Here's Webster's definition:
The mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand
b: a sense of common purpose with respect to a group.
That seems right on target and will give us a base from which to further understand this topic. We are all aware that in sport, and especially cycling, morale can be very fickle and easily altered in any given race by a variety of circumstances (i.e. win, lose, crash). We all know the feeling that when morale is high, we feel like we can take on the world, that we have the possibility of winning every race, we ride with confidence and "swagger."
When morale is low, we think we need to train harder, we have little confidence in our abilities, we enter races with common excuses like "I am here just to finish" or "I'm here for the training." These thoughts happen at every level of the sport, from beginning racers to top-level professionals. Some handle it better than others. Others live a roller coaster of emotions.
Not All Smooth Sailing
Let's look at some of the common ways in which morale can be challenged in cycling:
- Inadequate preparation due to being out of shape or detrained. You are capable of racing in your category; you are just not fit enough at that particular moment.
- Sickness/injury. It seems there were a real nasty set of viruses going around this year that took weeks out of people's training time (including me.) Entering races without adequate training after being sick or just trying to race while not being 100% can begin the process of digging yourself into a training hole.
- Setting too high a target. Perhaps you qualified, but are just not ready to be in that next category; you might notice yourself being non-competitive every week and that is no way to race your bike! A common situation is that many riders get their upgrade points in criteriums or easier road races, and then they attempt longer, harder races without knowing how to properly train for the new intensity level. They are just not physically and mentally ready to compete in a higher category.
- Team issues. You're not having fun on your team. Someone or something is bringing the morale down on the team. There is a lot of negativity out there, a lot of excuses that can infect a team and not allow them to perform up to their abilities.
What Goes Down Must Come Up
OK, so how can you increase your morale and begin to improve?
Practice patience. Don't rush back from sickness; don't jump up in category just because you can. Make sure you are ready to take on all aspects of the next level because cycling is a particularly difficult sport. If you have an injury, be honest with yourself about when to take up competition again. Remember, it's a long season and there are plenty or races to compete in.