All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor
child developmenteffortexpectationsgoalsparentingpressurespsychologyresultsski racingsports
Setting expectations for your young ski racer is an essential responsibility of parenting. Expectations tell your children what’s important to you and establish a standard toward which they can strive. But expectations can be double-edged swords. They can be a tremendous benefit to your children’s development as both ski racers and people or they can be crushing burdens that hamper their growth. It all depends on what types of expectations you set for them (or rather what expectations you help them set for themselves). Unfortunately, the culture of achievement that permeates ski racing (and most of children’s lives) – it’s all about results! – has convinced many parents to set the wrong kinds of expectations for their young ski racers.
Unhealthy Expectations of Success
There are two types of expectations that you shouldn’t set for your children: ability expectations and outcome expectations. Ability expectations are those in which children are expected to achieve a certain result because of their natural ability, “We expect you to win the race today because you’re the most talented skier on the hill” or “We expect you to make Topolino because you’re the best racer out there.” The problem with ability expectations is that children have no control over their ability. Children are born with a certain amount of ability (and what ability they get depends entirely on the genes their parents give them) and all they can do is maximize whatever ability they are given. The fact is that if your children aren’t meeting your ability expectations, you have no one to blame but yourself—you didn’t give them good enough genes! Another problem with ability expectations is that if children attribute their successes to their ability—“I won because I’m so talented”—they must attribute their failures to their lack of ability—“I’m failed because I’m just not good enough.” And, though racers can gain strength and skills, they can’t gain more ability.
Our culture of achievement also emphasizes results over all else. As a consequence, ski-racing parents often set outcome expectations in which their children are expected to produce a certain result—“We expect you to win this race” or “We know you to qualify for JOs.” The problem is that, once again, children are asked to meet an expectation over which they may not have control. They might ski as fast as they possibly can but still not meet your outcome expectations because other racers just happened to be faster that day. So they would have to consider themselves as having failed despite what may very well have been a great race on their part. Setting outcome expectations also communicates to your children that you value results over everything else, so they’ll come to judge themselves by the same standards. Contrary to what you may believe, ability and outcome expectations actually hinder your children’s ski-racing efforts.
Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! I can’t push my kids to get good results in ski racing? No way I’m buying this one.” Before you jump all over me, give me some latitude to bring all these ideas back to the real world.
Here is a simple reality that we all recognize in our culture: results matter! No two ways about it, in most parts of our society, people are judged on the results they produce: grades, victories, earnings. Though it would be great if every young racer was rewarded for their good efforts, that is just not the way the world works. Unfortunately, this societal focus can cause you as parents to place your desire for your children to succeed—as defined by that culture of achievement—ahead of their long-term development and enjoyment of ski racing.
I would recommend that you give up outcome expectations all together, but still give your children outcome “somethings.” Those somethings I refer to are outcome goals. Goals are very different from expectations. Outcome expectations are often set by parents and placed in front of their children without their consultation or “buy in,” and kids often feel dragged—sometimes kicking and screaming—toward those expectations. Children have no ownership of the expectation and little motivation, outside an implied threat from their parents, to fulfill the expectations. When I ask young racers about expectations, they usually grimace and say things like, “That’s when my parents get really serious and I know they’re gonna put pressure on me” or “They’re telling me what to do and I better do it or I’ll get into trouble.” Not exactly “feel-good” parenting! Outcome expectations are also black and white; your children either meet the expectation and succeed or they don’t and they fail. So there is very little opportunity for success and lots of room for failure.
Goals are very different. I believe that children are wired to respond to goals. One of the great joys in life is to set a goal, work toward a goal, and achieve a goal. Children want to set goals for themselves, with guidance from parents and coaches, and they want to pursue those goals. Importantly, goals aren’t black and white, but about degree of attainment. Not every goal is achieved, but there will almost always be improvement toward a goal and that progress defines success. When I ask kids about goals, they respond much differently. Their faces perk up and they say things like, “It means I decide to do something and I really work hard to do it” or “I feel like my parents are really behind me and I’m psyched to do it.”
For example, let’s say your young racer has been finishing in the top 20 in recent races and he sets an outcome expectation of finishing in the top 10 in the next race. But he finishes 12th. According to his outcome expectation, he would have failed because he didn’t meet that expectation. But if he had set an outcome goal of a top-10 finish, then his result would be a success because, though not fully achieving his goal, he showed significant improvement toward the goal.
Many parents believe that results at a young age are important, so they emphasize results and place outcome expectations on their children. Yet the early years of ski racing are about gaining experience, learning, and improving, and developing the attitudes and mental skills necessary for later success. Using goals rather than expectations is one of the best ways to foster this growth.
