I started writing about chasing the unicorn a few years ago. A simple metaphor of trying to ski the perfect race, catching the uncatchable beast. Mainly due to a terrible race in Australia where I managed to break the same pole twice and crashed in a separate incident. It led me to start writing the odd philosophical blog about life on the road and as an athlete. It’s been a while since I wrote in the chronicles but seeing as the season is drawing to a close and I have been reflecting on the season and trying to work out if it was a successes, a failure or somewhere in-between, I thought it might be a good chance to jot down a few notes into a blog. Not to mention hopefully straighten some of my own thoughts because whether a season was a success or a failure is not clear-cut and a simple “yes or no” answer is clearly not sufficient.
Some things are a little simpler to work out. Reflecting on the basic goals that I set before the season starts is often a fairly good place to begin. Obviously my big reach goal was to qualify for the Olympics in Sochi. I fell short of this target but not by much. Another was to ski top 30 at the World University Games in a distance race and once again I missed that. The third was a simple FIS point goal and seeing as I still have three more races to go in the season I’ll leave that one as neutral. So two crosses and a blank certainly doesn’t leave the impression of a successful season.
However both my World Ranking and FIS point average has decreased suggesting I’m becoming a faster and more consistent skier. So then I guess it’s easily possible to suggest my goals were perhaps a little far from my grasp and what I was pretending was a reach goal was really a leap. Every year as an athlete, you expect to ski faster, to be stronger, to improve. But how much is an acceptable level of improvement to expect? 5%? 10%? As we improve as athletes these gains in performance decrease. As juniors each year it seems you ski a minute or two faster, but when you join the senior ranks it’s only seconds and sometimes it’s hard to see those seconds.
With goals come expectations: expectations to reach and succeed with these goals that you’ve set. But just like goals, are the expectations of your own performance reasonable for the athlete that you are? For me this season, I had to seriously take a look at my goals and expectations mid-season. I had to reevaluate. I recognized that I hadn’t improved much on my last season and all I could hope for was to solidify my current form, which was around the same level as last year. This was relatively successful and is reflected in my point average now. Performance is generally like an old wooden staircase. There is always a period of performance gains, taking it up to the next step. However often at this new level there is a plateau in performance, where a new level of consistency is created. Just like an old wooden staircase that is a little twisted and warped within that plateau there will be ups and downs but an overall level of performance found. The next challenge for every athlete is to take the next step up and forward and again reach a new step. For me I guess I’m just on that same step from last year and I’m preparing to make the next move up.
Often when you focus on the world of skiing things get far too narrow minded and focused. Small things become huge and blown out of proportion. I have seen athletes this year in a huge fit of rage because they didn’t get the FIS point’s they were after, but failed to see that they just skied a top 5 or 10 in a race and that alone is something to celebrate. However because the focus was so small and narrow, just on points, only displeasure was felt.
I also think major championships bring out the worst in people. When it comes to selection it sadly becomes every man or woman for themselves often and you constantly see people getting thrown under the proverbial bus by teammates just so they may rise a little ahead of the other. I think this is especially the case in a small team like ours that always only has one or two spots available for each major event. That being said I have been pleasantly surprised at times this season and happy to see some camaraderie being offered.
So has my season been successful? Or have I been too narrowly focused and obsessed with one or two minor things? Most likely I’m guilty of it a little. I think most athletes are guilty of showing narcissistic tendencies and perhaps to be the very best some level of selfishness is required. However looking at the American ski teams model it’s clear that’s not the case at all. To be truly successful I think a positive, helpful team environment is key.
Perhaps when it come down to ticks and crosses my season has not been outstanding. I’ve been at a consistent level but not quite as high a level as I had hoped. I didn’t manage to hit too many goals, however in other ways I’ve been more successful than ever before. I feel extremely comfortable and happy skiing and living in America. This positive, happy environment I think will be key in later successes for my skiing and myself. Currently I’m negotiating joining a successful elite pro team in America for next season. I’m working on a new equipment sponsor which I’m really excited about and I’ve given back and enjoyed more than ever teaching kids about the sport I love. All huge wins in my opinion and positive steps towards the ultimate goal of skiing that perfect race.
So perhaps I haven’t had success but I’ve been able to find a different perspective on life as an athlete and by that I’ve given myself a more permanent success, or I like to hope so.
And for those asking, no, I still haven’t caught the unicorn.