Parenting today's Athletes
Parents impact their children’s lives like no other people can—in skiing as in every other aspect of their lives. Parents, even those who coach their own kids, do best by their children when focusing on skiing as a growth and developmental opportunity, rather than a do-or-die, win-at-all-cost proposition. The journey is the most important part of ski racing. Every athlete at some point has had the dream of being The World Champion. Medals and trophies are great, but they pale in comparison to the memories and lessons that the journey of ski racing provides. Here are some tips for the parents.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
― Carol S. Dweck
How to Talk to Your Athlete
The way parents talk about ability and learning can have powerful effects on their children’s beliefs about themselves and their skills, or more correctly, the source of their skills. Below are three ways parents can instill a growth mindset in their children. Remember, developing a growth mindset in yourself and in your kids is a process that takes time. Have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset!
Recognize your own mindset: Be mindful of your own thinking and of the messages you send with your words and actions.
Praise the process: Praising kids for being ‘good’ suggests that innate talent is the reason for success, while focusing on the process helps them see how their effort leads to their success.
Model learning from failure: When parents talk positively about making mistakes, kids start to think of mistakes as a natural part of the learning process.
Disconnect Winning and Losing from the Athlete's Performance
One of the main purposes of the ski racing experience is skill acquisition and mastery. Defining ski racing as winning and losing is a sucker bet. Every ski race has only one winner and a multitude of people who did not win (losers). When an athlete performs to their potential and loses, it is criminal to focus on the outcome and become critical. If an athlete skis to their very best and loses, you need to help them feel like a winner! Similarly, when an athlete performs far below their potential but still wins, this is not cause to feel like a winner. Help your athlete make this important distinction between success and failure and winning and losing. Remember, if you define success and failure in terms of winning and losing, you're playing a losing game. Sports are a vehicle to learn the tough lessons in life regardless of the outcome or the scoreboard.
BE SUPPORTIVE, DON'T COACH!
A parent's role on the parent, coach, athlete triangle is to Support! You need to be kid's best fan, unconditionally! Leave the coaching and instruction to the coach. Provide encouragement, support, empathy, transportation, help, etc., but... do not coach! Most parents that get into trouble with their children do so because they forget the important position that they play. Coaching interferes with your role as parent, supporter and fan. The last thing your child needs and or wants to hear from you after a disappointing race or crash is what they did technically or tactically wrong. Keep your role as a parent on the team separate from that of a coach; if you also happen to be your child’s coach, make a clear distinction between on and off the hill roles.
The Myelination process is a reaction. It responds best to short intense bursts of focus. The process pays attention to what you pay attention too.
Myelination only works one way. The brain cannot unmyelinated or unwrap a circuit. So this is why it is so important to correct bad habits/technique immediately. If you continue to use a neural circuit that is associated with a bad habit the brain will continue to add myelin and reinforce the habit. The brain has no way of knowing which circuit is good or bad. It just adds myelin to the one that is used the most. Still rotating at the bottom of the turn? Well the simple answer is that’s the neural circuit that has been myelinated
We all have roughly the same amount of Myelin. Scientists have found that the amount of myelin does not vary between people. Our brains produce roughly the same amount of myelin. All athletes have the same potential “Talent”. The main difference between top performers is how they have been able to myelinate and focus on the correct circuits.
The Myelination process slows with fatigue. Neural systems fatigue quickly, actually within minutes. With three to five minutes of sustained activity, neurons become less responsive. They need a rest (not unlike your muscles when you lift weights).
Insufficient sleep affects formation of Myelin. The components of myelin are replenished with good sleep (especially REM). When you sleep stem cells are stimulated to make oligodendrocytes which help to form more myelin. The opposite effect occurs while you are awake.
Refreshing the Correct Circuit. Myelin is dynamic tissue. It builds with more practice. There is no process to unmyelinated or unlearn something. However, myelin will decay slowly without practice. It is thought that myelin begins to degrade after about 12 weeks. This means that 90-120 days is the most amount of time that you can afford to not fire a specific circuit before it starts to be compromised. This is why you may feel moderately rusty after a few days of no practice, but take months or years off and it feels like starting from ground zero.