How to deal with a setback in your cycling

Crashes, illness, injury or racing disappointment — setbacks are part and parcel of cycling. It’s how you deal with them that matters, writes Dr Josephine Perry

We all experience setbacks in our cycling lives. Sometimes it feels like you’re having more than your fair share. Be it not being picked for a race, a sudden drop in power, a loss of confidence or just a poor race, each setback can feel like the end of the world. However, taking a knock can be an important catalyst in driving your athletic development.

Yanto Barker races for One Pro Cycling. He says: “I have had many setbacks during my 20-year career. Anyone can act tough when everything is going well, but I’ve always looked at setbacks as an opportunity to prove to myself I am tough.

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“These are the characteristics that will get me back to a strong and confident place to attempt to achieve another big goal. The quicker you stop fighting what has happened, the quicker and more focused you can be to get on with the job of recovering.”

Overcome the emotion

Confidence concentration Oliver Bridgewood crop

Separate yourself from the emotion and come back stronger

If you face a setback, there are steps you can take to help deal with it effectively and come back stronger.

The key is to separate yourself from the emotion of it all. If this is hard, think about the setback happening to a friend or clubmate, giving you some ‘head space’ to look at it rationally.

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This allows you to analyse which elements of the setback you’re able to control and take responsibility for. The more elements you identify, the more effective your action plan can be.

The essentials

  • Learn from your setbacks and regard them as an opportunity to improve
  • Analyse the setback to identify the elements in your control
  • Set a new goal and write an action plan to achieve it

Things to do (and not do) after a training ride

Learn from failure

If your setback starts to overwhelm you, remember that failing is often the best way to learn new skills.

Barker says: “I think we always learn more when things go wrong. It requires us to first understand what went wrong and why, and then not only what we can do to make it better but also what we should not do again.”

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Looking at it in this way means the setback becomes a valuable learning experience, allowing you to come back as a better, stronger and more resilient cyclist.

Avoid back ache

Key points

Do: sit down and analyse why the setback occurred and which elements you are responsible for and can take control over.

Do: reflect on the setback a month or so later. Try to understand what you learnt from it. Identify which parts of the reflection, analysis and action plan worked well for you and how you could implement it to improve future training and racing.

Do: create a goal and an action plan to move beyond the setback. Include changes you will be making and elements that are already going well and you just need to maintain.

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Don’t: fixate on the negatives. You need to find the positives too so you can incorporate them into your action plan to ensure you play to your strengths and make the necessary changes.

Don’t: allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. Think through how you would advise a friend to deal with the setback. Take out some of the emotion and break down your response into small actions that feel more manageable to implement.

Don’t: think of the setback as a catastrophe — it is rarely as bad as first imagined. Take a step back and rationally reflect on what can be done to get back on track.