It happens every winter. In December, January, and February, I get calls from national team athletes and parents of young racers who are struggling mentally in their ski racing and they have big races coming up. They want me to somehow fix them quickly. Though I think I’m pretty good at what I do, I’m no miracle worker.
To put the request into perspective, do you start your conditioning program in December? Do you wait until you develop a major technical flaw to work on your technique? Of course not. You build your conditioning and work on your technique in the off-season to prevent injuries and technical problems from arising during the race season. Well, you should approach how you treat the mental side of your ski racing in precisely the same way. So, this article is a challenge for you to take an essential, yet often neglected, piece of the ski racing success puzzle and make it a priority during this prep period.
Let me elaborate in three ways. First, I speak to racers, coaches, and parents around the world about the mental aspects of ski racing. Whenever I get the chance, I ask them how important the mental side of ski racing is compared to the physical and technical sides. Though there are always a few who say that the mind is less important than the body and technique, about 99 percent say that it is just as or more important. Admittedly, I don’t even think it’s more important because all of the mental training in the world won’t help if you’re not physically or technically capable of getting down the hill. But, I think it’s safe to say that without a well-trained mind, there is no chance of real success.
Next, I ask racers how many hours a day they devote to their physical and technical development. Most say from 2-6 hours depending on the season. Then, I ask, if the mind is so important, does that mean you’re spending 2-6 hours a day on mental training? At this point, there are a lot of shaking heads and nods of recognition. Clearly, the answer is “no,” but the question is mostly rhetorical and meant to open your eyes to the absurdity of not spending time on such an important contributor to our sport.
Second, I work with a number of racers each year, from U14s with big dreams to Olympians who are realizing their dreams. What has become abundantly clear to me is that once the foundation of fitness, technique, tactics, and equipment are established, it is the mind that separates racers who achieve their goals from those who don’t. This occurs at two levels. Having the right mindset and preparation enables you to get the most out of your training. And, on race day, being able to stay positive, calm, focused, and able to withstand the pressure will enable you to ski your fastest when it really counts.
Third, of the racers who come to me, the number-one reason is because they can ski really fast in training, but they can’t seem to translate that into race-day results — and they don’t understand why. To help you understand, think of it this way: there is no objective difference between a training course and a race course; they both have a start, the course, terrain, and snow conditions, and the finish. So, what makes races different from training? It’s obvious: results matter in races! And that difference occurs entirely in your mind. Your challenge is to train your mind to either either ignore the difference or embrace the difference.
Let me say that you actually do quite a bit of mental stuff in your training without realizing it. I’m sure that you attempt to motivate yourself, think positively, fire yourself up, and focus in training. But that is not mental training any more than going to the gym every few weeks is physical training. Here’s the problem: do you approach mental training in the same way as you approach physical and technical training? Do you have a comprehensive, structured, and consistent mental training program? Probably not. Would you do your physical conditioning or technical work in a haphazard way? Of course not, because trial and error is neither an effective nor efficient way to improve. Rather, you have a systematic program that guides your physical and on-snow training, thus maximizing your efforts. You should approach mental training the same way.
Have I convinced you yet that you should make mental training a priority during this off-season? If so, here’s what you can do:
- Do some self-analysis and understand what worked this past winter and what didn’t, as well as your mental strengths and areas in need of improvement. You can use the Post-season Evaluation I provided in a recent article.
- Get feedback from your coaches on where they think you need to improve mentally.
- Learn more about the mental side of ski racing by reading my past articles, so you can decide the mental areas you want to work on this summer and how to train those areas.
- Commit to a structured and consistent mental imagery program (more on how to do that in a future article).
- Register for one of my Prime Ski Racing online mental training courses.
- Call me to learn about 1:1 in-person, Skype, or on-snow sessions.
- Find a qualified sport psychologist or mental coach in your area (I may be able to help you find one, so feel free to reach out).
Certainly, you should continue to participate in committed physical conditioning and on-snow training programs this off-season. But if you commit to an equally rigorous mental training program, I can say with confidence that you will be even more prepared to ski your fastest and achieve your ski racing goals next season.
Want to make mental training a part of your off-season training program? Take a look at my online mental training courses.
Note: This article is updated encore presentation of a previously published article that never gets old.