Skiers and Dreamers, to acquire excellence, must start young. There is, from my experience, no other way.
If this idea gets distilled down from the wastebasket of my mind – the one filled with musical riffs I cannot play, works of art I cannot comprehend, and conversational conventions I cannot understand – and instilled in the minds of the kids in the classrooms of Cascade that’d be something; the something that will make my year with In The Arena a success.
If I can help a handful of students at Cascade for their passion - into learning, into sports, into whatever, really – bubble up organically and follow this passion beyond the spark of initial excitement to become like steel, an element that grows stronger when exposed to the forges of fear or a kiln of scathing criticism that’d be something. That something is my personal challenge this year.
Jumbo Elliott liked to tell his troops at Villanova to “keep running until you can smell the roses.” That is, to get to a point of conditioning and callusing that strenuous physical exercise becomes more than sidestiches, soreness and six a.m. morning runs.
In cross country skiing we have the saying, “a skier is born in the summer.” In the hottest months skiers train the most hours. In the summer skiers push the aerobic limits and hopefully come close, but do not quite, break the body down into sickness and lingering fatigue. Skiers, the good ones at least, need to have that spark in July, not just January.
All these ideas swirling around get me thinking. And searching. With the runners - and come springtime the throwers and jumpers and hurdlers – I hope to help make my old hometown school the envy of the state, becoming a new, smaller schooled Mead High from the Pat Tyson era. Only Leavenworth has better mountains and trails to revel in.
The most important responsibility coaches have is building the team and environment the team inhabits. From here the athlete can chase peak experiences in the competition arena or come out for sport to be part of a social club that happens to exercise. A coach, in my opinion, cannot build another’s desire or toughness or resolve. But the coach can aid the athlete in cultivating these skills and help the channel it. When Bill Bowerman said, “Tigers are tigers” I believe he was expressing a similar sentiment.
So how do I help build the Cascade exercise-as-a-way-of-life movement? By tweaking what I see as the prevailing, and antiquated, American definition of success and failure in sports. Most people interpret winning as a standard for success. Instead, imagine if success - and its ancillary doppelganger, failure – became a psychological state, not an objective one. Success and failure no longer need express themselves merely in win-loss outcomes. Rather, performance becomes a series of process goals leading to personal accomplishment. No longer is anything less than winning a threat, a threat that increases a young athlete’s fear of failure.
“An avoidance of failure is a self- perpetuating process that serves to exacerbate the tendency to avoid failure, leading to more mistakes and failures,” is how a peer-reviewed article titled “Why Young Athletes Fear Failure: Consequences of Failure” puts it. To me, this says those who fear failure the most are also the most likely to experience it the most. And that’s not ideal.
The normal reaction to threats, real or imagined, is fear. The young Cascade Mountain Lions will not be part of a team burdened by simplistic definitions of success or of failure. We will hold ourselves to a higher, more enlightened standard. The budding athletes will not toe the line in an emotional state defined by words like apprehensive or scared. I cannot wait to see the mighty Mountain Lions free to run, free to strive, free to compete – tasting, enjoying, and basking in the beauty that is competition and sport.