The race season is now in full swing with qualifying races underway for regional and national championship series. In other words, the season is getting real and the races are starting to really matter! So, this is the time when you want to ski consistently fast. Yet, this is also a time when you may start to feel weighed down by the expectations and pressure (both self-imposed and from others) to get the results you want.

Imagine that, just before you slide into the starting gate, someone forces you to put on a 50 lb. weight vest. How will you feel? Heavy and sluggish. And how will you ski? Poorly and slow. You may wear a metaphorical weight vest that weighs you down in a similar way mentally, emotionally, and physically when you allow the doubt, worry, and anxiety that come from expectations and pressure to influence how you think, feel, and ski on race day.

I get a lot of calls from parents of racers this time of year asking me to help their racers let go of the expectations and pressures and take the weight vest off. But there are many racers who don’t even realize they’ve put the weight vest on; they just feel bad and aren’t skiing well. This is a problem because if you don’t know you’re weighing yourself down, you can’t do anything to unburden yourself.

Some of that weight is caused by how you talk to yourself and the ways in which you approach what you want to accomplish on race day. There are six phrases I hear from athletes that are truly cringe-worthy to me because they are huge red flags that you have put on that weight vest and put heavy expectations and pressures on yourself:

  • I must…
  • I have to…
  • I need to…
  • I should…
  • I better…
  • I gotta…

Try saying these six phrases out loud and see how you feel. Just saying them causes me to tense up and feel the pressure of expectations on my shoulders.

What makes these phrases so unpleasant is that they all are followed by an implicit threat, for example, “I must do well today…or something bad is going to happen.” What that bad thing is often depends on the meaning you attach to failure. The most common ones I’ve heard from racers include:

  • My parents won’t love (or at least I’ll disappoint them);
  • My friends won’t like me;
  • People will think I’m a lousy ski racer;
  • I’ll never achieve my ski racing goals;
  • My ski racing will have been a total waste of time; and
  • I will be a total loser in everything I do.

These are some pretty weighty threats, I’m sure you would agree. Regardless of which threat follows your use of the six phrases (or you have others of your own), all of them will cause you to feel bad and to ski well below what you are capable of.

You can begin to take the weight vest off by changing the way you think and feel about your races. First, you can get rid of those six phrases. Second, you can replace them with other phrases that remove the threat and actually challenge you in a positive way to ski your fastest and pursue your ski racing goals:

  • I would like to…
  • It is my goal to…
  • I am working hard to…
  • I am directing all of my energy to…
  • I am excited to…

Now, try saying these five phrases and see how you feel. When I say them, I feel positive, fired up, and motivated, clearly different reactions compared to the six phrases I described previously. Instead of wanting to run away from races, you actually feel like you want to go after them.

The great thing is that, whoever forced you to don that weight vest (whether yourself or someone else), you have the power to take it off because it is all in your mind, all in the way you look at yourself as a racer, and all about how you approach your races.

Changing the way you think and talk about your races isn’t an immediate panacea. But it will definitely create a shift that can begin the process of freeing you of the expectations and pressure you may feel on race day. Your goal is to take the weight vest off, so you will feel unburdened when you race. You will be able to throw yourself in races with no doubt, worry, or hesitation and with commitment, confidence, and courage. How will you feel and ski then? Light, free, strong, and fast.

Want to learn more about how to be mentally prepared to ski consistently fast? Get a copy of my Prime Ski Racing e-book or register for my Prime Ski Racing 101: Train Your Mind like a Champion online mental training course.

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