the car feels on the road, the gas pedal, brakes, the seat your sitting in and so on.
Of course, your mind is going to get board really quickly and it's going to start comparing, judging, analyzing and following thoughts that it finds to be more interesting. That's okay, just notice that you have started to do this again and bring your awareness back to the present moment. Experience what your five senses are experiencing in each and every moment. Every time your mind wanders off, bring it back to the present moment. Some people can do this more easily and for longer periods of time than other people. At first, you may only able to do this for a minute or two. It's like anything, the more you practice, the better you'll become.
After you get pretty good at this, you'll see how beneficial it can be on the starting line. Instead of thinking about your competition and feeling the pressure of hoping that you're not going to get hurt and/or how your results may be in the race, you'll be able to relax and have more fun. This will allow you to ride to your potential. Once you have the skills and conditioning to ride the bike, the rest of it is all in your head. Be one of those guys who races better then they practice. Stay in the ZONE.
Concentration - "Bring all your mind and faculties to bear without distraction on the problem or subject at hand".
All the best,
Professional Motocross Trainer
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