Let me preface my comments with an apology to the owners of Live-Timing. I in no way intend to demonize them for having created Live-Timing. I’m sure they developed Live-Timing in good faith as a means of helping the ski-racing community to share race information. Unfortunately, as with many types of technology and social media, the positive vision of new technology often gives way to unintended consequences and misuse that can be more harmful than beneficial (e.g., Facebook, YouTube).
I also want to put my comments in perspective. I don’t mean to equate Live-Timing with 4Chan, Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, or “fake news.” It’s just ski racing. What makes it important is that those who have a passion for our sport and the parents who support their children want to ensure that everything we do helps them become the best ski racers and, more importantly, the best people they can be (I include myself because of my own passion and because I have two young ski racing daughters of my own).
I also admit that I use Live-Timing to follow the racers I work with. However, I “walk the walk” by never using it with my girls. I also realize that there are many benefits of Live-Timing to many in the ski racing community including officials, coaches, parents, the media, and racers themselves (as exemplified in the Quotes section of the Live-Timing.com web site). At the same time, like every form of technology, there are unexpected, and not necessarily healthy, effects that I would like to point out in this article so that everyone who uses Live-Timing can be sure to maximize its value and minimize its liabilities.
Let me share with you some examples of less-than-positive use of Live-Timing before I discuss specific concerns I have:
- Parents at races watching Live-Timing on their smartphones as their kids are on course.
- Parents showing their kids their time and placing on Live-Timing as soon as they leave the finish area.
- Parent’s knee-jerk emotional reactions in the finish line to their children’s race placing on Live-Timing, whether extreme excitement or stunning disappointment, immediately after their kids finish.
- Parents who aren’t at the race calling their spouse at the finish line and the spouse handing their phone to their kid even before they have time to catch their breath.
- Parents who are not at the race and make assumptions (usually inaccurate and negative ones) and pass judgment (ditto) about how their child did before getting the full story.
Behind these overt and fairly egregious uses of Live-Timing are some pretty significant “meta messages’ that you communicate to your young racers when you use Live-Timing inappropriately or excessively.
The first message that your kids may get from a preoccupation with Live-Timing is that results are what matter most to you. It’s easy to say that your children’s ski racing is about having fun, being challenged, and developing important life skills, but let’s be realistic, results matter and it’s hard to deny that they are part of the ROI that many parents want from their children’s ski acing. But, as I have written about previously, your children are more likely to get the results that they and you want if they focus more on the process than the results. Your children already get unhealthy messages from our hyper-intense achievement culture, their schools, their peers, and, often, their coaches. The fewer the messages about results they get from you, the better. Yet, when you are all over Live-Timing, rather than focusing on your kids’ experience and performance in the race, you are sending the unhealthy message that results are the priority.
The second message that your children may get involves how important their ski racing is to you. Of course, you are going to care about your kids’ ski racing. Otherwise, why would you devote so much time, energy, and money to our sport. But this investment can turn into overinvestment of your self-esteem and ego in which their results become your ROI (Return on Investment). When your children see you using and talking about Live-Timing too much, you’re communicating to them that their ski racing is REALLY important to you which places the weight of expectation on their shoulders. That burden can lead to fear of failure, pressure, and competitive anxiety, all of which will prevent your kids from getting the results they and you want. It also sucks the fun and enjoyment out of their participation in our sport. And it can scar them for life (as demonstrated by the adult clients I work with).
Following Live-Timing rather than your children’s actual race-day experiences can also color your initial reactions to their race performances. If you’re paying more attention to their time on Live-Timing than how they are skiing or how much fun they had, you might miss how good their skiing is or the mistake they made that resulted in a slow time despite really good skiing. You allow your judgments to be formed based on a time rather than on the gestalt of their racing experience. When you focus on their time, you may miss out on their excitement, determination, and resilience in facing what we all know to be a very difficult challenge every time they ski from the starting gate to the finish line. A race run, whether fast or slow, flawless or mistake ridden, cannot be summed up in a time you see on a screen.
Live-Timing can also become another manifestation of the (creepy) “tracking your kid” culture in which you are following them constantly without their awareness of it. This obsession, which is exploding in popularity among parents, has several problems, in my view. It suggests that you don’t trust your children to be safe and make good decisions (admittedly, not an entirely inappropriate reaction for some kids). Second, it sends them the message that they are tethered to you and you won’t let go.
Also, by engaging with them indirectly (called “mediated experience” in tech-psych speak), you are missing out on engaging with them directly. With a screen between the two of you, you as a parent are going to be missing the stuff of which young lives are about, namely, challenge, pushing limits, and the satisfaction of a great effort. You will also miss out on what a deep parent-child relationship is based on, namely, real connection (in the old-school sense of the word), emotions, physical contact, and all of the subtle information you garner from your children when you share their experiences directly and miss when you have a screen between the two of you.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of ski racing in children’s development is their experiences after their races, success or failure. The time after they cross the finish (or don’t) is when they learn their greatest lessons from our sport, for example, overcoming disappointment, staying motivated and positive in the face of mistakes and adversity, and learning to reconcile their aspirations with their performances. When you track them with Live-Timing or intrude on this time by asking them to talk to their non-present parent on your smartphone, you deprive them of the valuable time they need to process their performance and experience its emotional impact.
I’m not saying that you should swear off Live-Timing completely. As most forms of technology, it’s not whether you use it, but rather how, when, and why use it. Here are some suggestions for you to use Live-Timing as a tool to support your children’s racing efforts rather than as a weapon against them:
- If you’re at races, keep your smartphone, and Live-Timing, in your pocket. Allow yourself to fully experience your child’s race directly rather than through a screen. One of my favorite things to do when my girls cross the finish line is to see the expression on their faces. They, in turn, see the expression on my face (what expression are you wearing, a big smile or a frown of disappointment?).
- Next, connect with your child after the race in the most direct and caring way possible. Give them a hug and a kiss and tell them you love them.
- Then, if you can’t resist (and I encourage you to resist), when they’re hanging out with their friends and have put the race behind them, you can sneak into a corner of the lodge, pull out your phone, open Live-Timing, and do a detailed analysis of his or her times and results (or, better yet, hang out with other parents and have fun yourself).
- If you’re not at the race, don’t track your child’s race second by second and interval by interval; the inevitable emotional roller coaster doesn’t feel good. Instead, a little while after the race when they’ve been able to decompress and when they’re ready to engage with you (don’t force it), call your young racer and ask them how it went for them.
Look, I’m a realist and recognize two things related to Live-Timing. First, I’m going to get some blowback from parents who just don’t agree with my stance on Live-Timing and feel that it’s a perfectly fine way to follow their children’s racing and stay connected with them. And I’m certainly open to being shown what I’ve missed. Second, that most parents aren’t going to be able to resist the Siren’s call of Live-Timing when their children are racing. But if I can get just a few parents to set their media aside on race day and really be in the moment with their children, then I’ll feel that I’ve done the best I can do.
Want to be the best ski racing parent you can be? Check out my Prime Sport Parenting 505 online course or read my latest parenting book, Raising Young Athletes: Parenting Your Children to Victory in Sports and Life.