The future is a mystery, the past is history, NOW is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.
I love this quote. I first heard it when watching Kung Fu Panda. Master Oogway shares his words of wisdom to Po who is too pre-occupied with the future and the past and thus unable to fulfill his true potential as the Dragon Warrior. Yes, if you’ve never watched Kung Fu Panda then this is all meaningless. For a quick recap of Master Oogway sharing his words of wisdom click here.
It brings to mind exactly what happens with many skiers. Either focusing on the future (what’s going to happen) or focusing on the past (what has happened) rather than the present (what is happening).
To be a great ‘All-Mountain Skier’ you need to be able to focus on the present, what is happening, whilst being aware of the future, what’s going to happen. The environment in all-mountain skiing is constantly changing every second, every milli-second, every nano-second. The snow, the terrain, the angle of the slope, the shape of the slope, every single snow crystal. To adapt to this constantly changing environment you need to be able to focus on the ‘now’.
I remember a while back on a course I was running I collected clips of all the falls I had on video (luckily no one was hurt). As I was compiling the video footage I noticed that every single fall had been caused by the focus moving from the ‘now’ to the ‘future’. A skier/snowboarder coming across the slope, someone sitting on the piste, myself holding the video camera 200 metres down the slope, a bump 20 metres ahead.
Focus can be likened to a spotlight at the theater. The centre of the spotlight is the brightest and the further you move away from the centre the less bright it becomes. Your focus is exactly the same, the centre of your focus (where you direct it) is always the brightest. The centre of your focus needs to be on the ‘now’ when skiing complex changing environments. This doesn’t mean to say you are not aware of other things happening around you or what’s going to happen in the future. Other skiers, terrain, hazards etc. The skill is in using your focus appropriately. Try this exercise. Balance your ski pole using one finger. It takes your full focus to achieve this. Without changing your focus, ask a friend standing 10 metres away to hold up one or two hands above their head and you will be able to tell him/her how many arms they are raising without moving your focus away from balancing the pole. Now ask them with one hand or two to change the number of fingers they have raised. You will not be able to tell them this correctly unless you move your focus from balancing the pole to the fingers being held aloft. As soon as you attempt to do this you will be unable to balance the pole. What this means is when you are skiing complex environments and are totally focused on the now you will also be able to be aware of other things but they will not be in as much focus. Remember the centre of your focus is the brightest. You can be aware of other skiers (but you shouldn’t be able to tell if they’re male or female). You can be aware of rocks (but you shouldn’t be able to tell whether the rocks have moss on them). You can be aware of snow canons (but you shouldn’t be able to read the make of them). The centre of focus (the brightest) is on the now and the peripheral focus (less bright) can be used for other things.
Great skiers can use their central focus on the now and the peripheral focus on the future, such as route finding for example. For many skiers on holiday it’s exactly the opposite. The central focus is used for route finding (the brightest) and the peripheral focus is used for performance (less bright).
This is the key to focusing. The most important aspects need to be the brightest and the less important the less bright. Exactly the same as a spotlight in the theater is used.
Once you understand focus you will begin to recognise that more or less every time you loose control on your skis it can probably be attributed to a loss of focus or a distraction taking you either away from the present to the future or away from the present to the past.
These are just a few of the distractions that remove the centre of your focus away from the now:
Terrain & Objects
Edges of the piste
Lack of confidence
Being self concious
Worried about mistakes
Worried about your skiing ability
Width of stance
How you look
Whether your skiing correctly
Note: Focusing on technical issues whilst skiing in an open environment pulls the focus away from dealing with the now. Technical issues are often best dealt with when the terrain is indeed more constant or when the changing environment is well within the the ability of the skiers subconscious to react. Remember in an open environment nothing is ever the same. There is a big difference between using your focus when training in open sports to using your focus when training in closed sports. See ‘Go Open’.
In dangerous environments you need to use your focus accordingly. There are times when hazards far outweigh the requirements of your performance and thus hazards and safety must take priority over your performance. Unless that is your performance is the priority. If possible do all your risk assessment and route finding before you set off. Select a safe route and select a safe place to stop. Thus when stationary in a safe place you can be focusing on the future. Then once you set off you can focus on the job in hand keeping the central focus on the now and your periphery on the future, your choosen route and stopping place. Alternatively if skilled you may be able to switch between the now and the future very quickly. ‘Attentional switching’ is dealt with in another blog.