Print Friendly

It’s that time of year. March Madness. And of course I’m talking about skiing not basketball. This is when it all happens—regional champs, state champs, Junior Olympics, etc. Lofty goals and supercharged energy converge as the biggest events in a young ski racer’s life play out in one scrambling month. Hotel pools, team dinners, game rooms and way too many vending machines fuel the fire.

Throughout the month there will be big winning moments and crushing losses. There will be the elation of putting two clean runs together and the devastation of screwing up right at that spot the coaches pointed out. This annual angst we have chosen for ourselves is normal. And yet, every year it seems like the end of the world is near when things don’t go according to plan, when that one chance at making the states, the uberstars or the intergalactics slips away like so many skittles off a frozen mitten.

All of this means it’s the ideal occasion for the “Long Road” speech. As in, it’s a long road we’re traveling, people. As parents cheering from the sidelines we can’t help but want our kids to succeed at everything they do, on every outing. We understand that real progress is often a barely perceptible crawl, and that what we really want for our kids is long term success in life, not in a silly sporting event. But still, we secretly hope for success every time. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have the good days and put off the agony of defeat indefinitely, or at least until adulthood?

I can say from experience that the fantasy of child stardom is not all its cracked up to be. The pros are, of course, an early sniff of glory and an instant endorphin hit of success. Up into my early teens I won every ski race I entered. I fell and got up, and won. My boots got stolen from the car so I borrowed a friend’s mother’s boots, and won. A big kid in ski boots stepped on my bare toes and broke them the day before a race, and the next day I won. You get the picture. Yay me.

But then one day, I didn’t win. And I kept not winning, like it was my new job, until it felt my world had crumbled. I had three close friends who resided solidly in my rear view mirror during my young days of untrammeled fabulousness. All three of them scooted past me and made their ways on to the US Ski Team while I ground my gears. They were teaching me the lesson I had taught them long ago—that sooner or later you’ll get your butt kicked, so you’d better know how to deal with it. I did not appreciate the lesson.

For the next few years (not weeks or months), I wanted to quit more days than not. I was discovering the cons of child stardom, chiefly the unrealistic view it creates of what it takes to succeed. It takes perseverance, self-confidence and a bit of blind faith. Fortunately in my case, the urge to sniff glue, roll in a ball and make it all go away was overcome by the urge to dust myself off and get back up, as if to say, “Thank you sir. May I have another?” Sticking to that decision has made all the difference, not only in ski racing but also in every challenge since. When I see these kids make that same commitment day after day I am truly inspired.

All this leads to my compulsion to give the “Long Road” speech, which is closely linked to the “Box of Chocolates” principle. Well into their teens kids are growing and changing and learning so quickly that you really have no idea of the potential that lies inside of them. In the words of Mr. Gump’s momma, you never know what you’ll get. As proof look no further than Ted Ligety, who barely made his ski club team at this age, and even as a 17-year-old struggled to keep pace with his peers. Skiing and all sports are riddled with examples of unremarkable young kids who turned into great champions through perseverance and hard work. Likewise the path to the top is littered with one-time sensations who got off track and lacked the will, the desire, or perhaps just the plain old good luck it takes to get to the top of their sport.

Not that true success has anything to do with “making it” in a sport or not. There is no “it”, no achievement that confers success on you. It really is all about finding what matters to you and going after it with all you’ve got. How often do we get to do that?

The long-term view is a very tough perspective for a young person to have. One kid going through an exceptionally frustrating bout of character building summed it to his parents as follows: “I know that this is making me a better person. But right now it sort of sucks.”

He’s right. And there’s no way around it. Dwelling on disappointment is neither healthy nor productive, but disappointment in itself isn’t such a bad thing. It means you have some skin in the game. Coaches and parents may seem to be discrediting the right to be disappointed, and diluting the value of a competitive spirit with default comments like “just have fun,” and “keep smiling.” I still cringe a bit when I interpret those words as admonishments. But as a quasi grown up, I get the broader intent, the reminder to keep your eye on the bigger prize, on enjoying the process. Enjoy the things you get from having the dream, making the effort and going out each day with a goal to get just a little better.

We recently had the last of our qualifying races for the state championships, followed immediately by the naming of the State Championship team. Kids who miss the cut-off can battle for a spot at the champs by going to the state finals, but this is the big announcement. They start with the first qualifying individual and go down the list to the last, making it an agonizing ceremony for anyone who is “on the bubble” unsure of whether he or she made the team. I can assure you from experience that whether you are waiting to be picked last for a softball team on the playground, or listening to a coach read off the names of who made the Olympic team, it’s all the same anxiety.

