When you think of ski racing, values are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, whether you’re aware of it or not, the values that you instill in your children as part of their ski racing experiences have an immense impact on every aspect of their ski racing life as well as their life in general in the short term and well into the future. The values you convey to your young ski racers act as the lens through which they view the entirety of their ski racing participation. As a consequence, you should be thoughtful, deliberate, and proactive in instilling in your children the values that you believe will lead them to a fulfilling and enjoyable ski racing experience, a positive and healthy lifelong relationship with skiing, and a successful, happy, and value-driven life.
Why Are Values Important?
We often think of values as lofty ideals that have little connection to our daily lives. Yet, the values that you hold, in this case, about ski racing in particular and youth sports in general, play a vital role in all aspects of your children’s athletic and personal development. You can think of values as: “a person’s principles and standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important…”. As such, the values that you have and those that your children embrace about their ski racing participation influence their priorities and goals, and act as road signs in determining the direction their athletic and personal lives take. In other words, the values that your children adopt as young ski racers will dictate almost every aspect of their lives.
Values will influence how your children think about their ski racing involvement. For example, if you convey the importance of effort and fun over winning, they will focus on those values as they approach races. In contrast, if your children believe that you hold values such as winning and being the best above all else, they will think about upcoming races in a very different way, likely with expectations and pressure.
In turn, the thinking that arises from the values that your young ski racers hold will produce particular emotional reactions when they participate in our sport. Continuing the above examples, knowing that the emphasis is on effort and fun, they will likely experience emotions such as determination and excitement. Conversely, the values of results and winning may produce a very different emotional reaction, one involving worry, doubt, and fear for not living up to those values.
Your kids’ values, as filtered through their thinking and emotions, will have an impact on how they ski in races. Again, returning to the previous examples, performances derived from the values of hard work and fun will be suffused with intense effort and the goal of simply going as fast as they can. In contrast, those originating in the values of results and winning may be tense, tentative, and disappointing.
In sum, the values that your children live by and express in their ski racing clearly delineate the following statements:
This is who I am.
This is what I value.
This is what I stand for.
This is what guides my ski racing.
This is how I will behave.
This is what I want out of my ski racing.
Where Do Your Children Get Their Ski Racing Values?
As you begin to develop an appreciation for the power of values in your children’s ski racing and broader lives, you also want to gain an understanding of where they might get their values. This awareness is important because, as you will see, not all sources of ski racing values are healthy and, with this knowledge, you can make a concerted effort to expose your children to only healthy sources of values.
The most obvious place from which your children get their values about ski racing is from you. As a general rule, whatever values you possess and express, whether political, religious, social, or, in our case, related to ski racing, your children are mostly to adopt them. Why? Because they are exposed to your values most frequently, consistently, and intensely from the earliest stages of their lives. Your kids see your values in the words you use, the emotions you express, and the actions you take. As their parents, your children are immersed in your values 24/7.
At the same time, as your children grow older and they venture beyond your home, your influence declines and the impact of the broadening world around them grows. This emergence from your “womb” is realized in many ways including peers, school, and, in our case, the ski racing world that they begin to interact with and become a part of as their involvement in ski racing grows. These wider influences from ski racing occur at several levels.
At the most immediate level, teammates communicate a set of ski racing values that may or may not be consistent with your own. As children get older, the influence of their peers increases and, as a result, are vulnerable to the value messages from their teammates, even those that aren’t healthy. As many of you veteran ski racing parents know, many young ski racers are overly focused on results from an early age.
At a higher level, coaches also convey value messages to your young ski racers because they set the tone, priorities, and goals of a team and have a “soap box” of authority and respect from which they can “preach” their values about ski racing. As with peers, those values may or may not be aligned with your own values.
At an even higher level, every ski racing program in which your children participate is imbued with a set of values that are a reflection of its leadership and culture. Those values might range from an emphasis on fun, mastery, and participation to racing, winning, and “survival of the fittest” development.
At the highest level, the broader ski racing culture, embodied by professional, Olympic, and college ski racing, exerts in an inordinate influence on young ski racers. Due to the idolatry that the world’s best ski racers are afforded in the media, and the desire of developing ski racers to emulate their ski racing heroes, your children may be particularly impressionable to the values that are expressed by this wider ski racing culture. Fortunately, these values, which I will discuss shortly, are generally quite admirable and beneficial to your children’s healthy ski racing or personal development as exemplified by American stars such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety.
Given the impact of values on your children’s athletic experiences and the abundance of sources from which your young ski racers can be exposed to truly values about ski racing, both healthy and otherwise, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that your children are immersed in and encouraged to adopt values that you know to be healthy and life-affirming.
Healthy and Unhealthy Ski Racing Values
Of course, the $64,000 question in this discussion is: What are healthy and unhealthy ski racing values? I will admit that there can be some disagreement about the answer to this question. Though I might disagree vehemently that winning is a healthy value, give the competitive nature of ski racing, some might argue convincingly for its recognition as a healthy ski racing value. I will also say upfront that I’m not here to tell you what values you should teach your children about ski racing. That decision is up to you based on your overall value system and your specific experiences and beliefs about the purpose of youth ski racing.
At the same time, I believe that there are some values related to youth ski racing that we can all agree on and those are the ones that I wish to focus on. Other criteria that could be considered in judging whether a ski racing value is healthy or not is whether children have control over the fulfillment of the value and whether our society in general would hold a value in high esteem.
Additionally, determining what values you want to instill in your children as they enter their ski racing participation should be grounded in what you want your children to get out their ski racing participation. Using this measure of the healthiness of a ski racing value, you can then ask yourself: “Will this value help my children become the ski racers and, more importantly, the people I want them to become?” With these criteria as my guide, here is a list of values that I think will serve your children well as they immerse themselves in ski racing and as they leave those youth ski racing experiences behind(in no particular order):
Pursuit of personal excellence
Love of sport
Respect of self and others
Being a good sport
A useful way to introduce your children to the importance of healthy ski racing values is to also identify unhealthy values in ski racing and help them see the differences between the positive and negative values. As I noted above, though opinions may vary on what might be considered healthy and unhealthy values, I believe you can apply the “duck test” to make this determination: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” An extension of the duck test might be whether you would like your children to express these values in their ski racing participation. Applying the duck test to ski racing values, I would argue that the values listed below meet that test:
Winning is the ultimate goal
Win at any cost
Pursuit of fame and fortune
Using examples of both healthy and unhealthy values can help you illustrate how these values help or hurt your young ski racers, your family, their team, and our society as a whole, respectively. You can also really bring the different types of values to light by pointing them out when they arise in the media and using these opportunities to create conversations with your children to help them better understand ski racing values and to guide them in choosing the healthiest values for them.
Next week, in part II of my two-part series on values in ski racing, I’ll discuss how you can teach your young ski racers healthy values that will positively shape their lives.