December 6, 2018 / By Jim Taylor - Contributor
Like I said, ski racing parents, we have a problem. Want to know the problem? Well, look in the mirror. I don’t mean to insult you by indicting you as being the problem as an individual parent. I don’t know you or how you are with your children in their ski racing lives. I’m talking about the many ski racing parents who have been both seduced by and abet the toxic youth sports culture in which your children are now immersed (in ski racing and other sports). You know, the one in which results are all that matter for parents and children alike, even at a young age. And let me be clear, many children are suffering for it athletically and personally.
I am writing this article based on a disturbing experience from last March that made this problem so glaringly evident to me. I was attending the Far West U12 Championships at Squaw Valley with my younger daughter who was racing. I waited until now to publish this article because the season was nearly over and you would have forgotten about it when this season arrived.
Here is what I saw:
Why were these young racers so unhappy to the point of tears in a sport that is supposed to be such fun? And keep in mind that these were U12s, most of whom won’t even be racing in a few years because of their interest in pursuing other sports at home or the sheer cost of our sport. I didn’t, of course, interview each one of the tearful young racers. At the same time, I have seen variations of these kinds of reactions in my consulting practice for decades.
If you dig down one layer to examine the causes of such painful reactions in young ski racers, you’ll find expectations and pressure, primarily from parents, but also from peers (by way of comparison rather than ill intent) and our intense youth-sport culture. The weight of expectations is a crushing burden on the shoulders of young ski racers. Imagine your children having to put a 50-pound weight vest when they get into the starting gate and you’ll get a sense of what they feel and how it will make them ski.
If you dig down to the very heart of these reactions is a fear of failure, specifically, that if these kids don’t ski well, they perceive that something really bad will happen (however objectively untrue it may be). Based on considerable research and my own work with young athletes, the most common causes of fear of failure include:
These beliefs produce in children a threat reaction that causes powerful internal changes including:
With this reaction, not only are kids pretty much guaranteed of not skiing their best, but ski racing simply becomes a truly aversive experience.
Let me be clear that this problem isn’t a ski racing problem or even a sports problem. Rather, it’s a problem that permeates our results-obsessed achievement culture that you find in school, the arts, chess, anywhere in which kids can aspire to great success and where parents can become overly invested.
Now here is where I’m going to go on a rant, so be prepared. Mostly, importantly, my rant starts with a question: Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution (this should be a rhetorical question)?
Here’s a simple reality: Kids under 12 years old shouldn’t be crying after they race (in fact, no kids should be)! What so many parents and young ski racers don’t realize is that results in the U12s (and U14s and U16s) just don’t matter. Sure, it’s great for young racers’ efforts to be rewarded with good results. And it’s gratifying for kids to be on the USSS radar and for a select few to be chosen for USSS development camps.
At the same time, unless your name is Mikaela Shiffrin, results at a young age aren’t strictly predictive of later success; just ask Ted and Bode. Additionally, when young racers enter FIS as U19s everyone starts on a level playing field with 999 points. In other words, what matters is not the results, but rather that young racers have a passion for our sport, are willing to work hard and accept its inevitable highs and lows, and continue to develop physically, technically, and mentally in preparation for that transition to FIS.
We wonder why so many kids are leaving our sport and dropping out of organized sports by their early teens (about 70%, according to the research). This research has shown that the main reasons are that sports are no longer fun and they are too stressful.
We as parents and as a youth sports culture are failing our children in a huge way:
We can’t change the ski racing culture. So, it’s up to us parents to shape our family’s ski racing culture and do the right thing for our young ski racers. During this holiday season (and beyond!), give your children the gift that keeps on giving: Your love and none of the crap.
Here are a few concrete suggestions (and I realize how tough they are to enact, but I can assure you that I’m walking the walk on every one of these with my two ski-racing daughters):
Want to be the best ski racing parent you can be? Read my latest book, Raising Young Athletes: Parenting Your Children for Victory in Sports and Life or check out my online Sport Parenting course.
WARWICK — The United States Ski and Snowboard Association has announced that Mount Peter Race Director Rob Dowd has been chosen as the 2013 USSA Alpine Coach of the Year.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment and it is gratifying to see all the work that Rob has done in building our program be acknowledged by ski racing’s governing body,” Mount Peter officials said in their press release announcing the award.
Nominated by the Mount Peter Race Club, Dowd was selected by a USSA committee over many qualified applicants from across the country. His selection is best summed up in these paragraphs from the nomination:
“Dowd’s influence on the sport of ski racing at a little bump of a mountain in southern New York is not measured solely by the countless medals won by racers in his program, nor is it measured by the more than 1,000 children who have passed through the race program since he arrived.
“Dowd embodies the grass roots USSA coach who is the lifeblood of the organization - as a race director who recruits coaches to the program and conducts USSA Level One clinics for them, as a race association board member who cajoles parents into becoming certified officials and technical delegates, and most of all, as an ubiquitous presence at Mount Peter, where he leaves his day job as an insurance broker around noon to work 75 days and nights in ski boots on the hill from mid-December to mid-March.
“On winter weekends, Mount Peter’s dirt parking lot is often packed and two of its trails are usually full of young ski racers – hundreds of young ski racers. You can find Rob Dowd making his way from group to group, giving advice and offering encouragement, working top-to-bottom in a matter of minutes.”
Dowd will receive his award at the USSA chairman’s dinner in Park City, Utah, on May 17.