Coaches Corner with Colin Dixon

Winners and Learners

It’s inevitable. Everybody has to face coming up short of a goal.

By every definition of the word, we will fail at something at some point in our life.

And that’s ok.

But why does failure cause so much distress for young athletes – and often their parents? Even more mature athletes can have trouble dealing with the “not so great” days.

Failure is a destructive word others use to describe events when they don’t achieve their goal.

I believe that there is no such thing as failure! If you get rid of the idea of failure, you get rid of the fear of it. In a previous post I talked about the effect a negative emotion like fear can have on many aspects of your development.

Getting hung up on the fear of failing or focusing solely on results distracts athletes from learning opportunities that occur when a goal is not met.

It may seem counterintuitive, but failure is the greatest teacher! We learn best by making mistakes or experiencing disappointments and then growing from them. Defeat and disappointments are an integral part of sport and life – it’s how we respond to them and learn from them that makes us truly successful.

After experiencing disappointment, athletes can do one of two things. They can either feel bad about themselves and focus on the negatives, OR they can learn from what happened and come back stronger and smarter.

When parents try to prevent their child from experiencing failure they are taking away valuable life skills and learning opportunities.

Children who are over-protected are led to believe that success should always be quick and easy, but that only leads to greater frustration when it’s not. Parents who are afraid for their child to fail are going to hold them back and ensure long term defeat.

Long-term success is always more important than short-term results. Think of failure as feedback and a great space to learn in, not something to be feared. A defeat is a temporary event and doesn’t have to negatively affect your development in the sport.

When you conquer anything difficult you don’t fear it anymore, but in the process of conquering the task, you will undoubtedly fail many times. This is the learning space where most development will occur!

Maybe the first step to overcoming failure is to erase that word from your vocabulary, after all, there are only winners and learners!

The Power of Positive Thinking

I started to write this thinking that there would be a straight-forward message to deliver, but as I did more and more research I realised the massive importance positive thinking can have on our lives!

My initial driver for this topic was thinking about the number of times I hear negative comments (or see negative body language) from the number of junior riders I work with but the more I thought about conversations I’ve had with other riders/friends/parents then I realised that this is a topic that needs to be talked about as we can all take something from this!

Positive thinking is an emotional and mental attitude that focuses on the good. It certainly sounds useful on the surface (most of us would prefer to be positive rather than negative surely.) But, “positive thinking” is also a “fluffy” term that is easy to dismiss. In the real world, it rarely carries the same weight as words like “work ethic” or “commitment”

But what positive thinking actually does is allow our mind to broaden and learn and grow. Let’s look at an example of a negative feeling – fear! This could be fear of losing, fear of acceptance, fear of punishment. It’s fair to say that fear is a powerful emotion. But what fear does is narrows our mind and kicks in our “fight or flight response”. This is an ancient response hard-wired into us to protect us from danger! What it also does is inhibit our learning as our brain just wants to “get out of there” – this, in turn, stops us from taking the time to assess what’s going on and what we can do to solve this immediate problem.

How many times do you come out of a race and the first thing you think about is “what went wrong”. Now think about how many times your first thought is “what went well today”. I guarantee that, if we are honest with ourselves, then most of us go to the negative thought first! I also guarantee that if you took the time to look at what went well you’ll always find more positives than negatives. This also gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.

Adopting a positive mindset (and by association a happier mental state) isn’t too hard but does require some small commitment.

There are hundreds of websites advising on how to do this but they all have some points in common: –

  1. Write down one or two positive things that happened today – every day! This becomes a positive habit and gets easier to do as time goes on
  2. Meditate – not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but the general idea is to take some time away from your day to relax and clear your mind
  3. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Positivity is contagious!
  4. Play – don’t be afraid to have some fun
  5. Try to learn something new every day – open your mind and NEVER be afraid to fail, it’s where most learning takes place!
  6. Be brave – when surrounded by negativity or negative comments, walk away!

Positivity is a gateway to happiness and is also magnetic – we are all attracted to positive people!

