All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

Another Sign that Youth Sports are Out of Control

CaptureIf you want another sign that youth sports (and the parents and coaches that are behind it) have gone completely off the rails, read this truly unsettling article. No doubt that many aspects of youth sports are no longer about children, but rather about deluded and selfish parents and the ‘youth sport industrial complex’ in which children are simply vehicles for coaches, junior programs, and recruiting web sites to make money.

Who can stop this madness? Only the parents who need to provide children with perspective, re-emphasis the true benefits of youth sports (e.g., hard work, resilience, camaraderie, perseverance, etc.), and just plain allow their children to be kids again instead of ‘prospects.’

 

Taylor Radio Interview about the psychology of sport

I was recently interviewed by Glenn Whitney of SportsCoachRadio.com about the many different aspects of the psychology of sport. A good listen (scroll to bottom) if you want to learn more about how the mind impacts athletic performance.

sportscoachradio-logo

Two More Reasons Why Your Kids Should Ski Race

SBST team photoMy family just returned from Ski Week (otherwise known as Winter Break for nonskiers) up in Tahoe where our two daughters (9 and 7) are members of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team. As many of you may know, California is suffering through a fourth straight year of drought. The temperatures were well above freezing at night and close to sixty degrees during the day. Not surprisingly, the snow is going fast, but, surprisingly, the skiing has been really good both on the groomers and off-piste. Bay Area skiers are staying away from Tahoe in droves and our friends who ski little or not at all keep asking us why we keep making the sometimes long and always monotonous drive up to Truckee so often, particularly with such apparently poor ski conditions.

As a somewhat contemplative sort of fellow, my time up at Sugar Bowl this past week caused me to reflect further on this question and the meta-question of why our family would want to live the lifestyle of a ski racing family. As I also discussed in a previous article, one reason is that alpine ski racing is one brutal sport, in which racers have amazing experiences, are challenged constantly, and learn powerful life lessons that serve them well in the wider world beyond our sport.

But this past week really drove home two more reasons why we are enjoying the ride as we slide down this slippery slope toward ski racing. And, interestingly, these two reasons are not directly related to our daughters.

First, as much as our girls love to come to Sugar Bowl, my wife and I love it as well. Admittedly, given my childhood immersed in ski racing at Mad River Glen (I was there a few weeks ago for the first time in 28 years and it hasn’t changed much) and then Burke Mountain Academy (hasn’t changed much either), it’s not a surprise that the life of a ‘skiing family’ (as opposed to a ‘family that skis’, i.e., one that skis periodically) is something that I am familiar with and enjoy immensely. It was a different story for my wife, Sarah. Though she grew up skiing and is a pretty darned capable skier (thanks to more than a decade of my ‘coaching’!), she had no idea what she was getting into when we began skiing with our girls.

She got a glimpse of it our very first weekend of Sugar Bowl ski team four years ago. After dropping our kids off with their coaches that initial morning, we joined up with a group of other parents and spent the day sharing great skiing and even better conversation. At the end of the day, having had a really good time, Sarah asked me if I knew this would happen. I smiled and said, “I had a feeling.”

Since then, after the kids came off the hill, we have spent many a sun-filled afternoon on the deck at Sugar Bowl’s Village Lodge imbibing in our favorite libations and having a grand old time while the children played in the snow happily and safely below us.

This same feeling to the start to our journey through ski racing was bookended by an epiphany I had this past week while Sarah and I were skiing with another couple we have become friends with over these past four years. After several runs, we went into the base lodge and chatted over coffee and hot chocolate. At one point during our conversation, I interrupted and said that I had to share a ‘mindful moment’ with them. I asked them in what other situation could four parents share a fun activity and stimulating repartee without an agenda or short timeline or worry about what our kids were doing, not to mention without the cost of babysitters and the price of a dinner. We couldn’t think of any. Can you?

