Last summer I was invited by the British Disabled Ski Team to fly to Austria and deliver some sport psychology workshops to their athletes. This was a little daunting but I enjoyed every minute of it. I have been a skier since I was 11 years old and have been teaching skiing since I was 16 at the age of 20 I started ski race coaching at my local dry slope and have enjoyed it every since. As many skiers known the environment in which we compete can often change rapidly. The weather can close in, the snow conditions can change, the race course can get cut up and the sport can generally catch you off guard if you haven't planned for it.
Contingency or What If! planning is one of those psychological skills that is really documented within the research too much and there isn't a lot out there on the actual specific of what effect this kind of planning has on the performer however in my experience I can't see of any downsides to planning for things to go wrong, especially in skiing where things change quite quickly. There is a lot to be said for having a good preparation plan.
Lets take a quick look at some of the things that can change in skiing. These are usually things that athlete don't plan for and can cause anxiety, loss of confidence, loss of rhythm, coming 'out of the zone' and can ultimately be detrimental to performance.
Things that can go wrong:
1. Race start time - they change, crashes happen, people get injured, courses need to be slipped, etc.
2. Equipment can fail - boot buckles can break, ski binding can break, ski poles can get lost, ski poles can break, goggles can break, helmets can break, skis can get damages, boots can break, ski suits can split. If it can break then it probably will.
3. The weather - not so bad if your racing on plastic but in the mountain it can get pretty bad, pretty quick, it can also get pretty hot pretty quickly, which often means snow can get slushy and difficult to race on.
4. Snow conditions - again can change pretty quickly. A course can be sheet ice in the morning and slush in the afternoon.
5. Course conditions - in the morning you have a nice flat course to run on, in the afternoon your skiing a 3ft deep rutline that has already had 40+ other racers ski through it.
6. Injury- it happens, everywhere in sport. If you haven't had an injury skiing yet then your one of the lucky few.
7. Disqualification - occassionally it can happen and you need to just accept it and move on.
As you can see in these 6 points there are a number of things that can happen. There are many many more and I spent over an hour with the team coming up with things that can go wrong in skiing. The trick is to know about it before hand. So here's your task, get a few of your friends together and get a peice of paper draw a line down the middle and on the left hand side write as many of the thing that can go wrong in skiing as you can think of. I have started you off with some of the suggestions from above but tailor the potential problems to your racing so if your a dry slope racer tailor it to your own race.
There are a number of solutions to these problems and knowing about them and preparing for that can help reduce anxiety. Below are a number of solutions for the problems i suggested above:
1. Race start times change - have something you can get on with that can keep you focused, learn the race again, go over your race plan, get some music, etc.
2. Failing equipment - have spares, take an extra pole, replacement boot buckles, spare goggles, and the all purpose ski tool... Gaffa tape. I suggest making friends with your fellow competitors because one day you will need ask them for something you don't have. Be sure to lend them something they don't have as well. It can help when something goes wrong for you.
3. The weather - hard to control but have the correct warm weather gear if it gets cold, correct lenses for your goggles, correct wax for your skis, most importantly though keep an eye on the weather forecasts so that you know what to expect for race day.
4. Snow conditions - again this is hard to control but make sure your race plan takes into account that snow conditions change, have the correct wax and correct lenses in your goggles.
5. Course conditions - prepare in the advance your race plan to take into account rutlines etc.
6. Injury - it happens, stretch, warm up, prepare as best you can, train to prevent injury and hopefully it won't happen. Have a post injury plan in place so that you know exactly who you are going to call to make sure you are rehabilitated as quickly as possible.
7. Disqualification - Know the rules as best you can, ask you coach to review, they can put in a contest if it is valid. Make sure you review the rule book after you get DSQ's to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
You can see here that it is pretty easy to prepare for things to go wrong and it won't necessarily take too much extra work but it can make all the difference when your at the top of the race hill, anxious and something does happen. To have an immediate positive reaction to a negative event is all essential in my books.
Happy Racing and if you have any quesitons or would like to engage in consultancy with me in ski psychology do get in touch.