I was speaking to a World Cup athlete after his country’s national championships recently and he told me that all he could think about in the start was how much he didn’t want to be there. He was burned out and just wanted the season to be over. Yet, this athlete also said that he had a handful more races coming up in April. Clearly, his attitude is not a recipe for a strong finish to his season.
At this late point in the season, you will have fallen into one of three camps as far as how your season has gone. First, you may be having a break-out season in which you are absolutely thrilled with the progress in your skiing and race results. You would be perfectly content if the season ended today.
But why wouldn’t you want to continue your great season by seeing if you can take it to an even higher level? Gosh, with a great season under your belt, at this point, you have nothing to lose and more to gain by making a conscious decision to “bring it” every run and see how fast you can ski. If you DNF, no big deal because you don’t need the results. If you do finish when you’re leaving it all out on the course, only good things can happen. Not only might you add more good results to your season, but may find that you have another gear in you that you can carry into the summer and next season.
Second, you’ve had an okay season in which you’ve shown improvement in both your skiing and your results, but you haven’t done as well as you had hoped. Though you wouldn’t be entirely happy if the season ended today, you wouldn’t be entirely upset either. For you, there’s still time to take a decent season and turn it into a great one. So, again, you might as well make a commitment to skiing as fast as you can
Finally, your season to date has been a real disappointment filled with setbacks or plateaus in your skiing, unsatisfying results, and a strong sense of frustration. If the season ended today, you would be one unhappy camper. Though you may wish for the season to end today — just to put you out of your misery — as the saying goes, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” With some races ahead, it’s not too late to not only salvage your season, but to actually have it conclude on a high note. Same as with a mediocre season so far, if you keep doing what you’ve done, you’re probably going to get the same results. Why not decide to try something new and see what happens? You certainly don’t have anything more to lose at what has, unfortunately, been a losing season.
As for the season that still lies ahead, you will fall into one of two camps. Either you are already thinking about the off-season and jonesing to hang up your skis, get on your mountain bike or sailboard, or maybe just sleep for about a week. Or, you are still chomping at the bit for the upcoming races and are committed to do everything possible to finish your race season strong.
Let me assure you that if you fall into the first camp, you might as well end your season now because your chances of having a good end of season is just about zero. Why? Because you won’t bring the necessary drive, intensity, or focus to get much out of your training or for you to give it your all in races. Though there are no guarantees, your only chance to finish strong is to make the commitment to getting the most out of your training and deciding to do nothing less that skiing your fastest in races during the final weeks of the season.
How this part of the season plays out depends on your attitude and your actions between now and when your last run of your last race appears on live-timing.
If You’re Skiing Well
If you’re skiing well, my gosh, keep doing what you’re doing. You are in an ideal position the last races for several reasons. First, because your season is already a success, the rest of the season is just icing on the cake for you. Second, the pressure is off to get results, so you can race with reckless abandon and not care about what happens. Just trust your skiing and focus entirely on what you need to do to ski your fastest every run. If you keep doing what has worked so far, the chances are good that you will finish strong.
If Your Skiing is ‘Meh’ or Worse
If your season to date lies somewhere between disappointing and devastating, there’s one thing you should definitely not do: panic! If you panic, some very bad things will happen. First, you will shift entirely into result mode, meaning you will focus on the results you need to get to salvage your season. This result focus will cause you to feel immense pressure every time you get in the gate. This pressure will trigger negative thoughts (“If I don’t get a good result, my season will be an absolute fail.”), even worse emotions (fear!), and so much anxiety that you will be physically incapable of skiing fast.
As hard as it will be, you must let go of the pressure (“Even if I have a lousy season, I will be okay.”) and maintain a process focus (“What do I need to do to ski fast?”). This point in the season is the time to step back, take a long and hard look at your skiing, and see if you can identify any changes that will help you get your season back on track.
At times like this, your best chance is to fight. This means that, instead of having a pity party and giving up, you need to get really mad and direct that anger into attacking the race course every training and race run. The reality is that bringing it won’t necessarily produce a good result; your aggressiveness may lead to a big mistake or a DNF. But going for it is your only chance of getting the results you want. Or, you can say, “F&%# it!”, let go of everything, relax, and let your body ski without your mind trying to control every little thing. You certainly will ski better than if your mind is trying to control your body. In either case, I can assure you that, whatever the outcome, you will feel much better having ended your season with a bang rather than a whimper.
Back to Basics
Whether you’ve had a stellar, mediocre, or awful season so far, there are some things you can do that may help you finish the season strong. Go back to basics. In other words, do things that have helped you ski fast in the past.
- Take care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, eating well, and maintaining your fitness;
- Revisit technical and tactical fundamentals that may have slipped during the long season (do lots of drills to keep the foundation of your skiing solid);
- Make sure you’re still doing your complete training and race routines that will ensure total preparation every time you get in the gate;
- Do a lot of mental imagery of fast skiing. The feelings and images you conjure up will build your confidence and get you fired up (or calmed down) and focused;
- Make sure you continue to engage in quality training with a clear goal, ideal intensity, and a specific focus every training run
- Lastly, and most importantly, remember why you ski race: because you love it and it’s fun.
Enjoy the end of your season!
Want to make get your mind in the best shape of your ski racing life? Take a look at my online mental training courses for ski racers, coaches, and parents.