All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

5 Reasons Ski Racers Don’t Do Mental Training

Bode-Miller-Super-G-Sochi-WallpaperOver the many years that I’ve been working in the field of sport psychology, I have championed the benefits of mental training for our sport to thousands of ski racers. This work has ranged from talks to junior programs to ongoing consulting with individual athletes and teams.

As many of you know from my dozens of articles on this subject, I emphasize a practical approach that likens mental preparation to the physical conditioning and technical and tactical work that is also required for ski racing success. This focus stresses that, like the physical and on-snow aspects of our sport, the only way racers can benefit from mental training is when it is used in an organized and consistent way.

My work offers ski racers easy-to-understand and practical tools, such as mental imagery, breathing, routines, and keywords, that can be incorporated readily into every part of your overall training program.

These tools don’t seem like a very hard sell considering that, when I ask racers how important the mind is compared to the physical and technical sides of our sport, the vast majority say that it is as or more important. Given that so many of the racers I speak to or work with have big goals, it seems only natural that they would take my ideas to heart and incorporate them into their training regimen.

Yet, if I had to guess how many racers actually make mental training an integral part of their preparations, even after learning all about it from me, I would put the number at less than 10% (and I’m probably being generous here). The question I have been asking is: Why? I have concluded that there are five reasons that explain racers’ lack of investment of time and energy into the mental side of our sport.

Don’t Think Mental Training Works

As much as I like to think that I make a convincing case for the value of mental training in ski racing, I’m going to assume that there are plenty of racers who just don’t think it matters that much. Rather, they believe that if they work on the physical and on-snow aspects of their ski racing, that will be enough to reach their goals.

One of the big challenges of persuading racers of the value of mental training is that, unlike the physical and technical aspects of our sport, the benefits aren’t tangible. If you want to see improvements in your strength, you can see how much weight you lifted before and after you begin a weight-training program. If you want to see your technical progress, you can watch old and new video of yourself skiing. But, you can’t measure confidence, intensity, or focus directly and you can’t know that improvements in those areas translate into faster skiing.

You can’t be sure that mental training helps at all and, without clear proof, it’s difficult to commit the time and energy necessary to gain its benefits. Buying into mental training is a leap of faith you have to make on your own if you want it to be a part of your ski racing efforts.

They Don’t Care Enough

Talk, as they say, is cheap. It’s easy to say that you have big goals in your ski racing. It’s an entirely different thing to translate those goals into motivation and action. So, one reason why some racers don’t make mental training a part of their efforts is that, despite the lip service, they just don’t care enough to do the work necessary to develop themselves mentally.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this lack of motivation. If you don’t want to be the best ski racer you can be, that’s fine. Whether you achieve your ski racing goals or not, you will likely do just fine in your life. And, I admit that it is possible that you will develop the mental side of your ski racing just by chance or trial and error. But, as you know, chance or trial and error are not the best ways to develop any aspect of your ski racing.

Not a Part of Your Usual Program

Another reason is that mental training is simply not a part of what most racers usually do in their training, so they just forget. I find this often occurs at the top of a training run. I will have, for example, described the importance of a training routine and how to implement one. But, minutes later, racers still just lean on their poles and chat it up with their friends before they get into the gate. Just like a technical skill, until mental skills become ingrained, they will usually slip your mind unless you focus on them constantly.

Not Supported by Coaches and Parents

It’s difficult for racers to make a commitment to mental training if they aren’t supported by their coaches and parents. Two reasons. First, racers base their judgments on the value of different aspects of ski racing partly on the messages they get from those around them. If their coaches and parents aren’t sending them messages of the importance of the mental side of ski racing, they’re not likely to buy into it themselves.

It is up to coaches and parents to send messages to their racers that say, “Mental training is really important.” by talking about it and making it a part of their team culture and family discussions, respectively.

Second, racers these days don’t have a lot of free time on their hands. Between school, physical conditioning, on-snow training, ski tuning, and video analysis, not to mention sleep, meals, and socializing, there just isn’t much time in which to slot mental training.

It’s the coaches’ responsibility to carve out time in their athletes’ daily schedules into which they can fit mental training such as goal setting and mental imagery. Coaches must also help mental training become a habit on-snow by including mental tools into their feedback and reminding their racers to use those mental tools in their training efforts and race preparations.

