Inside the Ski Racing Mind: Prime Ski Racing is the Goal
Prime Ski Racing is the Goal
When you ski race, you will, in fact, be competing in three competitions. The obvious competition is the one that occurs against the rest of the field, the goal of which is to get the best result possible. But before you compete against the field, there is another competition you must win, namely, the race against the course, in which it does everything it can (course, snow and course conditions, terrain, weather) to beat you. But even before that, the most important race that you must prevail in is the mental race in which you compete against yourself. Here is a simple reality: If you don't win the mental race, you won't win the race against the course or against your competitors.
Contrary to what you may think, at whatever level in which you're competing, the technical and physical aspects of ski racing don't usually determine the winner. Racers who compete at the same level are very similar technically and physically. For example, on the World Cup, is Carlo Janka stronger than Aksel Lund Svindal? Is Lindsay Vonn more technically sound than Maria Riesch? In both cases, the answer is likely no. So, on any given day, what separates Bode Miller from Benny Raich or Tanja Poutianen from Tina Maze? The answer lies in who wins the mental race.
Whenever I talk to racers, I ask them what aspect of their sport seems to have the greatest impact on how they ski. Almost unanimously they say the mental part. I then ask how much time they devote to their mental preparation and their answer is almost always little or no time.
Despite its obvious importance, the mental side of ski racing is most often neglected, at least until a problem arises. The mistake racers (and parents and coaches) make is that they don't treat the mental side of ski racing the same way they treat its physical and technical sides. You don't wait to get injured before you do physical conditioning, do you? You don't develop a technical flaw before you work on your technique, do you? Of course not. You do physical and technical training to prevent problems from arising. You should approach the mental game in the same way.
Peak Performance is Not the Goal
One of the most popular phrases in sport psychology is "peak performance." Athletes in all sports typically think of peak performance as performing their best, as being at the top of their game. That sounds good, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to achieve peak performance? And when I came out of graduate school, peak performance was what I wanted athletes to achieve.
But as I became more experienced as a consultant and a writer, I began to appreciate the power of words and how important it is that the words I use are highly descriptive of what I want to communicate. I decided that peak performance was not descriptive. I saw several problems with peak performance:
• A peak is very small, so you can't stay there long. Would you be satisfied if you had one good race and several poor ones?
• Once the peak is reached, there's only one way to go-down!-and, and as with most peaks, the drop is usually precipitous. Have you experienced those big swings in race performance where one week you're totally " in the zone" and the next you're completely out of it?
• You may arrive at the peak too early or too late, missing a chance for success. Have you felt the frustration of lost opportunity because you weren't mentally "on" for your big race?
So I needed a phrase that accurately described what I wanted athletes to achieve. I struggled for several years unable to find such a phrase until one day I had one of those rare meetings of readiness and luck. Walking through the meat section of a supermarket I saw a piece of beef with a sticker that read Prime Cut. I had an "aha" experience; I knew I was on to something. I returned to my office and looked up "prime" in the dictionary. It was defined as "of the highest quality or value." I had finally found the phrase, "Prime Performance," in this case, Prime ski Racing, which I believed was highly descriptive of what I wanted ski racers to achieve.
I define Prime Ski Racing as "skiing at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions." There are two essential words in this definition. First, "consistently." I'm not interested if you can have only one or two great runs and then some poor ones; that is not enough to be truly successful. I want you to be able to train and race at a high level day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, all season long. This means training and racing with minimal ups and downs instead of the large swings in performance that are so common among racers. Second, "challenging." I'm not impressed if you can ski well under ideal race conditions against an easy field in an unimportant race. What makes the great racers great is their ability to ski their best under the worst possible race conditions against the toughest field imaginable in the biggest race of their lives.
A question you may ask is, Where does Prime Ski Racing come from? Though I'll be focusing on its mental contributors, the mind is only one necessary part of Prime Ski Racing. You must also be at a high level of physical health including being well-conditioned, well-rested, eating a balanced diet, and free from injury and illness. Prime Ski Racing also isn't possible if you're not technically and tactically sound. And you must have the best equipment optimally prepared. If you have all of these elements prepared to the max, then you will have the ability to achieve Prime Ski Racing.
Now here's a question for you: Have you ever experienced Prime Ski Racing? Let me describe what it's like:
• Effortless: It's comfortable, easy, and natural.
• Automatic: The body does what it knows how to do and there's no mental interference.
• Sharpened senses: Seeing, hearing, and feeling everything more acutely than normal.
• Time shift: Everything slows down enabling you to react more quickly.
• Effortless focus: You're totally absorbed in the experience.
• Boundless energy: Fatigue is simply not an issue.
• Prime integration: The physical, technical, tactical, and mental are working together to enable you to ski your best.
As I share insights about mental side of ski racing with you in Inside the Ski Racing Mind over the coming year, remember that Prime Ski Racing is the goal and all of your efforts are directed toward experiencing that elusive state. I will give you the mental tools. It's up to you to develop the physical, technical, and tactical tools you will need. So that when you get in the starting gate for the most important race of the coming winter, you'll be able to say with confidence that you are totally prepared to ski at a consistently high level under the most challenging conditions and achieve your ski racing goals.
Note: If you want to get a jump on achieving Prime Ski Racing, you can order my Prime Ski Racing book and Mental Edge CD here.
Dr. Jim Taylor drjimtaylor.com, knows the psychology of ski racing! He competed internationally for Burke Mtn. Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. For the past 25 years, Dr. Jim has worked with many of America's leading junior race programs as well as World Cup competitors from many countries. He is the author of Prime Ski Racing drjimtaylor.com/books/index.php#prime_sport: Triumph of the Racer's Mind. Dr. Jim is also the author of two parenting books and speaks regularly to parents, students, and educators around the U.S.
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