The way that we improve at anything is to leave our comfort zone and push ourselves, and mountain biking is no different. But many of us achieve a certain level of skill and then plateau, and stop pushing forward. There are probably many reasons for this, but I'll hazard a guess that one is a result of being overfaced, scared stiff, or injured.
I know this from experience. Following two crashes in quick succession, one resulting in a badly broken wrist, I found myself bailing out of things I knew that I could ride. I became much more cautious and beat myself up about not riding things I knew I was capable of!
Just last week, at a talk by a business coach I know*, I realised why. She showed this diagram:
The key segment is the one in the middle. In so many things we go straight from the comfort zone to panic, without touching the stretch section. I see this with couples often. The experienced person (often, but not always, the man) is full of enthusiasm to get his partner involved in the sport he loves. But he's forgotten how scary it can be to begin with. And that the 'tiny' drop that he jumps off without a second thought might look massive to a newbie. He may not notice the steep slope below the track anymore, but to his partner it's a sheer cliff to slide down if she falls.
Jumping from comfort to panic takes us to fight or flight mode. Our cortisol is racing. We may have a hissy fit and shout at the person who's trying to encourage us down the slope. Or just decide that the sport is not for us.
First ride out after I broke my wrist, I followed my husband down some tricky singletrack that I'd been perfectly happy to ride before the fall. I felt wobbly and vulnerable and hated it. From that moment on I decided to take it slowly. I realised it would take a while to build my confidence and skills back up, and it wasn't surprising that my unconscious mind was trying to protect me when it told me to put on the brakes. Now I'm back where I was before, and more. It was worth being patient, and stretching myself back gently.
Is this something you've experienced? If so, how did you get past it? Or did you give up? Do tell your story on our Facebook page.
If you're familiar with panic mode on your mountain bike and would like to try stretch mode instead you can build your confidence with a one-to-one session, a women's weekend, or by joining the weekly Get Back on a Bike group.
If you've put someone you care for into panic mode, then why not buy them a gift voucher for one of the above?
"Great session with Cathy - lots of good tips. Personalised lesson that really helped improve my confidence. Definitely recommend!" Sue Gent (from Facebook)
"I learnt a lot about how to ride my bike properly, and new skills and feel safer riding my bike now. We were a mixed ability group, Cathy catered for us all. I can’t recommend a weekend with Cathy enough. 10 out of 10. I will be back." - Amanda Loader (from Facebook)
*Aline Foster at Optimal Coaching.