But even outcome goals aren’t ideal. Many parents think that focusing on the result will increase the chances that their young racer will achieve that result, but the opposite is actually true. Here’s why. When does the outcome of a ski race occur? At the finish line, of course. And if young racers are focusing on the finish line, what are they not focusing on? Well, the process, obviously. Here’s the irony. By focusing on the process rather than the result, young racers will more likely ski better and, if they ski better, they’re more likely to achieve the result you wanted in the first place. Also, why do children get nervous before a race? Because they’re afraid of the result, more specifically, they’re afraid of failure. So by getting young racers focused on the process, they’ll be less nervous and will focus on what they need to do to get down the hill as fast as possible. And, if all goes well (and you have to expect that all won’t always go well in ski racing), the result will be good.
So if you’re going to set outcome somethings, set outcome goals, but then immediately direct your children’s focus onto the process, that is, what they need to do to achieve the desired outcome.
Bode Miller is my poster child of the unimportance of results early in ski racers’ careers. Bode never raced at Topolino, never won a Junior Olympic gold medal, and never won a World Junior Championship medal. And he has never cared about result! All Bode ever cared about was, as he put it in his autobiography, Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun, to ski “as fast as the natural universe will allow.” And, thanks to that attitude, Bode is one of the greatest ski racers in history.
If you want your children to be successful, instead of setting ability and outcome expectations, you should establish effort expectations, that will actually encourage them to do what it takes to achieve the outcomes you want. Effort expectations are within your children’s control; they can choose to work hard or not. Think about what your children need to do to reach their ski racing goals: commitment, hard work, discipline, patience, focus, persistence, perseverance, positive attitude. Examples of effort expectations may include “Our family expects you to make your ski racing a priority” or “Our family expects you to give your best effort in training and races.” Regardless of the abilities your children inherited from you or with whom they might be compared, children have the capacity to use effort expectations and the tools associated with them to be the best they can be in their ski racing (or whatever area of life they choose to pursue).
Effort expectations should be established in collaboration with your children. This cooperative approach ensures that your children have ownership of the expectations rather than feeling that you have forced the expectations on them. You can talk to your children about the value of effort, how it will help them achieve their goals, and that they have complete control over their effort. You can share examples with your children of how notable people used the skills associated with effort to become successful (for example, Lindsay Vonn and Ted Ligety). Most important, you want to help them make the connection between their efforts and achieving their goals.
If your children meet the effort expectations they established, they will, in all likelihood, ski well, achieve some level of success (how successful they become will depend on what abilities they were born with), and gain satisfaction in their efforts. If your children don’t meet the effort expectations, they are not likely to achieve their goals and must face the consequences of their lack of sufficient effort, for example, disappointment. In either case, your young ski racers will learn essential life lessons that will not only serve them well throughout their ski-racing careers—whether it ends after high school or carries them onto the Olympic podium—and in all future goals they pursue throughout their lives.
being coolchild developmentconsumerismmaterialismparentingPopular Culture
As the author of Your Children are Under Attack, I’m no fan of popular culture. Its aim is not to support healthy development of young people, but rather to profit from selling kids junk and attitudes wrapped in “it’ll make you happy” vibes.
Well, recent research from the UK provides painful support for my views. The study had several unsettling findings:
- Although friendly and helpful children were ultimately more popular over time, young people mistakenly predicted that the route to being liked was in having a reputation for disruptive behavior, having ‘cool’ stuff and looking good.
- Depressive symptoms in boys tends to predict increases in their materialism, whereas depressive symptoms in girls tends to predict the internalization of appearance concerns.
- Consumer culture may be perceived as a coping mechanism by vulnerable children, but it is one that is detrimental to their well-being.
The bottom line is that kids are being led to believe what will make them happy and popular and mentally healthy is actually doing just the opposite.
The bigger bottom line is that it’s up to parents to ensure that they help their children resist rather than embrace these harmful messages.
As you may know, I’m pretty darned outspoken about parents of young athletes who are seduced by our hypercompetitive youth sports culture in which parents become overly invested (in terms of time, $$, and ego) in their children’s sports participation.
But nothing I have ever written is as brutally honest as this article written by an ER physician. Sure, it has a certitude and a categorical quality that might be grating to some, but for the vast majority of young athletes and their parents, everything he says rings true to me.
As a mental coach and the author of four parenting books who has worked with many young athletes (and their parents), I have seen much of what the author describes many times over. As the parent of two (possibly) aspiring ski racers, I also see what he sees at races from Nor-Ams down to U10 races.