Second, over these last four years at Sugar Bowl, my wife, daughters, and I have felt a tremendous sense of community among the ski team. The morning ritual of drop-off, the frequent ski team social events, the end-of-season Tiki family race, or, as happened last Friday, the snow dance competition in which the training groups exhorted the almighty snow gods to give us more water from the sky of the frozen and flaked variety.  All of these activities give our family a sense of belonging and connectedness that can’t be readily reproduced anywhere else in our lives (even in our neighborhood and school).

I don’t want to give the impression that I think that Sugar Bowl is so special as to be unique among ski clubs in the U.S. To the contrary, as I have worked with and visited many race programs around the country, I can say that I find the same bonds everywhere glued together by committed parents, passionate coaches, and decent and fun-loving kids.

I also don’t mean to assert some sort of superiority over other sports by suggesting that parents of children in, for example, soccer, swimming, tennis, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or gymnastics, can’t develop good friendships or their families can’t feel a sense of community. But I don’t think that any sport can compete with ski racing (or other snow sports) based on the location or the activity. While ski racing parents in Northern California go to places such as Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and Northstar for training and races (and other teams around the U.S. go to similar skiing locales), parents in these other sports go to places such as Stockton, Modesto, and Fresno (apologies to those three cities for my slight). Also, while ski racing parents can ski during their kids’ practices and competitions, parents in the other sports must sit on the side of soccer or football fields, tennis or basketball courts, hockey rinks, pools, or gymnasiums, all less than appealing venues, I think you would agree.

So, the next time you start to complain about the drive to your ski area from the big city or the ‘burbs (if you’re not lucky enough to live in the mountains), remember that, aside from the direct benefits that your children get from being ski racers (or other snow sport athletes), you and your family get many more through friendships and community as members of your local ski club. Not to mention getting a brief respite from your busy lives, a healthy dose of the great outdoors, and participation in a truly extraordinary family sport.

Marcel Hirscher at 14

I came across a great video of Marcel Hirscher at age 14 competing in the Topolino Games (a world juvenile championships). Do you see the makings of a superstar at that age? I’m not sure I do.

Capture

 

6 Catchphrases to Connect Your Children to Nature

green catchphraseIn my last post exploring children’s relationship with nature, I described 8 ways that parents can nurture their children’s love of nature. Because words send powerful messages to children, you can further help your children connect to nature by associated their wonderful experiences in nature with meaningful catchphrases related to nature.

Our catchphrase for sending positive messages about the environment to Catie and Gracie is “We’re a green family.” Whenever a situation arises where a lesson about nature, the environment, or conservation can be taught, we point it out and say that “We’re a green family.” Whenever the girls are doing something wasteful, such as leaving the bathroom faucet running, we remind them that “we’re a green family” and that “the Earth wouldn’t be happy.” At around two and a half, Catie surprised us once while we were recycling by saying, “Are the trees happier now?” Our girls understand that our admonitions to, for example, turn off the lights, are tied to a larger message—the Earth—about which they care deeply.

Not surprisingly, given its nurturing quality, “Mother Earth” is common among catchphrases for the environment. Steve and Caitlyn use “Mother Earth takes care of us and we take care of Mother Earth” as a reminder to their twins when an opportunity arises to act green. Similarly, Jake’s catchphrase for his two sons is “Let’s help Mother Earth.” He likes his catchphrase because it is collaborative and active; there are things he and his sons can do together to assist Mother Earth.

Jonah and Lucy want their two children to focus on what they can actually do to help Earth stay healthy, so their catchphrase is the popular three Rs of waste, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” They feel that the strength of their catchphrase is that it actually tells their children the actions they can take to support their planet.

Blake says that he tends to come up with corny ideas and he admits that his catchphrase for the nature is as corny as it gets: “Green is keen.” But his three children always get a kick out of his saying it with a funny voice and goofy expression on his face. His children love the rhyming and add a tune to it when they use it. Though Blake has fun with the catchphrase, he also makes sure that his kids get the message by connecting it with the green activities in which they participate.

