All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

Next Race Season Starts…NOW!

ski-racing_lgNote: This article is an encore presentation of a previously published article that never gets old.

The race season is finally over. After a long and demanding winter, you’re probably tired of skiing (regardless of whether the season was a triumph or a disappointment). It’s time to hang up your skis, pack away your gear, kick back, relax, and forget about ski racing for a few months, right? WRONG!!!

Being the best ski racer you can be is not a part-time activity. It requires a year-round commitment and consistent effort in your physical, technical, tactical, and, yes, mental training. If you’re a ski racer serious about achieving your competitive goals, the end of the race season simply means it’s time to start your preparations for next season. After a short period of rest and relaxation, say, a week or two, you need to begin your planning and your training that will get you ready to continue your progress toward your goals next winter.

Evaluate This Past Season

The first thing you want to do is to look back on the recently completed race season and evaluate how you did. Here are several questions to ask yourself (and your coaches):

  • Did you improve physically, technically, tactically, and mentally?
  • Did you achieve the results you wanted (if not, why not)?
  • Did you make progress toward your long-term goals?
  • What did you do well?
  • What areas do you need to improve on?

 

With these questions answered, you can, in collaboration with your coaches, decide what in your training worked and what did not. You can then, again with your coaches, use this information to create an off-season training program to build on your strengths and alleviate your weaknesses.

It’s About Preparation

How you ski next year depends on what you do this spring, summer, and fall. The physical conditioning gains you make and the technical, tactical, and mental skills you develop in the off-season will determine how much you improve and whether you reach your competitive goals next winter. There are three areas in which you must focus to maximize your preparation.

First, Commit to an intensive physical conditioning program. Ski racing has become a sport of “beef,” meaning you need muscle, strength, and power (plus, of course, agility and quickness). The only way to develop these areas is with an organized fitness program that may involve weight training, plyometrics, speed work, and stretching.

Second, most racers spend at least part of the summer and fall on-snow. Summer and fall skiing is essential for your technical and tactical development because you’re able to focus exclusively on improvements in your skiing fundamentals without the pressures of getting ready for races. It also enables you to test and adapt to new equipment (though my motto is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” meaning if your equipment works for you, don’t mess with it. Testing distracts you from training and can cause you to question which equipment is best for you).

Finally, and just as importantly, the off-season is the best time to engage in mental training. Just like physical conditioning and technical skills, mental aspects of ski racing (e.g., confidence, intensity, and focus) take time and effort to develop. An organized program of mental training can have huge benefits when you enter the new race season.

Goal Setting

To help you figure out how to work on all of these areas, write down your goals for next season. The first goal you should look at is your long-term goal, that is, what you ultimately want to accomplish in your ski racing. Ask yourself whether that “dream” goal needs to be changed (upward or downward) or are you still on track for it. Next, set a seasonal goal for what you want to accomplish next winter in terms of results, rankings, etc.

Then, using the information you gained from your evaluation of last year and feedback from your coaches, set specific goals for your physical conditioning, technical and tactical development, and mental training to achieve those goals. These goals should be specific (e.g., amount of weight lifted, frequency of workouts) and structured into a weekly training plan. The idea is that every day when you get up, you know exactly what you need to do that day to progress toward your goals.

Mental Skills

The off season is the ideal time to work on the mental side of your ski racing. Ask yourself whether your mind helped or hurt your ski racing this past winter. Also, consider whether you had the intensity and focus to get the most out of your on-snow training is. Here’s my challenge to you: If you’re not engaged in a regular mental training program, you’re just not doing everything you can to achieve your ski racing goals!

Motivation. Your ability to commit to the goals that you set will depend on how motivated you are to put in the hard work, even when you’re tired, bored, or wanting to do things that are much more fun. If you have trouble motivating yourself, there are several things you can do.

Develop an organized weekly training program to help you build your training into your daily activities. If you have a plan, you’re more likely to stick to it. Also, find a training partner to work out with; you’ll be less likely to skip workouts when you feel unmotivated because your partner will be counting on you and you’ll work harder because someone is pushing you to do that extra rep, set, or drill. And post reminders where you can see them of your biggest competitors (“Am I working harder than them?”), racers whom you admire, or inspirational quotes that fire you up.

