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Inside the Mind of a Champion: How Athletes Develop a Winning Mindset

What if I told you that you can significantly increase your race performance overnight?

Sounds too good to be true right? Well, we've helped an athlete do just that leading into his most important race of the season.

I had an athlete last year who was constantly worried in the week leading up to the state championship race about all the things that could happen that he may not be entirely prepared for. He was worried he wasn't fueling optimally leading into the race, worried about the forecast of cold rain and the possibility of a very muddy race, and worried about his inner monologue during previous races telling him to ease up when it got hard. 

I spent a few hours each day leading up to the race talking this athlete through his fears and helping him shift his mindset from one of under-preparation bordering on imposter syndrome to one of belonging and deserving. He realized on his own that he belonged at the front of the race and was deserving of the win, I only helped him discover this fact. He went on to win the state championship that weekend after not getting on the podium all season.

I want to help athletes like you become champions so I will describe the exact process I use to help athletes go from doubting themselves to becoming the strongest version of themselves.

The three key traits that champions exhibit are motivation, consistency, and willingness to learn.



What drives an athlete to win? What keeps you grinding day to day despite no one being there to celebrate the process?

Athletes can be extrinsically or intrinsically motivated, but the vast majority of them are extrinsically motivated. This means the thing that drives them is the pleasure of beating others and winning more than anything. It is not difficult to see why so many athletes enjoy sports when the thing they enjoy most about it is asserting their superiority.

However, the difference between an average athlete and ones that truly shine is those exceptional athletes are highly motivated intrinsically. They are driven to be the best possible version of themselves despite what the outside circumstances may be.

The best way to spot this difference in mindset is when athletes are presented with incredibly difficult circumstances. If extrinsically driven athletes feel as if their opportunity to win has dwindled, they have lost their motivation to continue, but an intrinsically motivated one will continue to push through.

The athlete I mentioned earlier talked about his internal monologue telling him to slow down and essentially give up. He felt as if he didn't belong at the front of the race. Since he hadn't made it on the podium yet that season, no one else expected him to be there, so he had no external driving force to push him to be at the front.

I reminded him that he has the lap times, the fitness, and most importantly the mental toughness to be at the front. He belongs. What he needed to do was make a fundamental change in what he wanted, his extrinsic driving forces were not strong enough, so he created his driving force. He wanted it for himself, to prove that he does belong and that he can do it.

True champions want it for no one else but themselves, and they will do anything they can to make that driving force strong enough to get them where they need to be.


If an athlete's internal driving force is strong enough, they will have no trouble doing what needs to be done to be great. But what separates them is their unwavering consistency.

The key to mastering any skill is repetition, the more you can expose yourself to high-quality experiences, the more you learn and adapt from them. Exceptional athletes prioritize these regular high-quality experiences instead of a few, one-off perfect experiences.

Another fear of this athlete leading into the race was his nutrition. He was constantly thinking of the days he missed his macros or didn't fuel for a workout quite perfectly and his performance suffered as a result.

I reminded him that perfection should be looked at as an exception, not the rule. A quote I like to live by in coaching, training, and life, in general, is "Perfection is the enemy of good". I am more concerned with the hundreds of days he was 90% perfect with his nutrition than I am with the handful he was 100% or even the handful that he was just off and not having it.

By being perfect with his nutrition every single day, the amount of additional benefit he could gain would be almost negligible. We can put 20% of our effort into getting 80% of the result, and the remaining 20% of the result will take 80% of our effort. To be perfect every day will take exponentially more effort and will be more mentally taxing than it's worth.

This goes with everything, not just nutrition. We are not machines, we are highly complex and constantly changing bodies of hormones, chemical reactions, and thoughts. Some days will be great, and some days will be bad, it is simple human nature. We must not be so hard on ourselves when we have bad days, they are inevitable.

This is not me advising you to not give it everything you have in training and racing, its quite the opposite. I want athletes to strive for perfection but expect to be consistently good. What I mean by this is to try your absolute hardest every day to make it a perfect day, but understand that it is impossible to have a perfect day every day. The few perfect days, a few bad days, and hundreds of good days will average out to overall good in the end. The goal is not to let the bad days bring you down and prevent you from having a perfect day in the future.


The final key trait that makes an exceptional athlete is their willingness to learn. Seeking mentorship from riders faster, more skilled, or more knowledgeable than them allows them to progress quicker than their peers.

Many junior racers are gifted with natural talent, but very few of them progress outside of the junior and U23 categories into elite and pro racing. This is partially because many of these riders rely solely on their gift and put no effort into expanding their knowledge beyond what is immediately in front of them. These kinds of racers will walk away from races and win effortlessly as young riders, but as soon as they get to a level where they can't rely solely on their strength, they fail to perform.

Surround yourself with people smarter than you, learn everything you can from them, and find someone even smarter. You can learn decades of racing tips in a matter of years with a solid mentorship. This is where having a great coach can be extremely beneficial. While a single athlete can only give their perspective, a coach can give you their perspective, as well as the perspectives of multiple riders at varying levels, expediting this learning process even further.

A great quote I've heard before is that "blame is just giving power to external factors". A rider with a champion mindset will not be brought down by obstacles but use them as an opportunity to learn.

I had a different athlete who was having trouble finding enjoyment in racing and couldn't look past her poor performances. I developed an exercise for her to do after every race she did to help both of us learn what problems she was facing.

I asked her to write a list of everything that happened during the race that went well and went her way. These could be anything such as her pre-race preparation, being with the lead group for the first lap, or her nutrition strategy. Only AFTER she listed out all of these good things, I asked her to list a few things that she thinks she could improve on, but not more things than she listed in the good list.

This allowed us not only to learn what her weaknesses were and work on improving them, but by writing out everything she did well at the races she was able to see that she is a good racer and deserves to race with the best. After working with her for about a year, she is back to enjoying racing, performing much better, and overall stressing less about the negatives and not giving power to these external factors. We shifted her mindset to worrying only about the things she can control and learning from her mistakes instead of dwelling on them.


So to recap, if you want to change your mindset to that of a champion, you need to adjust your motivation to be internally motivated, strive for perfection but expect to be good often, and surround yourself with riders much more talented than you and learn everything you can from them.

The athletes who can do this consistently for years on end are the ones who will continue to progress and rise to the top.


Ride further, faster, and longer!

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