Mental Training is Weird

I’ll be honest; some of the things I ask racers to do in training and before races can seem pretty weird. For example, running around and jumping up and down to raise intensity, moving their bodies while doing mental imagery, and talking themselves into an aggressive mindset.

And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that most young people don’t want to stand out (in an odd sort of way anyhow) because being accepted by their peers is one of their most important needs. Imagine this scenario. You’re at the start of a training course and all of your friends are goofing around and talking to each other. But I’ve asked you to not talk so you can focus, be very physically active in your warm-up, and to really move your body while doing mental imagery. Wouldn’t you feel a little self-conscious? And might you actually be reluctant to do that stuff, even if you know it will help you ski better?

But here’s my argument against that need to fit in. If you want to ski like everyone else, be like everyone else. The surest path to acceptance by your peers is to do what everyone else does. And the surest path to ski racing mediocrity is to do what everyone else does.

It has been my experience, both personally and professionally, that to be great at something, you have to be different than others and, yes, that sometimes means being weird or, at least, doing what others perceive as weird things. And it also means that you won’t necessary be accepted by everyone. Do you think Bode or Tina or Ted or Julia or Lindsey or Marcel are normal people? Do you think they worry about being accepted? In both cases, no way! Be average (and normal) or be fast (and a little weird)? The choice is yours.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, just like with other aspects of your ski racing, you have to decide how important the mind is to achieving your goals. If you truly believe that it is essential to your ski racing success, you must then do what is necessary to weave mental training in the very fabric of your ski racing efforts.  You want to get to the point where it is simply what you do to be the best ski racer you can be, just like physical conditioning, ski tuning, and on-snow training. So, when you’re skiing fast, other racers may see you as weird, but they will want to know what your secret is and be weird (and fast) like you. But don’t tell them!

Happy holidays and see you in 2015!

5 Ways to Weave Gratitude into Your Family’s Life

gratitudeTo ensure that your children embrace the value of gratitude, you must immerse them in a culture of gratitude. You can do this by weaving gratitude into the very fabric of your family life.

Our family has a “Mo’ Grat” ritual every evening when we sit down for dinner. In this case, it means “Moment of Gratitude” during which we hold hands around the table, take a deep breath, close our eyes, and for a few seconds reflect on who and what we are grateful for. We then share a moment in the day in which we either expressed or received gratitude.

This ritual has several wonderful benefits. It allows us to put the busy day behind us and relax and be present at the dinner table. “Mo Grat” enables us to really focus on the good things in our lives. Also, at least once a week, My wife or I ask our daughters what they are grateful for and we share with them what we were grateful for. To our pleasant surprise, they almost always are able to readily come up with people to whom they are appreciative.

Patrick and Denise are devout Christians and use prayer at dinner and bedtime to teach their four children about gratitude. As a part of their dinner prayer, the family thanks the Lord for all that he has given them. At bedtime, their children express gratitude toward three people who helped them that day.

To encourage their son Arnie to want to help and become the recipient of gratitude, Ted and Betsy use his chores as opportunities to not only model gratitude, but also to turn the tables on him so he experiences and gains the benefits of being the receiver of gratitude. When Arnie does his chores, for example, makes his bed, Ted and Betsy say “Arnie, thank you for making your bed. We really appreciate it.” In turn, they have taught him to respond with “You’re welcome.”

Renny is a no-nonsense father who was raised by a no-nonsense father with certain expectations of civility. He wanted his two sons to learn good manners just the way he did. Their family has a simple rule: You don’t get anything until you ask for it rather than demanding it, ask specifically for what you want, and then express thanks after receiving it. For example, you know how kids are when they want something; “I want more strawberries!” Demands like that just don’t fly in his house. If his boys utter such commands, Renny gives him a look and says” If you want something, what do you need to say?” His sons know the answer to their father’s question: “Daddy, may I please have more strawberries?” and then, after receiving them, they must say, “Daddy, thank you for the strawberries.” (or some variation on that theme). And after they receive what they asked for, if his boys don’t express thanks, he takes it away until they do. As his sons have gotten older, they have gotten the message and he is regularly complimented by others for their manners.

