That this Tour talks about philosophy is something we owe to Guillaume Martin, one of those atypical cyclists that we celebrate when he speaks and writes, but also when he rides. His second place in the general classification, behind Pogacar, is an example.
We thank Martin for his weekend getaway, but also other delicacies that combine knowledge and sport: “We must think like men of action and act like men of thought” , it is not a quote from him (it is from Bergson) but with very good Eye Martin recovers it in a strong candidate for the book of the summer: Socrates on a bicycle, the Philosophers’ Tour de France (Road Books, 2020).
In it, the Frenchman invites Socrates, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Pascal or other philosophers (or cyclosophers, as he calls them) to participate in the prestigious race. An excellent (and surreal) starting point from which questions, doubts, reflections, meditations and incredible images arise such as Socrates taking the lead in a platoon or Sartre falling into a ditch.
A fantastic scenario that the cyclist has used to explain to the reader the necessary connections that are established between body and mind. Between action and reflection. Or what is the same: head and legs do not have to (nor should they) go separately , a reflection that serves to delve into one of the most feared episodes in a sports career: stagnation.
Sports stagnation goes far beyond a period in which no improvement is shown and results stagnate over and over again. You lose your grip, power, intensity … but be careful, not everything is physical. Stagnation and blockage are two concepts that, despite referring to different things, are closely related . One leads to another.
We tend to attribute the stagnation to the physical and the blockage to the mental, yes, but both feed into each other. Hence the importance of understanding, as Martin points out, that mind and body are as connected as the pedal to the chain of a bike.
Precisely, to recover the potential for improvement, the first thing we have to do is identify what circumstances are influencing our performance. Why have we stopped in full swing? To do this, we must know the symptoms that, often, the same athlete cannot see clearly detect. To know if you are stuck, I share five possible scenarios.
1.- You can’t beat your marks
Of the most unequivocal signs. But beware! Focusing only on the result can be the main engine of stagnation: in that case we must change the focus and begin to value other things above the clock.
2.- You have lost the claw to go out to train
Or what is the same: the obligation has long surpassed the illusion. A hose that goes beyond the physical and that is placed directly in our mind.
3.- You don’t enjoy competing
Closely related to the above. Enjoyment is a sine qua non condition to generate incredible results. Without that spark of doing what you really love the most, it will be difficult for your performance to improve.
4.- Difficulty managing emotions in failure
When we get angry, we move away towards that noise that does not contribute: the blockage. That is why concentration is key to staying connected with the feeling of enjoyment and harmony.
5.- Sabotaging thoughts corner you
Many athletes are not aware of the role that ‘nerves’ play in physical performance and that they fuel fears. Nerves that, precisely, move from the mind to the body.
Many athletes can spend entire seasons training to exhaustion without finding the strength or courage to wonder if they are taking advantage of so much effort. I know from experience: many of the athletes who come to me to overcome their blocks in competition have been through that moment . Some did identify the stagnation scenario but did not know how to overcome the blockade. Where is the cure? What is the solution?
The natural – and highly effective – remedy to neutralize the sports block is mental strength. Mental toughness in sport is the ability to observe and control your thoughts, emotions and actions, to give your best and play your best game, in any situation, regardless of the outcome. Impossible to get? If you are an athlete, you are in luck, because it is something that is trained.
If you want to know more about how mind and performance are closely related , you cannot miss this article in which we address the role of emotions and how emotional intelligence is a key ally to not be overcome by them. If we also add a hunger to win to intelligence, rest assured: the results will not be long in coming.