No one ever comes to a lesson to fail*. Every student tries to accomplish the task they think their coach presented, but it is all complicated by communication. The instructor has a concept of teaching a move and describes that concept in words that have particular meanings to him. Those words are heard and go through a filter in the student’s brain where they are understood in some way. The student proceeds to make moves according to his interpretation of the words.
Luckily, skiing involves the physical result of the interpretation, giving the instructor a chance to figure out what the student is thinking by analyzing the movements. ‘Catching the guest doing something right’ was one of the important educational principles of Perfect Turn. Coaches try to let their students know when they are doing the correct thing, so they know what it feels like.
It is impossible to learn physical things without doing them. If you know how it feels when you have done it correctly, you can try to get that feeling again. Learning comes from seeking those correct feelings. In our quest for those thousands of correct repetitions to create muscle memory, we are counting the good movements, only. Any movements that do not produce the good feeling we are seeking should simply be ignored. For some people the cues will be how the skis sound, or what the tracks look like after they have done it right.
Serious athletes learn from their mistakes, but do not dwell on them. They move beyond to do the correct thing. Recognizing mistakes is essential to improvement, but the important thing is to then do the right move. Many men seem to have this ability.
Women tend to remember the mistakes. Mermer Blakesley, the first woman to become a Professional Ski Instructors of America examiner, coined the phrase and the concept. “Bad turn. Bad run. Bad day. Bad girl.” Rather than seek the good feeling of a well executed turn, many women tend to obsess over the glitch. It may have been the only one, or one of a handful, and the rest of the trip down the hill was great. But, not in the mind of the person who is still thinking of the mess-up. Regardless of how well things had gone before the imperfection, despite the number of nice turns during the rest of the journey down the trail, everything was under the cloud of the poor execution somewhere along the way. The result is that the run was not fun, and the day was less brilliant, and the girl, herself, is a failure. In her mind.
Men want to improve, but they phrase their requests in a clinic as something like, ‘I would like to be able to…’ Women often will say, ‘I’m no good at…’or ‘I can’t do…’ When there are successes, men accept them. A large number of women will find an excuse why it wasn’t really their achievement. ‘The conditions are really good.’ ‘It was an easy trail.’
Many instructors prefer to ski with women, because they are good students. They listen. They follow instructions to the best of their ability. They know that they do not know everything there is to know.
Everyone needs to internalize the same basic idea. We improve by learning the correct moves and then repeating them. Often. As we are learning, we will make some moves that are not perfect. That is all they are: not perfect. Imperfect moves do not generate that good feel that we seek, so we should not bother trying to repeat them. Period. Don’t try to repeat them.
That doesn’t mean you won’t. You just won’t be trying to do it. This applies equally to trying not to do something. If you have been skiing for any length of time, you quite likely have some less than optimal movement patterns. Our bodies are fairly lazy. They don’t do anything that is unnecessary. Whatever you are doing, it is getting the job done. If you stop doing it, you will not ski as well. Therefore, you do not want to concentrate on not doing what you perceive as an inappropriate manuever. Instead, you will want to learn to do things that are more efficient.
Good skiing feels good. Most likely it looks good, too. We want to feel good as often as possible. And, if you do feel good, keep in mind that it is because at that moment you had mastered the art of skiing. You did it through your practice and dedication and skill, not because it was easy or the conditions were good.
And, if you have a few times that do not feel good, big deal. Anomalies. That’s all they were. We are not defined by our imperfections. A crummy turn is just one crummy turn. It does not define our run, our day, or ourselves. There are no bad girls on a ski slope. Just being out there makes us good!
*I have actually had a handful of children and ‘significants’ who did determine to fail, but each of them was involved in an interpersonal struggle with the person who had brought them. The resistance had nothing to do with skiing, and in almost every case we managed, eventually, to set those issues aside for a short period of time and enjoy the mountain.