This time, as always, there were a few athletes on the bubble who did not make it. These are kids who have put in as much time, worked just as hard, and wanted it just as badly as any of their teammates. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t all come together for them, yet. When the last name was read I wanted to cry. OK, maybe I did cry. But I tried not to show it, because one of the bubble kids came straight up to me. He looked me in the eye and announced, “I really think I can qualify through the finals!” That was his first reaction–not tears, or moping or a tantrum, but a positive plan.

That moment in itself reminded me of why we put ourselves and our children through this. The bravest skier I know used this quote to get through life threatening illness and injury, as well as a ski race or two: “Success is not the act of never falling. It is the act of repeatedly getting up.” If a 12-year-old kid has learned to greet adversity with renewed effort, he’s pretty much learned the secret to success in anything.

As I said, it’s a long road. Some take the highway, and some take the scenic route, but in the end we’re headed for the same place.

 

2013 update: It is that time of year again, so you might want to circulate this to keep blood pressures in check. By the way, the kid at the end, who almost made me cry? He was among our top qualifiers for the state champs this year. More importantly he perfected the technique of grinning ear-to-ear even while gritting his teeth.

42 Comments

  1. Barbara J. Tierney Mar 2, 2012 at 23:33

    Edie, …..another wonderful article….keep up the good work. Love always, Aunt B.

    Reply

  2. Eddie Hauck Mar 3, 2012 at 06:02

    Edie, Excellent and well said. Everyone needs to experience this on what ever level, for the “opportunity” as it molds us in all of Lifes little games we will experience.

    Reply

  3. Beatie Mar 3, 2012 at 08:26

    Bravo!

    Reply

  4. Jesse Hunt Mar 5, 2012 at 09:17

    Edie, your cross-blocking article made me laugh and this one hit the heart. Thanks for the perspective and articulating it in such a brilliant way.

    Reply

  5. Karen Morgan Mar 6, 2012 at 04:47

    Morgan North — Outstanding, articulate article. Swapped “sail” for “ski” and applied! Morgan South

    Reply

  6. Gordon Perry Mar 6, 2012 at 09:31

    Edie, Awesome !! Jesse, thanks for sharing.. Cheers!

    Reply

  7. Alison Putnam Mar 6, 2012 at 10:20

    Great article, Edie! This is an article that should go in every ski club’s handbook or on their websites. It should be required reading for all parents and athletes. My daughters will be reading it. Thanks!

    Reply

  8. Alex Shaffer Mar 6, 2012 at 10:21

    Edie, this was beautifully written and stabs at the heart. I find that those who really understand complicated have the ability to make it simple for the rest of us. Thank you!

    Reply

  9. MELISA HARRISON Mar 6, 2012 at 13:01

    AS A PARENT, IT IS COMFORTING TO READ AND RE-AFFIRM WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN. MY BOYS WILL BE READING THIS ARTICLE AS WELL. THANKS FOR THE GREAT INSIGHT.

    Reply

  10. Ron Kipp Mar 6, 2012 at 13:32

    Great job on a great subject. I’ll read it again tomorrow, and again…

    Reply

  11. Holly Flanders Mar 6, 2012 at 13:52

    Wow! Very well said in a very talented way! Thanks for your insight Edie!

    Reply

  12. In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions – NYTimes.com Mar 6, 2012 at 15:18

    […] It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.” […]

    Reply

  13. In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions Rhonn Mitchell Rhonn Laighton Mitchell Mar 6, 2012 at 15:45

    […] It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.” […]

    Reply

  14. Sports Buzz | Latest Sports News and Info Hub – In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions Mar 6, 2012 at 19:32

    […] It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.” […]

    Reply

  15. Amy Dunkle Mar 7, 2012 at 06:26

    Great piece and relevant in so many aspects of sports and life. Having just returned home from our state swimming championships, I’ve passed your column along to our head coach so she can distribute to parents and swimmers.

    Reply

  16. Jenny Williams Mar 7, 2012 at 07:01

    Edie, thank you. I choked up just reading this. I will share your wisdom with my three very competitive kids!

    Reply

  17. Peggy Shinn Mar 7, 2012 at 08:02

    Edie, thanks for writing this. It’s amazing and insightful and has helped arm me for the final two races of the season after my daughter recently asked, “Would you be mad if I was like Bode Miller?”

    Reply

  18. Jim Grossman Mar 7, 2012 at 09:14

    Edie, as always, well said. Thx! For what it’s worth, this is something that I have stressed with my son since he was around 5 or 6; you can only really learn from falling and your defeats. Winning doesn’t really teach you much of a lesson, but failure sure does. So far, so good – he’s only 9. But so far from what I can tell, he has very strong desire to win. And if he falls or gets beat… It’s a quick ‘what can I do better?’ followed by ‘What’s next?’ Hope he can continue to stay this way. The other big thing I’ve already started to stress to them is it’s not whether you’re going to get hurt or not, it’s just a question of when, and more importantly how and and how well you’re going to recover…

    Reply

  19. Peg Marshall Mar 7, 2012 at 11:13

    Thank you for summing up my family’s life for the past 4 months! After a pretty serious injury, my 16-year-old son has greeted physical therapy each day with renewed enthusiasm for his true passion – wrestling. He practiced yesterday for the first time since his injury and said “this injury was the best thing that ever happened [to him] because he knows now that he loves the sport, not just winning.” I know he will have success in his life because he has learned the difference between joy and happiness.