This article is filled with messages that are unsettling and that we parents don’t want to hear. But if we can get beyond our discomfort in the realization that what he says may be true, there is much to be learned from his wise, if not pretty harsh commentary.
attentionimpulse controlinternetInternet addictionmemorysleepsocial mediatechnology
See a fascinating infographic from onlinecoursereport.com (read the basic findings below) that describes how the Internet is changing the way our brain works (for both good and bad).
Distracted? 7 Ways the Internet is Changing Our Brains
The Internet is a marvelous thing. Games, vast information, shopping, friends, medical advice: all at our fingertips. But how has constant access to the Internet and its technology changed our brains?
1. We Experience FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.
Percentage of social network users who experience anxiety when unable to access their profiles
Percentage of 13- to 67-year-olds who say social media has increased their fear of missing out
2. Our Sleep Patterns Are Worse.
Percentage of people using a tech device in the bedroom before bedtime
87%Percentage of users who report at least one sleep problem a few times per week
16%Percentage of users who report surfing the Internet while awake at night due to sleep problems
3. Our Attention Span Is Waning.
Human attention span
That’s 1 second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.
4. So Is Our Impulse Control.
Impulse control disorder (ICD) is now a bona fide psychiatric issue.
In a study of 10,000 people 18 years of age or older, 7.3% showed symptoms of a chronic ICD problem.
Symptoms of ICD
- Uncontrollable urge to buy/steal/lie
- Lack of patience
- Difficulty concentrating
- Obsessive thoughts
- Social isolation
5. We’re More Creative!
Just look at all we have created thanks to the wonders of the Internet:
There are over 3 million apps.
300 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded every minute.
Millions of Instagram photos are posted every day.
500 million Tweets are posted every day.
The Web allows us to collaborate and share ideas.
Writers, artists, musicians and inventors all have sites to showcase their talents to the world.
6. But Our Memory Is Suffering.
In a memory study of two age groups, 87% of those over 50 could remember standard personal information. Only 40% of those under 30 could do so, having to reach for their phones to find the answer.
Immediate access to Google searches contributes to a lack of information retention.
40,000Google searches made per second, which is about 3.5 billion per day.
7. We Might Be Addicts.
1 in 8
Americans who suffer from problematic Internet use
60%Percentage of new cases of sex addiction attributed to widespread sexual content that is now available on mobile devices
Here’s a shocking bit of news (note ironic tone) reported in the Huffington Post today: A substantial number of tweens and teens wake up in the middle of the night to either check or post on their social media. Researchers indicated that this habit, found in more than 20% of young people surveyed, disrupted sleep, increased fatigue, and may negatively impact mental health and well-being.
Simple and obvious solution: Leave smartphones in the kitchen (or somewhere not the bedroom) at night.
Curiosity strikes: I wonder what the stats are on adults waking up in the middle of the night to check or post on their social media.
boredomconditioningfitnessgoalshard workpainski racingsuccess
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re pretty serious about your ski racing. I’m also assuming that, despite being serious about your racing, you do it because it’s big-time fun. Improving, the competition, hanging with your friends, travel, achieving your goals, and, yes, even getting on the podium, all make ski racing a fun and exciting sport.
At the same time, no matter how much you love ski racing and no matter how much fun it is in general, you have to admit that there are many specific aspects of our sport that are definitely not fun, especially in fall training. I’m thinking of those cold early morning runs, those mountain bike rides in the rain, those multiple sets of power cleans, and those incredibly intense intervals in the gym.
As I noted in a previous post, the fall matters because the physical conditioning you do and the fitness gains you make are essential for success in the coming winter. And, let’s be realistic, fall training is hard. It is almost always physically tiring, sometimes repetitive and boring, and more often than not really painful. In other words, some time this fall, you are likely to arrive at a point in physical training when it is no longer fun.
I call this point “the Grind.” The Grind is what often separates ski racers who achieve their goals from those who don’t. The typical reaction to the Grind is to either ease up or give up because it’s just too darned hard. But truly motivated racers realize that the Grind is also the point at which it really counts. They reach the Grind and, instead of easing up, they keep on going and, in fact, push harder because they know that maintaining their effort, intensity, and focus during the last reps, sets, or miles might make the difference between success and disappointment this winter.
Many sport psychologists will say that you have to love the Grind because if you don’t love it, you won’t want to do it. But I say that love isn’t in the cards for almost all racers because there’s not much to love when you are exhausted, hurting, or bored out of your mind. So, you don’t have to love the Grind to push through it. How you respond to the Grind actually lies along a continuum. As I just mentioned, loving the Grind is rare. At the other end of the continuum is “I hate the Grind.” If you feel this way, you are likely going to lose your motivation and give up, so hate isn’t an option either.
