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Collecting Trail Prizes: A State of Mind

As a child, I spent Sunday mornings at the donut shop (mmm…donuts!) playing Ms. Pac-Man alongside my brothers. We devised patterns for each new board and as siblings do, competed to see who’d get their name on the high score list. As that Ms. Pac-Man machine towered over us in the far corner of the donut shop, our focus honed in on the screen and time stood still.

As an adult, I’ve transferred my love for play and progression onto the bike trails. Narrowing my focus to the trail ahead, me as my to-do-lists disappear from my mind. Fully in the moment, each nuanced section of trail demands my full attention to stay on my bike without dabbing (putting a foot down). While there’s no high score list on the trail to recognize who’s cleared a specific technical section or discovered a new line, there is profound satisfaction and joy in progressing as a rider.

Trails have plenty to teach us, if we choose to discover the lessons.

Adopting a growth mindset each time you toss your leg over your saddle is the first step towards improvement and progression. A growth mindset is the belief that abilities are developed through hard work and through the relentless refusal to give up despite many repetitions of failure.

To me, this statement captures the true essence of mountain biking. I love this sport because it’s ridiculously satisfying to persevere after repeated failed attempts and eventually experience progress. Finding enjoyment in the process is essential to your sustained growth as a rider.

If you’re not having fun riding your bike, perhaps you’re missing the point.

The language we use matters deeply and is essential to finding joy on the bike. I’ve observed as a coach that when we shift the language we use to describe sections of a trail, it can result in more fun and joy on (and off) the bike.

How we choose to describe, frame and identify trail sections can be broken down into the following three stages:


“A thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress.”

As a newer rider or newer to digging into mindset tools, you might describe a section of trail in your stretch zone as an “obstacle”, implying a negative connotation and something you aren't able to ride yet.


“A distinctive attribute or aspect of something.”

As you practice and improve your bike and mindset skills to ride that same section of trail, you might describe it as a “feature”, implying a neutral connotation.


“A thing given as a reward in recognition of an outstanding achievement.”

As you continue with your deliberate practice and improve your skills to ride that same section with ease and comfort, possibly even finding new ways to tackle it, you might describe it as a “trail prize.” Using the word “trail prize” implies a distinct positive connotation and something you look forward to.

Choosing to gamify your rides by collecting trail prizes might be the holy grail of mountain biking. Reframing the language you use matters because it can make the learning process more fun. Go ahead and unleash that kid in the donut shop out onto the trails, collecting trail prizes like a Ms Pac-Man gobbling dots. Just remember, always keep your eye on the doughnut and not on the hole.

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