I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to young ski racers in their training and race efforts. For example, it drives me crazy to see them slip a training course, yet barely inspect it because they figure they can learn the course in the first few runs, which you can’t do that in a race. Or young racers leaning on their poles and chatting it up before their training runs with no intensity or focus. Or seeing groups of racers surrounding one of their phones mesmerized by Live-Timing between runs. Talk about an outcome focus!
But of all my pet peeves, the one that probably gets to me the most is when, in training, young racers give up and ski out of the course at the smallest mistake or bobble. The simple and obvious reality is that it is entirely counterproductive to your ski racing for several reasons.
First, by bailing out of the course at the littlest problem, you immediately lose the opportunity to overcome and learn from whatever caused the problem to occur. For instance, if you lean in and lose your downhill ski and don’t fight to recover, you can’t make the correction in the remainder of the course by creating more separation and more pressure on the downhill ski.
Second, if you ski out frequently in training, you are not learning to respond positively to the many challenges and adversity that is an unavoidable part of ski racing. And our sport definitely has its challenges and adversity:
- Snow conditions
- Start number
- Tough fields
- New level of competition
Third, when you bail out often in training, you ingrain the habit of bailing out. In other words, you become good at wimping out when the going gets tough. The inevitable result is that when you get into trouble in a race, your learned reaction is to bail out.
Fourth, when you give up, you automatically lose. In training, that means that you lose out on an opportunity to improve. In races, it simply means that you lose; when you give up, you give up any chance you have to have a good run (despite the mistake) and get a good result.
Finally, when you give up in a training or race course, you are actually giving up on yourself. And there is nothing worse than giving up on yourself because when you do that, you give up on all of your efforts so far, you give up on all of the progress you’ve made, and, most painfully, you give up on your hopes and dreams.
This issue really hit home for me as I watched the recent men’s World Cup GS from Adelboden where Marcel Hirscher, the best technical skier of his generation, made a massive mistake, lost a ton of time, yet still won (much to the visible chagrin of Henrik Kristoffersen). Hirscher could have easily just skied out given how low he got in his line yet he fought tooth and nail. And, again to everyone’s surprise including his own, as evidenced by his reaction in the finish line, he still won the race!
There are several important benefits to fighting no matter how bad things look.
First, the more you fight in training and races, the more fighting becomes a habit, so when things don’t go well, your ingrained reaction is to fight, not give up.
Second, when you keep fighting, you at least give yourself a chance of good things happening.
Third, ski racing is a sport that is so unpredictable; you never know what might happen. You may make a huge mistake and lose a bunch of time, but your closest competitors may also make a big mistake. If you’re the one who fights to stay in the course and keeps fighting to the finish, you’re the one who may still get the opportunity to have a good result.
Fourth, as we saw with Hirscher’s recovery and Kristoffersen’s reaction, when you keep fighting, you are putting a stake in the heart of your competitors. You’re sending the message to them that they might beat you, but you aren’t going to beat yourself and you’re not going to get beat by them without a fight. When you fight, you demoralize them, frustrate them, cause them to feel helplessness and doubt, and, generally, you get in their head. Those perceptions and feelings can carry over into future races enabling you to beat them before they’ve even gotten into the gate.
Lastly, overcoming mistakes and continuing to fight till the end when the effort seems pointless is really rewarding. It feels so good to score a “victory” over the conditions and, more importantly, over yourself. You experience pride, inspiration, and excitement, which increases your determination and confidence. The end result is that your fight attitude feeds on itself and makes you one very tough competitor who will always find a way to ski your fastest and achieve your ski racing goals.
HOW TO LEARN TO FIGHT
- Recognize all of the upsides of fighting and all of the downsides of giving up.
- Make a conscious commitment before every training run to fight to stay in the course.
- Practice fighting in training.
- Make a conscious commitment before every race run to fight to the finish.
- Acknowledge that fighting doesn’t always work out, but the alternative—giving up—never works out.
- Take pride in your fighting efforts no matter the outcome.