Terry knows how hard his wife Jaime works to prepare interesting and healthy dinners for their two children, Casey (age four) and Ivy (age two). From five to six o’clock every day, Jaime is in the kitchen, reading cookbooks and following recipes so her family can have a tasty and enjoyable meal together. Unfortunately, their children’s response to what appears on their plates is sometimes a resounding – and hurtful – “Yuck!” And even when their kids liked the meal, they were finished in five minutes and their mother received no thanks for her efforts. And Terry had to admit that he didn’t always thank Jaime either. After a while, Jaime told him that she felt unappreciated for all of the time and effort she put into making dinner.

Terry decided it was time to take action. At first, he said “Thank you, Jaime, for a wonderful meal” being sure his kids heard him. But even after several weeks of consistent gratitude, their children still hadn’t gotten the message. He could have gotten heavy handed and demanded that they thank their mother for the meal, but he decided to see if he could make it fun instead. At the end of each dinner, Terry would lean toward each of his kids and, covering his mouth from Jaime’s sight (giving the impression to his children that Jaime wouldn’t be able to hear him and this was their secret), whispered “Would you please thank Mama for dinner?”  Casey, being older, got the message and would thank her mama immediately, often in a goofy voice with a funny expression on her face. Ivy was a little more reluctant and would resist Terry’s whispered exhortations. But in a short time, she found her own way of expressing gratitude toward her mother. Ivy began to mimic her dad by leaning toward her mom, putting her hand on the side of her mouth, and whispering thanks to her mother. Then, a few weeks later, Ivy said thanks with sign language. Message of gratitude received, message of gratitude sent to their mom.

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).

Battle the Course, Not Yourself

Vonn of the U.S. skis on her way to clock the fastest time in the women's Alpine Skiing World Cup Super G race in St. MoritzSki racing has become a combat sport in which you’re armored from head to toe and carrying weapons (razor sharp ski edges as swords and pointy ski poles for spears) to do battle against the course, terrain, snow conditions, and weather. You are also doing battle against the other racers in the field.

Unfortunately, too often, racers battle a foe in some ways more formidable than the race itself. I’m talking about themselves. In other words, many racers are their own worst enemy rather than their best ally on race day.

One thing is clear. You can’t win the battle against the course if you’re not on your own side. Which means you can’t win the battle against your competitors in the race field either. Without the total commitment to skiing your fastest that comes with being your own ally, fast skiing isn’t possible. There are two reasons why.

First, without being 100% behind yourself, you will hold back and not give it your all. Even if you hold back just a little bit, say 1%, that is a huge amount in ski racing. Let’s do the math. What’s 1% of a 2-run GS with a total time of 90 seconds? That’s whopping .9 seconds! A lifetime in a ski race. For you to achieve your ski racing goals, you can’t hold back even the smallest amount. You have to ‘bring it’ and ‘leave everything out on the course’, as I mentioned in my last post. That is your only chance of success and it’s only possible if you’re your best ally on the hill.

Second, success in ski racing requires you to take risks, whether straightening out a flush or attacking over a transition onto a pitch. The problem is that, if you’re your worst enemy, you’re simply not going to take those risks because you won’t believe those risks will pay off. So, you ski safely and not as fast as you are capable.

Your Worst Enemy

When you’re your own worst enemy, your mind turns against you to prevent you from skiing your best. It can create an internal battle between the part of you that really wants to do well and that other part of you that, for some unknown and very frustrating reason, wants you to fail.

An athlete I worked with not long ago told me how he would often have these running battles with himself in the starting gate: “I can ski fast. But what if I make a mistake.” “I can beat those guys. But what if I can’t.” “I’m ready. But what if it’s not enough.”

Negativity thinking (e.g., I’m going to crash.”), doubt (e.g., “I can’t handle the pitch.”), worry (e.g., “The course seems really rough.”), and uncertainty (e.g., “I’m not sure I can make that royal flush.”) do everything they can to ensure failure even before the race begins. And one thing is certain. If you aren’t your best ally, you have little to no chance of being victorious against the course or achieving your goals in the race itself against your competitors.

