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The Psychology of Learning and Mountain Biking

by Kelly Vance on January 08, 2017

Ambassador Amelia Taylor is a psychologist as well as an avid mountain biker, with a strong interest in exploring the connection between the two.  Her blog series explores how current psychological research applies to learning and progressing in an action sport. 

Something in the stars managed to bring both psychology and mountain biking to my life when I was really at a crisis point. At the time I didn’t put the two together. I was studying my doctorate and needed something selfish in my life. 5 years on and I apply biking to psychology as much as I apply psychology to biking. I’m aiming to write a series of blogs around this theme. I’d be interested in your thoughts!

Photo courtesy of DocWard

I spend a lot of time talking about learning. I often think we’ve got that wrong in education. There is a neurological process to learning. We learn physical skills and mental skills just the same way. That’s right, muscle memory is not a thing!!!! It’s no different to learning to read. We learn those small component parts and we put them together. We learn the phonemes and we chunk them to read and write. Learning happens through motivation, access to a model or instruction, repetition and ‘deep’ practise. There’s a fantastically accessible book on this, ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle, I thoroughly recommend you read it! Dan talks about the Z Boys and how they learnt the art of surfing then applied that to skateboarding. There was a drought and a great deal of new empty housing with drained swimming pools. They used these to practise. That environment meant they had small areas so they repeated their actions over and over again. They took really small movements and magnified them in the swimming pools. They practised ‘deeply’. It takes that sort of practise to get skilled. Seems like incredibly hard work right?

The evidence suggests that it takes that type of practise to learn a skill but you can learn that skill in about 20 hours. You won’t be an expert, but you should be proficient (providing you have the physical abilities required). You have to be prepared to commit that. Check this video out about just that:
Now, I have an excuse, I work 4 days a week, I have a 16 month old daughter and my weekends are already pretty busy with riding and Northern Downhill. But if someone was willing, then here’s a challenge: Find 20 hours, write me a blog / make a video / keep a diary. Focus on one skill, wheelies / manuals / jumps / drops / corners. Watch someone who is good at it. Watch how they move. Video it, imagine yourself doing it. Get it on repeat. Look at every small movement. Want it. Then, an hour a day / an hour a week or an hour a month. Use those 20 hours to practise every small movement component of that skill. Video it, look for what you did well and do it more. Analyse every detail. Practise deep. Share the results. I’m desperate to see! Keep me posted and keep up to date @mtb_amelia.

Follow Amelia's blog for more insight! 


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