My coaching weeks have one primary goal - to help pupils progress toward becoming skillful skiers. It was my friend and colleague John Shedden who introduced me to the clearest definition of skill for my purposes -
“Skill, is the learned ability to bring about pre-determined outcomes with maximum certainty; often achieved with minimal effort”.
Frequently, when I have been coaching, it has been quite clear to me that a pupil will attempt to do something (ski a section of slope) without first being clear in their own mind as to what the “pre-determined outcome” might be.
Frequently the attempt is to bring about an outcome without making any effort to attain a suitable mental state first. Not infrequently, without even defining in their own mind exactly what the desired outcome is. This happens repeatedly in business situations, in life situations, and in skiing situations – and as we have learned in recent times regrettably in political situations.
Think back to a skiing example in which you have been practicing a technique - let’s say, ensuring that the inside edge of the ski’s shovel effectively, and early, incises the snow surface to ensure that an arc commences. (You have established that once one does, you are safe). You have been habituating this behaviour on blue and red runs. Now you want to ski a short stretch of something steeper.
But the atmosphere here is very different. There are bumps. The snow here has a
frosty top; icy little marbles cover the bumps and undulations. The angle of the slope is considerably steeper than you are used to. The piste (safety) is out of sight. Cliffs loom behind you, and the refuge is already a thousand metres in the distance. There is no easy way out. The guide, and the others, are already a hundred yards down the slope and everyone is waiting.
OH JOY! SO WHAT NOW?
The potential for getting flustered is enormous. Your muscles begin to tighten, but you don’t even notice that. Your unconscious mind does though, and interprets the tight muscles as confirmation that doom looms. Instead of thinking clearly and precisely your brain goes into scatter mode - too many thoughts, not one of them lingering long enough for you to get hold of it. Soon the only option seems to be to get it over with once and for all - death is preferable to all this tension.
Off you set, with no clear plan, your muscles don’t get the instructions you very well know need to be made, and the result is a tumble.
In my view, all of this can be avoided, by taking control of your own Mental State. And believe me, you can do it. How do I know this? Simple! I go through exactly the same angst as soon as that little voice in my head says - “You might not be able to do this!”. Shut up, little voice!
FIRST you have to STOP. The whole process will only take a few seconds, certainly not more than a minute, so the folks down there won’t freeze or die of starvation - they won’t have to bivouac! A good way to to get yourself out of flustermode is to simply say “STOP” to your self. Do it. Say “STOP!” Say it out loud, loudly. Give yourself a command!
Now THINK. What do you need to do? You need to have your skis make an arc for you. Just one; you’re not trying right now, to ski down to the rest of the group, you’re just going to have your skis do one arc. To do it you need to pick a spot on which to do it. So, take a look down to the exact spot on which you will do it. Engage that spot with your mind, don’t just point your eyes at it. See it. The better you do this, the more you will remove the 'scatter'.
Now, run through in your mind, precisely what movement you will make in order to tell your ski what to do, and when. Imagine it. Do it in your head, over and over. Accept the fact that some part of you will want to sit back. Accept the fact that this part of you means well - it is doing its best to protect you, it’s just not a very good skier. It’s giving you bad advice. Realise that on this steeper bit it will be different to when you were on the blue run. How will it be different?
Well, basically, you need to “give it a bit more welly”. You’ll need to be more powerful; more determined; braver in staying “forward”. And you know that you can do it; you know that when you do, you will get the response from the ski that you want. And you know that after this one arc you can stop again if you want. You know it’s simple, it’s just not easy, but then if it was easy you’d probably have taken up something else. You are here for exactly this experience.
What you have now done is to clarify precisely what your intention is. With this clear goal you have cleared your head. You have been able to predict the exact movements you need. Your level of self confidence about the likely outcome is now likely much higher. This is a challenge you will relish! What is more, you have, by focusing your mind, got into a mental state in which the achievement of the ‘pre-determined outcome’ is hugely more likely. In other words your response will be more skillful.
Remember, being a bit scared doesn’t mean you can’t do something; it just means that you can do it whilst being a bit scared. Being a bit scared is quite fun really, people spend vast sums at amusement parks for exactly this experience! But they cheat, you don't.
Do this ahead of time. By reading this paper you have just imagined a situation you are quite likely to experience at some time, or something like it. By doing this in your head, you will be better prepared when it does occur. It won’t be an unfamiliar situation, and familiar situations are much easier to deal with.
You can plan before time what your best mental state will be, in any given situation. You can practice in your bath or in your bed to be able to be calm and relaxed, or steely and determined? Or something else?
What ever it is you can have it, if only you plan ahead.
And this doesn’t just apply to skiing - it works at work, in your relationships, and in life.
I originally wrote this in 2007 and have not since had any reason to change my view.
The power of your mind is astounding.