That part of you that is your own worst enemy may even actively (though not consciously) sabotage your efforts in subtle ways that keep you from achieving your race goals, but provide you with an excuse that protects your belief that you are a fast skier. For example, you may not go through your entire pre-race routine, thus ensuring that you’re not totally prepared to ski your best. Or you may not give your best effort on course or try your hardest to stay in the course when you make a mistake.

Your Best Ally

There’s no magic to moving from being your worst enemy to your best ally. It starts with the realization that you deserve to be on your own side. You love ski racing, work hard, and want to achieve your ski racing goals. You have earned the right to fight alongside yourself rather than against yourself.

It might even take a bit of disgust at yourself for not being willing to stand with yourself; “I’m sick of this! It’s time for a change!” This “I’ve had enough” attitude can provide the emotional impetus to start fighting for you rather than against you.

With this newfound determination, you consciously choose to do battle against your “dark side” and not allow it to maintain control over your skiing. When that internal conflict erupts in the start area or the starting gate, as I described above, you no longer allow it to continue, but rather marshal your forces for good and push back against that part of you that has been your worst enemy. You say, “I can do this! I will give my best effort! I will ski my fastest!”

Confidence and trust lie at the heart of being your best ally in your ski racing. Both involve a belief in yourself that comes from two places. First, confidence in your capabilities which include your natural abilities, fitness, mental strengths, and technical and tactical skills. Second, trust in your preparations that include your recent training efforts and your race-day warm-up, inspection, and pre-race routine.

When you focus on these two assets as you prepare for races, you give yourself the chance to become your own best ally and gather your resources to defeat the part of you that is your own worst enemy. It creates in you a positive, fighting attitude that gives you the opportunity to not only vanquish your “dark side” and become your best ally, but, as the end result, direct your fullest energies to “bringing it” and “leaving it all out there” on course.

Of course, this shift won’t occur overnight and the enemy in you won’t go away without a fight. But, with commitment and persistence, you can wear it down until it finally surrenders and recedes in the distance. What appears is a new and increasingly confident you who can now focus on doing battle with the course and your competitors rather than yourself. This new you will be willing to take the necessary risks, in being your best ally and skiing your fastest, that will most likely result in your achieving your ski racing goals.

Vote for the Worst Toy of the Year

Barbie_Homepage_072514The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an organization whose mission is to  support parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing, is having a Vote for the Worst Toy of the Year contest.

There are five worthy (or should I say unworthy) candidates:

ccfc

I voted for the Barbie Loves Girl Scouts for several reasons. First, Barbie represents everything that I find offensive about girls’ dolls, in particular, her ridiculous body dimensions, her focus on physical appearance, and her materialism. Those alone should send mothers running as fast as possible away from Barbies (though given their popularity, for some reason that is beyond me, mothers obviously have the opposite reaction).

Second, I love the chutzpah of the Girl Scouts for their hypocrisy and greed in signing a $2 million licensing deal with Mattel. Isn’t GSA supposed to be teaching girls healthy values and attitudes?

Combine this deal with GSA making millions (around $700 million since 1999 to be precise) from those obesity-contributing, tooth-decaying (though, admittedly delicious) cookies and you wonder whose side GSA is on.

You can be sure I will never let a Barbie within 10 feet of my daughters. And, as for the Girl Scouts, my daughters are Brownies and Daisies, but, after seeing this new Barbie, I’m going to talk to my wife about rethinking their participation.

Sorry for the rant, but please cast your vote for your Worst Toy of the Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Goals for Playing Your Best on Game Day

sports-balls-collage-boring-sports-collageDefining success in sports is a difficult task. When I ask most athletes and coaches how they define success, it is usually in terms of results, whether wins, rankings, or times. Though, admittedly, results are the ultimate determinant of success, I have found that a preoccupation with them can both interfere with achieving those results and can produce feelings of disappointment and frustration (or worse).

One problem is that focusing on results can actually prevent you from getting the results you want for two reasons. First, if you’re focusing on results before a competition, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to get those results. Second, focusing on results, specifically, the possibility of bad results, is what causes you to get nervous before competitions which will only hurt your performances.

Another problem with sports is that your efforts don’t always lead directly to the results you want because you can’t control everything in a competition. In other words, “S&%# Happens” in sports that can derail your best efforts.

