How many ski racers have you witnessed having a perfect run, let alone two perfect runs in one race? We all know the answer…perfect performances are extremely rare, especially in Alpine ski racing.
Olympic athletes have high personal standards of performance and continue to push the boundaries in their sport. They consistently strive to be stronger physically, technically, strategically and mentally. They also understand the difference between striving for perfection and demanding it. This article will help you commit to excellence, and let go of perfection.
Why ‘Demanding’ Perfection is Not Helpful
One of the most debilitating thought habits for an athlete is to believe that perfection must be attained. Individuals who demand to be perfect will blame themselves or their supporters for every setback. In much the same way as setting outcome goals without focusing on the process for achieving them, athletes who demand perfection experience tremendous anxiety and set themselves up for low self-esteem every time they fall short (which as every world-class athlete knows…is often). Subsequently, their low self-concept triggers an accompanying fear of failure. Also, they will put an endless amount of pressure on themselves causing both their performance and enjoyment for their sport to deteriorate. Podium readers will recall Jeremy Bloom’s comments on this in the second segment of his ‘mental skills’ interview.
In Alpine ski racing, national team members always strive for the perfect run, even though the winners will always say they were on the edge the whole time and made a series of great recoveries and adjustments to race an aggressive line and go as fast as they could. They continue to shoot for perfection, but are not discouraged when they do not achieve it.
Mistakes are a Natural Part of Ski Racing
Mistakes are a natural part of ski racing. In fact, many coaches spend countless sessions training athletes to recover from errors. Coaches teach us how to get back on line when we’re late and how to get forward when we get caught on the back of our skis. The winner of the race is rarely the athlete with a perfect performance, but rather the racer who continues to move forward and fight to the finish line, regardless of any mistakes made in the racecourse.
“If you fall, get up stronger, hungrier, more ambitious” says Lindsey Vonn. “I’ll be training harder than ever for this season cause if you work hard, it will pay off in the end.” This focus worked for Lindsey. She won the gold in downhill and the bronze in Super G at the 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler and earned the Best Female Athlete award at ESPY 2010 of ESPN.
The most dedicated athletes, including Lindsey Vonn, can miss and fall short of objectives. The most successful people can experience setbacks. What separates the champions from the rest of the competitors, is their commitment to do whatever it takes to perform their best. They learn from the downfalls and enjoy the climb to new heights. No matter what happens day to day, their competitive edge is maintained by way of a commitment to personal excellence.
Focus on What You Control – Your Effort
The best focus for every ski racer is a focus on exerting maximum effort, not just in the racecourse, in all pre-race preparations and post-race routines. When it comes to preparation, you must enter the start-hut knowing that you did everything you could to ensure your equipment is set up, your skis are tuned and waxed the way you like them, your body is warmed up and ready to explode out of the starting gate and your mind knows your race strategy and believes in your ability to conquer the course.
In the finish area, you should believe that you could not have exerted one more ounce of energy, gone a bit faster or worked harder. Knowing that you performed your best on a given day is what will help you to persevere and compete tomorrow. After all, effort is the only thing you have 100% control over.
Ski racing comes with many uncontrollable factors including the snow and weather conditions, the course set, sporadic delays and how well your fellow racers compete. An understanding that you gave it your all will help you to be ready and wanting to improve and enjoy your sport participation. With every new day you will continue to push the boundaries in your commitment to excellence. In time, what might have previously been considered a personal best performance will be just one step further along your athletic journey.
With a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Dr. Haley Perlus is an adjunct professor, seminar leader, consultant to national team and Division I athletes, published author of The Ultimate Achievement Journal, The Inside Drive and The Guidebook to Gold Series, as well as appointed an Industry Leader by IHRSA. A former elite athlete, coach and fitness professional, Dr. Haley is an expert at empowering individuals to achieve peak results. Dr. Haley is available for individual and group mental toughness consultations. To find out more about these programs you can visit her website: DrHaleyPerlus.com.