The quickest racers out there carve impeccable turns, move fluidly from gate to gate, and never let up until they’ve crossed the finish line. But what goes into the training to create such performances extends beyond the physical elements to sheer mental stamina. Both the mind and the body power these agile racers to the podium. Perhaps nobody believes this theory more than Dr. Jim Taylor.
Dr. Taylor has served as a consultant for the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, the United States Tennis Association, USA Triathlon, and has worked with professional and world-class athletes in nearly every sport. Today, Dr. Taylor travels from coast to coast dedicating his time to training young athletes and parents about how leveraging the mental side of sports can help better their performances (yes, parents… that includes you too).
Most recently, he’s developed four online programs to deliver his signature curriculum: two for ski racers, one for coaches, and one for parents. These classes are a way to provide structure and consistency in the same way one might approach a systematic physical training program.
“I like to explain it this way,” says Dr. Taylor. “Racers don’t just go to the gym and do whatever, they’re on a training program. I want people to approach mental sports in the same way.”
With a mission to change the way that U.S. skiing looks at mental training from the club level to the national team, Dr. Taylor offers his four online courses in a curriculum format where each class builds on the previous one to complete a course over a year.
At Sugar Bowl Academy, Dr. Taylor’s “Prime Ski Racing 101: Your Mind for Success” is an elective in the school’s curriculum. The class focuses on two essential areas that directly impact ski racing performance including what Dr. Taylor refers to as the five ‘mental muscles’ that athletes must develop to maximize their performance – including confidence and motivation – but also extending into the five mental tools that racers can utilize in training and racing like emotions and imagery.
Image Credit: Sugar Bowl Academy
At ski academies like Sugar Bowl, athletes and families have identified Dr. Taylor’s classes as critical to offering an edge against the competition.
“[The classes] raise the athlete’s confidence,” says Eric Harlow, director of alpine programs at Sugar Bowl Academy. “I’ve seen kids improve their approach to their competition due to parts of this class. They have a more productive approach to competition and they’ve planned their preparation more effectively on the day of a race. They are also able to look at what’s in front of them and look at what’s behind them with a more realistically discerning eye. It’s more than just the result, they can take the entire experience into account based on their time with Jim.”
The online course objectives allow Dr. Taylor to take a hands-off approach. However, because he is currently serving on the board at Sugar Bowl Academy, athletes at that school receive a substantial amount of face time with him.
These classes are targeted to any individual who wants to improve at a sport – from racers to parents and coaches alike. It takes a certain level of self-motivation and determination to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve ski racing goals. Dr. Taylor makes sure his courses are both interesting and easy to apply in a tangible manner.
“I tell the athletes with whom I work that my individual sessions or online classes won’t prepare them mentally, but rather provide them with the information and tools they need to apply to their skiing in the many hours each week between sessions or classes,” says Dr. Taylor.
According to Dr. Taylor, the ideal time for an athlete to begin taking his courses is during the U16 years. This is so that by the time athletes are 19 years old, they will have had at least four of his classes under their belt preparing them with a well-rounded training program as they progress into the early FIS years and beyond.
“People often come to me when there’s a problem,” says Dr. Taylor. “But instead, I want to target people before there’s an issue and use the mental side of sports to better their performance. At the highest level of competition, everyone is a genetic freak and has the best equipment. What separates the podium people from lower down? The mental stuff. I want to prepare young athletes for when [competition] does get real.”
Coming to Dr. Taylor when there’s already a problem is exactly what Burke Mountain Academy hopes to avoid by implementing Dr. Taylor’s expertise in the realm of mental training.
“We are not trying to dial 911 because we have an emergency,” says Darrell Gray, high performance director at Burke Mountain Academy. “We intend to be resilient and teach our kids perspective, and JT’s courses can give us the impetus to learn how to best carry that forward into the future of our academy.”
It is Gray’s intention to develop a two-way dialogue with Dr. Taylor. Last fall, Burke used Taylor’s courses as one of many core teaching tools in the mix within fundamental areas like coaching, equipment training, sports conditioning, and more. Gray hopes to mold what they have learned from Dr. Taylor’s courses to implement what worked best and adapt in areas that can be improved upon.
“There are a lot of practical things that we’ve adopted, manipulated, and played with based on JT’s philosophies,” says Gray. “It’s given us an avenue for thought as to how we are approaching our mental training. We want to be simple yet sophisticated if that is what our athletes demand of us. JT’s courses are a springboard for how we think about mental training and how we can ingrain that in the culture at Burke.”
The courses provide practical strategies in an organized progression. In addition, the courses are aided by a workbook with interactive exercises that athletes can use to help develop their mental toolbox.
Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS) is also implementing Dr. Taylor’s online courses. The Academy offers access and direct subject teaching as well as one-on-one support with their athletes while they learn about the positive benefits of mental training.
Image Credit: GMVS Facebook
“The course provides excellent content, and the presenter (Jim) creates a safe yet challenging atmosphere,” says GMVS U16 Boys’ Coach Patrick Purcell. “I respect Jim’s consistent message regarding the value of sport’s mental mindset. This is not a new concept, but by implementing the theory more regularly and consistently, we are able to see more robust results.”
For schools like Sugar Bowl, GMVS and Burke, Dr. Taylor’s courses are a secret weapon that improve their programming all while instructing young athletes on a comprehensive curriculum that explains how the mind impacts ski racing and life in general.
In the next few years, Dr. Taylor hopes that the U.S. Ski Team will include his courses in training for athletes who are first entering the national team pipeline. He will continue to roll out the subsequent series to his mental training online courses with the goal of continuing to offer athletes and programs a curriculum of practical information, exercises, and tools that increase in sophistication as skiers progress through their formative racing years.
For more information regarding Dr. Jim Taylor’s classes, visit his website here.
Correction: The original version of this article inaccurately described Dr. Jim Taylor’s course as a required part of Sugar Bowl Academy’s curriculum. It has been changed to reflect that this coursework is an elective part of the curriculum at that school.