Here is the link to a great article by James Clear – it’s quite in-depth but definitely worth the read

Have fun, stay happy, think positive

Being Coachable

We’ve all seen the “Motivationals” that state the 10 Things That Require Zero Talent but the one that really stands out to me as a coach is “Being Coachable”

One of the key attributes to becoming a top-level athlete and a high achiever in life is “Being Coachable” but what does it really mean?

Being coachable is one of life’s most important skills and attitudes. If you’re any kind of person who wishes to grow, learn, improve, excel or peak perform, you should care about whether or not you’re coachable. In other words, being coachable relates to a happy, productive life. It means you’re ready to do what it takes to change, transform, improve or excel, whatever that means for you and your situation

Being coachable means you’re open to listening to feedback, able to receive constructive criticism without taking it personally, willing to take a look at your own performance in order to improve it, and generally, a badass-enthusiastic go-getter type of person

Someone who’s not being coachable will display many different kinds of behaviours, including but not limited to:

  1. Always thinking they’re right
  2. Not willing to learn new things
  3. Not open to change
  4. Negativity
  5. Pessimism
  6. Eye rolling during constructive feedback (that one’s in here for teenage riders)
  7. Inability to self-reflect
  8. Don’t care about improving their life or relationships
  9. Disrespectful of others and/or their opinions
  10. Generally unwilling to learn, grow or do what it takes to improve
  11. Putting other people down

There are so many more…

Being coachable is about awareness and the ability to take the gold nuggets from a situation and use them to your advantage. There’s wisdom in being coachable. It means you’re paying attention to other people and the experience, wisdom, skills and knowledge they’ve earned and you’re willing to listen close enough to see what might help you on your own journey

When you are younger it’s easy to get caught up in peer pressure trying to “look cool” but I think the person who goes on to compete at the top of their sport, has a job that they enjoy (and pays well!), is respected and admired by their mates and is generally happy with their life is sooooo much cooler!!

If you’re NOT coachable, you’ll quickly find your experience with whatever sport you’re involved in becomes difficult or just plain boring. If you’re reading this, you’re not an Olympian yet (most likely) so maybe, just maybe there’s something to be gained by taking a look at the way you approach your sport, your coaches, your teammates and/or your attitude in general. Being coachable means you’re leaving room for the possibility that there’s something you haven’t learned yet that could make you even better

And we all want to get better right!!

Playing on Bikes

Why is it that we “play football”, “play rugby” or “play netball” but we don’t “play cycling”?

Is our sport more serious than all those other sports, I think not! I googled the term “play” to find out its definition and apart from “the art of landing a fish when angling” came up with the following: – “To engage in (a game or activity) for enjoyment”

I see smiling faces on bikes pretty much every day so I’d be certain that we are all enjoying ourselves! You may wonder why playing on a bike would be that important but think about this:

Where did Laurine Van Riessen learn the skills to ride on the wall at the top of the track at the Rio Olympics in 2016 to avoid a crash?

Where did Peter Sagan learn the skills to bunny hop over Fabian Cancellara (well, his bike anyway) at Paris – Roubaix 2016?

Where did Grégory Baugé learn the skills to stay upright in a World Cup Sprint against Kévin Sireau in a semi-final in 2009 (check it out on YouTube – it’s amazing)

These riders didn’t train these skills specifically. The ability to pull these off comes from messing around on a bike, challenging yourself, being creative, pushing boundaries, practice, practice, practice and most importantly – having fun. Think about spending more time practicing that track stand (try it on rollers if you want an extra challenge), learning to bunny hop, riding no-handed on rollers, putting a jacket on whilst riding on the road, pulling a wheelie – be creative. You can build that engine and get stronger and faster any time but I guarantee you there will come a time when that skill development will help you out of a pickle and save you some skin!


If you’d like to see some amazing skills, have a look at this from the UCI – who knew that cycle-football was a thing!