Confidence. A major purpose of off-season training is to build confidence. Think of it as putting money in the bank: The more confidence “money” you deposit now, the bigger confidence “debits” you’ll be able to write next winter. If you’re working hard and improving during the off-season, when the winter begins, you’ll have the confidence that you have done everything possible to ski your best and achieve your goals. See my earlier article about confidence on specific strategies you can use to build your confidence.

Intensity and focus. An important off-season goal for you is to identify and learn to control your intensity (e.g., get fired up or calmed down) and focus (e.g., avoid distractions). You can work on developing your intensity and focus skills during both physical conditioning and on-snow training. See my earlier articles about intensity and focus on specific strategies you can use to develop each area.

Mental imagery. Mental imagery is perhaps the most powerful tool you can use in your mental training during the off-season. Mental imagery, which involves regularly imagining yourself in different training and race situations, is like weight training for the mind, it can strengthen your technical, tactical, competitive, performance, and mental “muscles.” I will go into more detail about mental imagery in my final article of the season next week.

Getting Going

Getting going for next season starts with that first step of deciding how important ski racing is to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How big are your ski racing goals for next season?
  • How hard are your competitors going to be working in the off-season?
  • How badly do you want it?!?!

The key to achieving your goals next winter is to start now! Talk is cheap. It’s easy to say you want to be a great ski racer; it’s an entirely different thing to actually do the work necessary. If your goals are at all high, the only chance you will have is to commit to  intensive off-season physical, on-snow, and mental training programs. Your goal when you get in the starting gate of your first race next season is to be able to say: “I’m as prepared as I can be to achieve my goals.” And, with all of that hard work in the off-season that you “deposited in the bank,” the chances are you will be successful and reach your goals.

Note #1: Many thanks to skiracing.com (especially Sarah and Christine) for giving me the opportunity to share my ideas with the ski racing community this past winter. It’s been great fun meeting new parents, coaches, and racers and reconnecting with those I knew “back in the day.” See you here again next season.

Note#2: I received many emails and calls during the winter from parents and junior programs about working with their athletes. As my article above suggests, now is the time. If I can be of any help in the coming off season to racers, parents, or clubs, please feel free to contact me ([email protected]; 415-322-8425).

There is No Formula or Timetable for Ski Racing Success

Switzerland Ski AlpineWouldn’t it be great if ski racing had a formula that you could follow to be successful? Imagine if you had a list of things you simply needed to do (for example: get into shape, hone your technical and tactical skills, get your equipment dialed in, tune your skis) and, voila, you would have a 100 percent chance of skiing your fastest and getting the results you want.

Don’t you wish that ski racing was like, say, taking a test in school? There is a formula for that, at least to some degree. You pay attention in class, do your homework, and study diligently for the test. Assuming the test is fair, you have a near 100 percent chance that you will perform up to your capabilities on the test. As a general rule for most students, what you put into school is what you get out of school.

Frustratingly, ski racing just doesn’t work that way. There aren’t the same certainties in ski racing. You can do everything right and you still may not get the results you want. But, one thing is clear. If you don’t do everything you can, you will have zero chance of achieving your ski racing goals.

Which brings us to another supremely frustrating aspect of ski racing. Not only is there no formula for success, there is also no timetable for success. Ski racing just doesn’t unfold the way you want it to when you want it to.

The good news is that you may get great results when you least expect them. That is always a big bonus for your efforts, but it’s definitely not something to count on. The bad news is that the results you want often take much longer than you had hoped for or expected. And, the really bad news is that those results that you devote so much time and effort to  achieving may never materialize – that is the inherent risk of giving your heart and soul to ski racing.

The reason why ski racing has no formula and no timetable is that it is a sport that is incredibly unpredictable and largely uncontrollable. There is no way to tell how long it will take to reach your goals or if, in fact, you ever will.

Think of all of those things that create this massive uncertainty and uncontrollability, both within and outside of you. Though you can work out in the gym maniacally, you can’t really control your physical development; you will grow when your body is ready to grow. There is also fatigue, burnout, illness, and injury. Technical and tactical progress definitely comes in fits and starts and doesn’t always immediately translate into results. And don’t even get me started on how unpredictable the mental side of ski racing is, a fact I know firsthand from my own racing days and in my current work with racers.