To help demonstrate this point, let’s compare success and failure in sports to success and failure in school. Let’s say you have an exam coming up. If you study hard and are well prepared, assuming the test is fair, the chances of your doing well are very high, say, over 95%. Why? Because there are few external variables that can prevent you from doing well.

Sports, however, are very different. You can be completely ready to have a great competition, but things don’t work out in your favor. For example, you experience bad weather, such as fog or high wind, or make a costly mistake that you can’t recover from. The odds of doing well in a competition are, if you are really prepared, I would say, around 80%.

Given the uncertainty of sports, basing how you feel about your performance (and about yourself!) solely on your results is a recipe for experiencing the very thing you want to avoid—failure—and some pretty bad feelings.

I prefer to define success in terms that are controllable.

Goal #1: Before the Game: Total Preparation

On game day, all you can control is yourself, which means your preparations. When I work with athletes, I tell them that when the game starts, I want them to be able to say, “I’m totally prepared to achieve my goals today.” Ultimately, that’s all you can do.

I have two thoughts about preparation. First, being totally prepared is the only chance you have to get the results you want. If you aren’t completely prepared, you have zero chance because many of your opponents, who are just as good as you or better, will be really prepared. If you are totally prepared, you don’t, as I indicated above, have a 100% chance of success, but your chances are pretty darned good.

Second, if you aren’t totally prepared to perform your best, I have no sympathy for you because, as I just noted, you can control your preparations. If you’re not completely ready to play your best, you have nobody to blame but yourself. On the other hand, a tough break during a competition, for example, a bad call from a ref, is worthy of some sympathy (though not too much because that’s the unpredictable nature of sports).

Total preparation involves looking at everything within your control that can impact your performances and taking steps to maximize all of those areas. On the day of the competition, these areas include your sleep, nutrition, equipment, and pre-game warm-up. Just before the game, they include a comprehensive pre-game routine that is comprised of final equipment preparations (if your sport involves gear) and getting physically (e.g., warm-up, breathing, and reaching your ideal intensity) and mentally (e.g., imagery, focus, mindset) ready. So, when the game begins, you feel totally prepared and confident you can play your best.

Goal #2: During the Game: Bring It!

I would argue that “solid” play isn’t usually enough to get the results you want. If your outcome goals are at all high, your only chance of real success and achieving those goals is to “bring it!,” meaning pushing your limits and competing with abandon.

This goal seems pretty obvious given that we all know that holding back usually doesn’t work (more on this in Goal #3 below). So, what prevents you from bringing it every time you compete? Well, an inherent danger of bringing it is that the risks you take in the process may not pay off; bringing it may lead to a costly mistake. In other words, bringing it may results in failure. And, for most athletes, failure is the worst possible thing to experience and to be avoided at all cost. Yet, by not bringing it, you guarantee failure (or, at least, mediocrity).

Goal #3: After the Game: No Regrets

Have you ever been at the start of a competition and just wanted a solid performance? Maybe you’ve had a string of poor performances and just want to get through one without any major mistakes? So, you perform cautiously. When the competition is over, you’re relieved at finally having not had any major fails.

But what is the usual result of this sort of attitude? Usually a pretty mediocre performance and a loss. What’s your immediate emotional reaction? Regret. What’s regret? Wishing that you had done something differently, in other words, you wish you had gone for it (even risking mistakes) rather than performing so tentatively. You look back at the competition and wished you had charged more rather than held back.

Regret is a huge value for me both in my personal life (I want to look back on my life and have as few regrets as possible) and my professional work with athletes. I want you to look back on a competition, season, or career, whether success of failure, and be able to say, “I left it all out there. I may not have achieved my greatest goals. But I did everything humanly possible to be the best I could be.” You will certainly be disappointed in not fully achieving your goals, but you will get over that feeling and will likely feel great pride and inspiration in knowing that you did everything you could to accomplish your goals. Regret, by contract, can gnaw at you forever.

The Bottom Line

You want to give yourself every opportunity to achieve your outcome goals. Yet, when you fail to achieve these three goals, you have about a zero chance that you’ll get the results you want. By contrast, I can’t guarantee success today or tomorrow, no matter what you do. But if you  commit to and consistently strive toward these goals, I’m willing to bet that good things will happen in your sporting life and in your life in general.

