Toolbox: Best Advice from My Mentors
My original intention was to compile some of the best pearls of wisdom I’ve imparted over my 5 years writing for Pez. Instead, I’ve decided to compile some of the best words of wisdom and advice that I’ve received over the years from my various mentors and coaches and how I’ve applied it to life and bicycle racing.
Mentor: My Dad
It’s only sensible that the first words of wisdom that shape our lives come from our parents.
Words of wisdom: Sometimes you’ve just got to say what the heck (this is the G-rated, acceptable for print version).
Back drop: I believe this advice was doled out during a particularly stressful exam week. I was beating myself up because I was going to have to miss some crucial study time in order to attend an important family event.
What it meant to me: Even at the time, the point of these words was clear to me. I was in a tough situation, but my options were limited. The event was mandatory, studying was out, so what was the point of worrying about it? If it hurt my grade then so be it, but there are things like family and happiness that are more important than any grade. “Sometimes you just have to say what the heck,” stop worrying and try to enjoy life.
How it relates to cycling: This one comes in to play in my cycling and coaching, almost on a daily basis. Things are not always going to go perfectly in your training. You’ll miss workouts, lose precious recuperation time, forget to drink your recovery shake exactly 20 minutes after your ride and make stupid mistakes in races. There is no question that avoiding these pitfalls will have a positive impact on your cycling performance. What won’t have a positive impact on performance is worrying about the mistake once it’s already been made. In fact, the extra stress and concern will only cause additional exhaustion to your nervous system and exacerbate the original problem. Learn from your mistake, fix it and move on with your training. Worrying about a missed workout that can never be made up never helped anyone. Suck it up and say, “what the heck.”
Mentor: Sal – Junior Cycling Team Manager
Sal was the cranky Italian letter carrier who delivered mail to Cycles BiKyle, the bike shop in Philadelphia I raced out of as a teenager in the early 90’s. With a little 1950’s racing experience under his belt, he somehow got involved as the manager of our 15-rider junior team.
Words of wisdom: Knock it off!
Back drop: As I mentioned, Sal was cranky and old, or at least that’s how he seemed to a 14 year old. These pearls of wisdom were dispensed several times a day over the three years that I raced for the junior team. “Knock it off,” could be heard at coffee shops before races, in the team van on long road trips and at cheap motel rooms in rural Pennsylvania. Most of the time they were heard before the man had his morning coffee and cigarette, which always seemed to mellow him out.
What it meant to me: To be honest, at the time it meant we should shut up for a few moments and then, when he wasn’t looking, laugh about what a grouchy old man he was. Over the years it came to mean something else. Here was a man who, for no personal financial gain, had sacrificed several years of weekends to a group of obnoxious young cyclists who thought they were God’s gift to the sport of bike racing. Though we weren’t necessarily bad kids, we were teenage boys and, thereby, we were idiots and we were disrespectful. “Knock it off,” could have been translated to, “have some respect for an old man who loves you.”
How it relates to cycling: The words, “knock it off” mean something else to me now. Athletes are not an island. Many people have sacrificed for us in order to allow us to do what we do. Our parents sacrifice to raise us and work long hours to pay for our equipment and entry fees. Our wives and girlfriends give up afternoons at the farmers market and Friday night dates so we can go to bed early for a Saturday morning race or training ride. Our kids miss us at mini league and being picked up from birthday parties. Our teammates and coaches lay it all on the line for us week in and week out. So next time you find yourself stewing about missing a ride because you have to go to your sister’s bridal shower, “knock it off” and gracefully return the favor of sacrifice that so many others have made for you.
Mentor: Doug Ross – High School Wrestling Coach
We all have that one teacher with whom we make a special connection. Mr. Ross was my coach and taught 7th grade science, the one class that, in all my years of organized education I actually looked forward to.
Words of wisdom: No pain, no gain.
Back drop: Most of our time was spent in the wrestling room or, as we called it, “The Bump.” There were posters covering the walls with various cartoons and motivational sayings intended to inspire us. The only other one I remember is the picture of the three obese, beer-guzzling hillbillies know as the Oulda brothers. Woulda, Coulda and Shoulda.
What it meant to me: My wife says, many times with frustration, that these are the words I still live my life by. Wrestling is a very difficult sport, perhaps the only sport I’ve found that rivals cycling in terms of sheer suffering. So back then, “no pain, no gain,” meant literally just that. You have to suffer physically to win. In their adult lives, many people translate this to mean anything worth having is worth fighting for. For me, I still live by the phrase to it’s most literal definition, but that’s probably just my personal issue.
How it relates to cycling: This one is pretty obvious. We must sacrifice to achieve. Cycling is a demanding sport. Not just physically, but it demands our time, our devotion, our hearts and our minds. There is always someone out there who is willing to give up more than us in order to succeed and that is the person we are constantly competing against. You can go out and buy the most expensive wheels, the lightest frame, the best energy drink and nutritional supplements, but winning ultimately comes down to will power. Who has the willingness to work the hardest and pay for success with blood sweat and tears? Who is willing to suffer and sacrifice and endure? Who is willing to head out before the sun has risen and return home when it’s begun to set? Who wants it more?
Mentor: Bert Glennon – Cycling Coach
Bert Glennon has been my coach for almost 10 years now. Yes, even coaches need a coach.
Words of wisdom: Stay Relaxed
Back drop: “Stay relaxed” might as well be Bert’s personal catch phrase. It’s in his logo and on his cycling clothing. I can barely remember a single conversation in 10 years that has ended with anything to the effect of, “nice chatting with you, talk to you later.” It’s always, “stay relaxed.”
What it meant to me: When I first started working with Bert, I probably took it a bit personal. Chances are I was calling him about some drama in my training or in my life and I thought he was just telling me to chill out.
How it relates to cycling: It took me a long time (probably too long) to really figure this one out. It was the 2004 season when my mind, which had never been my closest ally, decided to really screw with me. Four races in a row. Four crashes. Four trips to the emergency room. Fortunately, someone referred me to a sports psychologist and the rest is history. I began to study sports psychology, created The Ultimate Cyclist CD and, since then, have worked side by side with some of the best American pro racers on their mental game. I’ve come to understand that cycling isn’t 50% or 90% mental, it’s 100% mental. In fact everything we do in life is limited by what we believe in our minds. A tense mind creates a form of mental tunnel vision. It loses its agility. It can’t make fast or smart decisions. Hence, stay relaxed is perhaps the most important advice of all. A relaxed mind is quick and smart. It is not constrained by stress and doubt. A relaxed mind in a relaxed body can accomplish anything.
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.