As far as the external factors that add to the maelstrom that we call ski racing, the list is long. Weather, snow conditions, the course, the terrain, elevation, other competitors, start number, equipment failure, and just plain bad luck can all conspire to ruin a race or a season in which you are supremely prepared to ski your best and get the results you want.

It’s actually quite remarkable that, with all of the uncertainty that ski racing entails, anyone is able to put together one or two runs of a ski race. Yet, we see amazing skiing, though rarely truly flawless skiing, from kids as young as U10s up to the likes of Mikaela Shiffrin, Anna Fenninger, Marcel Hirscher, and Ted Ligety. This realization should give you hope because it shows that it actually is possible to overcome all of those factors that are outside of your control and find success in ski racing (however you define it).

So, in the absence of a clear formula or a defined timetable and in face of all this uncertainty and unpredictability, what can you do to keep yourself committed to your goals? Here are a few ideas.

Let your passion drive you. Your love for the experience of ski racing (e.g., training, travel, teammates, racing) must override your love of results.

Have goals, not expectations. It’s okay to set goals for yourself because they can motivate you. But expectations can create anxiety and pressure that prevent you from ever achieving your goals.

Be patient. Ski racing success can’t be rushed. Instead, give yourself the time to achieve your ski racing goals (it usually takes longer than you think it will).

Have trust. Believe in every aspect of your ski racing including your natural ability, effort, coach, equipment, and program.

Have hope. As I’ve discussed, there is no guarantee that your best efforts will be rewarded with fast skiing, good results, and accomplishing all of your ski racing goals. But hope, namely, the basic belief that if you give your best effort good things will happen, will take you as far as you can go.

Have perspective. If your ski racing doesn’t work out the way you want it to, take the long and broad view of everything you got out of ski racing including amazing experiences, meeting great people, and powerful life lessons that will serve you well throughout your life.

Even the Best Struggle Mentally

rafaHere’s a great article about Rafael Nadal in which he describes struggling mentally this year on the pro tennis tour. Roger Federer also discusses his mental difficulties.

For most people, it’s hard to imagine that such such gifted and experienced athletes who have had so much success in their careers could, for example, lose confidence and get nervous. Yet, my experience in working with Olympic and professional athletes has shown me that they are really not so different psychologically and emotionally than the rest of us; they are human.

It’s no surprise then that “mere mortals”, such as junior athletes and weekend warriors, also experience times when their mind turns from their best ally to their worst enemy.

What’s the lesson here? Be sensitive to changes in your athletic psyche and, just like a physical injury, take steps to resolve the problem before it shifts from acute to chronic.

Points aren’t the Only Criterion of a Successful Season

Anna FenningerWith the season drawing to a close, it is, for every racer, a time of reckoning in which you look back and evaluate what kind of season you had: one to be proud of or one to reflect back on with disappointment and perhaps regret.

One of the primary criteria that racers use to judge their seasons is how much they improved their point profile, either USSA or FIS. Here is a simple calculus that, like most racers, you probably use to determine what kind of season you had:

  1. Big reduction in points = Successful season
  2. Small reduction = Okay season
  3. No change = Disappointing season
  4. Increase = Devastating season

Let me say this upfront. If you are judging your season only on your point profile, you are making a big mistake. But, before I explain why I believe this bold statement to be so, let’s take a reality break.

Ski racing is a sport where results matter. You don’t get ahead by working hard (though great effort is certainly required) or by being a nice person. You progress up the competitive food chain by lowering your points. You qualify for more competitive race series and get named to teams almost exclusively based on your points (yes, in some cases, there are discretionary picks, but you don’t want to leave your success in the hands of others). And let’s be even more honest. Psychologically and emotionally, you may base a good part of your self-identity as a ski racer (maybe too much) on your results and points.

A problem is that, for those with high aspirations, such as college skiing, the USST, or higher, plateaus or declines in points from year to year can mean the end, or at least a major setback, for those aspirations. And your reaction can range from disappointment (which can be motivating) to devastating (which can be deflating).

This singular obsession with points can blind you to other criteria of success that demonstrate real progress even if you don’t lower your USSA or FIS points every year. It can also prevent you from seeing your season in the broader context of your long-term goals. Additionally, when you focus too much on your points, you keep yourself from recognizing that ski racing is definitely not a linear sport, meaning progress isn’t steady or consistent. It’s more like the stock market in which it can have terrible years, okay years, and outstanding years. But, if you step back and look at the stock market with big-picture perspective over a number of years (as you should look at your ski racing career), what you notice is that it continues to climb steadily.

