Hard to believe that we’re about half way through the race season. For some, you’re having a great season and want it to continue. For others, you’re having an okay season and want to improve on it. And for still others, it has been a disappointing season so far and want to turn it around.
Regardless which of the above categories you fit into, you want to do everything you can to have the second half of your race season go as well as it can. In my last post, I offered some suggestions based on what I’ve learned from George Costanza of Seinfeld fame. In this post, I want to share what I call the ‘Seven Fs’ that describe attitudes and approaches that can relieve you of the unnecessary expectations and pressure that can hurt your efforts to achieve your ski racing goals this season.
One thing that can happen, whether you are skiing well or not, is that your mind can get cluttered with thoughts (e.g., negative, doubt, worry) and emotions (e.g., fear, frustration, disappointment) that do you absolutely no good and can actually make it impossible for you to ski your fastest.
My goal is for you to ski free. In other words, to clear out all of the irrelevant junk and unnecessary cognitive detritus and have your mind clear and focused on what will enable you to ski your fastest when you slide into the starting gate.
Speaking of focus, that is one mental muscle that you need to have strong and primed for you to ski your fastest. As I have said ad nauseum over the years, the biggest obstacle to effective focus is being preoccupied with results. Unfortunately, we live in a results-obsessed sports culture in which ignoring results requires an almost Herculean effort.
A few thoughts on results. First, they don’t matter until kids get to FIS because everyone starts on the same playing field of 990 FIS points. Second, by focusing on results, you are less likely to get the results you want because if you’re focused on results, you’re not focused on what you need to achieve them. Plus, being obsessed with results causes fear of failure, expectations, pressure, and anxiety, none of which play nice with fast skiing.
On race day, you want to be entirely focused on what you need to do to ski your fastest: A positive attitude, a good physical and skiing warm-up, and an effective start routine.
What underlies the clutter and results focus I just described is that ski racers are thinking too much before their races. In fact, overthinking is a major obstacle for the vast majority of racers I work with. The problem with thinking is that it occurs in your mind, yet fast ski racing happens in the body.
Your goal on race day is to keep thinking to a minimum and draw on your feelings to ski fast. When I refer to feelings, I have two kinds in mind. First, your physical feelings. As physical beings, you may have it all together technically, tactically, and mentally, but if your body isn’t ready to perform its best, you are simply not going to ski your fastest. So, the time leading up to your start should emphasize getting your body and your physical intensity ready to roll.
Second, your emotions. I believe that feelings can either act as an anchor that weighs you down (e.g., fear, frustration, disappointment) or fuel to propel you to fast skiing. Another key step on race day is for you to generate positive and motivating emotions (e.g., excitement, joy, pride, inspiration) that will propel you toward your race goals.
Ski racing is one very frustrating sport with many aspects of it outside of your control (e.g., snow, weather, terrain, course). When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to want to just give up (think fight-or-flight and choosing flight). When I talk about giving up and flight, I don’t mean clicking out of your skis in the starting gate and running away from the course. Instead, giving up and flight are expressed with cautious and tentative skiing in which the slightest mistake can cause you to ski out. But there’s one huge problem with this scenario: As soon as you give up or choose flight, you lose! 100% of the time!! Plus, it’s a lose-lose situation in which you not only fail to achieve your goal for the day, but you also feel awful because you gave up on yourself which is far worse than any bad result you may get.
Particularly when things get tough on race day, and your mind and body are screaming at you to quit, you must make a conscious decision to fight. Of course, I don’t mean going over to your biggest rival and punching them in the nose. Instead, I mean deciding that no matter how bad it gets, you’re going to continue to stay focused, motivated, and intense, and, importantly, fight to the end, regardless how it turns out. If you keep fighting, one good thing might happen and one good thing will happen. In the might-happen category, you just might get the result you were hoping for despite the tough conditions (remember that everyone has mostly the same conditions). In the will-happen category, you will feel great pride and some satisfaction in knowing, regardless of the outcome, that you fought to the end and you couldn’t have done anything more.
A big problem that many racers have is that they enter what I call the “too zone” in which their ski racing becomes too important and they care too much. This reaction causes them to see ski racing as a threat to their self-identity, self-esteem, and goals. In other words, every time they slide into the starting gate, they feel they have everything to lose.
The antidote to this kind of self-imposed weight on their shoulders is the F&%# it! attitude (my apologies for the coarse language, but sometimes the F-bomb is the only way to adequately describe what we’re feeling). The F&%# it! attitude means letting go of results and recognizing that, no matter what happens, you will be okay if things don’t work out the way you want on race day. In other words, you have nothing to lose, which triggers the other six Fs in this post.
If you’re a serious ski racer, it’s easy to get wrapped in your ski racing hopes, goals, and dreams. You can want it SOOO bad that you lose perspective on why you ski race. That’s when ski racing becomes more grind than flow, threat than challenge, burden than uplift.
That’s where the sixth F-word comes in: fun! One of the most common refrains that I hear from World Cup athletes I work with is “I just wish ski racing was fun the way it was when I was a kid.” Well, it can be if you let go of the junk and get back to your roots. The ironic thing is that if you focus on fun, the other Fs fall into line resulting in the seventh F.
It’s easy to make ski racing complicated. There certainly are a lot of factors, both within and outside of your control, that will determine how you ski and the results you get. And they can become overwhelming if you let them. But on race day, you want to make things as simple as possible and focus on the basics. In other words, everything you think, feel, and do should culminate in one powerful act: Ski as fast as you can. And that ultimate goal in ski racing can be boiled down to two simple words (or other words that mean the same thing): Bring it!
It’s not too late in the season to get your mind dialed in. Check out my Prime Ski Racing online mental training courses.