    Reply

  20. Dr. Jim Taylor Mar 8, 2012 at 08:27

    Bravo, Edie!! You and I are of like minds.

    Reply

  21. Steve Utter Mar 8, 2012 at 13:46

    We have sent this to all of our J3/4 athletes at gmvs. It has served to calm nerves and lighten spirits. Beautiful. Thank you, Edie.

    Reply

  22. Lila Schibli Mar 8, 2012 at 14:40

    This is sooo true. I love ski racing and didn’t have a great year with my races this year and this helped me so much!

    Reply

  23. Michael Sapers Mar 9, 2012 at 11:25

    Edie,

    This was a wonderful piece of writing. It is all about perspective. Ski racing is a particularly difficult sport as the room for error is miniscule and one small mistake can turn you from a competitor into a spectator very quickly. If you miss a lay-up or strike out your day is not done. You get another shot or another at-bat. Not so in ski racing. Success or failure can happen in a flash. The lessons from both are lasting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Reply

  24. Bryan Butler Mar 10, 2012 at 20:36

    Edie, I have zero experience & I know absolutely nothing about competitive skiing. Yet, your insights are universal and hit home with me. I coach girls fastpitch softball in the midwest and you are right! Losing and dealing with it created more character and hopefully resolve than winning big. My team is very successful and I fear that winning will become expected instead of cherished. Hard work teaches life lessons.

    Thanks!

    Reply

  25. george Reichhelm Mar 12, 2012 at 07:50

    As a grandfather going through the thrills and heartbreaks of watching
    for a second generation, this is wonderful writing. It should be required
    reading for all parents and kids who think that the only goal is the Olympics.

    Reply

  26. Harkin Banks Mar 12, 2012 at 17:19

    Awesome article. My son races for another NH program and I was at the same races as you and witnessed much of the same stuff. My son’s coach sent an email asking, “We are fully aware that athletes can qualify for another tier of competition from the State Champs – to the Eastern Champs or the Piche. It has come up the past two weekends that athletes are ‘informed’ of their placing by well meaning parents – “You did/didn’t qualify”… We know many of you love to be informed, doing spreadsheets and tracking results and trying to help the kids with their placings… May we ask you again to put it away? It’s such a distraction and so anti-climatic and… we could go on… Let us focus on the skiing, and let them enjoy the suspense of “did I make it?” Thanks.”

    It’s the parents, many who have never raced that create the stress. But we we saw was parents glued to Live Timing on iphones. Parents with spreadsheets and paper and pencils crunching numbers by scoreboards. One set of parents were pleading with their son to “ski safe and not blow it!” They said this four times and laid into him when a friend offered a cookie at lunch and he accepted. “Really! Right before the most important run of your life!” I was pretty stunned by it all being my first year into racing in NH. Your article was so dead on-I just wish it came out 2 weeks earlier! Thanks and keep them coming.

    Reply

  27. Mike Hoyt Mar 12, 2012 at 21:35

    Edie,

    I am the Parent Coach for our club, Mt. Ashland Racing Association. The major thrust of the job is to get ideas like these across to our athletes and especially their parents. Every once in a while, I read something and think, sort of jealously, “man I wish I had those words in me.” This was one such piece. I can’t wait to share it with our club. Thanks!

    Reply

  28. Max Underhill Mar 14, 2012 at 15:27

    great article-our J3 race season just ended at Killington and this really put it in perspective. Thanks!

    Reply

  29. Mike Mar 14, 2012 at 18:52

    Edie

    Thanks for the wonderful perspective on ski racing as well as life. This will be helpful in getting things into perspective with my son.

    Reply

  30. Michael Mar 15, 2012 at 07:34

    As a race parent, I’d like to offer a practical perspective to people/coaches who lament parents calculating standing/points in spreadsheets. The ski racing schedule is not always work or family friendly, so having some awareness of post-season qualification is necessary at times. We track these things casually not to put stress on racers, but to avoid putting stress on ourselves!

    This year we literally had 3 days from qualifying to arrange out-of-state lodging, coordinate homework/time off from school, arrange babysitting for our younger child, reserve a pet sitter and rearrange work/client meetings to accommodate attendance at these races. I agree that having some knowledge on the likelihood of qualifying is not needed for racers, but parents cannot drop everything and turn on a dime, so unless there are longer lead-times for qualification and a move to weekend only races for qualifying, parents will still need to do track these kinds of things.

