Anxiety, Nervousness and Learning in MTB

Anxiety, Nervousness and Learning in MTB

We understand it

We understand your nervousness and anxiety for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we see it in many of our students, and secondly, we ourselves are not immune from it either. Yes, that means even some of our coaches still experience not just nervousness, but also anxiety as well.

What’s the difference?

The term ‘anxiety’ is used often these days. A high percentage of times, what is being experienced is possibly better described as nervous anxiety to distinguish it from the often used anxiety disorder. Medical professionals use the term ‘Anxiety Disorder’ to describe several conditions and disorders that include high levels of continued anxiety such as phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress and others. A true anxiety disorder will be long lasting and interfere, not just with times in your life that take you out of your comfort zone, but even more mundane times you once dealt with, with no adverse feelings at all.
A normal level of anxiety (nervousness), on the hand, is a short term reaction to something that causes you concern, nervousness or fear. It’s a natural, built in safety system our body uses to try to keep us from harm. A first date, a job interview or rolling down a rocky piece of trail may well cause you to feel some anxiety. You may well experience fear, a feeling of being pressured, shaking, a perceived speed up of time and other symptoms. This normal, nervous anxiety is a real thing. Nervous anxiety will usually dramatically ease and end soon after we either accomplish the task at hand or the perceived threat as passed.
Although an anxiety disorder is more chronic (long lasting) than nervous anxiety, this doesn’t mean nervous anxiety is to be treated as insignificant. If severe, we know it will stop a rider from attempting things on the trail they might have happily done even the day before. Our minds and bodies are funny things indeed.

Seen more in women

We do tend to see nervous anxiety in more women than men, but we do it see in the guys as well. With their biological ‘man genes’, high testosterone levels and being made from slugs, snails and puppy dog’s tails; guys often grow up doing loads of things that push their personal boundaries and overcome fears. Girls are full sugar, spice and everything nice, so high levels of bravado aren’t prevalent. But they learn to build their bravado given the chance for sure.


Nerves are something that many guys won’t admit to. Again those male ingredients and the social pressures they grow up under, conspire to make admitting to being highly nervous, an option they avoid. A high percentage of the ladies however, will admit they are afraid or nervous. From a coach’s perspective, we prefer admittance every time over feigned bravado that may lead to an unsafe attempt. We are here to help you learn, not pressure you into hurting yourself. Sometimes learning just has to come from watching others until you are ready.

It’s OK to not have a go

This is very important. It’s very normal for all students to experience some nervous anxiety before attempting something new. How much will depend on the individual.
So, you are experiencing a high level of anxiety as you watch others attempting a skill that is frightening you somewhat. You are afraid you might panic during your attempt, so you keep letting others go first. But now there’s only one person left to try… and it’s you. What do you do? This is where you have to be sensible. Don’t be afraid to say “I’m not ready to try this”. We encourage you to try to overcome your anxiety throughout your coaching, but YOU know when it’s too much, and we will respect your decision every time. Sometimes, we even recognise the symptoms and will make a safety decision before you have a chance to say anything. We may simply start you further down the slope as an example, or we may decide today is not your day for this skill. And that’s OK. Simply refocus and concentrate on improving other skills until you are ready at a later point. If we know how you are feeling though, you might be pleasantly surprised how we can further break down a skill to help you make forward progress on a level you can deal with if you are struggling with anxiety. You’d also be surprised how many other students will be silently praising you for being strong enough to make the right decision.

Rates of learning

One of the pressures many students experience (men included) is to keep up with and, do as well as, their class mates. While it’s valuable to be inspired by others around you, everybody learns at their own rate and there are many reasons why this is so.
The founders of Momentum Is Your friend have decades of experience not just in mountain biking and road cycling, but also management and training. We’ve completed many courses, workshops and the like on how to structure, break down and teach the skills you need in a progressive way. We’ve even sort out and achieved certification from the world’s only global, mountain bike instructors association, the PMBIA. We’ve learnt how people often learn in different ways than others around them. We pass this training on to our coaches to ensure every student gets the best coaching possible. This is why we believe we give an advanced level of coaching experience, we have an empathy and understanding that most other coaches do not.
Some people learn very well in group situations, whereas others prefer more personal tutoring. Some people respond better to watching rather than listening and vice versa. This is visual response bias as opposed to audio response bias. Some people simply need to be doing things to learn. This is kinetic response bias. Different people often respond better to one of these learning response biases. Some have natural abilities or previous experience that aids them in certain skills. Some people are analytical and need time to assess and build up to their attempts on the bike whereas others are rip, shit and bust to launch into everything. Some people have conditions, diseases or previous injuries that restrict their learning rate at times.
Even personal issues or something simple as lack of sleep can all have an affect on how someone might respond in any given coaching session.
So then, it’s fairly easy to understand that expecting to learn at the same rate as others around you is quite possibly an unreasonable expectation and only serves to add even more pressure. The key to remember is that in a group session, you might all be learning as a group, but you are individuals learning at individual rates also.


Not every attempt a student makes at a skill will result in success. But rather than see it as a failure, we prefer to see it as a progression to success. We aren’t being all airy fairy here, we are simply analysing the learning process to help you understand it better.
So you didn’t get that front wheel up properly and kind of bumped and bounced your way over that log, instead of floating over it in a display of mtb ballet that results in a standing ovation from everyone around including several wallabies, 2 lizards and a kookaburra who is no longer laughing at you. You have still progressed toward achieving log hopping nirvana. You gave it a try, that was the first step. You realise now perhaps that you didn’t get your weight back to encourage the front wheel up high enough. You have learnt that perhaps you didn’t have enough momentum to carry you over. Or that you need to scoop the back of the bike up more aggressively to get the back wheel to skim the top of the log nicely. Whatever, your perceived failure at this attempt, when you think about it, you are at least another step forward in achieving this goal because you tried. You can now try to build on that attempt. You are one less attempt from never trying and one attempt closer to achieving your goal. Therefore, it wasn’t a failure at all was it?!


So then, anxiety in anyone learning a skill that is outside of their personal comfort zone should provoke some sort of nervous anxiety response. This is normal, and the level of anxiety will vary person to person or even day to day in a specific person. Some people have low anxiety responses to such things while others have high level responses to cope with. Don’t be ashamed of your DNA and genetic makeup. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes baby steps are required to make great leaps forward.

We truly hope this helps the more nervous ones out there feel a little more comfortable.