By Jim Taylor, Ph.D.
NASTAR racers know the feeling of a great run that puts them in position for a podium. So, on the eve of Nationals at Steamboat, how can you make sure to have a winning second run after your first great one?
First, consider what usually goes into a great first run:
• Motivated (to ski your fastest)
• No expectations (just ski fast)
• No thinking (letting your body do what you’ve trained it to do)
• In the moment (totally focused on the now)
• Confidence (believing in your ability to ski fast).
• Prepared (you do what you need to be ready to ski fast)
• Challenge (seeing the first run as a exciting opportunity to pursue)
• Ideal intensity (your body is physically able to perform at its best)
• Process focus (focusing on things that will enable you to ski fast)
• Aggressive mindset (a commitment to fighting and ‘bringing it’)
• Excitement (emotionally charged to ski fast)
The logical thing to do on your second run would be just repeat what you did the first run. But that’s rarely what happens. Instead, everything that worked so well on the first run, physically and mentally, goes in the opposite direction. Think of it as a complete rejection the Law of Sanity (an inversion of the famous Albert Einstein quote): Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. It’s also a complete acceptance of my far-less-famous Law Of Stupidity: If it’s working, change it.
Now, the ingredients of a second run:
• Motivated (to avoid failure)
• Expectations (feeling pressure to have a good second run)
• Overthinking (a lot of unnecessary noise in your head)
• Past or future (thinking about what happened in your first run or what might happen in your second run)
• Confidence (lack thereof to have a good second run)
• Unprepared (you don’t do what you need to be ready to ski fast)
• Threat (seeing the second run as a hazard to be avoided)
• Excessive intensity (realy nervous)
• Outcome focus (thinking about results)
• Protective mindset (ski cautiously so you don’t screw up)
• Fear (afraid that you won’t have a good second run)
What’s the result? Usually tentative and safe skiing on the second run that elicits an angry, “Why did I ski that way?!?!” reaction when you cross the finish line and look at your time. This is then followed by a “Why didn’t I go for it?” statement of disappointment and regret.
So what can you do to break this pattern? First, no matter what you do, the first time you have a great first run, you’re probably going to be nervous because it’s new to you and you just don’t know how to handle it. I experienced this very situation as a freshman at Middlebury.
All through my years at Burke, I was never a podium kind of racer, but rather a solid top five-to-top 10 guy. Yet, at the UVM Carnival in my very first college race, I found myself in first place after the first run of the slalom. Needless to say I was freaking out as I prepared for my second run. And, not surprisingly, I skied cautiously and ended up sixth overall. But, during my Midd years, I won some first runs and ended up winning a few races as well. Why? Because I got used to being at or near the top of the first-run results.
Second, a great first run can either create expectations that cause pressure and anxiety or it can inspire confidence and determination. A great first run tells you that you are skiing fast. Use that knowledge to lift you up, not weigh you down.
Third, accept that a shift from process to outcome is inevitable because you’re a competitive person in a competitive sport where results matter. The more you try to resist those thoughts (“Don’t think about results! Don’t think about results!”), the more they’ll take hold in your mind. It’s sort of like telling yourself not to think about a pink elephant; of course, you’ll think about a pink elephant. Instead, recognize that wanting to get those results is normal and healthy.
Third, once you’ve accepted that you want to have a good second run, consciously shift your focus back onto the process. Identify what you did well on the first run. Choose a few areas from the first bulleted list above that you believe really made a difference and focus on them as you prepare for your second run. Making this deliberate shift in focus alone will help a lot because we as humans can’t think about more than one thing at a time. So, by definition, if you are focusing on what you need to do to ski fast, you won’t be focused on results. Just like if you focus on a blue hippo, you won’t think about that pesky pink elephant.
Fourth, do the same things you did in your first run. The best way to get the same result in your second run is to do what you did in your first. This means repeating all of the same steps in your preparation. Take the same warm-up runs. Hang out with the same people. Do your same routine that might include a good physical warm-up, staying relaxed, and saying positive things to yourself.
Fifth, if you need to, distract yourself as much as possible leading up to your second run. The less you think about your second run, the less all the bad things will creep into your mind and body. Listen to music, chat it up with your friends, play on your phone, anything to keep your mind occupied.
Finally, there are a few really practical strategies you can use that can be a big help in ensuring that your second run is as good as your first:
• Stick to your pre-race routine (the consistency and familiarity will help you convince yourself that your second run is just another run)
• Do lots of mental imagery (imagine how you want to feel and ski on your second run).
• Breathe (focuses your mind, relaxes your body)
• Fight (even if you’re nervous, commit to fight, not flight, on your second run)
• Smile! (It sends a powerful signal to your mind and body that everything will be OK.)
For more mental training articles by Jim Taylor, PhD, visit the Premium section of SkiRacing.com