Rufty-Tufty Jumpers and the art of faking it till you make it…

I’m recently back from a super holiday in the French Alps and wanted to share a few coaching related musings I’ve had on my travels.

As I possess the boredom threshold of a small butterfly if sat on a beach, I’d been looking forward to an exciting fortnight of mountain biking and hiking.

The problem is I’m not actually that good at mountain biking, having a ‘More Enthusiasm Than Ability’ approach to most of my hobbies. The plan was that we’d stay in one of the ski resorts, which double as mountain bike destinations in the summer. A fantastic idea I thought – ‘get a ski lift to carry my bike up, then it’s all downhill from there’. Literally!

Having grown to the dizzy heights of 4 feet 11 inches in my 49 years, I guess I’m what could be called ‘diminutive’ in the mountain bike world. Especially when we arrived in resort to find clouds of testosterone filling the bike scene, with full suspension bikes, full-face helmets and body armour being de rigueur. I’m not sure anyone really noticed me with my little blue bike, complete with bell (I don’t really use the bell, but I like the dinging noise when I go over a bump!). Up I trotted to the ski lift, before promptly getting it stuck in the barrier because I went through the wrong way. (Much to the amusement of the trés cool barrier attendant – yes, laughter does transcend all boundaries!)

What I did find however, was that I became a ‘non-person’. My partner Malcolm, would ask for directions, or advice on the difficulty of a trail and the other mountain bikers would happily chat away to him, completely ignoring my presence. The final straw came when I asked a guy in an adjacent campervan to ours about his ride, for him to say, ‘Are you the pit crew?’

So what to do? I was pretty annoyed at myself for caring, but also quite intrigued about the assumptions that were being made. I then came up with a cunning plan/social experiment – if I made myself look more like the others, they’d think I was a good rider like them! Having ruled out growing a foot in height overnight as being a bit impractical, I trotted off to buy a biking jersey like everyone else’s, which I promptly named my ‘Rufty-Tufty Jumper’.

Interestingly enough, this had two effects. Firstly the ‘big boys’ started to acknowledge my presence as ‘one of them’ and secondly, that my confidence and ability increased massively, with the result I was able to tackle rides I’d never have considered before.

Back home and my ‘real life’ as a coach, I’m not really sure what to make of all this. On one hand, I do feel resentful that I was placed in a situation where I was disregarded simply because of other people’s assumptions, whether that was influenced by my gender, my attire, age, height, equipment, or whatever. There was the rebel in me however, that loved challenging those assumptions and just going and doing it anyway.

Also, I was amazed at how much difference buying and naming my ‘Rufty-Tufty Jumper’ made to my mental state and consequently my ability. (A real bargain, by the way – €30 cheaper as I can fit in kid’s sizes!) The fact that I looked the part meant I felt like I’d developed a new persona, which made me behave accordingly, with the result that I got much more out of my holiday than I would in other circumstances.

So ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ as a mantra? Hmm…. I think I value authenticity too much to make this a habit, but hey, on a practical note, if it works for you and gets the results you’re looking for…