Coach’s Corner: No Such Thing as Failure
As I write this, X Games Aspen is coming to an end. Another year of crowds and competitions. There were definitely thrills and spills all throughout the weekend of events. It was a great opportunity for my athletes to experience. Typically, my team trains out of the Snowmass ski resort, but Saturday called for a field trip so we could watch the action live and in person.
We began the morning in the West Buttermilk Terrain Park. We started with practicing tricks my athletes already knew how to do, trying to clean them up and add more style. As the morning progressed, we began taking advantage of the features we were comfortable with to work on new and different tricks.
This is definitely a moment when coaching can get tricky. No matter how many times an athlete sees someone else perform a trick or visualizes themselves doing a trick, it doesn’t mean they will land it perfectly on their first try. It takes time, it takes practice, and it takes progression. I often have to tell my athletes that they must learn to walk before they learn to run. During this time and practice, imperfection rears its nasty head.
On occasion, this can produce a sense of failure within an athlete. “I didn’t land it perfect first try.” Well of course not. “We are only human; no one is perfect.” We are all aware of these things. It can still be a detriment to a person’s performance. The mental game within an athlete’s performance is just as much, if not more important than their physical performance.
When trying new things, it’s important for an athlete to understand how to look at unsuccessful attempts, which isn’t my preferred way of describing any attempt. I try to keep it within a positive framework. The way I see it is that all attempts are successful, as long as something is learned or gained from it. It is my job to make sure athletes recognize this, learn from their efforts and improve upon them.
That’s why I felt Men’s Slopestyle was a perfect teaching tool this year. Slopestyle was the event my kids were most interested in during training hours, so we purposefully timed lunch to coincide with that event.
The course was tricky this year. A lot of athletes were overshooting the jumps, not landing tricks and, as a result, receiving low scores. While I didn’t wish anyone a poor performance, I did think it was great for my athletes to see this occur on a professional level, right in our own backyard.
I took a poll of who my kids wanted to win, and if they were to put any money on an athlete, who that athlete would be. The majority of my kids said Mark McMorris. McMorris fell in his first run, obtaining a score of 13.33 and was in 12th place going into run two. Now at this point, he could have gotten upset and thrown a fit. He could have told himself he was a failure. There are a number of negative things he could have done going into run No. 2. Instead, he did one positive thing. He looked at what occurred during his first run and thought about what changes he needed to make — more speed checks going into the jumps.
McMorris didn’t stand in his own way. He didn’t beat himself up about his previous performance. He simply learned from his prior attempt and improved upon it. What happened? He jumped to first place with a score of 92.66, eventually walking away with a gold medal.
I don’t like using the word “failure,” especially with my team. I try to make them see that every attempt is an opportunity, even the ones that aren’t a complete success. Hopefully, my athletes learned that with this mentality, they too could eventually walk away a gold medalist.
Josh Ganz is a snowboarding coach for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.