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A talk about overcoming fear in extreme sport and how to be a better athlete reaching your goals

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

In Surf Søstre we like to be inspired by other like minded sports, because we are quite sure we can learn a lot from each other and become even better at what we do - especially if they are a little bit ahead of us ;)

We had an inspiring chat with Emil, National Coach for Motocross/Danish Motor Federation, who is a true expert in creating athletes. On top Emil is not only winning titles, such as junior world champions, but he’s also focusing on maintaining a healthy mind while doing it. So, here follows the big question lying on the tip of our tongues: "Are girls more afraid when it comes to extreme sports and how do we cope with fear or accept the “fear feeling” ?”

He started driving moto cross at the age of 5, but had to end the career on the bike due to a fatal neck injury falling off the dirt bike. Luckily he kept using his knowledge to coach other athletes and kept on being around the sport he loves and created his dream job.

If you are a person who likes to be very ambitious about your sport, your surfing and wants to be inspired on how to do it even more, this story is for you.

What is your job description?

I work as the National Coach for the Motocross/Danish Motor Federation. My main job is working with the elite riders, who participate in the World Championship, both women and men. We also work with the young riders from the age of 14 years old. Motocross is a young sport, so we need to help the young riders the right way from a very young age. My main focus is rider development, but I’m also in charge of the education for new trainers, mainly trainers who will work in the local clubs.

When did you start riding a dirt bike?

I was five years old when I had my first ride on a bike. When I turned seven my brother and I went to our first official training at a prober motocross track.

Which titles did you win during your career?

I have won some national titles as a rider and some good results internationally. However, I’ve been winning much more as a trainer, then as a rider

What lessons did competing on a high level give you, if you should pass it on to the younger generation?

For me it is very important to have goals, But to have high goals you need to learn to work hard and learn that, it is okay to make mistakes and learn to work through difficulties.

The flip side of competing on a high level?

When you have high goals, unfortunately you will tend to have more bad days too, then back to winning days, all that leads to hard periods. Motocross is an individual sport, so you will train and work a lot on your own. You must live/move at a young age by yourself. The money in motocross is small in the beginning of your career, and the risks are high, all that you must accept and bite the dust.

What advice did you wish someone would have given you on being a professional sports athlete?

I wish someone could have helped me with taking it less seriously and remember to enjoy the process. Not focus on winning every minute of the day.

Which differences do you meet when coaching the girls compared to the guys? Do you notice a different beneficial way of approaching the girls, for them to progress better?

The girls have a bit more emotions, and express them more, which some days are easier to work with than a closed book who does not say anything. We will give them the same attention and possibilities, but we work with individual egos, and everybody, no matter gender, needs different tasks for the given training or race.

Motocross is a pretty badass sport, and it’s almost like you have to contain some special guts, just like hitting the big waves in surfing. Do you have any advice on how to deal with the fear extreme sport often comes with?

I have learned that no matter how badass or fast you are, you will get scared and nervous as hell. We work with fear every day, it can come from a certain jump or your competitors because you want to win. We have a strategy where you accept the “fear feeling”, release it and refocus on your task to handle your fear. The fear can be a jump, the release can be a certain sentence/word/picture in your head, the task can be something the rider needs to do, to do a perfect jump, maybe a certain position on the bike before you hit the jump. It is important that the task is something that you are 100 percent in control of.

Are there any common features you see in people who are performing well in sport, especially extreme sport, that helps them reach the top?

Yes absolutely. Particularly four things:

  1. Learn to accept mistakes/failure

  2. The willingness to work hard

  3. Be able to work/deal with difficulties

  4. It is possible to focus on the process in the daily work, and not only focus on the end goal.

Do you see girls have bigger fears to overcome in extreme sports than the guys?

No, I don't, I see they have a different way of handling them. That is also why we train in mixed groups; there they will learn from each other and see it is very normal to have fears.

It’s like we see many great talented athletes but only a few ones are competing and successful doing it. Is it because it takes a special mindset to compete or what do you think stands in the way of more people doing contests?

First of all, I do not believe in talent, I think the young riders/athletes must do the sport because it is fun, and not be in a “Talent Box” too early.

I believe too many fear making mistakes, they’re too scared of not winning/doing good results. So, it is easier to stay away.

I believe you need to learn to compete. We work with riders and families from a young age to help with competing. So, both riders and their parents do it as a fun weekend, where you are there to learn, and not have to focus too much on the results. The mindset is important, but I believe and see that the riders/athletes that are good at competing are also good at focusing on the task ahead and not only the results.

That takes time to train, like everything else. I need riders that are willing to train the mindset, and not only motocross.

How do your athletes deal with financing their sport with all the equipment and travel days it comes with?

We have some very independent athletes who handle and take care of equipment/sponsors/traveling by themselves. They get help with everything, but a lot of the stuff is on themselves because they are their own little team.

How do your athletes juggling everyday life with school or work and doing their sport on a high level?

They are on it, many of them have part time jobs, some are still in school, and the ones who do the World Championship are professional, so they only do motocross and earn the money from their teams. We try to have blocks where school is more important, then a block of training, and then a block for competition.

How much would you recommend to travel out for better conditions if you are serious about your sport?

It really depends on your goal and how many races/competitions you have.

Like our World Championship riders are on training camp 3 x 12 days in December and January (Spain), in February we try to train in Denmark or Belgium. Then the season starts in Marts through October. We also search to train with other good riders and new tracks, which we have to go abroad to get.

Do you have any advice for the Danish surf community on how to become a competitive surf nation, when not being a world class surf country?

First of all you need to stop telling yourself that you are not a world class surf country.

You want to be a world class surf nation, please believe it. If you want to be good at competing, you must train and figure out why we want to be good at competing. I believe the surf community is very social, which is a good thing, but maybe too social sometimes. You must make room for competition, also in the training groups and community. It is not a switch that you can turn on when you go to the competition.

Our training environment is a mix of elite riders, men/women and the young riders coming up. Training consists of a little of everything; race simulation, technically drills and mental coaching both on and off the bike.

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