Remember the old saying, “He (She) who hesitates is lost”? Fear makes you hesitate. Sometimes it’s a fear you don’t even know you have. There are world class snow athletes who still always feel a little shock of fear as they jump out of the start gate for a race or competition, but they no longer consciously feel that fear.
But it still causes a micro-hesitation that may keep them from the heights they know they are capable of reaching. There are athletes in all sports, especially recreational level, who are held back by the hesitation of fear.
As an example, at Snowbird, Utah, there’s a slope that had always intimidated me. It’s steep, it’s long, and it’s almost a mile wide. I avoided it. But one day a friend I was with wanted to try it, and I didn’t want to ski badly in front of that particular friend.
I started the run making carved turns, waaay out of my comfort zone, only to realize that I had to relax if I wanted my skis to obey me. As I began to ski normally, rather than in a fear posture, the turns became easier. There was no reason to be afraid!
My friend went home, and I went back and skied that run until the lifts closed. I went back another time, and again enjoyed the feeling of not feeling fear on that run.
An cycling friend went to a sports psychologist after an injury. He wanted help to explore whether he had any post-injury fear hesitations, though there were none that he was aware of. The psychologist put him through imaging sessions of races, and found that he did have a definite muscle stiffening while imaging the start of a downhill in the peleton, or mass of cyclists. That was where his fear hesitation came in.
Unless deliberately eliminated, that fear hesitation, slight though it was, might have stopped my friend’s career from its constant upward improvement. But he worked on getting rid of that brief flash of fear by imagining himself in the peleton, starting down a hill, feeling aggressive and confident. He imaged every nanosecond of that part of a bicycle race. He ‘lived’ it in his imagination.
When he started racing the next season, that leftover injury fear was gone, and he moved up through the ranks.
Even if you don’t have access to a sports psych, you can find your own secret fear hesitations using the same kind of technique. Work on seeing yourself doing your sport, or competing. Feel every part of every movement. If there’s any part where you feel discomfort or hesitation, mentally locate any muscles that have tensed up. Now you have to work on relaxing the tension, or else being okay with that flash of fear.
Even more importantly, if there’s a part of your sport you can’t visualize and feel—the up part of a pedal stroke, the back swing in a racquet sport, whatever—it’s a big clue. It means you don’t have the proper technique for that particular part of the movement, so you can’t even image the muscles used to perform it. This is where paying for a session with a coach will pay off.
You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to hire a coach. It’s just like having a session or two with a personal trainer—but for your sport. Fear hesitations often hide where technique is lacking.
Once you work on eliminating any and all of your secret fears, you will be amazed at how your athletic ability improves.