All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

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.

4 Rituals to Create a “Green Family”

getty_rf_photo_of_family_taking_a_nature_hikeOne of the best ways to communicate any message to your children is through regular rituals that are woven into the fabric of your family’s lives. The consistency of intention and action help ingrain the messages you want your children to get most. The use of rituals is very effective in teaching your children about a love of nature and their responsibility for taking care of Mother Earth.

From a very early age, my wife, Sarah, and I created family rituals for our daughters, Catie and Gracie, that taught them about caring for nature and environmental stewardship. For example, they are expected to throw their waste into one of three recycling bins in our kitchen (compost, paper, and plastic) after meals. On Monday evenings, they help me take this recycling from the kitchen and deposit it into the big bins outside which we then roll out to the curb for Tuesday morning pick up. One of our longest-standing rituals involves eating an orange together after dinner. It is my job to peel the orange and it is Catie’s and Gracie’s job to take turns bringing the rind to the compost.

Tanya created two rituals for her son and daughter for picking up trash they come across. Once a month, they walk the length of their street with trash bags and collect the many bottles, cans, and assorted trash that accumulate on the side of the road. She thinks of it as a kind of “adopt-a-highway” without the official imprimatur. Their neighbors often come out to greet and thank them, providing another conduit to reinforce her message of environmental stewardship. She and her children have been big hikers since as soon her kids could walk and Tanya saw a great opportunity to have a spontaneous “adopt-a-trail” experience. While out on a hike, Tanya will see some trash, pick it up, and announce her catchphrase, “I love Earth!” Within a short time, with no explanation or discussion, her children have begun to follow her lead by picking up trash that they see and then declaring “I love Earth!”

Even though her family lives in the suburbs, Nancy is committed to driving as little as possible. Fortunately, they live in a town in which many stores are not far from their home. She makes biking to the grocery store and on other errands a weekly ritual with her son Andy. Andy loves the different ways he gets to go biking with his momma. At first, it was on one of those handlebar seats where he had a front-and-center view. He then progressed to a bike trailer where he was able to read and play with his stuffed animals. From there, he moved to a trailer bike that enabled him to pedal. Andy, at age six, now rides his own bike when they go shopping. Nancy has found this ritual one of those special times that she can really connect and have fun with Andy. Plus, in addition to the environmental message, she’s able to send other positive messages about physical health and enjoying the outdoors.

Mark and Rachel decided to celebrate “Green Day” every week with their three children, the goal of which is to use as little energy as possible. On Saturdays, they walk or bike instead of driving their cars, use candles for light and the fireplace for heat, use only the smallest amount of water, and won’t use any large appliances such as the washer/dryer, stove, or oven (they did keep their fridge plugged in though). Plus, the family chooses an activity that will make the Earth happy, for example, pick up trash in the neighborhood or ride their bikes to town.

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).

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.

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“I have had the pleasure of hearing Jim Taylor lecture a group of CEO’s and Presidents, of speaking with him one-on-one and of reading several of his works. He provides a unique window into the head, heart and soul of top performers at their field. His perspective is special in that it combines performing at one’s best...”

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