Stay Motivated to Exercise During the Holiday Season

minsksnowrunner-e1294696952442I recently had an old article I wrote (but don’t think I ever posted on my blog) published on a running website. Given the time of the year, I thought it was timely and might be of interest to many of my followers.

Taylor Interviewed for Article on the Power of Mental Imagery

downloadI was recently interviewed for an article that explores the benefits of mental imagery for sports performance and injury rehabilitation. Some interesting research shows how imagery isn’t just a mental experience, but can actually help muscles stay active following an injury.

Think You Can Get a College Athletic Scholarship? Think Again

CaptureIf you or your child dreams of a college athletic scholarship, you better think again. According to this article, the chances are exceedingly slim (see the chart with all of the collegiate sports).

For the vast majority of young athletes, an athletic scholarship is a pipe dream. Now consider how many thousands of dollars parents invest in their children’s high school sports experience (e.g., sports academies, private coaching, camps, equipment, travel to competitions), all with the purpose of securing that vaunted athletic scholarship to the school of their choice.

Even if a young athlete gets that elusive scholarship, it isn’t as much as you may think. Very few athletes get “free rides” (which don’t actually even cover all college expenses). The average scholarship for an NCAA Division I school is under $15,000 a year and DII schools offer even less. That amount is far less than many families pay for their children’s competitive high school sports experience.

So, do the math. If a college athletic scholarship is your “holy grail,” you may want to reconsider where you invest your money. That athletic scholarship doesn’t offer a very good financial  ROI (though it may certainly offer wonderful experiences and life lessons).

3 Goals for Skiing Your Best on Race Day

SKI ALPIN - FIS WC Beaver Creek, RTL, DamenDefining success in ski racing is a difficult task. When I ask most racers and coaches how they define success, it is usually in terms of results, whether place, points, rankings, or qualifying quotas. Though, admittedly, results are the ultimate determinant of success, I have found that a preoccupation with them can both interfere with achieving those results and can produce feelings of disappointment and frustration (or worse).

One problem is that focusing on results can actually prevent you from getting the results you want for two reasons. First, if you’re focusing on results before a race, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to get those results. Second, focusing on results, specifically, the possibility of bad results, is what causes you to get nervous before races which will only hurt your skiing.

Another problem with ski racing is that your efforts don’t always lead directly to the results you want because you can’t control everything in a race. In other words, “S&%# Happens” in ski racing that can derail your best efforts.

To help demonstrate this point, let’s compare success and failure in our sport to success and failure in school. Let’s say you have an exam coming up. If you study hard and are well prepared, assuming the test is fair, the chances of your doing well are very high, say, over 95%. Why? Because there are few external variables that can prevent you from doing well.

Ski racing, however, is very different. You can be completely ready to have a great race, but things don’t work out in your favor. For example, you experience bad weather, such as fog or high wind, or make a mistake due to rough course conditions. Those odds of doing well in a race are, if you are really prepared, I would say, around 80%.

Given the uncertainty of ski racing, basing how you feel about your skiing (and yourself) solely on your results is a recipe for experiencing the very thing you want to avoid—failure—and some pretty bad feelings.

I prefer to define success in terms that are controllable.

Goal #1: In the Gate: Total Preparation

On race day, all you can control is yourself, which means your preparations. When I work with racers, I tell them that when they’re in the gate, I want them to be able to say, “I’m as prepared as I can be to achieve my goals today.” Ultimately, that’s all you can do.

I have three thoughts about preparation. First, being as prepared as you can be doesn’t always mean being totally prepared. As I noted above, “S&%# happens” in ski racing, meaning there are so many things outside of your control. It may not be possible to be totally prepared due to the circumstances on race day. But, you can adapt to those conditions and get as prepared as possible.

Second, being totally prepared is the only chance you have to get the results you want. If you aren’t completely prepared, you have zero chance because there are going to be many other racers in the field who are just as good as you or better and who are really prepared. If you are totally prepared, you don’t, as I indicated above, have a 100% chance of success, but your chances are pretty darned good.