The frustrating fact is that ski racing progress often occurs in fits and starts influenced by a variety of factors including your physical and psychological development, your coaching, the arc of your skill development, as well as those outside of your control such as the improvement of your competitors, and snow and weather conditions.

Also, improving your points is often outside of your control. To the contrary, opportunities to lower your points have as much to do with luck as how you’re skiing. Over the years, I’ve seen racers make huge jumps in their points for reasons as fluky as fog lifting, wind dying down, and a low-point competitor making a costly mistake. Of course, you still have to ski fast, but fast skiing isn’t always enough. Conversely, I’ve seen what appear to be incredible point opportunities dissolve for the same reasons I just mentioned. And don’t get me started on chasing points (that’s a hot topic that I will save for a future article).

As an example of how defining your season based on your points can cause you to miss real progress in your skiing, I have worked with a highly ranked racer for several years who didn’t improve her GS points (her best event) last winter. At the end of the season, she was really disappointed and felt that the season had been a failure. Though I empathized with her feelings (that’s what shrinks do), I also attempted to provide a different perspective (also what shrinks do) that would demonstrate to her that her season was actually quite successful. I pointed out that she scored her first Nor-Am points, was much closer in time against the top girls, and, for anyone who watched her, she was skiing far faster than the previous season.

Now, you may be wondering how she has done this season. Let’s take a look. She scored her first top-ten Nor-Am results, was named to represent the U.S. in a prestigious international competition, had a breakthrough race at US National, and, yes, she lowered her points significantly.

So, was she being fair to herself in her assessment of her skiing the previous year? No way.

So, I suggest that you broaden your definition of what constitutes a good season beyond your points. What should you look at and what questions should you ask? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Am I stronger this season than I was last season?
  2. Am I better technically and tactically?
  3. Am I mentally stronger: more motivated, confident, intense, and focused?
  4. Am I more competitive against my fast teammates in timed training runs?
  5. Am I closer to my competitors than last year?

Improvement in these essential contributors to fast skiing don’t always lead immediately to better results and lower points. Sometimes it takes time for all of these necessary contributors to lower points to gel. It can sometimes take more than one season for the many pieces of the fast-skiing puzzle to all come together.

As the saying goes, “One bad season doth not a career make (or break).” Actually, I just made that up, but you get the point.

Sure, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t improve your point profile this season. But don’t let it devastate you and don’t let it cause you to give up on your dream. Be patient, stay committed, and, at some point, good things will happen, including lower points.

Are you a Free-Range Parent? You Should Be

free range

There was a great article in the New York Times the other day titled, The Case for Free-Range Parenting. It argues persuasively for the need for our children to have the freedom to explore their worlds on their own without parents acting like helicopters, always hovering around to “protect” them for the apparently dangerous world in which they now live.

I think back to my childhood in a small town outside of Hartford, Connecticut. There were no fences separating neighbors. My friends and I would leave home on weekend mornings and not return until dusk. During the winter, we would go skating on the local ponds. During middle school, I rode my bike to and from school (about 8 miles each way!) on some busy roads. And I’m pretty darned sure my parents didn’t even think about what I was up to, much less worry about me. And I did survive.

Oh, how times have changed. Our children now live in such a contained world. I use the word ‘contained’ literally and metaphorically. Literally, houses in Mill Valley, California, where we live, and most locales these days, are all fenced in as are parks, playgrounds, and school yards. Metaphorically, there is rarely a time when our children aren’t contained by the watchful eye of adult supervision, whether at home, school, sports, or after-school activity. Our children are programmed for safety at a time when the benefits of giving them room to run, again, literally and metaphorically, are numerous.

Many parents believe that their children’s world is dangerous. In fact, our children are much safer than they were 25 years ago. If you want your children to be truly safe, don’t drive, don’t have a swimming pool, and don’t leave your children with relatives.

In generations past, if there was a kidnapping or case of child abuse or a child murder in one part of the country, those at a distance would never hear about it. But, in our Internet-fueled world, we hear about the daily threats to our children’s lives however distant or remote they are. As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads” on the news and anything sensational, sinister, or salacious, particularly if it involves children, can dominate newspapers, talk radio, cable news, and the Internet for weeks (until the next “horrible news” enters the news cycle). It’s not surprising that many parents are terrified for their children’s safety.

