Friday, 1 March 2013

The 30 day challenge - Day 27 - The Psychology of coaching Pro cyclists

This blog post is a little late in publication but was recorded prior to my visit to South America in November. Now that I have been researching in detail the clinical aspects of cycling (eating disorders, their symptoms and the psychological effects this has on riders), it seems an apt time to finally publish this piece. For the reasons stated I've been playing catch up since my return, but it gives me great pleasure to introduce on camera my good friend Carlos Taboas Lorenzo, who guest posted a few years ago on team mental toughness within professional cycling, which he completed for his MSc thesis.

Since graduating, Carlos has moved on to be a coach and performance trainer with a number of cyclists of different ability levels both here and in Spain. In the video he discusses his experience first as a rider (winning the 1988 Tour of Ibiza and the Spanish championship at 17 years old). He then mentions how he joined the elite for a number of years before having his career ended before it hits its peak.

Moving sideways professionally, he re-trained in sport science, specialising in Sport Psychology at MSc level, to be able to assist on the other side of the professional relationship.

Cutting to the chase, I ask what he does now for cyclists and how that differs to what he experienced when he competed as a pro cyclist. Fundamentally, he emphasises getting his athletes to enjoy their training. As an athlete he worked hard but lost the enjoyment factor and somewhat fell out of love with his sport for a time. He tries to get his riders to understand what they like about training and change things if necessary and believes it is this emphasis that keeps his riders motivated.

He tailors his work on a 1 to 1 basis with each rider, even in the off season, finding alternative core training that they might like and avoiding where possible training they like less. In his time on the pro circuit he was prescribed training by coaches that he didn't enjoy; didn't fully work out goals with coaches and subsequently put too much pressure on himself to succeed.

The impact on his riders is that they have improved performance wise (so far) in both time trials, training, ranking and in the feedback they give him.

He believes having a sound relationship between rider and coach is crucial. This follows the work by Sophia Jowett at Loughborough that identifies one of the most important elements that plays a role in success for an athlete's well being and performance comes from the relationship between the coach and the athlete (and indeed from all of the significant people around an individual). Think of the closeness of Tony Minichello and Jessica Ennis or Alberto Salazar and Mo Farah and the importance of the relationship between coach and athlete on the athletes well being and performance. Research has also shown the deleterious effect of a bad relationship, ranging from physical and mental abuse to less negative factors that impact athletes at all levels. More can be read in this paper from 2003 on Olympic athletes, which has lead to guidelines being given to those involved within sport to follow.

I then asked Carlos for advice on psychological training for endurance athletes. He advocates a self-assessment of how much you are enjoying your discipline, not overtraining, taking plenty of rest (see some great advice on this subject from Simon Freeman this week from his blog. If you're an endurance athlete training over 5 times a week you should be getting at least 8 hours solid sleep a night to allow for proper repair to your body), and learn (or re-learn) how best you yourself enjoy your discipline. When you're a slave to the schedule, it is easy to fall out of love with what you are doing.

With the benefit of reflection, whether you're self-trained or have your own coach, it is easy to lose sight of why you are pushing yourself so hard. Just to get a time? To get a PB? Think ahead, both to your upcoming training, competition and the off season, and see how you can make your workouts more fun. It should have the impact on your both your fitness and level of motivation.

Thanks Carlos!


Juan Carlos Taboas-Lorenzo said...

For those interested, you can contact me at

Juan Carlos Taboas-Lorenzo
Former Spanish Champion
MSc Sport Psychology,
BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science
Level 3 Certificate in Coaching Cycling

Stu Holliday said...

And so you know where Carlos is based, he covers South of England, is willing to travel and (ask nicely enough) will push you really hard on 2 wheels on the fine roads and mountains of his native Spain. :-)