Even though much has been written on racing, very
little has been written about the mental game of motor sports. I
have been mental game coach to some well-known international professional
motorcycle racers. One is world record-holder and world champion
Chris Carr. Learn more about Chris at www.twowheeladventures.com.
He put Buell Motorcycles in the world record book by riding from
Key West, Florida to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 8 days, and in 2008
the same itinerary in 106 hours. In 2010 Harley Davidson USA asked
Chris to be the first person to ride the brand new XR1200X, in the
7,000 mile Hoka Hey Challenge motorcycle rally, which started in
Key West, Florida and finished in Homer, Alaska. Chris is the 2011
AHRMA Middle Weight Superbike National Champion, World Champion
and Master of the Mid West Champion and he is now also teaching
AHRMA Racing School. In 2012, Chris won the AHRMA regional Middle
Weight Superbike Championships. So Chris is clearly a master at
the mental game of motor sports.
To succeed in the mental game of motor sports you must know a few
truths. You must get in the cocoon. And you must know the art of
fine-tuning. Here is how you do both of those.
1. Get In The Cocoon: Some athletes and coaches say the zone
is a place of mystery. They say it's a confusing, far away place
that shows up randomly and without warning. They say it's impossible
to understand. I say otherwise. All of the thousands of athletes
and coaches I have trained over the last 30 plus years would agree.
They know the zone is a real place. They know that because they've
been there countless times. When I start sport psychology coaching
with an athlete, I first ask them, "Tell me about a time you
were in the zone." They pause, say just a few words and then
stop. Then they say, "I know when I'm in the zone, and I know
when I'm not. I just don't have a system for getting there on purpose."
Normally, this is about all they can recall about the zone. And
therein lies the problem. If you don't know what the zone is, you
can't get back to it, at least not on purpose. You have to rely
on the whims of the zone itself to whisk you back to its rarified
One major feature of the zone is the phenomenon called "the cocoon".
This is the psychological bubble you enter where you automatically
block out any external distractions and completely get into what
you are doing. Yes, you know there are plenty of people watching
you, but you don't care, or at least you are easily able to let
all that go. Maybe there are even TV cameras trained on you, but
you consider those irrelevant. You are not self-conscious in the
slightest. That's the cocoon. You are impervious to thoughts of
embarrassment, or of being watched. Now yes, you might get a sense
of encouragement and excitement from the spectators, and you might
even be inspired by them. You might even play better when people
watch you, but there is a difference when you are in the cocoon.
In the cocoon you are not TRYING to impress anyone. You are not
trying to show off. You are not looking over or listening to see
how they react to your performance. You KNOW they are there, but
you don't THINK about them while you play. Time goes away. You are
not aware of the clock. You are completely absorbed in your activity.
You are in the cocoon. That's the difference between success and
failure when it comes to spectators.
Here are some things athletes describe about being in the cocoon:
- When I'm in the zone, it's as though I'm in a bubble, a
cocoon or tunnel. I know the spectators are there, but all I'm
tuned into is me, and my opponent.
- This cocoon thing is really unique. I feel like I'm in a
vortex or some other world.
- Time is a paradox when in the zone. I have tons of time
to execute, but I am not thinking about time or the clock.
- Sometimes time seems to stand still, and it's like I'm in
So now you understand the cocoon nature of the
mental game of motor sports. Let's take a look at how to fine tune.
2. The Art Of Fine-Tuning: Think about how you drive a car
as being like a sports competition. If you stay in your lane, you're
in "the zone" and all is well. But if you begin to veer away to
one side, and you don't realize it, you'll end up in the ditch.
But if you are tuned into what is happening, you can quickly adjust
and bring your car back into the proper lane. This sums up the concept
that sport is not a game of perfectit's a game of adjustment.
Driving off the road into the ditch is analogous to choking in sport.
If people don't understand the zone or its opposite, choking, they're
just doomed to keep choking. Adjustment is the master skill.
Racers who expect perfection lose. The ones who plan for inevitable
trouble and adjust, win. Who are you more like in your racing, the
perfectionistic ones who become unhinged when everything doesn't
go their way? Or the mentally and emotionally flexible ones who
let errors roll off their backs? Even at the top levels of pro sports,
some athletes are so hard on themselves, expecting near-perfection,
or believing that to win they must perform virtually flawlessly,
that this sets up impossible expectations that short-circuit performance.
No one has ever run a perfect race in the history of their sport.
They never will. To win, you only need to race better than the opponent.
Expecting perfection sets you up to fail, because you can't be perfect.
Instead, strive for a percentage of perfection, for excellence,
to win your races. As my clients have heard me say again and again,
"racing is not a game of perfectit's a game of adjustment".
Here are some mental game of racing tips you can use to keep your
mind in the match and stay on an emotional even keel.
- Don't expect to play a game of perfect. Instead, strive to
- Expect that you will make a certain number of errors when you
compete. When they happen, remember that these are the facts of
racing life and accept them, while attempting to be steadier.
- Remember that winners don't need to race perfectly to win.
Rather, they adjust, adapt and compensate according to conditions
and the opponent.
- Expect a certain number of wind, sun and road condition troubles,
and adjust accordingly. Remember, the opponent has the same conditions.
- Stay emotionally level for the entire race. Reduce your emotional
ups and downs. Don't get too high when you race well, and don't
get too low when you race badly.
- Pride yourself on being able to win even when you are not playing
well, or when you are not feeling well. Winners find a way to
win, under any circumstances. Find your way to win.
- Ask yourself, "How bad do I want to win this race?" Then
dig down deep and find a way to win.
- Remember, don't expect perfection, because it will never arrive.
Instead, adjust, adapt and overcome adversity. Winners find a
way to win. There is a way to win in every race. You just have
to keep searching for it.
Now you have some new mental insights into the
mental game of motor sports. And now you know more about the cocoon
nature of the zone, and the art of fine tuning. Take these out to
your next performance and put them to good use. Good luck!
For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an
assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths
and weaknesses. Here is a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport
psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot.
This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and
weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating
your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program
you undertake with mental coach
Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment
would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture
about your mental game.
Copyright © 2014 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance,
mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William
B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals
achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing
the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching
worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles,
and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time
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The mental game of Motor Sports
Chris Carr, left, with the owner of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles,
Bill Davidson, far right.