Journals Riders

Charlotte Broughton journal: the importance of mental training

Rider journals 2021: Charlotte Broughton #3/April

Charlotte Broughton is one of nine cyclists keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Charlotte was a ten times national champion as a youth and now rides for the new UCI Continental AWOL O’Shea. In her third journal entry, Charlotte reflects on the value of using a sports psychologist to help to her re-evaluate negative beliefs…

Like many young twenty-something adults, I feel at times that I’m a total failure in my chosen field; proper snotty-nose-crying-on-your-parents’-kitchen-floor-type-stuff.

My chosen field, of course, is cycling. I often think of all the wrong turns and bad decisions that I have made so far and I torture myself with them. I know for the most part that I am the main thing standing in my way in order to succeed. But I often regard myself as the only barrier to progression. I need to remind myself, however, that this isn’t always the case. A whole bunch of the factors – ‘right-place, right-time’ luck, who you know, personal life circumstances – all play such a huge role too. 

Cycling doesn’t have to be everything. But if you make it your everything, that’s OK too

Things started to change for me when I finally got help. Help which to be honest was nearly ten years overdue. I had standard CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) for anxiety in 2020. That helped me to be able to carry out day-to-day tasks, and it also gave me the ability to recognise when an attack was about to occur. In recent times, I have started seeing – over Zoom – a sports psychologist called Christian, and, my gosh, it feels like it’s been the missing piece of the puzzle.

Alderley Edge cobbles. Photo: Matt Gibson

Generic CBT was good and it certainly had its place. But I can’t just stay away from my triggers as this would mean staying away from what gives me my competitive edge. I believe that athletes pretty much have to allow their animalistic nature to take over to some degree; this is so we can push our bodies to the crazy extremes we need. In the depths of your physical and psychological limit, you aren’t you. I mean no normal person would want to put their academic career and child-bearing hopes on hold to follow a dream to get their wheel across a line before someone else… yep, I told you. No, perhaps we aren’t ‘OK’ if you want to judge us by classical psychological standards. But it is OK to feel this intensely, it just needs a level of control and understanding to ensure that it’s properly applied and utilised to its full potential. This is where sports psychologists come in…

Christian helps me to identify and address any ‘mental blocks’ that prevent me from competing at my best. These mental blocks can come from overly harsh belief systems which have been set up and reinforced by those around you (then by yourself subsequently) over years. They aren’t easy to change and are not always correctable through self-help, so they often need professional intervention. This is why, for me at least, having someone like Christian is paramount in overcoming my own personal barriers in cycling.

I’ve had a lot of negative comments and snide remarks over the years about my weight… This started when I was around 12. I’m 22 now

Working with Christian has made me realise that my belief system was all over the place. I’ve had a lot of negative comments and snide remarks over the years about my weight, my height (being 5ft 8in), and being ‘too big’ to be a successful cyclist. This started when I was around 12. I’m 22 now. Looking back, this was just so very wrong. For a long time, I was actually underweight. Since then, I have put on around 8kg, and, with this healthy weight gain, I am far stronger than I have ever been.

Even someone who’s perceived to be tough can be massively affected by comments on their physical appearance. It can really mess up someone’s mental health and self-worth, so unless you are a team nutritionist who knows how to broach the subject in a sensitive and supportive way, you have no right to voice your opinions on a person’s food intake or body composition. I’m very lucky to be healthy now. I have periods, my power numbers put most men’s to shame and I can complete a tough block of training without getting ill. I feel very thankful for the strong body that my mother gave me. This body is my home and it’s carried me through so much trauma and hardship. So props to her, what a body.

2019 Bristol Grand Prix

I’ve honestly learned so much and I would highly suggest any athlete who is struggling seeks help from a sports psychologist. They will be specifically prepared to deal with all of your athlete-related issues, can help you to fulfill your full potential, and to re-evaluate the (negative) beliefs that you have. Over the last few months working with Christian, I have realised so many things about myself that I was absolutely sure I understood previously. But I was so wrong. As a person, I am very aware of myself but you can never know yourself too much. Knowing your inner workings on this level will give you the edge and help you to be as productive and successful as possible. And hey, who doesn’t want that?

I’m no longer focusing on the past in nostalgic torture; I want to focus all of my energy on the ‘right now’ in the hope that it gives me a future that I can be proud of. I don’t want to look back and think ‘what if?’. I don’t want to question what could’ve been anymore. I want to say, ’I did that’ and I made my dreams work through sheer determination and obsession. I won’t allow things, opinions, or people to hold me back. I owe this to myself and I’m very fortunate to have people like Christian who play such a big role in helping me get there and helping me to realise it’s not cocky and tasteless to really believe in yourself, it’s actually paramount. Cycling doesn’t have to be everything. But if you make it your everything, that’s OK too. 

Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com. 2018 OVO Energy Tour Series Women’s Race – Round 6: Stevenage – Charlotte Broughton.

Find out more

Charlotte Broughton journal: change is sometimes a good thing

Charlotte Broughton journal: an athlete’s experience of coronavirus

Rider journals 2021: introducing Charlotte Broughton

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