For you to become the best ski racer you can be, you have to be darned serious about your ski racing. You must be motivated, intense, focused, and give your best effort every time you click into your skis. You have to put in the time in the gym, watch a lot of video, keep your skis tuned, eat well, get plenty of rest, and keep up with your schoolwork.
The problem is that this dedicated approach will only get you so far toward being the best ski racer you can be. Let me explain. The above describes pretty much every World Cup skier and top junior I work with. They have experienced considerable success because of how thoroughly they have committed themselves our sport. Yet, for many that I work with, they get to a point in their skiing in which they feel stuck. They aren’t sliding backwards in any way, but they can’t seem to take the next step in their development. So, they come to me looking for ways to break free of their current inertia and continue their upward trajectory.
For some racers, all they need is a better understanding of what their ideal mental state is on race day. Their mental “muscles,” such as intensity, focus, and mindset, just need to be strengthened to ensure that they are strong and ready to be flexed when they slide into the gate.
For other racers, they just need some fine tuning to their minds with the use of mental tools such as self-talk, imagery, routines, and breathing. In both cases, I help them to figure out what works best for them mentally and how to do what works best for them every race.
But still for other racers, “doing” more won’t help them get where they want to go. When these racers come to me, I don’t do the usual mental training stuff that, assuming you read my articles, you are all quite familiar with. To get these racers unstuck, I take a very different approach that usually goes against everything that these incredibly dedicated athletes believe. I call it the “Costanza Effect.”
If you were a Seinfeld fan from back in the day, you are familiar with George Costanza, the show’s hapless, irritating, yet endearing, loser who couldn’t get the job, the girl, or anything that he wanted. Until, in one episode, he decided to do the exact opposite of every urge that drove him down the road toward failure and loneliness. And guess what? By being the “anti-George,” he not only got his dream job with the New York Yankees, but also found a woman who loved him.
Now, you’re probably wondering what the heck George Costanza has to do with ski racing. Well, unlike George, many committed ski racers have found substantial success. But, like George, what they’ve been doing has not allowed them to get where they want to go. The fact is that the extreme devotion they have to ski racing has begun to act like a 50-pound weight vest that they don in the starting gate; it weighs them down with:
- Trying to ski with their heads rather than their bodies
- Outcome focus
- Comparison with others
- Concern for past and future results
- Skiing cautiously and tentatively
- Racing not to lose.
- No longer finding love, fun, and joy in ski racing
Clearly not a list that will bring success or happiness to any racer. But a list, nonetheless, that is difficult to replace in racers who are so determined to be their best.
Then, one day, I was talking to one of the World Cup racers I work with and he said something that I thought was truly revelatory, “I wish I could go back to skiing like I did when I was 10 years old,” and that also fit nicely with the Costanzian Way of Living Inversely.
Consider how vastly different “skiing like a kid” is to the list above:
- In the moment
- Immersed in the process
- Feeling it
- Clear mind
- Nothing to lose
- Bring it on
- Skiing crazy fast
- All about love, fun, and joy in ski racing
Now that is a feel-good, ski-fast list if ever I saw one.
I’m not saying that, if you are getting too serious about your ski racing, to abandon everything that got you to that point. I’m not suggesting that you stay out late, eat junk food, ignore your skis, stop working out, or skip on-snow training. That practical level of dedication is necessary for ski racing success. But, it is also not sufficient for ski racing success. To get you to the next level, you must do something else, something different, something that is absolutely counterintuitive to being a committed ski racer. In other words, be George Costanza. Do the opposite of what every cell in your mind and body is telling you to do. Ski like a kid!
Once you do everything your dedicated self tells you to do to get ready to ski your fastest, go back to when you were a kid, when nothing mattered except bombing around the mountain as fast as you could with your buddies. When there was no doubt, worry, stress, or pressure. When you lived by one simple creed: Go big or go home!
So, when you’re in the starting gate of your next race, do the opposite of what you might normally do. Close your eyes and reconnect with that younger you. Think what you thought when you were a kid. Feel what you felt before ski racing started to “matter”—happy, free, light. Then, open your eyes, take a few deep breaths, smile and just, well, ski like a kid!
And make George (and yourself) proud.