Marcy is an organizational efficiency consultant, so she is hyper attuned to waste when she is working and at home. So she and her husband Cameron make an effort to make their home as efficient and waste free as possible, for the sake of the Earth and their wallets. And they want to send this message to their children Sami and Jessie. Their catchphrase is “Save, not waste.” Whenever Marcy or Cameron see waste occurring around the house, for example, lights left on or water running for too long, they simply tell their children “Save, not waste” and they get the message and stop the waste.

Tanya wants to instill the same love she had for nature in her son and daughter. So, her simple catchphrase is simply “I love nature!” (said with enthusiasm, of course). When she is outside with her children, whether walking, skiing, gardening, or playing, she spontaneously announces “I love nature!” Before long, her kids would yell out the catchphrase after she did. Clearly, the message was getting through.

With sufficient repetition, these catchphrases become more than just words, but rather attitudes that guide children’s thoughts, emotions, and actions around nature.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

Inside the Mind of a Pro Cyclist

Here is a great article about Tour de France winner and multiple Olympic cycling champion, Sir Bradley Wiggins, and his approach to the mental side of cycling.

Wiggins

Psychology of Ski Racing TV interview

I was recently interviewed by fellow Burke Mtn. Academy alum Brenda Buglione for her Vail-based TV show SnowMotion.

ski interview

“Be Different” for Increased Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

business imageI’m asked regularly by companies to help them find ways to increase their individual and organizational performance, productivity, and profitability. In these situations, two old adages come to mind:

  • “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
  • “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got.”

What’s the message here? If you keep doing what you’ve always done, nothing will change. That conclusion seems obvious, yet corporate change is very difficult because people and companies are inertial and change is difficult.

Another essential reality is that doing the same thing also applies in relation to your company’s competitors. That is, the best way to get the same results as your competitors is to do the same things that they are doing.

With that introduction, I want to introduce my “Be Different” principle which is based on a simple, yet incontrovertible, premise: To get different results than the recent past and different from your competitors, you and your company must think and do different things, in other words, you must become different.

Becoming different starts with understanding of where you are and where you want be. A delineation of these two metrics helps you catalyze all future action and change.

Think Different

Change begins with considering the thinking the has gone into where you are and where you want to be. You should first examine the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that have gotten you and your company to this point. This exploration should consider all aspects of your company’s structure and process, anything that needs to be changed or that prevents change from occurring. This exercise is so important because an individual’s or company’s underlying thinking drives the decisions that are made, the direction that is chosen, and the actions that are taken.

Do Different

Thinking inherently defines and either enables or discourages how you and your company use your relevant competencies, the development of effective relationships, and productive behaviors.

Result Different

The individual and collective actions that are taken by you and your company directly impact the results that are generated at several levels. First, the outputs that your company produces, whether goods or services. Second, the experiences of your stakeholders including employees and customers. And third, the tangible outcomes that emerge including revenues, market share, and return on investment.

The key point that I am making is that everything that you and your company do, whether productive thinking that will result in positive change and increased performance, productivity, and profitability. If you get your thinking right, everything else will follow.

result

Exercises

  1. Select a group of thought leaders in your company who can participate in this exercise.
  2. In groups of 2-4, identify the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that are preventing your company from being more successful.
  3. In groups of 2-4, identify the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that must be adopted for your company to grow.
  4. Create a set of recommendations to implement the consensus thinking that will lead to change and growth.

In a Slump? Don’t Press the Panic Button

crashI just returned from the men’s Eastern Cups at Stowe last week. I have to say how impressed I was by the quality of skiing. From bib 1 to 117, there was not a bad skier there.

I spoke to a number of the racers during the two days and I sensed one emotion quite strongly among quite a few of them: panic! Several of the racers described how they were struggling with a bad patch of costly mistakes and DNFs. They were disappointed, frustrated, angry, and mystified. With a desperate tone in their voices, they said they were at a loss for why they were skiing poorly, particularly when they had been skiing so well in training. Even worse, they were talking as if the season was almost over and were already resigning themselves to a failed season.