    Reply

  31. Patti Hultin Mar 17, 2012 at 00:12

    Edie,
    I raised part time skiers, surfers, skaters, a softball player, a baseball player, and a football playe,r at each shining moment I cheered and wondered. We raised two beautiful, strong children now approaching age 30. One makes a living of sport and one takes to the mountain for fun. All the lessons learned have paid dividends!
    Great article,
    Patti

    Reply

  32. In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions – NYTimes.com | RivalRompers May 22, 2012 at 06:39

    […] It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.” […]

    Reply

  33. John Marchiony Nov 10, 2012 at 14:30

    Edie,

    Fred @ WV just sent the link to your article to all our U10 parents (again, as he did when you wrote it in the spring). It’s as refreshing today as it was in March.

    The Positive Coaching Alliance (positivecoach.org) takes a similar perspective that led me to generate three rules for the team(s) I coach:

    1) Play hard. There’s a lot behind that statement and it’s great when players play up to the full meaning of the word “hard.” A gifted engineering professor said “Compete like crazy, and always be gracious.”

    2) Have fun. If you’re not finding fun in the playing, find another way to spend your time.

    3) Be a great teammate. Not a “good” teammate, a *great* teammate who cheers, encourages, jokes, plays, laughs, consoles, congratulates and doesn’t ever blame or criticize.

    This last piece is, I think, the most important, so we decided to take nominations for a “player of the day.” Nominations were in the context of the three rules, but the players came to value “being a great teammate” most over the course of the season, and that meant that they were always on the lookout for their teammates’ greatness. Wonderfully, this raised their awareness of their own potential to be great teammates and with it, their behavior.

    That commitment to team and teammates, I believe, allowed those teams to out-perform their true ability. Our team’s “out-performance” has resulted in way more wins than losses and a great string of trips to the championship game (where, unfortunately, we have a similarly “impressive” record of losing by a hair ;)

    Now I’m testing my hypothesis that all of this applies to any group, including family, friends, non-profit Boards and business.

    Cheers,

    John

    PS: Say “Hi” to Chan for me, please.

    Reply

  34. Peter Holland Feb 25, 2014 at 05:21

    Great article. A must read for every parent.

    Reply

    • Edie Feb 25, 2014 at 06:27

      Glad you liked it Peter, and thanks for reading. It’s become an annual on March 1, when everyone seems to need it.

      Reply

  35. Bobby-Lou Boylan Feb 25, 2014 at 07:59

    As a mother of a racing family and now a grandmother of a racing grand daughter, I wish to say that was the best article I have ever read. Why did it make me cry, I am not sure but thank you for it.

    Reply

    • Edie Feb 25, 2014 at 09:37

      No fair Bobby Lou! Now you’re making me cry. Thanks for reading and for tuning in. You have done your fair share and more in creating lifelong skiers!

      Reply

  36. Will Feb 25, 2014 at 16:35

    I think this is going to change ski racing for me.. I’m almost like you, through J4’s (u14’s) I was top 10 in the state, at future stars, can-ams, the whole deal. But when i hit J3s (u16’s), it was like i hit a wall, all because i thought i needed to go to a ski school (KMS, i ski at Killington) to be successful again. But after reading this, its not all about the special treatment, its the drive and work that i can put into it. I had states this weekend and fell 3 out of 4 runs and it was all attitude problems with psyching myself out because i know that I’m better then i think. Thank you so much for the eye opener.

    Reply

    • Edie Feb 25, 2014 at 17:12

      Will, it takes a lot of maturity to step back and see it like that when you are in the thick of competition. I promise you, your ability to do that will serve you a whole lot better than any race result possibly could. Thank you so much for writing. It means a ton to me that this helped you in any way, and I really hope you can rediscover the pure joy or just being out there and doing what you love. Do that and you’ve won. Good luck!

      Reply

  37. Pepe Torras Feb 26, 2014 at 11:27

    Hello Edie- I hope that this comment won’t irritate you, but I suspect that one day people will know you better for your writing than for your ski racing.

    Reply

    • Edie Feb 26, 2014 at 14:24

      Ha Ha! Very flattered, not irritated. Thank you!

      Reply

  38. In Youth Sports, Losing is for Champions | Steve Nash Youth Basketball Coaches' Blog Apr 22, 2014 at 09:08

    […] It’s the nature of the game (or the race, or the tournament) that there are more losers than winners. The former Olympic skier Edie Thys Morgan, who’s also a friend of mine, now coaches her two sons and a whole herd of other young skiers as they try for downhill glory. On her blog this month, she urges parents to give up on “secretly hoping for success every time.” […]

    Reply

Leave a comment