What a week! The images of Dave Ryding winning the first run and stepping on to the podium in Kitzbuhel last weekend and another top 15 finish in the Schladming inferno was spine tinglingly good. He even managed to get a 2 page spread in the Times and an interview on Radio 5!
At the same time athletes from the UK were in Europe seeking to emulate their hero at the Welsh Championships in Champery Les Crosets in Switzerland. Many will be holding a vision of Dave throwing his poles down with sheer elation in the finish area whilst others may have done the same but for a different reason! Some will have come back with medals and aspirations to get to the top of the tree and others will be thinking what could have been if they’d stayed in the course. Hopefully all of them will have enjoyed the experience that is quite unique to ski racing.
So with the upsurge of interest that accompanies such success on the world stage what can we do to encourage our budding athletes build their ability and allow them to make the best of themselves?
Some may say that we need to spot the ‘talented’ kids but we know that not all of those who appear to be gifted stay the course and there are others who don’t appear on the radar until quite late but then flourish and become great athletes.
One definition of talent is ‘a set of pre-requisites that we have at a point in time which allow us to perform a certain task’.
You’ll probably be able to identify a number of sports or activities which require certain ‘sport specific’ attributes – being large for your age makes for an effective rugby player, height is an advantage in basketball, long arms may make you a good bowler in cricket and a specific body shape for swimming could give you an advantage. Sometimes children choose a sport which suits their attributes and – hey presto you appear to have discovered an outstanding athlete – or is that a talented one!
So children may be good at a point in time for their chosen sport and age. However children grow, some quicker than others, some are smaller or larger than others at certain points but one thing’s for certain is that they’ll all be different in the end. We also have to be careful with the talent word as numerous studies have shown that being labelled as talented at a young age can actually be de-motivating and they may subsequently fail to achieve their initial potential.
So maybe ‘potential’ would be a better word as no matter how much talent they appear to have it is nothing unless they use it well and build on it with hard work, dedication and the mindset that everyone has the potential to improve. They’ll also need ‘opportunity’ and I guess if you’re reading this then you’ll already be giving the opportunity to your children. (Or you’ll be a very grateful athlete for being given the opportunity by your parents!)
So what’s the answer? To get to the top in whatever they choose they’ll need something more, something that can be developed, learned and honed. Something that parents help them with, apart from driving tens of thousands of miles taking them to training and races! They need to develop GRIT.
The definition of grit goes something like this….’The perseverance and passion for long-term goals... Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to stay the course amid challenges and set-backs’.
Grit can be built up by instilling a belief in the athletes that their abilities are not fixed, that they can change and improve and that it’s the effort that they put in that’s paramount and not the short term result. Ski racing is a long game!
Maybe we need to focus on SPORT in everything we do as there are also lessons there for life and business.
S – Skills & Self-belief
P – Perseverance, Passion & Praise
O – Opportunity & Optimism
R – Repetition & Reflection
T – Time & Training
So there it is, we may have some of the answers in sport and as long as we allow the kids to enjoy their sports, encourage and praise effort and perseverance over achievement than we will go some way to building enthusiasm and love of skiing and who knows one day they could end up standing on the podium, just like Dave!