Every year on or before March 1, when the high emotional stakes of Championship season are upon us, I roll out the “Long Road” speech. It already started making the rounds from other sources this year, but for any who missed it and need a little perspective heading into the March Madness of Championship season, check it out.
This year’s update comes in the form of a letter, inspired by the following incident along with real scenarios witnessed over the years and across the country.
Earlier this season I was at the top of the race course between runs when a parent arrived, clearly agitated. “That was the most disturbing chair ride I’ve ever had,” he said softly. Looking over his shoulder he proceeded to tell us about the conversation he had just overheard, of a father sternly “coaching” his young ski racer all the way up the lift. When we looked around the father was still lecturing the already tiny kid who seemed to be shrinking before our eyes. It was something short of berating, but certainly 20 minutes of something other than joy.
There wasn’t much I could do in that situation, so I decided to write a letter on behalf of that kid and others like him.
I know you love me. And I know you love skiing. But this is getting out of hand. If you really want me to stick with ski racing, we have to clarify some things.
First of all, sometimes I see email headings that say “size matters.” You tell me it’s just SPAM, but I think there is some truth to it. Have you seen how big some of these kids I’m racing against are? I wear my Power Ranger jammies under my race suit because they make me look a little bigger and give my stick legs some insulation. The guy running ahead of me has size ten feet and facial hair. Do you know how it feels to follow him out of the start gate? Just plain scary. But I’m actually ok with being a twig, for now, and it might even be an advantage long term. That kinesiology book you used to read to me at bedtime said that the best time to learn technique is before your growth spurt, because during the spurt it’s all you can do to manage your arms and legs, and after it your habits may be too hard to break. Either way, I can’t help my smallness any more than they can help their bigness, so I’m just going to have to do the best I can with my me-ness.
When you are calculating race points or place points to see how far away I am from qualifying, I see you. I just pretend I am engrossed in Flappy Bird and don’t notice. Same goes for the car ride home, when you want to rehash the race. Two words—headphones rock!
It must be really hard to know where the line is between enthusiastic support and, well, maniacal obsession. I love that you give me every opportunity to succeed. Photos and video analysis really help and are cool to look at, once. The elaborate side-by-side montages and Sprongo section timing? I’d rather look at Vines of toddler bloopers and pet trick fails any day. And speaking of video, you might want to mute the camera, because I hear the play-by-play of your emotions when I have a bad run. Trust me, it was enough to live through it in person.
When I do well the feeling I get inside really is enough to make me feel proud. I am glad you are proud too, but I seriously doubt your Facebook friends are that interested in my results. To be fair, I know it’s hard for old people to know what is appropriate on social networks, and what kinds of things might really embarrass them (or me) later. But sending a press release about my results and my race resume to the local paper? That’s so not going to help my cred at school.
I know you are sometimes stressed because ski racing is really expensive. I have some ideas about where you could save some money, starting with butter. I am, as you’ve said before, 90 lbs “soaking wet.” Butter isn’t going to make the difference. You can go ahead and rub soap on the bottom of my skis. I won’t notice. And we can put the money you save towards cheeseburgers, which will make me happy right now and benefit me more long term.
Also, instead of getting the latest Malcolm Gladwell book let’s just reread that book about training our puppy. It said to reward the behavior you want to reinforce and ignore what you want to get rid of. Well, yelling at me from the side of the course, reminding me of what not to do just before my run and repeatedly warning me about the 7th gate only gives me more anxiety, and sort of makes me feel like those puppies who pee on the carpet every time they get nervous. I’m not saying I’ll pee on the carpet, but those reminders don’t fill me with confidence.
A lot of times I am ok with how I did, until you come down with a sad face, or I hear you tell the coach I am not “realizing my potential.” Other times, I am bummed because I knew I could do better, and you get on my case about having a bad attitude. I care a lot about doing well, and am trying to learn how to control my emotions in the moment. If I have a bad race I’ll be bummed, but I’ll get over it as long as I can still go out with my friends and train and mess around in the lodge.
Which brings me to our recent lift ride. The 20 minutes you spent lecturing me on line and technique are 20 minutes I didn’t get to spend freeskiing, and hanging out with my friends, and making the fun and cool memories that you tell me about from when you were my age.
Sometimes I fantasize about being the next Mikaela Shiffrin, but honestly when it comes down to it, I dream about other things too. If I change my mind you will be the first to know. Until then, I do not want a unicycle, juggling balls and a book on sports psychology for my birthday. I just want a thicker pair of jammies, because if I’m going to do this my own way I want to be cozy in the process.
With love and crossed fingers,
PS. Just so you know, there are parents who are way more extreme than you. I’m only writing this because I think we can work this out, and that someday we will laugh about this. In the meantime this video (thanks Uncle Bart) should make you laugh. If it doesn’t we might be in trouble.