I suggest that you neither love nor hate the Grind, just accept it as part of the deal in striving toward your ski racing goals. The Grind may not be very enjoyable, but what feels even worse is failing to achieve your goals because you didn’t work hard enough. And what really feels good is seeing your hard work pay off with success this coming winter. In other words, as I wrote in another previous article, you can pay now or pay later.
So, next time you’re doing dryland and it is REALLY NOT FUN, recognize the Grind, remind yourself how important it is, and push on through it. This winter, when you’ve had some great races, you can then thank yourself for hanging tough when it really mattered.
I was recently interviewed by a new magazine and website devoted to the experience and expression of creativity in its many forms. If you’d like to take a look inside my head (however messy it may be) and see what creativity means to me and how it manifests itself in my work, this interview is a window for doing so.
attirebattles of willchildrenfashionparentingparentsstyle
I was recently interviewed by the Detroit Free Press about what to do when your children want to wear something and you don’t think they should. It’s a common battle between parents and children (especially if you have daughters which, BTW, I have two of)) and one, I argue in the interview, that should rarely be fought.
I was recently interviewed by a Canadian parenting magazine (thus the title’s reference to Sidney Crosby) on the challenges of being a sports parents. There are some interesting perspectives that the parents of young athletes will appreciate and learn from.
athletechampionmentalpsychologicalski racingsport psychologysportsvictor
Jamie Astle, the father of the late racer Bryce Astle, recently described the qualities that he believed would have made Bryce a ski racing champion. His list is formidable and very consistent with my own ideas on the topic.
Here’s the list:
- He embraced a positive attitude and was always able see the good things in bad situations. There are no bad days, hence his motto “Good Vibes Only.”
- Bryce practiced extreme humility. He wanted everyone else to do as well as he did and he was more than willing to help others get better in the process. When he was done racing, he planned on becoming a coach.
- Bryce didn’t want to be just good, he wanted to be the best and he was willing to put all distractions aside to accomplish that. He was totally committed and focused. I used to tell him, “To be successful you have to be willing to do the things that the unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.” I think he embraced that. He achieved every goal he ever set for himself except when he ran out of time.
- My son’s determination was evident in his unconditional willingness and commitment to do whatever was needed to reach his goals. His end goal was not to make the U.S. Ski Team but rather to be the best skier in the world.
- This takes quite some time to develop but once you possess mental maturity, everything begins to be too easy. Bryce had gotten to a point mentally that at least in GS he could say to himself, “I can do that every run.”
- My son truly loved skiing. He spent much more time freeskiing than he did racing. He loved all aspects of skiing: powder, hucking cliffs, wind buff, slopestyle, big mountain ripping and, yes, racing too. He loved the people, the mountains, the atmosphere, everything about it. This truly was his life.
- What happened a second ago didn’t matter to Bryce – the only thing that mattered was what was in front of him. He could completely screw up his first run and not even make the flip, then go back out to win the second run. He lived in the moment.
- Bryce was always working on skiing better by putting together the building blocks. There were no excuses about boots or equipment set-up, the light, snow conditions, course set, etc. – just ski better and you will do better.
- My son knew if he had a good run or not, what place he came in did not matter because he was ultimately only racing against himself. Was he happy with his run or not? He would tell me that some of his best runs were DNFs. The last race of his life he said he was too conservative in his first run but he was ripping the second run up until he booted out. That would have been a 10-12 point GS finish. No problem, on to the next race. Unfortunately, that was his last.
- I believe a major core strength in Bryce’s abilities was having the knowledge he could do something. Once he knew he could execute a particular skill, it was game over and on to the next building block.
- Bryce could create speed like no other. From big mountain extreme skiing, he learned to work with the mountain instead of fighting against it by developing his touch. He could see and feel the fall line of the mountain and was able to move his body fore and aft in an effortless motion to create speed. Bryce was a silky smooth skier.
- Both mileage and variety are the keys to development, and Bryce skied roughly 1,000 days before he ever went through a race course at age 12. At the age of 19, he still went over to Alta to rip the mountain with his brothers and friends after finishing training at Snowbird.
- Bryce was dynamically athletic, with quick feet and developing strength. He knew this was critical to his success as a ski racer.
- Until his later teenage years, he did not ski in the summer. Bryce played soccer, basketball, volleyball, lifted weights, surfed, road bikes and ran. Way too many kids and parents think that they are missing out if they don’t ski in the summer, but it’s a bad assumption. Being a well-rounded athlete is much more important.
I loved that Bryce didn’t specialize early.
And did you notice that just about every one of the attributes was psychological? Gotta love that!!
A good read for any athlete, coach, or parent.