Track volunteers are (not) like television detectives.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Anyone of us who's caught a gate knows what I'm talking about: When you're getting ready to go you have to have your head in the right place. But what is that place? If you've been there, you know it isn't as easy as it sounds.
It doesn't take a PhD in rocket surgery to see it's not easy. Bulls are big, muscular, willful and not wanting to be ridden. Getting it right requires the proper application of technique, while blowing it means you're laying in the dirt – so at least in that way it's like BMX.
Let's assume when you've only got eight seconds to get it right, your head has got to be in the right place. And with that narrow performance window when compared to BMX, maybe bull riding can teach us something.
I take this notion to Lyle Sankey. Sankey's a many-time award-winning bull rider, and having retired as a competitor runs a successful series of clinics across the country (www.sankeyrodeo.com), teaching everyone from one-time fantasy camp riders to hard core pros and pro wannabes how to stay on top of bucking bulls. We met last year when my son signed up for one of his clinics. He's done it for awhile, and one of the things he really works on in training someone to ride well is getting their head in the right place.
I call up Sankey and ask: What does he tell riders to keep their mental game on track?
Sankey's a pretty no-nonsense guy and cuts right to the chase: “Focus on one thing at a time,” he responds. “You have to trust in your preparation, your equipment and your ability.” The problem comes, he adds, when people “try to think about six or 10 things at a time, it leads to confusion.” A rider has to trust in their training which would make their response to a given action by the bull automatic, he says.
It makes sense. While the cowboy's getting on the bull, thinking “what if” this that or the other can pretty quick lead to a sort of overload (what Zen practitioners call “monkey mind”) where you brain's trying to keep up with everything and winds up keeping up with nothing. The chute opens and you're so six kinds of flummoxed playing the “what if” game that you're just along for the ride --which will be short.
So can this notion of keeping your focus on one thing at a time like a bull rider work for a BMXer?
Greg Hill thinks so. Hill, himself a BMX success story with a laundry list of championships and BMX training successes (www.ghpbmx.com), as well as a long reputation for having a well-tuned mental game, thought Sankey's advice was spot on after I repeated it to him.
He called the problem “paralysis by analysis” where the rider's got so much going on in his or her mind (the gate, the turn, the other riders, etc) that they just sort of, well, get flummoxed, fall off the bull, as it were.
Echoing Sankey (which was almost spooky, since it was two separate phone calls) Hill explained the importance of keeping negative thoughts out of the process of getting your race on. Hill advocated what he called a “mindless” approach, where you're not doing a lot of thinking, just getting on your bike and doing what you've trained yourself to do.
What? Two successful athletes and trainers in two different sports echoing each other's thoughts on the mental game?
“Turn into a doll made of wood: It has no ego, it thinks nothing, it is not grasping or sticky. Let the body and limbs work themselves out in accordance with the discipline they have undergone,” -- Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do
So from these two (three) pros it comes down to this: Getting your head in the game means getting all the stupid stuff out of the game. When you're sliding up to that moment, be it strapping on a bull or into the gate, keep your mind clear. Just concentrate on making a good lap and leave the stupid stuff, the “what if” stuff, behind you, don't worry about it, just do what you trained yourself to do and be confident you trained yourself to do it.
Man I wish I'd had this conversation before the last round of Grands a couple of years ago.