From Rookies to Racers: Mind Games, Mobility and Maximum Fun

Imagine this: you’re about to drop in for the last race of the season. Thoughts are running rampant in your head, you’re stressing out because you can’t remember whether the fifth turn went left or right, whether the roots come before or after the drop, and you’re not sure about your speed coming into the final turn…

Rookies to Racers

These are just some of the thoughts going through young racers heads seconds before dropping in. But there is a way where these thoughts become the edge you need in a race, rather than a nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. But how? The bike region Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis challenges itself to solve this question every year during the MTB-Festival.

All mountain bike rookies have their idols. They look up to the greats such as Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin, Rachel Atherton or Myriam Nicole. However, in order to improve, reach personal goals and inch closer to the riding level of their idols, having fun plays a vital role in the developmental process. Training off the bike and learning other techniques is a key part to becoming successful, and it’s an integral part of the game.

This is the foundation of the annual “Rookie Camp”, in which the participating kids are prepared to drop into the Downhill track during the „iXS International Rookies Championships“ – the unofficial youth World Championships. “Encouraging and supporting the young riders is extremely important to us. They are the future of our sport. We want to help them improve on the bike, but more importantly have fun mountain biking. Therefore we work as a team of experienced coaches and MTB pros, such as Matt Walker, who was with us this year,” explains Bikepark Manager Christian Zangerl.

The MTB-Festival Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis puts the kids in the spotlight every year. The preparation during the “Rookie Camp” is tailored specifically to their needs, so that they are well prepared for the weekend of racing. Additionally, they have the chance to gain insight into the life of a pro and to learn and acquire a whole range of skills that are beneficial to becoming a better rider. 

“It’s really good to pass on knowledge that I have learned over the last few years, instead of them having to learn the hard way themselves. Having the whole week with them really lets us dig deep and go in-depth when learning about each aspect of riding. So it’s not just a quick brush over the skills,” says New Zealand’s World Cup Pro Matt Walker.

Matt Walker

Apart from training on the bike, riding the trails and track walks, all aspects of being a good rider, both physically and mentally, are emphasized. “The level of concentration tends to decrease if you are constantly riding. It’s important to learn to take a break to be able to get back on the bike fully focused. This is why the schedule consists of other activities as well,” Zangerl stresses. 

A yoga seminar highlights the benefits of flexibility, agility and breathing techniques when it comes to preventing injury. The effects mindset has on the body, and therefore also on riding, are explained, and simple exercises are taught so that the young rookies can pick up techniques and work on finding the perfect balance they need to send the run they are looking for. Mental coaching sharpens the senses for the race environment; visualization and mental strength are key components for successful track walks, race run preparation and also processing and dealing with negative results or experiences. 

“It’s great to see how the kids take the information on board. Suddenly you see kids actually starting to use visualization and concentration techniques before and while they head up to the start gate. A day earlier some of them would just go up the mountain and send it down the track without a second thought or preparation,” 

Christian Zangerl

Bikepark Manager Christian Zangerl says he’s already looking forward to the next “Rookie Camp” that will take place from July 29 to August 4, 2019. “It’s super exciting to see how the rookies develop over the course of a year. Me and my team are looking forward to doing our part again next year; helping the kids to grow their passion for the sport and take the next step in their development.”

All photos by © Felix Pirker & Christian Waldegger