I’m a big believer in creating a mental toolbox that is filled with tools you can use in training and on race day to fix the inevitable “flat tires” you will experience as a ski racer. Usually when I talk about mental tools, I mean tools such as imagery, routines, breathing, and self-talk. But there’s another mental area that I discuss all the time with the racers with whom I work, yet isn’t really thought of as a mental tool. Moreover, when I ask racers what are the essential mental areas that impact their ski racing, it is one of the most commonly mentioned.
What amazing mental tool am I referring to? Well, fun, of course. That may not make much sense to you because fun is something you experience, not something you use. Yet, by using fun as a mental tool, you can full advantage of the many benefits it can offer in many aspects of your ski racing life.
- Increases motivation because we like to do things that are fun.
- Builds confidence because you feel good about yourself.
- Prevents overthinking because you have no need to think.
- Keeps you focused in the present.
- Reduces distractions, such as thinking about results or comparing yourself to others, because you’re focused on having fun.
- Provides perspective by reminding you why you ski race (because it’s fun!).
- Puts you in a positive frame of mind.
- Generates positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, excitement, inspiration, and pride.
- Counters negative emotions that can creep in such as fear, worry, frustration, and despair.
- Reduces stress.
- Relaxes your muscles.
- Deepens your breathing.
- Slows your heart.
Fun should be the number-one reason why you ski race. Gosh, if it’s not fun, what’s the point! Yet, there are a lot of forces that can suck the fun right out of our sport including:
- Slow progress.
- Disappointing results.
- High-pressure parents.
- A “winning is everything” sports culture.
Even if you’re really good, ski racing without it being fun becomes joyless and the victories just won’t pay the emotional bills for very long. Here’s the challenge though. Ski racing isn’t always fun. It can be psychologically wearing, emotionally difficult, and physically grinding. Yet, those trying times are when it’s most important for you to cultivate fun in your ski racing.
You need to approach fun in the same way you approach your use of other mental tools. In other words, you use it in a conscious and proactive way in which you create fun rather than hoping you have fun. How do you ensure that you have fun in your ski racing? No, you can’t force yourself to have fun. But you can build things into your ski racing life that are fun. Moreover, fun as a mental tool can be used on training days when you’re struggling. You can use fun on race days, especially when it’s a big race or there are tough conditions. You can also leverage fun consistently in your winter calendar to relieve the stress and wear-and-tear of a long season. You can:
- Watch an entertaining TV show or movie, or play games with your friends the night before a race
- Hang out with teammates who are fun to be with in the start area (and stay away from teammates who are too serious or stressed out!)
- Listen to music that makes you happy
- Goof around and keep things light until it’s time to put on your “race face”
- Build fun activities (e.g., games, movies, other sports) into your weekly training schedule
- Have a fun hobby that helps you maintain balance (e.g., playing a musical instrument or reading)
Here’s the bottom line. If you’re having fun, you’ll be motivated, confident, relaxed, focused, and feeling excited to be out there. It just so happens that these mental states are ideally suited for giving your best effort in training, skiing your fastest on race day, and keeping mentally and physically sharp throughout the long season. And the end result will be that you enjoy yourself immensely, improve steadily, ski fast, and more likely achieve the ski racing goals you’ve set for yourself. And it all starts with a just little fun!