Third , if you aren’t totally prepared to ski your best, I have no sympathy for you because, as I just noted, you can control your preparations. If you’re not completely ready to ski your best, you have nobody to blame but yourself. On the other hand, a tough break while on course, for example, a rough course, is worthy of some sympathy (though not too much because that’s the unpredictable nature of our sport).

Total preparation involves looking at everything within your control that can impact your skiing and taking steps to maximize all of those areas. These areas include your sleep, nutrition, equipment, skiing warm-up, and inspection. In the start area, they include a comprehensive pre-race routine that is comprised of final equipment preparations (e.g., edges, bases, bindings, armor) and getting physically (e.g., warm-up, breathing, and reaching your ideal intensity) and mentally (e.g., imagery, mindset) ready. So, when you get into the starting gate, you feel totally prepared and confident you can ski your fastest.

Goal #2: On Course: Bring It!

In my post from a few weeks ago, I made the distinction between good skiing and fast skiing. Though I received some pushback from this difference, I stand by my statement that solid technical and tactical skiing isn’t enough to get the results you want. If your outcome goals are at all high, your only chance of skiing fast and achieving those goals is to “bring it!,” meaning attack the course and push your limits.

This goal seems pretty obvious given that we all know that holding back just doesn’t work (more on this in Goal #3 below). So, what prevents you from bringing it every run? Well, an inherent danger of bringing it is that the risks you take in the process may not pay off; bringing  it may lead to a costly mistake or a DNF. In other words, bringing it may results in failure. And, for most racers, failure is the worst possible thing to experience and to be avoided at all cost. Yet, by not bringing it, you guarantee failure (or, at least, mediocrity).

Goal #3: In the Finish: No Regrets

Have you ever been in the start area and really wanted to finish? Maybe you’ve had a string of DNFs and were afraid of not finishing again? So, you skied cautiously. When you cross the finish line, you’re relieved at finally having completed a course.

But then you look at your time; you were really slow. What’s your immediate emotional reaction? Regret. What’s regret? Wishing that you had done something differently, in other words, you wish you had gone for it (even risking another DNF) rather than skiing so tentatively. You look back up the hill at the course you just ran and wished you had charged more rather than holding back.

Regret is a huge value for me both in my personal life (I want to look back on my life and have as few regrets as possible) and my professional work with racers. I want you to look back on a race day, season, career, whether finish or DNF, success of failure, and be able to say, “I left it all out there. I may not have achieved my greatest goals. But I did everything humanly possible to be the best I could be.” You will certainly be disappointed in not fully achieving your goals, but you will get over that feeling and will likely feel great pride and inspiration in knowing that you did everything you could to accomplish your goals. Regret, by contract, can gnaw at you forever.

The Bottom Line

You want to give yourself every opportunity to achieve your outcome goals. Yet, when you fail to achieve these three goals, you have about a zero chance that you’ll get the results you want. By contrast, I can’t guarantee success today or tomorrow, no matter what you do. But if you  commit to and consistently strive toward these goals, I’m willing to bet that good things will happen, in your ski racing and your life.

3 Essential Mindsets for Athletic Success

mindsetIn this article, I’m going to talk about “mindset,” which I consider to be an essential contributor to athletic success and a mental area that has only come to light in my work with elite athletes during the past three years. This topic is also where professional and Olympic athletes offer wonderful examples in which they use different mindsets to perform at their highest level consistently.

Let me preface this discussion by clarifying that my use of the word mindset is different from the use of mindset popularized by the Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck (a perspective, I might add, that is consistent with my own and one that can also help athletes achieve their competitive goals).

When I talk about mindset, I mean what is going on in your head just before you begin a competition, whether on the field, course, court, track, what-have-you. What happens in your mind during that oh-so-important period sets the stage for whether you perform to the best of your ability.

I have found three mindsets that the best athletes appear to use most. There may be others (and please let me know if you think of any), but I find these three to be the most common.

Aggressive

In an interview after her first World Cup victory of this season, Mikaela Shiffrin, the 19-year-old alpine ski racing prodigy who has already won Olympic and World Championship gold medals, indicated how “I’m trying to take more of an aggressive mindset” that helped her overcome her pattern of relatively sluggish skiing in the first half of race runs.

