The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

Minneapolis


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Left on Read

Managing emotions during ski
Left+on+Read

Like many seniors, the dawn of 2024 has a lot of significance for me. Perhaps second to graduation and college, 2024 also means my last year of ski racing, my retirement. 

I started skiing at age three and joined my club team, Team Gilboa, just a few years later at the age of six, meaning this winter is my 12th year of ski racing. With the exception of some junior race victories during my first years of racing, I’ve never won a race, nor have I really ever come close. I’m not a bad skier, I’m just not that good. 

Earlier this month, I read Jay Caspian Kang’s essay “Notes on Losing,” first published in the New Yorker in May 2023. As I read about Kang’s disconnect between commitment and success in his tennis, I couldn’t help but to draw connections to the development of my mindset and approach toward ski racing over the years. 

In the essay, Kang analyzes tennis prodigies and their ability to stay calm and collected. He writes, “Why don’t they seem to feel any pressure from the enormity of the task before them? How do they not get intimidated by their older opponents? Why do they never panic?”

After reading this, I was reminded of a time when I struggled with a similar question: why do I feel paralyzed standing in the start gate of a big race when others seem to be moving through the motions of a typical day? 

“I see more of [a] Zen state,” Kang explains. “The pressure of competition clears away the brain’s clutter and allows the athlete to devote their full attention to the task at hand.”

A few years ago, I too made this observation. I realized that those who were successful weren’t worried about the outcome, instead, they focused on their actions. This was the first step, but then I was faced with a new question: how do I cleanse myself from the stress of competition and tap into this zen state? 

Again, Kang seems to have found the answer in his reflection of his own game. “What I lack is a belief that the outcome of a tennis match is within my control.” 

Skiing is inherently a sport of unknowns; every race brings a new course and new snow conditions. There is so much you can’t control, that it’s easy to let yourself succumb to the unpredictability of it all. What I’ve slowly learned throughout my time skiing, with the help of many coaches, is that the one thing you can always control is how you respond to all the unpredictability. How have you prepared yourself for this moment? What do you say to yourself as you stand at the top of the run in anticipation? What do you say to yourself when you get to the bottom? 

A couple years ago, almost by accident, I unlocked this zen state. Just a few moments before I entered the start gate, my ski coach left me with some encouraging words. 

“You are such a strong skier,” he said. “You know how to do this.” 

As I pushed out of the start gate, I repeated this mantra to myself, and to my surprise, I skied unusually well. To determine whether or not this was a hoax, I tried saying the same things in my head before my next run, and again, I found myself skiing better than usual. 

Before most races, I usually run myself through some reminders of technical skills I should attempt on my upcoming run. These reminders, however, often clogged my brain with all the things that I had been doing wrong, all of the ways I had absolved myself of control. By refocusing my attention on myself and what I was already doing well, my skiing seemed to take off. 

Kang experienced this too. “The moment something went wrong- an opponent’s shot clipping the net and plopping down on my side, or an ill-timed double fault- I immediately fell back into my usual negative-feedback loops of rage, self-soothing, and further rage at myself for needing to be soothed, before I finally accepted defeat,” he said. 

Losing, in many cases, is a mindset, not a reflection of skill. Focus on what you can control instead of what is out of reach, and maybe you’ll find yourself in the top ranks.

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About the Contributor
Mackenzie Higgins, Editor Emerita
Hi, my name is Mackenzie and I am a senior this year! I have been writing for Spectrum since my freshman year and last semester, I was a Co-Editor-in-Chief along with the Creative Director and the Front Editor. This semester, I'm helping out with the features page. My favorite part of Spectrum is connecting with the school community and working with others in the newsroom. Outside of Spectrum and school, you can find me skiing, watching Criminal Minds, or drinking cold brew.

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