Ski Racing: Achieve Prime Confidence

Prime confidence is a deep, lasting, and resilient belief in your ability to achieve your goals. Prime confidence keeps you positive, motivated, intense, focused, and emotionally in control when you need it most. With prime confidence, you’re able to stay confident even when you’re not skiing well (it happens to even the best ski racers periodically). You’re not negative and uncertain in difficult races nor overconfident in easy races. It also encourages you to seek out pressure situations and to view big races, difficult conditions, and tough competition as challenges to pursue. Ultimately, prime confidence enables you to ski your fastest consistently.

Five Keys to Prime Confidence

I have identified five keys to building prime confidence that will create an upward spiral of confidence. Each key alone can enhance your confidence, but if you use all of them together, you’ll find your confidence growing stronger and more quickly. The ultimate goal of prime confidence is to develop a strong and resilient belief in your ski racing ability so that you have the confidence to give your best effort, ski your best, and believe you can achieve your goals in the most important races of your life.

Preparation breeds confidence. Preparation is the foundation of confidence. This preparation includes the physical, technical, tactical, equipment, and mental parts of ski racing and means putting the necessary time and effort into every aspect of your training. If you have developed these areas as fully as you can, you will have faith that you will be able to use those capabilities gained from preparation to ski your best in races. The more of these areas you fully address in your preparation, the more confidence you will breed in yourself. My goal with ski racers with whom I work is, when they slide into the starting gate, they can say, “I’m as prepared as I can be to achieve my goals.”

Mental skills reinforce confidence. When I work with ski racers, I encourage them to create a mental “toolbox,” inside of which they will put essential mental tools that they will need in training and races. Just like having a spare tire, tire iron, and jack if you get a flat tire while driving, the tools in your mental toolbox are available when you have breakdowns in training and races, for example, you get frustrated in training or nervous before a race. Tools that you can place in your mental toolbox can include inspirational thoughts and images to bolster your motivation, positive self-talk and body language to fortify your confidence, deep breathing and muscle relaxation to combat anxiety, and keywords and mental imagery to maintain focus and avoid distractions.

Adversity ingrains confidence. Like most ski racers, you probably love to train in ideal conditions when you’re healthy, rested, and skiing your best. But how often do you race under ideal conditions? Probably rarely. More often than not, the worst conditions seem to come out on race day. But it isn’t the conditions that determine who succeeds and who fails in races because, for example, two racers can face the same conditions, but view and respond to them entirely differently. Racer A may see the tough conditions as a threat that causes negativity and anxiety. Racer B sees those same conditions as a challenge and becomes more excited and motivated. So who do you think is going to succeed? The challenge is to maintain your confidence when you’re faced with the worst possible conditions.

To more deeply ingrain confidence, you should expose yourself to as much adversity as possible in training. Adversity can be external obstacles such as frigid weather, heavy snow, wind, difficult terrain, or a really tight course. Or adversity can also come from inside of you, for example, fear, fatigue, or illness.

Training for adversity has several essential benefits. Adversity increases your belief that you can overcome the difficult conditions because you’ve shown yourself that you can in training. It shows you ways to adapt to the adversity so you can make those adjustments in races, so, for example, if you’ve trained on rutty courses, you know what line to ski rutty courses in a race. Training for adversity also familiarizes you with hard conditions, so when you get to a race with such demands, for instance, it’s brutally cold or it’s snowing heavily, you’ll be confident enough to say, “No big deal, I’ve trained in these conditions before.” Plus, training for adversity just makes you feel tough!

Support bolsters confidence. It’s difficult to achieve success on your own. The very best racers have many people supporting them. There will be times when things are just not going well and it helps to have people, for example, family, friends, coaches, teammates, and, yes, sport psychologists, to whom you can turn for support and encouragement. Though your confidence may wax and wane depending on how you’re feeling, the quality of your training, and your recent race results, you want people in your life whom you can count on to give you a “booster shot” of confidence, for example, have a coach say, “I know you can do it” or a friend tell you, “Hang in there. Things will turn around.”

Success validates confidence. All of the previous steps in building confidence will go for naught if you don’t then ski well and achieve your goals. Success validates the confidence you have developed in your ability; it demonstrates that your belief in your ability is well-founded. Success further strengthens your confidence, making it more resilient in the face of future adversity and poor skiing. Success also rewards your efforts to build confidence, encouraging you to continue to work hard and develop your capabilities.

But when I talk about success, I don’t mean just great race results, at least not right away. You can’t just go out and have a great race to give you confidence. Your initial goal is to create little “victories” every day in training. When you take off your skis after training, you should be able to say that you just “won” that day by doing what you needed to do (e.g., work hard, listen to your coach, focus on key areas of improvement, keep at it even when it really hurts, overcome adversity) to achieve your long-term goals. With each small victory in training that you accumulate, you move one step closer to that big victory, namely, achieving your competitive goals.

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