When I talk about an aggressive mindset, I don’t mean that athletes should try to hurt their opponents. Rather, I think of aggressiveness as a mindset in which athletes are proactive, assertive, and forceful, for example, driving hard to the hoop in basketball, going for a risky shot in golf or tennis, or setting a fast pace in a marathon.

This aggressive mindset is often needed for athletes to shift from solid performance to exceptional performance because it allows them to take their performances to the next level, particularly for those who aren’t naturally aggressive in how they perform. For example, I worked with a top NFL draft pick at linebacker who was so gentle off the field that he wasn’t able to naturally “take it to” the offense while playing. For him to be successful in the NFL, he needed to adopt an aggressive mindset.

An aggressive mindset can be so valuable because many sports these days have become “combat sport,” meaning that opponents or competitive conditions are trying to literally or figuratively beat athletes. Athletes do battle not only with opposing teams and players, but also weather and field court, or course conditions. Only by assuming an aggressive mindset do some athletes have a chance to vanquish those enemies.

An aggressive mindset can be developed in several ways. First, you’re more likely to perform aggressively if your body is amped up a bit more than usual. You can raise your physical intensity with more movement during practice, in your pre-competitive routines, and just before you begin to compete. Simply moving more and being more dynamic in your movements will help you shift to a more aggressive mindset.

Second, you can use high-energy self-talk to instill that aggressive mindset. You can see this practice used regularly in football locker rooms and before weightlifting competitions. Examples include: “Let’s go! Attack! Charge! Bring it!” What you notice is not only what you say, but how you say it. So, your aggressive self-talk should sound, well, aggressive. No pussy cats here; only tigers, lions, and panthers allowed.

Third, you can incorporate an aggressive mindset into mental imagery in which you see and feel yourself competing aggressively which, in turn, helps create more attacking thinking, focus, and feeling.

Calm

A calm mindset is typically best for athletes who get nervous before they compete. Throughout your pre-competitive preparations and when about to begin a competition, your primary goal is to settle down and relax, thus allowing your mind to let go of doubt and worry and your body to be free of nerves and tension. Additionally, a calm mindset can be valuable for athletes who are naturally aggressive and don’t need to take active steps to get into attack mode.

A calm mindset can be created in several ways. First, it’s difficult to have a calm mind if your body is anxious, so focusing on relaxing your body is a good start. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation are two good tools you can use to calm your body.

Second, you can use mental imagery in which you see and feel yourself being calm before a competition. This imagery has a direct physiologically relaxing effect on both your body and mind.

Third, calming and reassuring self-talk can ease your tension, for example, “Easy does it. Cool, calm, and collected. Chillin’ before I’m thrillin’” (I just made that up!). Relaxing self-talk can take the edge off of your nerves giving you the comfort and confidence to perform your best.

Clear

A clear mind involves having basically nothing related to performing going on in your mind before a competition. The athletes who use a clear mindset are those you see before a competition talking to coaches, teammates, or even their competition. They are often smiling, dancing around, chatting it up, or singing to themselves. These athletes can use a clear mindset because they are incredibly talented natural athletes and have years of experience that allow them to trust their bodies completely to perform their best without any interference from their minds.

A clear mind is most suited for athletes who are intuitive (meaning they don’t have to think about their sport very much to perform their best), free spirited (meaning they go with the flow rather than being really structured in their approach to their sport), and experienced (meaning they have a lot of confidence and trust in their capabilities from many years and successes).

You create a calm mindset by thinking about anything except your sport. Talking to others around you, thinking about someone or something that makes you feel good, and listening to music in your head are several ways you can keep your mind clear, thus preventing it from getting in the way of your body performing its best.

Mindset, like all mental states, requires several steps to instill and master. First, you have to experiment to figure out which mindset will work best for you. Second, you need to make a commitment to adopting an ideal mindset. Third, you must focus on your desired mindset in practice and competitions to create that mindset. And, finally, you need repetition in practice and competitions to ingrain your ideal mindset so deeply that, when you begin the most important competition of your life, that mindset just clicks on and it enables you to perform your very best.

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What They’re Saying

“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...”

Seth Waugh
former CEO, Deutsche Banks America