The topic of free-range children hits home for me on a very personal level. With daughters who are 9 and 7, I experience the conflict between my desire to protect them and my wish to set them free. And, though I know rationally that the world is a remarkably safe place for my daughters, as a parent, I too am susceptible to the irrationality of overprotection. I must admit that on the regular occasions that they are playing or riding their bikes on the sidewalk in our decidedly safe neighborhood, I get a little worried if I don’t hear them outside for a little while.

Last fall, we allowed our daughters (at their urging) to walk alone from school to an after-school activity about a 1/2 mile away. When we told their teachers and mentioned it to our friends, all were shocked that we would allow our children to make such a perilous trek through the mean streets of downtown Mill Valley (note the irony in my tone). The good news is that our girls have made the walk many times and now take great pride in their weekly journey on foot or by bike. We also let them take our dog for walks in the neighborhood, go to the nearby park, and walk to the local arts and crafts store down the street, all without our guidance or protection.

My family also spends time in the mountains skiing, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, and just being outside. There are no fences there, just rocks and trees and snow and dirt. And when our girls are up there, it feels as if they are in their element. They explore freely. They create adventures in which they are the stars. They make stuff rather than needing stuff to entertain them. They are never bored and they are always happy.

Yes, there certainly are risks to giving your children the freedom to just be with themselves. And I’m not suggesting that parents should just set their children free blindly. There is a role for coaching, guiding, and monitoring children in their initial experiences as free-range creatures.

But, there are several wonderful gifts we can give our children when we allow them to experience their world as free-range beings. First, the message that the world is a pretty safe place (while also educating to realistic dangers that exist), thus instilling in them the security and comfort to explore their world. Second, our confidence in their capabilities to take care of themselves without our help. Third, our willingness to set aside our anxieties because we know that freedom is so healthy for them.

And, finally, the knowledge that when they return from their adventures in the big world (even if it only seems big to them), we will be waiting for them with a big hug, a smile on our faces, and, admittedly, a little relief in our hearts.

 

Are Coaches the Real Bullies in School?

coachesA truly eye-opening and painful article in The Atlantic describing how many coaches are the real bullies in school and, by extension, youth sports.

Moreover, this abusive behavior is applauded by many parents who see this treatment as character building. These parents have seen too many so-called inspirational movies (such as the recent film Whiplash about an abusive music school teacher) in which mean and angry coaches (or music or dance instructors) are seen as heroes for bringing out the best in children.

The author makes the obvious, though ignored, point that if teachers treated their students the way that many coaches treat their young athletes, they would be fired and sued.

Taylor Interview on Sport Psychology with Former NFLer Isaac Byrd

Panthers-2I was recently interviewed by Isaac Byrd, a former NFL player. We talked about  sport psychology and the mental preparation for sport. Might be worth a listen.

Sports are Like Sleep

babyHaving just read the title of my new article, You may be thinking: “Has Dr. Jim finally lost it? What does sleep have to do with sports?” Let me explain.

Have you ever tried to sleep? You lie in bed and tell yourself that you have to sleep and you try, try, try to sleep. It doesn’t work, does it? Why? Because sleep can’t be forced.

So, how do you fall asleep? You create an external and internal environment that allows sleep to come. Externally, you make sure your room is quiet, dark, and warm. You have a comfortable bed, pillow, and comforter (maybe even a teddy bear or blankie). Internally, you take breaths, relax your body, and clear your mind. Having created this environment within and outside of yourself, your mind and body are prepared to accept the sleep that will naturally follow.

So, how are sports like sleep? You can’t TRY to play well. Forcing yourself to play well creates overthinking, muscle tension, and the attempt to control your body in the hopes that you can make your body play well. But, the harder you try to play well, the less likely you will play well.

Just like sleep, you want to create an external and internal environment that will allow great play to emerge naturally. The external environment has two levels. First, as a foundation, it includes having a good practice schedule leading up to the game, being organized, and being on top of your school work. Second, on the day of the game, it involves having your equipment optimally prepared, being warmed up, and being around a supportive coach and teammates before the start of the game.

