Well Happy March to you! Assuming that you have already awoken and said “Rabbit rabbit” into the mirror, parents of ski racers have one more task. It is the annual tradition of reading The Long Road, to keep blood pressure in check during the upcoming weeks. This year, in addition to reposting the piece, I am including a French lesson. This comes in the form of excerpts from a fine book my sister recently unearthed, “Ski the French Way,” by Georges Joubert and Jean Vuarnet, published in 1970. My sister had kindly bookmarked the section on “child prodigies” with a post-it. Thanks to her, and to an excellent translation by Sim Thomas and John Fry, I can offer some time-tested nuggets of wisdom to support a broader perspective and healthier approach to this season of championships, selections and seemingly make-or-break scenarios.
To start off, a little word of caution:
“An increasing number of young children…are able to ski today with almost as much ease as excellent adult skiers or even authentic champions. Many of them may well be future Olympic stars. Much harm can be done, however, by the individual parent who focuses all his attention on his own offspring. Having seen dozens of parents in France push their children, sometimes against their children’s wills, into difficult competitions, and having seen those same children abandon racing five or six years later from loss of enthusiasm just at an age where maximum participation in the sport was crucial to their development as skiers, we believe it a duty to warn fathers and mothers about so-called skiing prodigies…”
After pointing out how the relative advantage of intensive early training can be more than made up for with sustained enthusiasm and good coaching by an athlete’s mid- to late-teens, the authors make the same case for early physical advantages:
“…Another point—that of physiological age as opposed to actual age—should be mentioned in any discussion of child prodigies. It is not unusual to see a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old with the physical and athletic qualities of a seventeen-year-old. These precocious children are capable of real feats for their age, but considering their physical endowments, the feats are not remarkable.”
They take it even further with respect to girls and women:
“This problem applies especially to young girls….one concludes a little too quickly that only young girls, thirteen- or fourteen-year-old virtuosos can become champions, and that by age 19 they are over the hill…it makes no sense to believe that an athletic young woman in full possession of her physical abilities and the indispensable characteristics of a champion should be handicapped in relation to younger girls. The champions in all well-evolved specialized sports are all over twenty. “
Love these guys! Especially where they advise that one should never sacrifice education for elite athletics:
“…There is certainly a case to be made for the grand champions, called amateurs, who earn a lot of money. But for the small number who reach this category, how many fail to make it?…”
Finally—and I mean finally for now, because I’ll be busting this book out for reference plenty— I offer you their exquisite take on the particular joys of ski racing that will always transcend results:
“Even if you finish far behind in a race, you’ll still be rewarded. First, you’ll have had the pleasure of participation. You’ll have felt the special tension which preceded the race, the acute concentration during the countdown…and the release at the final, “go!’ And you’ll have fought with courage against the elements, for which there are few opportunities in our civilized world.”
So with that I say “Rabbit rabbit” to all. Read The Long Road, keep it real, and let’s have some fun this March. À votre santé!