Inside the Ski Racing Mind: Skiing Fast is a Leap of Faith
As I discussed in my last post, regret is one of the worst emotion you can experience after a race day, season, career or life. I also described how much of the work I’m doing these days with ski racers is as focused on developing the right attitude toward racing as it is on learning mental skills to help you in your training and racing.
Another key attitude for skiing your fastest involves your willingness to take risks by skiing all out and leaving it all out on the hill on race day. Taking risks on the course can sound pretty obvious in theory, but, in practice, it’s not so easy. Ski racing is a sport that requires you to take risks to ski your fastest. As I noted in my last post, whether taking a straighter line through a flush or attacking a challenging part of the course, the only way you’ll go as fast as you can, is to take those risks. But there’s a catch. The very nature of risks is that they are uncertain, so one possible result of taking those risks is failure and no one wants to make a big mistake that results in a slow time or DNF.
But take those risks you must if you want to achieve your ski racing goals. So what does it take for you to put yourself on line? You must certainly be physically, technically, tactically, and mentally ready to take those risks. If you’re well prepared, the chances of those risks paying off go up.
Ultimately though, to take those risks, you must take a leap of faith. A great philosopher once said, “You do or you do not. There is no try.” No, it wasn’t Aristotle or Socrates who spoke those simple, yet profound words; the great thinker was… Yoda, the Jedi Master of Star Wars fame (actually, George Lucas, but you get the idea). You must be willing to say, “I don’t know if things will work out, but, by gosh, I’m going to take my shot because it’s the only way I’ll ski my fastest. If I crash and burn, well, I can live with that.”
I often use an analogy from the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which Indiana Jones is in search of the Holy Grail (An appropriate metaphor here, wouldn’t you say?). He is following a map that leads him along a treacherous path toward the Holy Grail. Near the end of his journey, Jones comes to a seemingly bottomless chasm across from which is the doorway to the Holy Grail. There is no apparent bridge across the abyss, yet the map shows a picture of a man stepping into the void and speaks of taking a leap of faith that will enable Jones to traverse the gap. Mustering his courage, Jones takes that leap of faith and finds that there is an invisible bridge that he can walk across to seize the Holy Grail. Against the direst of consequences if he was wrong (plummeting to his death!), Jones had the faith to choose the path that led him to the Holy Grail. Similarly, you must also have the strength of your conviction to take that initial leap of faith to discover your Holy Grail, namely, skiing your fastest and fulfilling your goals (especially realizing that your worst-case scenario is nothing like that faced by Indiana Jones, though that was just a film, of course).
The leap of faith begins with the realization that just trying to finish simply doesn’t work in ski racing. As I wrote about in my last post, you don’t want to cross the finish line, look at the clock, and kick yourself for playing it safe (remember regret!). The leap of faith continues with, well, faith, that you can ski fast. The leap of faith involves having a basic belief in yourself and a fundamental trust that, if you go for it, good things will happen. Recognize also that some misgivings are a normal part of ski racing—you can never be 100 percent sure that things will work out the way you want in ski racing—if you didn’t have doubts, it wouldn’t require a leap of faith.
In a way, a leap of faith is a skill that you can develop with practice. At first, you’ll be reluctant to take the necessary risks because you won’t want to fail. So, the best place to practice taking leaps of faith is in training where the consequences of failure are small. The more you take those leaps of faith in training, the more success you will have and the more confident and comfortable you’ll become in taking those risks. You can also use mental imagery to see and feel what it’s like to take that leap of faith and go all out in races.
All of these efforts will then initiate an positive upward spiral in which your leaps of faith are easier to make and result in fast skiing and good finishes. This newly acquired skill will then create into a growing confidence that you can and will ski aggressively, take those risks, ski fast, and get the results you want in the future. Which means no regrets, more fun, and skiing your very best. And isn’t that what ski racing is all about?
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., competed internationally while skiing for Burke Mtn. Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. Over the last 25 years, he has worked with the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, many World Cup and Olympic racers, and many of the leading junior race programs in the U.S. and Canada. Jim is the author of Prime Ski Racing: Triumph of the Racer's Mind, produces the Mental Edge for Alpine Ski Racing Relaxation and Imagery mp3 recordings, and publishes bi-monthly e-newsletters for sport, business, and parenting. You can read Jim's past skiracing.com here. To learn more or to contact Jim, visit his website.