If you’re one of these racers, here’s what I say: Don’t press the panic button!

What Happens When You Panic?

In a nutshell, if you panic when you’re struggling, you’re almost certain to turn that bad patch into a bad season. Here’s why.

Every physical and mental resource that you need to rely on to turn your difficulties around go in the exact opposite direction. Physically, you experience anxiety, muscle tension, restricted breathing, and, over all, your body just feels lousy. If your body’s not working right, you have zero chance of getting your skiing out of the ditch and back on the road.

Mentally, you lose confidence because you feel incapable of turning your skiing around. You tend to focus on the results you’re not getting and the missed scoring opportunities that your competitors are getting. You can’t think clearly because you’re in panic mode which means you’ll have a harder time figuring out what the problem is that is causing you to panic.

Emotionally, you not only feel the aforementioned disappointment, frustration, and anger, but also a sense of hopelessness because you have no idea what is going on with your skiing. Perhaps even worse, with every race, you feel an inescapable sense of dread at the day ahead because, based on recent history, you just can’t believe that it’s going to end well.

And when it comes down to your actual skiing, desperation causes you to try way too hard which only makes your skiing worse.

Possible Causes of Slumps

There’s no doubt that slumps suck big time. But declines in your skiing don’t just happen; there is almost always a reason for them. The good news is that it’s just a matter of figuring what the cause is and fixing the problem. The bad news is that one of the most difficult aspects of ski racing is that it is an incredibly complex sport with many factors that impact how fast and consistently you ski. Your challenge is figuring out what’s going wrong. Here’s a list of possibilities that you must explore to uncover the cause of your struggles:

  • Equipment
  • Physical: illness, injury, sleep, nutrition
  • School
  • Relationships
  • Technique
  • Tactics
  • Mental
  • Emotional

Any of these factors can be the culprit. You should do a careful analysis of each to determine what has caused your recent difficulties and then take steps to fix the problem.

Look on the Bright Side

I have to admit that sometimes there is no obvious cause of a bad patch of skiing. In that case, as much as you feel compelled to adopt the doomsday scenario, your best road to take is to put your current skiing situation in perspective.

The reality is that ups and downs are a natural part of skiing. You’re going to have bad races and you shouldn’t assume that your season will continue to be bad. In turn, you’re going to have good races, but you can’t expect all your races can be good. If you can just accept those normal fluctuations in your skiing, the less time you will spend in a down period and the more time you’ll spend at a higher level.

You also need to be patient which is, of course, the opposite of panic. When panicking, you feel frantic and need to do something RIGHT NOW. When you’re patient, you’re much calmer because you understand that it may take some time to climb out of the hole you’re in. Patience also prevents you from “trying” to turn your skiing around. There’s a difference between to doing what you need to do to get your skiing back to where it was and attempting to force it back (which won’t work). Trying just makes things worse.

Your slump may also be a good sign indicating that your body and mind are trying some different things, but they haven’t quite put it all together yet. As I’m sure you know, you sometimes have to fall apart a little before you put things back together.

Also, how you’re skiing now in no way predicts how you’re going to ski later in the winter. You may very well have your best races at the end of the season. But not if you press the panic button.

What You Should Do When You’re Struggling

When you’re struggling, it can be really hard to think clearly when you’re totally immersed in your skiing. In that case, it can help to take a break. That might mean going free skiing for an afternoon, taking a few days off snow, or heading to Tahiti. By creating physical distance between you and your skiing, you also create some emotional distance, making it easier to think clearly, gain perspective, stay positive, focus on things that will help your skiing, and, most basically, stay hopeful.