The internal environment also has two levels. First, going into the game, you should be healthy (no injuries or illness), rested, in top physical condition, well fueled, and with minimal stress. You should also be well trained with solid technique and tactics. Second, on game day, internal means having a healthy perspective about the game, having clear goals, and having fun. It also mean being mentally prepared, that is, being motivated, confidence, energized, focused, and happy.

Creating these environments that encourage good play can’t be left to chance. The “foundation” environments that I just discussed can best be developed by having a good training plan, eating well, getting good nights’ sleep (don’t try to!), keeping up with your schoolwork, and, in general, just being disciplined and diligent about everything that can impact your sport.

On game day, there are two tools you can use for creating those “play your best” environments. First, mental imagery before the game primes your mind and body for playing your best, ingrains successful images that translate into more confidence, and focuses your mind on what you need to do to play well.

Second, the total preparation of a pre-game routine includes a good physical warm-up, making sure your equipment is prepared optimally, reaching your ideal intensity, narrowing your focus onto what you need to do to play your best, and grabbing your best mindset. A structured and consistent game-day routine can be the final piece of the pre-game puzzle that ensures you have created those ideal internal and external environments that allow your very best play to come out.

Finish the Season Strong (No Matter How it’s Going)

NymanNote: This article is an encore representation of a topic that never gets old.

It’s hard to believe, but there is only about a month of the race season left. After many days of training and racing, the end is in sight.

At this late point in the season, you will have fallen into one of three camps as far as how your season has gone. First, you may be having a break-out season in which you are absolutely thrilled with the progress in your skiing and race results. You would be perfectly content if the season ended today. But why wouldn’t you want to continue your great season by seeing if you can take it to an even higher level?

Second, you’ve had an okay season in which you’ve shown improvement in both your skiing and your results, but you haven’t done as well as you had hoped. Though you wouldn’t be entirely happy if the season ended today, you wouldn’t be entirely upset either. For you, there’s still time to take a decent season and turn it into a great one.

Finally, your season to date has been a real disappointment filled with setbacks or plateaus in your skiing, unsatisfying results, and a strong sense of frustration. If the season ended today, you would be one unhappy camper. Though you may wish for the season to end today—just to put you out of your misery—as the saying goes, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” With a number of races ahead, it’s not too late to not only salvage your season, but to actually have it conclude on a real high note.

As for the season that still lies ahead, you will fall into one of two camps. Either you are already thinking about the off-season and jonesing to hang up your skis, get on your mountain bike or sailboard, or maybe just sleep for about a week. Or, you are still chomping at the bit for the upcoming races and are committed to do everything possible to finish your race season strong.

Let me assure you that if you fall into the first camp, you might as well end your season now because you’re chances of having a good end of season is just about zero. Why? Because you won’t bring the necessary drive, intensity, or focus to get much out of your training or for you to give it your all in races. Though there are no guarantees, your only chance to finish strong is to make the commitment to getting the most out of your training and deciding to do nothing less your very best in races during the final weeks of the season..

How this last month of the season plays out depends on your attitude and your actions between now and when your last run of your last race appears on live-timing.

If You’re Skiing Well

Let me introduce you to Taylor’s Law of Stupidity: If something’s working, change it. That is just plain dumb! If you’re skiing well, my gosh, keep doing what you’re doing. You are in an ideal position this last month for several reasons. First, because your season is already a success, the rest of the season is just icing on the cake for you. Second, the pressure is off to get results, so you can race with reckless abandon and not care about what happens. Just trust your skiing and focus entirely on what you need to do to ski your fastest every run. If you keep doing what has worked so far, the chances are good that you will finish strong.

If Your Skiing is ‘Meh’ or Worse

If your season to date lies somewhere between disappointing and devastating, there’s one thing you should definitely not do: panic! If you panic, some very bad things will happen. First, you will shift entirely into result mode, meaning you will focus on the results you need to get to salvage your season. This result focus will cause you to feel immense pressure every time you get in the gate. This pressure will trigger negative thoughts (“If I don’t get a good result, my season will be an absolute fail.”), even worse emotions (fear!), and so much anxiety that you will be physically incapable of skiing well.

As hard as it will be, you must let go of the pressure (“Even if I have a lousy season, I will be okay.”) and maintain a process focus (“What do I need to do to ski fast?”). This point in the season is the time to step back, take a long and hard look at your skiing, and see if you can identify any changes that will help you get your season back on track.

