With the season drawing to a close, it is, for every racer, a time of reckoning in which you look back and evaluate what kind of season you had: one to be proud of or one to reflect back on with disappointment and perhaps regret.
One of the primary criteria that racers use to judge their seasons is how much they improved their point profile, either USSA or FIS. Here is a simple calculus that, like most racers, you probably use to determine what kind of season you had:
- Big reduction in points = Successful season
- Small reduction = Okay season
- No change = Disappointing season
- Increase = Devastating season
Let me say this upfront. If you are judging your season only on your point profile, you are making a big mistake. But, before I explain why I believe this bold statement to be so, let’s take a reality break.
Ski racing is a sport where results matter. You don’t get ahead by working hard (though great effort is certainly required) or by being a nice person. You progress up the competitive food chain by lowering your points. You qualify for more competitive race series and get named to teams almost exclusively based on your points (yes, in some cases, there are discretionary picks, but you don’t want to leave your success in the hands of others). And let’s be even more honest. Psychologically and emotionally, you may base a good part of your self-identity as a ski racer (maybe too much) on your results and points.
A problem is that, for those with high aspirations, such as college skiing, the U.S. Ski Team, or higher, plateaus or declines in points from year to year can mean the end, or at least a major setback, for those aspirations. And your reaction can range from disappointment, which can be motivating, to devastating, which can be deflating.
This singular obsession with points can blind you to other criteria of success that demonstrate real progress even if you don’t lower your USSA or FIS points every year. It can also prevent you from seeing your season in the broader context of your long-term goals. Additionally, when you focus too much on your points, you keep yourself from recognizing that ski racing is definitely not a linear sport, meaning progress isn’t steady or consistent. It’s more like the stock market in which it can have terrible years, okay years, and outstanding years. But, if you step back and look at the stock market with big-picture perspective over a number of years (as you should look at your ski racing career), what you notice is that it continues to climb steadily.
The frustrating fact is that ski racing progress often occurs in fits and starts influenced by a variety of factors including your physical and psychological development, your coaching, the arc of your skill development, as well as those outside of your control such as the improvement of your competitors, and snow and weather conditions.
Also, improving your points is often outside of your control. To the contrary, opportunities to lower your points have as much to do with luck as how you’re skiing. Over the years, I’ve seen racers make huge jumps in their points for reasons as fluky as fog lifting, wind dying down, and a low-point competitor making a costly mistake. Of course, you still have to ski fast, but fast skiing isn’t always enough. Conversely, I’ve seen what appear to be incredible point opportunities dissolve for the same reasons I just mentioned. And don’t get me started on chasing points (that’s a hot topic that I will save for a future article).
As an example of how defining your season based on your points can cause you to miss real progress in your skiing, I have worked with a highly ranked racer for several years who didn’t improve her GS points (her best event) last winter. At the end of the season, she was really disappointed and felt that the season had been a failure. Though I empathized with her feelings (that’s what shrinks do), I also attempted to provide a different perspective (also what shrinks do) that would demonstrate to her that her season was actually quite successful. I pointed out that she scored her first Nor-Am points, was much closer in time against the top girls, and, for anyone who watched her, she was skiing far faster than the previous season.
Now, you may be wondering how she has done this season. Let’s take a look. She scored her first top-ten Nor-Am results, was named to represent the U.S. in a prestigious international competition, had a breakthrough race at U.S. Nationals, and, yes, she lowered her points significantly.
So, was she being fair to herself in her assessment of her skiing the previous year? No way.
So, I suggest that you broaden your definition of what constitutes a good season beyond your points. What should you look at and what questions should you ask? Here are a few ideas.
- Am I stronger this season than I was last season?
- Am I better technically and tactically?
- Am I mentally stronger: more motivated, confident, intense, and focused?
- Am I more competitive against my fast teammates in timed training runs?
- Am I closer to my competitors than last year?
Improvement in these essential contributors to fast skiing don’t always lead immediately to better results and lower points. Sometimes it takes time for all of these necessary contributors to lower points to gel. It can sometimes take more than one season for the many pieces of the fast-skiing puzzle to all come together.
As the saying goes, “One bad season doth not a career make (or break).” Actually, I just made that up, but you get the point.
Sure, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t improve your point profile this season. But don’t let it devastate you and don’t let it cause you to give up on your dream. Be patient, stay committed, and, at some point, good things will happen, including lower points.