Rest and Recovery

Everyone has heard the expression “rest is just as important as training” but what does this actually mean? Surely if you keep working harder and harder you’re going to get fitter, faster, and stronger right……
The science of “making your muscles grow” – i:e getting stronger is described as: –
“After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibres through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibres together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth)”

The key to this is allowing your body the time to repair! This time can depend on age, as muscle growth (hypertrophy) slows down as we get older but none the less we can still develop muscle mass late on into our senior years.

There has been a lot of debate through the years about rest and recovery. Here is a link to a great article from Cycling Weekly about this topic: –…/tips-effective-rest-recover…

I heard a great statement from a British rider many years ago which rings true – “Train Hard, Recover Harder” – wise words!

So don’t skip your recovery days by getting in “one more session” – give your body a chance to catch up and watch the results!!

Preparing the engine

Race Day is here! You’ve trained for months, put in the kms and you’re feeling confident. You’ve checked the equipment, food in your pockets, bottles full and aside from some butterflies in your stomach you’re ready to go!

5 minutes into the race and you’re coming to the first “lumpy bit” …..the legs aren’t feeling too good for some reason and the anxiety starts to set in as the bunch moves gradually away from you. The anxiety becomes mild panic and you push harder but the legs just don’t want to play. What did I do wrong?

All too often I’ve heard this, and it usually comes back to the same thing……the Warm up!

A racing driver wouldn’t hit the accelerator without giving the engine time to warm up, and it’s the same when you’re on your bike. When you are cycling, your body shifts up a gear from its resting state. If you start to pedal hard from a cold start you will soon find yourself gasping for air and with an uncomfortable burn in your legs.

A good warm-up switches on your energy production system and gets it running smoothly. To supply the energy for cycling your body starts a process called glycolysis, breaking down stored fuel in your muscles. To do this your body requires more oxygen, so your breathing and heart rate increase to make sure oxygenated blood reaches your muscles. To start exercising hard without a gradual warm-up is asking your body to play catch up on these processes, which it can’t do – instead you end up in ‘oxygen debt’ as your energy system needs more oxygen than your body is able to supply.

As well as priming your energy system, warming-up increases blood flow and your body temperature rises slightly. This increases the range of motion in your joints, your muscles feel less stiff and your pedal stroke becomes more fluid. The communication between your brain, nervous system and muscles also becomes activated. If you are warming-up for a hard training session with high intensity intervals or a race, this neuromuscular activation is critical to allow your muscles to respond rapidly when you want to sprint or accelerate.

Take the time to plan a good warm up routine dependant on the type of event you are about to do. A rule of thumb is that the shorter and more intense the event, the longer the warm-up needs to be. For longer events or a training session of an hour or more, twenty minutes is plenty. If there is a hill close to the start or you go off fast with a group of riders, a good warm-up will make sure you are fully prepared.

Make your warm up a major part of your routine! Trust me, there’s nothing worse than watching that bunch disappear into the distanc.e

Squares and Circles

As cyclists we obsess (yes I said it) over power to weight ratios, watts and kilos.  So focussed are we on these numbers there are stories of riders saying no to ice cream.  The horror.  The idea is simple, the more power you can put out (watts) per kilogram of body weight the faster you will go with all other things being equal.  On climbs this is particularly important and your riding buddy that turned down the ice cream may have an advantage.

Fear not, we have something to help for just such situations.  Investing some time to develop an efficient pedalling technique is key to lifting your comfort on the bike, developing leg speed and converting all those watts to moving your bike forward.  Some riders are gifted with beautiful, fluid pedalling techniques as they turn what looks like effortless circles.  We have learned it’s best not to invite those people on rides.  Other riders tend to mash on the peddles making what looks more like squares than circles.

Sit down, peel the lid of that ice cream, we have got you covered.  A few years back Road Cycling UK has posted a great article on pedalling efficiency that is a must read.

We all want to ride faster, farther and with more comfort.  One of the keys to making this happen is to improve the efficiency in your pedal stroke.  It doesn’t cost anything.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

To help you understand what muscles are being used – click here.