The chances are that, with your current skiing problems, you’re pretty worried and tense and definitely not having fun. There’s no way you can turn your skiing around in that unpleasant state. You need to break that cycle by doing things to relax your body, calm your mind, and bring some light to the darkness you are currently experiencing. This might mean getting a massage, going to a movie, hanging with friends, or anything else that you find fun and relaxing. The more you can create a physical and mental state that is the exact opposite of the how you currently feel, the sooner you’ll be able to exit from your dark place.

See the slump as an opportunity to make yourself a better ski racer (and person) rather than a curse befallen on you. You are going to face many challenges in your ski racing life (and beyond) and this down period gives you the chance to practice the essential skill of resilience, which means being able to stay positive and overcome adversity and setbacks.

Very importantly, you need to trust your ability, your program, and the road you’re on toward your goals. That faith in what you are doing will help you accept the inevitable highs and lows of ski racing with equanimity and keep you pursuing your dreams with vigor and joy.

Finally, right now, you’re probably having a pity party, feeling pretty discouraged and sorry for yourself. You just want to give up. If you go down that road, the chances are that your season is, in fact, over. However hard it may be, you’re only chance is to stay positive and motivated. I’m not saying that you have to think life is just rosy. Rather, you just have to believe that your skiing will turn around. And with that attitude, you just have to keep moving forward, putting in your best effort in training, taking care of your skis, spending time on your fitness, all the things that you have to do to ski your best.

The Burden of Expectation: Another Lesson from Mikaela

imagesMikaela has certainly put herself between a rock and a hard place. Let’s start with the rock, which is the expectations she has created from her remarkable successes she has had during her short, though illustrious, career.

Mikaela has, over the years, built a veritable Mt. Everest of expectations for herself by so dominating slalom racing since her early and overwhelming victories at Topolino and Whistler Cup followed by her trifecta of success the last three years with her World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic titles.

Mikaela has set the bar so high in the minds of the ski racing community that anything less than a win is somehow seen as a disappointment by many. Case in point. Following her first World Cup GS victory in Solden, Mikaela ‘struggled’ through the next few races in which she finished 11th, 6th, and 5th. For any other World Cupper, that would be a nice demonstration of consistency and a good collection of points. But for Mikaela, because of her consistently incredible success the last few years, that string of results has been a cause for real concern among many in the ski racing world.

Now to the hard place. I’m talking about the 2015 World Ski Championships that not only is being held on American soil, but will be contested in Mikaela’s home town of Vail, Colorado. All of the expectations that Mikaela has had to carry, and the accompanying media attention, just get ratcheted up.

Yes, I think it is safe to say that the expectations for Mikaela to win championship gold on her home hill can’t get any higher. Of course, the fact is that she’s not the first great ski racer (or athlete in any sport) who had the hopes of a nation or the attention of the world resting on her shoulders. But, another fact is that some of those in the past have soared to the highest heights despite that burden of expectations while others have crumbled and failed under that weight.

I’m not Mr. Spock from Star Trek, so I can’t do a Vulcan mind meld and see what Mikaela is thinking or feeling about all of these expectations on her. I’m also not a psychic, so I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else. At the same time, there is a saying in psychology: “The best predictor of future performance is past performance.” And the reality is that Mikaela has demonstrated over and over again that she can ignore, let go of, or redirect that pressure (I don’t know which) and rise to the occasion under the brightest of spotlights. I have no reason to believe that she won’t do it again. So, if you’re a betting person, bet on Mikaela.

Despite its early focus on Mikaela, this article is really not about her. Instead, the World Championships provide yet another amazing lesson that all ski racers can learn from her, namely, how to deal with that burden of expectation before a big race.

It’s very likely that you may feel those same expectations in your own version of the World Championships, whether the High School Championships, States, Junior Olympics, Junior Nationals, or Junior Worlds. The stage may not be as grand, but it is also no less pressure packed.

Why Expectations are Bad

Expectations aren’t a guarantee of bad skiing and poor results, but it increases the chances dramatically because expectations create pressure on you to fulfill them. No way you can ski well when you’re feeling that weight on your shoulders.