With the specter of an unsatisfying season on the horizon, your primitive reaction will likely be to go into survival mode and trigger your fight-or-flight response. When we were cave people, fleeing gave us our best chance of surviving. And that is probably what you want to do now. But fleeing, in other words, skiing cautiously in the hope of getting a good result, will mean certain death, er, failure. At times like this, your best chance is to fight. This means that, instead of having a pity party and giving up, you need to get really mad and direct that anger into attacking the race course. The reality is that charging won’t necessarily produce a good result; your aggressiveness may lead to a big mistake or a DNF. But going for it is your only chance of getting the results you want. And I can assure you that, whatever the outcome, you will feel much better having ended your season with a bang rather than a whimper.

Back to Basics

Whether you’ve had a stellar, mediocre, or awful season so far, there are some things you can do that may help you finish the season strong. Go back to basics. In other words, do things that have helped you ski well in the past.

  • Take care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, eating well, and maintaining your fitness;
  • Revisit technical and tactical fundamentals that may have slipped during the long season;
  • Make sure you’re still doing your complete training and race routines that will ensure total preparation every time you get in the gate;
  • Do a lot of mental imagery of fast skiing. The feelings and images you conjure up will build your confidence and get you fired up;
  • Make sure you continue to engage in quality training with a clear goal, ideal intensity, and a specific focus every training run
  • Lastly, and most importantly, remember why you ski race: because you love it and it’s fun.

Enjoy the rest of your season!

Ski Racing is Like Sleep

babyHaving just read the title of my new article, You may be thinking: “Has Dr. Jim finally lost it? What does sleep have to do with ski racing?” Let me explain.

Have you ever tried to sleep? You lie in bed and tell yourself that you have to sleep and you try, try, try to sleep. It doesn’t work, does it? Why? Because sleep can’t be forced.

So, how do you fall asleep? You create an external and internal environment that allows sleep to come. Externally, you make sure your room is quiet, dark, and warm. You have a comfortable bed, pillow, and comforter (maybe even a teddy bear or blankie). Internally, you take breaths, relax your body, and clear your mind. Having created this environment within and outside of yourself, your mind and body are prepared to accept the sleep that will naturally follow.

So, how is ski racing like sleep? You can’t try to ski fast. Forcing yourself to ski fast creates overthinking, muscle tension, and the attempt to control your body in the hopes that you can make your body ski fast. But, the harder you try to ski fast, the less likely you will ski fast.

Just like sleep, you want to create an external and internal environment that will allow fast skiing to emerge naturally. The external environment has two levels. First, as a foundation, it includes having a good training schedule leading up to the race, being organized, and being on top of your school work. Second, on race day, it involves having your equipment optimally prepared, having a good inspection and skiing warm-up, and being around a supportive coach and teammates before your race run.

The internal environment also has two levels. First, going into the race, you should be healthy (no injuries or illness), rested, in top physical condition, well fueled, and with minimal stress. You should also be well trained with solid technique and tactics. Second, on race day, internal means having a healthy perspective about the race, having clear goals, and having fun. It also mean being mentally prepared, that is, being motivated, confidence, energized, focused, and happy.

Creating these environments that encourage fast skiing can’t be left to chance. The “foundation” environments that I just discussed can best be developed by having a good training plan, eating well, getting good nights’ sleep (don’t try to!), keeping up with your schoolwork, and, in general, just being disciplined and diligent about everything that can impact your ski racing.

On race day, there are two tools you can use for creating those “ski fast” environments. First, mental imagery during inspection, on the lift, and in the start area before your race runs primes your mind and body for the race, ingrains successful images that translate into more confidence, and focuses your mind on what you need to do to ski fast.

Second, the total preparation of a pre-race routine includes a good physical warm-up, making sure your equipment is prepared optimally, reaching your ideal intensity, narrowing your focus onto the race, and grabbing your best mindset. A structured and consistent race-day routine can be the final piece of the pre-race puzzle that ensures you have created those ideal internal and external environments that allow fast skiing to come.

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"Dr. Jim Taylor has taken the lessons learned from his own competitive athletic experiences and combined them with the latest scientific research and 20 years of high-performance consulting to help us understand what toughness really means in sports, business, and life. His powerful message about toughness and his ability to communicate makes Jim someone worth listening to for anyone trying to overcome the challenges we all face."

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