Matt Jones on the mind games involved in pulling off world firsts for the camera.
When an SAS veteran with 17 years’ experience tells you how to overcome a mental challenge, you listen.
For Matt Jones, one of the rising stars of mountain bike freestyle, working with sports psychologist Gary Ingam has helped transform his riding and brought his work to life on the screen, with his debut film Frames of Mind.
It tells the story of what goes through a rider’s mind when tackling a myriad of tricks including four world firsts – bum slide, 720 nose bonk, hitching post flip and the decade tsunami – and the visualisation that goes into the build-up.
“I never thought about using visualisation but I now use it day in, day out,” says Jones. “It means I find myself doing tricks on the sofa, albeit in my head.
“Gary was in the SAS for 17 years so that’s mind blowing and I take what he says as gospel. Maybe I wouldn’t if it was someone else. But he’s been in the highest pressured environments so he knows what he’s talking about. It’s really worked for me.”
In some ways, the psychology work was an absolute necessity. In the past, Jones would try out new tricks in foam pits. For Frames of Mind, he instead built the course in his mind and visualised the tricks before attempting them on the course for the first time.
The reason for the lack of hands-on practice was a broken wrist weeks beforehand, leaving him in plaster and unable to properly try them out.
But visualisation for him is a way forward in the future: “I had to think and feel how it should happen, and surprisingly everything was good. The course needed a few tweaks with a shovel but nothing major so that was pretty rad.
“And that’s given me a confidence boost and the idea that I can pull off in reality ideas in my head. That’s pretty cool.”
Jones admits he was a little bit unsure of his new mental approach but he believes it has opened an avenue to his riding that was previously untapped.
“It’s super strange as I’ve never done this before,” he explains. “You see it in the movies, people going to a shrink.
“But with me and Gary, we have a chat, talk about things I’m struggling with my riding. When we’re finished talking it’s like looking through a different lens. You have a barrier in front of you to which you now have a different approach.
“And the mental approach helps physically too. It reduces the risk factor and saves me a trip to A&E. So you go over something in your head without getting yourself in the danger zone.”
For Jones, the filming was carried out in Woburn in woods near to where he grew up. To him, the trees and dirt were familiar, terrain where he had experienced many of his early crashes on two wheels.
But that familiarity, he says, meant with Frames of Mind, “I could do things I might not have tried out anywhere else in the world”. But the project evolved markedly from how it had begun.
He adds: “It started with the idea of doing something around world first tricks but then we started to expand and think outside the box. It was almost Danny McAskill territory in terms of thinking outside the box.”
As for landing those tricks for the first time, it was more a relief than a cause for celebration.
“It’s definitely a relief as you think about something for so long and you know it’s possible but you have to put so much time and effort in, and keep trying and trying,” he says.
“But also sometimes it was a bit like ticking boxes as there was limited time for these tricks so you didn’t have a chance to celebrate as it was like the moment the trick was done it was onto the next one.”
As for what lies in store next, Jones is keen for now to shift his sights on competition for the season but his first film has given him a thirst for more screen time.
“I’ve been brainstorming a lot since this happened, and no idea seems too ridiculous,” he admits. “This one’s been made real, I just have to be careful I don’t get too ahead of myself!”