Expectations can hurt you both physically and psychologically. They can have a harmful physical effect on you, causing muscle tension, restricted breathing, a decline in coordination, and a general sense of discomfort. You feel weighed down and you just don’t feel good.

Expectations can redirect your focus away from skiing your fastest and onto the results, most notably, any results that don’t live up to those expectations and the possibility that you will fail to meet them.

They can cause you to question your ability to fulfill those expectations, leading to a loss of confidence, doubt, and uncertainty.

Lastly, expectations can cause a host of unpleasant emotions including fear, frustration, worry, and anxiety, all of which can prevent you from skiing your best.

The bottom line is that, unless something is done to change your perspective on expectations or to help you let go of those expectations, you have very little chance of skiing your best and getting the results you want.

Where Expectations Come From

Expectations can come from outside of you or from within. Typical sources of external expectations come from family, coaches, and friends. Here’s a line I often hear being said to racers by friends and acquaintances that strikes absolute terror into the heart of racers: “I just know you’ll win.” Though such an expression of confidence is well intentioned, it is also painfully misguided because it creates a situation where anything less than victory will mean failure and disappointing others.

You may also create your own expectations. You may be so driven to achieve your goals that this determination causes you to focus too much on results creating self-imposed pressure, for example, “I better win or this will have been a total waste of time.”

At a deeper level, expectations arise from forces within you that you may not even be aware of. The most common source of expectations is fear of failure in which you absolutely must meet those expectations or else something terrible will happen. What are those awful things that might happen? The most common ones include your parents won’t love you, your friends won’t like you, you’ll be a total loser, all of your efforts will have been wasted, and your ski racing dreams will die. Now that is pressure!

How to Deal with Expectations

If the expectations are coming from others, you have several options. First, you can avoid those people like the plague. If you’re not near them, you won’t be able to hear those well-intentioned, though misguided, expressions of confidence in you (“You’re going to win for sure!”). Second, you can tell those people to just “Shut up!” (in a nicer way, of course). Third, you can change the way you think about their expectations. For example, you can say “I really appreciate their support and encouragement.” The key is to distance yourself from those expectations because they don’t do you any good.

If the expectations are coming from within, there are several steps you can take. In an ideal world, you would simply let go of any and all outcome expectations. That, however, isn’t an easy thing to do because the causes of the expectations are often unconscious and it usually requires some pretty intense work with a sport psychologist to exorcise them from your mind.

So, what can you do right now to lift that burden of expectation before the big race? Here are a few ideas:

  • Focus on the 5 Ps: Perspective, process, present, positive, and progress. If you focus on them, you won’t be focusing on the expectations.
  • Change your physiology. Expectations inevitably create anxiety and tension. By actively taking steps to relax, for example, with deep breathing and muscle relaxation, you remove the physical symptoms of the expectations.
  • Distract yourself. Talk to other people, listen to music, anything that will keep your mind off of the expectations.
  • Create good emotions. Expectations can cause you to feel frustration, worry, and fear. To counteract those, do things that are fun and that will inspire good emotions such as excitement, pride, and joy.
  • Do mental imagery. See and feel yourself focusing on skiing your best. This will redirect your attention onto what you need to do to achieve your race goals.
  • Shift your view of the expectations away from being a threat to avoid and onto a challenge to be pursued.

Ultimately, the degree to which expectations impact how you ski in big races will depend on how you finish this statement: “If I don’t do well, ________.” If you say, “If I don’t meet my expectations, it’s the end of the world,” you’re pretty much doomed to a poor result. But, if you say, “If I don’t meet my expectations, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll be okay,” you have relieved yourself of that burden of those expectations and freed yourself to ski your very best when it matters most.

Posts navigation

Categories

Subscribe to E-Newsletters

What They’re Saying

"Dr. Taylor is an engaging speaker who immediately captures the audience's attention with his easygoing style and comedic timing. His presentation was full of useful and important information that was easy to understand."

John Hackworth, Asst. Coach, Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer