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Always positive, always focused; improving your skiing through mental training
By:  Katie McMahon   (2010/07/19)


Ever wonder what separates a gold medalist from a silver medalist? A podium finish from a top ten? You from attaining your personal best result? Whether it be in sport, school or everyday life, mental training can be the edge you need over your competition or simply to improve yourself.

This past year, as a Human Kinetics student at the University of Ottawa I had the amazing opportunity of taking a class taught by Sport psychology guru; Terry Orlick, PhD. Many skiers may recognize his name as his book, In Pursuit of Excellence, is like a bible to countless elite athletes. Not only did I enjoy his class, but I still to this day apply many of the skills he taught in my ski and everyday life.

Two strategies I have been working on lately because they are very applicable to summer ski training are Positive Images and Focus. I feel like these two skills are important to work on in summer because they are also extremely useful when race season comes. Summer time is a great time to practice them because even though the training is long and the intervals start to become tough, the stress of racing has yet to enter a skier’s mind.

Beginning with the root of all mental training; Focus. Focus is something that can mean many different things to each individual. To me, it means being present in the moment. It means using time efficiently, thinking about technique on those long work outs and being present in the process of improving yourself as an athlete, not just going to ski practice in order check it off of the list of things to do that day.

Focus can be applied to other things like school. Examples include challenging yourself to completely take in every word the professor is saying, staying in the moment for as long as you can. I find this skill very challenging at times, and breaking the habit of daydreaming or simply socializing while at practice or school does not come easily and can consistently be improved upon with each try. Next time you're at school, attempt to listen in class for 30 minutes instead of 20. Think about something specific in your ski technique for half a lap of the park. Without focus, all other mental skills become impossible to work on.


Personally, Positive Images is a skill that I struggle with day to day but has also been the most rewarding for me. It all begins by simply verbally changing negatives into positives. Instead of “these intervals are really going to hurt” say to yourself “these intervals are going to make me into a stronger skier”. In doing this and correcting my words and thoughts, I have found that: a) I was being negative a lot without realizing it and b) I was able to trick myself into being in a happier mood. As XC Ottawa member Andre Marchand put it at one Tuesday night tire-pulling interval session: PAINS = positive attitude in negative situations. By replacing negative thoughts and/or feelings with positive ones the pain of the workout can seem more bearable and in turn makes it easier to focus.

Another thing that helps to stay positive whether it be in training or racing is smiling. Even if smiling is absolutely the last thing that you feel like doing as you crest that hill wanting to throw up or chuck yourself in a snow bank; do it anyways. The simple act of smiling actually releases endorphins and is a physical reminder to keep those thoughts positive. (It might also psych out your opponents!). Needless to say that staying positive is another skill that takes practice but can also be extremely rewarding.

A lot of people find mental training a bit trivial but I can say from experience that it has truly changed my life. At the World Cup level, when all the athletes have put in the same amount of physical training hours, done all the same races, are at the same level of fitness, one of the main factors that makes a difference in the results is the mental training certain athletes have put in over the years and their mental readiness at a particular event. So whether it be at your club's ski practice, in school or racing at the Olympics, try improving your focus and staying positive. It might just work.

Interesting Reading. . .
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