“Keep Your Chin Up"
We all seek certainty, it’s human nature, we have evolved and adapted to be more safely certain, of food, shelter and you know, other stuff. Yet we also long for excitement, adventure and adrenaline. We pushing our limits in pursuit of the Rush taking calculated risks, based on previous learned experience, developed expertise founded on repetition.
We move through phases of learning, “unconscious incompetence “I can’t do it and I can’t bloody well work out why” and then might visit a coach and feel “consciously incompetent “ I can’t do it and I understand what I’m doing wrong”. With some tuition and guidance you then move to conscious competence “I’m doing it successfully and I know why/how” until finally we become unconsciously competent “I can do it and I don’t even think about it anymore”.
At all levels of skill we need to keep our heads up and keep looking up the trail ahead. Of all the skills, (and this is a skill) this is one of the easiest to learn and also the easiest to screw up.
“Ok” you’re thinking, since when has “looking” been a skill and why is it so useful?
“Keeping our head up allows us to see where we are going.”
Eureka you bloody genius a revelation! We need to see where we are going!! but let’s think about this in a bit more detail. When we are nervous or scared or in the infancy of skill (of which successfully riding a trail is one) we may allow our heads/eyes to drop and attempt to find safety in the immediate future, the “now” of the trail.
We are told to “live for the moment…” but in MTB we need to live in 2 worlds, people of the moment and of the next, like a chess game. Lifting our heads allows us to scan down the trail receiving and responding to visual stimulus. Improving VISUAL REACTION TIME allows our brain time to process the number of calculations needed and for our eyes to do their job of EYE-HAND-BODY COORDINATION. Our eyes are the leaders and the guide to our movements, so by fixating on the ground immediately in front of us we are already limiting our ability to perform processes effectively… an off awaits!
Trust your eyes. ..
If you look into the distance and fix your gaze on a spot and someone walks towards you wiggling their fingers, even if they held them Waaaay out to the side you’d still see them. This illustrates just how dynamic our vision is. CENTRAL PERIPHERAL AWARENESS is the ability to pay attention to what is immediately ahead (central) and yet aware of what is to the sides (peripheral to) without having to look away from where we are going. The part of the eye that allows for the sharpest detail, accounts for only 1% of vision, so if we’re going to keep track or on track of where we need to be, we need to learn to trust and use the other 99%. In a dynamic and changing environment, keeping our head up deliberately teaches us to trust this key process in any number of situations but here’s a common one below:
- See roots across the trail
- Make decision about position in relation to roots
- Adjust/do not adjust position on trail
- Look beyond roots for next movement
- Allow peripheral vision to perform tracking/ orientation function
- Instigate motor response (move) at roots i.e. “go light”
Fixating on the “wrong thing” can often lead us to trouble…..
How often have we ridden a trail, noticed an object to the side of where we are headed (a root or rock) and thought “Oh crap that’s gonna have me me off if I hit it” even when we know if we stay on our line we’re all good, it sucks us into its tractor beam and we begin to drift towards it in blind panic. This is perhaps the reverse process of what I was saying before but a good example of the phrase “look where you go to go where you look”. Skilled riders use peripheral vision to extract information from the display as well as to determine the next fixation location or “move”. This use of peripheral vision gives us information regarding body/bike and spatial orientation as eyes and brain work together in pointing, reaching and grasping.
So better looking lets us see things sooner and make better decisions or movements. Advance Cue Utilisation the ability to make accurate predictions based on real time “trail” information (Perceptual Anticipation) sooner in a sequence of events is likely to lead to a more successful outcome. Limitations to reaction time or movement time such as looking down or narrowly focusing attention away from the trail are likely to lead to a negative outcome i.e. a crash, sketchy moment or reduction in overall performance.
Of course we have missed an important element in our development and that is skill. Expertise in performance depends on a number of “condition-action” links called productions that are responsible for triggering the right responses at the right time. If the right responses to a situation are located within our working memory then we can initiate a response/movement that is appropriate to that situation.
The movement or “going light” over the roots we came across on the trail in our earlier process can be seen as an IF……THEN….DO…. cycle and is successfully switched on by looking ahead to capture and process successfully the “IF” allowing us to draw on learned/developed skill “THEN”, through to the action of the “DO”.
Not looking well down the trail, concentrating our 1% of clear vision inappropriately and not trusting the capabilities of our peripheral vision all work to screw this up. If it’s early days for a new skill we risk becoming disheartened, especially if we don’t understand that embedding learning through repetition in the correct conditions is a process. A coach/riding buddy observing and highlighting when we have done something successfully allows us to form a physical and tangible blueprint for action. This then allows us to recognise when something doesn’t feel right and to say, “no that wasn’t good, I didn’t do… or could do” or to get feedback on how the movement might be improved.
So what can we do on the trail today to help improve?
Well if you are confident that you are doing it right or have the fundamental skill sets for a given movement here’s some tips to doing it better.
Slow down. Slowing down allows us to make more mental processing space for the actions we want to take, to think about the ifs and buts of, if…then…do… and to break down in our minds why we are doing it this way and what might happen if I did it like this here etc. Deliberately calling to mind the actions we need to take for given techniques and really emphasizing the component parts for success are much more likely to be repeated at higher speeds if we have conditioned ourselves to them at lower ones, giving ourselves freedom to look and keep our heads up. And if you haven’t already got that what I want you to do is slow down, look, keep your head up then the final tip is a good one for you.
Repetition. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect, so doing something badly a few times is no substitute for practicing something well often. Pick a drop or a jump and session the hell out of it then find something else. Once for luck, twice is nice and three times you’ve dialed it! There’s nothing wrong with stopping and spending some time with some mate hitting a gap or popping a lip.
Make it fun. In doing the above you don’t need to turn into the local trail nerd with angle measures, when you slow down or session something make a game of it with yourself and your buddies, who can pump a section the furthest without pumping, who can ride a section the sweetest. A bit of learning time can be a real laugh.
Get some coaching. Ok so I coach, and I do geek out on helping people improve, there are plenty of us up and down the country that can help with stuff like this, so if your confidence is waning think about getting help.
So that’s it, remember to have fun and KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!!