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Coaches Blog

Dunning-Kruger, Mountain Biking, and Coaching

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

It is December. Which, for most of us, is the off-season. Time to take it easy, deal with the holidays, and maintain fitness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is recommended, the body and mind need time to recover from a season of long miles.

There is a lurking danger. The beginning of a new year and new season is the realm of one of the most dangerous pitfalls in Sports/Fitness/Well-being/Life. The Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias where a person believes they know more than they actually know. Everyone is susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and everyone has experienced Dunning-Kruger. When someone has that earth-shaking moment, they learn something and everything makes sense, just to figure out that they understand pretty much nothing. The effect can be represented as a graph:

It has happened to me many times. One of the most memorable was mountain biking. I grew up and started riding in the midwest. Over the years, I became an excellent mountain biker in the midwest. I went from being a consistent top half to top 10, to podium racer. I felt very confident in my knowledge of mountain biking. Then I moved to Colorado. I got blown out of the water in the first mountain bike race I did, and it was not even close. I went from a podium finisher in the midwest to a mid-pack C category finisher in Colorado. It was not because of fitness; it was because of a lack of knowledge. Even more frustrating, It was a lack of knowledge that I didn't know even existed. After that race, I fell into the "valley of despair." I felt I knew nothing about mountain biking and never will. However, over the next few years, I continued to bike and got my confidence back through experience. Now I have a greater understanding of mountain biking. If asked about mountain biking, I can confidently talk about riding in forests and deserts. Still, I know that I do not have expertise in eMTB or XCE riding. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is dangerous for a couple reasons:

The first is it is easy to get stuck on the peak of "Mt. Stupid." It feels good to be up there, and it is easy to get there. This is not necessarily bad. If I keep racing only in the midwest and not coaching, the effect is not hurting anyone. If anything, I am living the "Blissful Idiot" life in mountain biking.

The second reason is by far the most dangerous. This is when an individual firmly situated on the peak of "Mt. Stupid" begins to coach or influence other people. Just because someone has done a race or read a book, they are not an expert. Be very wary of the coach/influencer that has not had setbacks.

The Pygmalion effect is a comfortable recliner on the peak of "Mt Stupid." The Pygmalion effect is a cognitive bias that places high expectations with positive outcomes and low expectations with negative outcomes. Suppose an individual thinks they know everything and everything they expect to happen happens. In that case, they will lose the motivation to learn and never leave "Mt Stupid." At best, that coach/influencer will get someone to a plateau of success. At worst, that coach/influencer will actively recommend dangerous situations.

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault

I try to learn everything I can. I never want to be on "Mt Stupid" in my coaching, and I believe that to be the same for the other Team MPI coaches. Any one of us will tell you we do not know everything about coaching, but we all learn what we do not know.

The takeaway from this article is to be careful when setting the groundwork for this upcoming season. If you think you have it all figured out, you don't. That is okay; no one does. If someone tells you they have everything figured out, they don't.


Coach Adam Sczech is an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, USAT Level I Certified Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and VFS Master Bike Fitter based out of the Western Slope of Colorado. Adam has years of experience coaching beginners, juniors, elites, and clubs as well as a year focusing specifically on special needs athletes. Adam's expertise with bike fitting is extensive with over 15 years and 8,000 fits for athletes that include two world record holders, a national champion, several IRONMAN Pro/Age Groups winners, and an ITU winner. He has completed several full and half Ironman races, as well as numerous Olympic and Sprint races.


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