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Responding To Failure

I crashed on my mountain bike last week. I went down hard and it hurt. It happened in the first ten minutes of my date ride with my partner. It was unexpected because I had previously done this particular drop smoothly with success. While I never enter a feature expecting to crash, I also understand that certain features have more inherent risk if my timing and execution are off. After reflecting on my crash experience, I am sharing for these reasons:

  1. Bike coaches are human and we are not immune to failed attempts. Failed attempts are 100% how we learn and keep growing. Typically they do not equate with a crash although occasionally they do.

  2. We learn so much from a failed attempt (if we choose to).

  3. You always have a choice in how you respond. How you respond to failure is a huge indicator of your mindset.

Failed Attempt

Previous Successful Outcome

Choosing How You Respond: Growth or Fixed Mindset

After pausing to do a body scan and bike assessment, while I was bruised and shaken up, I was grateful for the outcome. At that moment, I had a choice in how I could respond. I decided to keep riding. I knew the most beneficial action I could do was to choose to ride with enthusiasm and confidence (growth mindset). The other choice was to go home and feel sorry for myself, tell myself it’s not meant to be, avoid doing drops altogether in the future, and let it negatively affect the rest of my planned weekend fun (fixed mindset).

At that moment, I had a choice in how I could respond.

NOTE: Typically I would encourage myself / others to go back and repeat the feature (with a successful outcome). Yet in this scenario, I was initially unsure and curious to learn what my errors were. I was also really sore from falling and not in the headspace to immediately try it again.

Applying Mindset Tools to Negative Thoughts

Did negative thoughts creep into my brain about riding more drops? Absolutely! I countered them with positive self-talk, skill cues and visualizing positive outcomes. I knew that I would mentally recover quicker from my crash if I forged on and hit the other drops on the ride smoothly.

Was a part of me scared? Heck yeah. I applied breathing techniques and mindfulness to help me stay positive, focused and calm.

Video Analysis Is a Learning Tool

I was fortunate that my partner captured my failed attempt on video so later that day I analyzed it in slow motion, rewinding frequently to observe what parts of the maneuver went well and not so well. It’s key to recognize both what went well and what you could do differently next time because it increases your understanding of how to execute the skill properly while also boosting your confidence that you are already doing some components of it really well.

Mental Recovery After a Failed Attempt

The next day I wasn’t up for the planned big group shuttle ride because my body was pretty sore. By the afternoon I felt better and decided to do a short solo ride on a very familiar loop. I chose it specifically because it has ten drops on it. Did I still have negative thoughts creeping into my brain and was a part of me scared? YES AND I forged on because I knew riding all those drops in succession would increase my belief in myself and confidence that I (still) have the skills to land them smoothly.

I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to start your mental recovery from a crash as soon as you are able. Typically in a social setting others focus on our physical recovery (e.g., how is your shoulder feeling?) and we are not frequently asked “how is your headspace recovering after your crash?”

Typically in a social setting others focus on our physical recovery (e.g., how is your shoulder feeling?) and we are not frequently asked “how is your headspace recovering after your crash?”

Rewiring our brains takes self-awareness, consistent practice and patience. With each drop I hit that day I felt a boost in confidence and belief in my skills and abilities. I certainly stepped out of my mental comfort zone to hit those drops and it was one of the most beneficial and timely actions I took to begin my mental recovery after my failed attempt.

Listen To Your Body

I further reflected on where my headspace was leading up to the drop and group dynamics prior to the event. That day I was tired from a hectic week, had already gotten into a headspace for a casual, chill ride and didn’t wear my elbow pads (which would have come in handy).

This drop can also be done as a roll down and the first time I rode it that day I simply rolled through it and didn’t even go for the drop because I wasn’t in the headspace for it. When I got down to the bottom my partner kept encouraging me (with the best of intentions) to go back up and do the drop line. Even though I didn’t really feel it, I finally succumbed and hiked back up. In hindsight, I should have listened to my body and my gut and saved it altogether for another day.

I hope the next time you experience a failed attempt, you remember you always have a choice in how you respond.

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