Inside the Ski Racing Mind: Don'ts For Ski Racing Parents


Two weeks ago, I shared with you my list of Do’s for Ski Racing Parents. In general, I much prefer to focus on the positives of behavior and, in that article, emphasized what parents can do to help their ski-racing children achieve their goals and have a great experience in our sport.

At the same time, the reality is that many parents don’t always do the right thing for their children (despite the best of intentions). In these cases, I’ve always found it helpful to also describe what I consider to be the wrong things to do because it creates awareness and acts as a boundary of what is healthy and appropriate behavior.

I have provided below what I believe you don’t want to do with yourself, other parents, coaches, and especially your children. Your goal? Come April, you’ll still be in the running for Ski Racing Parent of the Year (no such award, actually, but I could feel some of you gearing up for the ceremony) or, at a minimum, keep you and your ski-racing children on good terms throughout the season.

DON’T FOR YOURSELF:

1. Base your self-esteem and ego on the success of your children’s ski racing. If you place the weight of your self-worth on your children’s shoulders, you are putting a crushing weight on them that will pretty much guarantee either failure or profound unhappiness (or both). Of course, you’ll also be profoundly unhappy because your children failed to make you feel good about yourself (not their job, of course). If you don’t have other parts of your life (e.g., marriage, career, avocations) that give you good feelings and ego gratification, I have three words for you: GET A LIFE!
2. Care too much about how your children ski. The reality is that the chances of your children becoming great ski racers are statistically infinitesimal, so caring too much about results, points, and rankings will only make you and them miserable.
3. Lose perspective about the importance of your child’s ski racing. Another reality is that, in the grand scheme of things, ski racing is pretty darned unimportant. That’s not to say that it isn’t without its value. To the contrary, ski racing is wonderful for its fun, physical benefits, and ability to teach essential life skills. But when you lose sight of what’s important, your children don’t get any of the benefits and suffer its many costs.

DON’T WITH OTHER PARENTS:

1. Make enemies of other parents. If your children stay involved in ski racing for years to come, you’ll be seeing the same parents every weekend for the next decade or more. Of course, you’ll come across some parents who aren’t your cup of tea and there are going to be ill feelings and conflicts along the way. But it’s just not fun to be around people with whom you don’t get along. Plus, your children will feel the vibe and it will detract from their enjoyment. My motto with other parents is: “Be kind, be accepting, be grown up!”
2. Talk about others in the ski racing community, talk to them. As with any community, there are going to be parents who are members of the ski racing “in” group and those who aren’t. And this divergence can cause gossip to run rampant. There are always going to be parents who are different or simply do things with which you don’t agree. But talking about other parents is petty and unproductive. If parents you know are different (and they probably know they are), instead of gossiping about and marginalizing them, why not bring them into the fold. If you have issues with some parents, why not talk to them about it. You may find that there is more common ground than you think. And it sure beats wasting all that negative energy talking about and avoiding them.

DON’T WITH COACHES:

1. Interfere with their coaching during training and races. You pay the coaches good money (actually not enough) to take care of your children. And don’t underestimate the positive influence that coaches can have on them. Some of the most important people in my development were my coaches at Burke (i.e., Warren Witherell, Finn Gundersen, Mary Heib, Chris Jones). Why would you want to get in the way of your children’s coaches doing their job? Of course, you have a right to give input and receive feedback about your children, but it should never occur during training or at races when you want the coaches focused on your children.
2. Work at cross purposes with your children’s coaches.  Make sure you agree philosophically and practically on why your children are ski racing and what they will get out of the sport. If you’re at loggerheads with your children’s coaches because you and they have different goals, your children will be the one’s who suffer for it. You have three choices. Get on the coaches’ program. Find common ground. Or find another program that better fits your goals for your children.

DON’T FOR YOUR CHILDREN:

1. Ask your child to talk with you immediately after a race. Kids not only want space after a race, but they also need it. That is the time young racers need to experience and feel deeply the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. When your children are ready, they’ll come to you.
2. Show negative emotions while attending races. Your children are highly attuned to your emotions. If you’re frustrated, angry, or disappointed, they will sense it no matter how much of a smile you try to put on your face. The bottom line is that if you can’t be positive at races, don’t go!
3. Make your child feel guilty for the time, energy, and money you’re spending and the sacrifices you making for their ski racing. I don’t believe that children should be a party to any discussion of the costs of ski racing; that’s simply not a part of their job description. You need to decide the investment you want to make and then accept it. If you can’t, get out of the sport. Of course, it is part of your children’s job description to take full advantage of the opportunities that you give them. So, if they’re not, for example, working hard or taking care of their equipment, you need to have a talk with them. But, it’s best not to play the “Do you know how expensive ski racing is?” guilt card to motivate your children. Instead, focus on why they aren’t doing their job. Perhaps your children just don’t enjoy it any longer and want to do something else, in which case you’ll save yourself a whole lot of aggravation and money.
4. Think of your children’s ski racing as an investment for which you expect a return. At least not in the “fame and fortune” sense. For every Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, there are 1000s of racers like, well, me who dreamed big, but didn’t have what it took to climb to the top of the podium. And don’t even think about a college scholarship; there are very few of them and they rarely cover the full cost of college. You’d be better off putting all of that money that you spend on your children’s ski racing in a 529 account. Of course, then your kids would miss out on a lot of fun.
5. Live out your own dreams through your children’s ski racing. That’s also not their job. You should have your own dreams and your children should have theirs. Asking your children to live your dream will not only not fulfill your need for a dream, but it will certainly turn their ski-racing experiences into a nightmare.
6. Compare your child’s progress with that of other children. Ski racing is a marathon, not a sprint. Where your children finish when they are young or in comparison to other racers doesn’t matter. Stars at age 12 are often off the front page at age 17. Plus, neither you nor they have any control over other racers. What matters is whether your children are progressing t
oward their goals.
7. Badger, harass, use sarcasm, threaten, or use fear to motivate your children. You may get some results out of them for a while, but at some point they’ll push back and it won’t be pretty. Plus, such behavior, only makes you look like a very bad parent, demeans your children, and causes them to hate you.
8. Expect anything from your children except their best effort and good behavior. If they fulfill those simple expectations, your children will be successful at something (though perhaps not ski racing) and, just as importantly, will be happy people.
9. EXPECT YOUR CHILDREN TO GET ANYTHING MORE FROM THEIR SKI RACING THAN FUN, PHYSICAL FITNESS, MASTERY AND LOVE OF A LIFETIME SPORT, AND TRANSFERABLE LIFE SKILLS.
10. EVER DO ANYTHING THAT WILL CAUSE THEM TO THINK LESS OF THEMSELVES OR OF YOU!!!

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Watch my 2010 Winter Olympics Discovery Channel interview on fear in high-risk winter sports here.

About Dr. Jim Taylor
Dr. Jim Taylor knows the psychology of ski racing! He competed internationally for Burke Mtn. Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. For the past 25 years, Jim has worked with many of America’s leading junior race programs as well as World Cup competitors from many countries. He is a clinical associate professor in the Sport&Performance Psychology graduate program at the University of Denver. Jim is the author of Prime Ski Racing: Triumph of the Racer’s Mind and his latest parenting book is Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear From You.

Click here to go to Dr. Jim’s archive.

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