A preview of Kirk Dwyer’s first Vail Daily column, set to run every other Tuesday starting next week
As Ski & Snowboard Club Vail eagerly anticipates dropping temperatures and the start of a new season on Golden Peak, I like to remind our athletes, coaches and parents to emphasize process over performance in establishing goals and when measuring success.
Ski racing is a journey, not a destination. I have had the pleasure of coaching seven athletes who achieved top-fives or better on the World Cup. Six of those went on to finish on the podium, including Mikaela Shiffrin, of Eagle-Vail. One distinction among those athletes is they tended to focus more on process than performance. While they set exceptionally high performance aspirations, the achievement of those goals was accomplished through daily, monthly, annual and long-term focus on process. This includes a daily effort over many years, cold days on the hill, periodic frustration, challenges and breakthroughs.
One of the attitudes I tried to convey while coaching Mikaela was to approach each day with passion — to make every moment count, every run and every turn. If you can do that, you won’t just go up onto the hill hoping for improvement; you will be certain of improvement. Some of the world’s top skiers are known to take more than 20 runs in a single training session. I believe this ability to train higher volume isn’t based on being told they should but, instead, because they are constantly looking to improve and make the incremental gains. When such an athlete is striving to feel the next technical or tactical improvement, they are often motivated to continue training to the point where a coach’s role is to govern, rather than push.
This focus on process goals over performance goals is important for everyone and applies not just to the top tier of athletes that come out of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. There is frustration in not achieving performance goals, but that is something everyone will have to come to terms with at some point in their lives. If an athlete attempts to execute all the details that contribute to doing their best, it will translate to increased confidence and lead to long-term personal success. At the end of their competitive involvement, they will be able to reflect and know they made the effort to do their best.
One great thing about ski racing is you do sometimes fail. At some point in life everyone fails. If you look at some of the larger problems we’ve had in our society, they stem from the belief that you have to succeed all the time. That is impossible in all sports, but especially ski racing. Parents can try to guarantee their kids’ success, but when the kids are on Wall Street or medical school, how are they going to deal with failure? Part of learning life through sport is learning failure — how to cope with it and rebound to pursue a new set of goals. We want to set achievement goals, which are fraught with the likelihood of short-term failure, then focus clearly on the related necessary process goals, which may be immediately more attainable. By this, we need to challenge ourselves to grow and achieve.