Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to Get Better at Doing Things

Between this blog, PSIA, and random posts on forums, I've written a lot of words about skiing. But there are a lot of things that I've written that have never seen the light of day. Sometimes it's for the best, like the Party Ski screenplay I'm writing that never gets finished. But sometimes, I just feel like my writing doesn't really fit in any kind of outlet. As an example, here's an article that I was going to submit to the Eastern Division PSIA newsletter, but it didn't really come out the way I wanted it to. It's not bad, but I just felt that it wouldn't help people that much (maybe I'm wrong, I don't know). It's written to boost up people who are going for PSIA exams, so I apologize if it seems irrelevant to some, but I think everyone can benefit from the message: To get better at something, you gotta work hard on that thing.

Want to Pass Exams? Get Better

Exams are stressful. They’re arduous, draining, sometimes humiliating, and always intrusive. You’ve been honing your craft, skiing hard, teaching regularly, and you’ve come up with a bunch of dynamic moves, learning progressions and teaching methods that work great for you. And now those people are going to JUDGE you for those things? And their decisions have an impact on your pay, your standing in your ski school, and your life? The pressure can be extraordinary, so the most important thing to realize is that your fate is not determined by “those people”, it’s determined by you.

There’s no secret to success. The way to getter better at anything is to do that thing. As a young comedian, Jerry Seinfeld made sure that he spent at least some time every day writing jokes. He’d put in an hour or two hours of solid, no interruption, joke writing every single day, try to come up with some funny material, and he would put a big X on his calendar when he was done for the day. After a few weeks, he’d have a chain of X-es on his calendar and his job would then be to “never break the chain”, or, put differently, to keep working at what he wanted to achieve. And this was not a new, original idea. Benjamin Franklin had a similar system for a harder to quantify checklist that included “Frugality”, “Cleanliness” and “Humility”, things that all ski instructors should try to work harder on.

So, if you’re struggling with exams (or any goals you might have), I recommend using the checkmark method to make yourself better. When you wake up in the morning, even in the dead of summer, you should ask yourself two questions:

1. What am I doing today to make myself a better skier?
2. What am I doing today to make myself a better instructor?

If you’re trying to make yourself a better skier, then ski. Ski before morning lineup, ski after your last lesson. Ski at night. Take a day off and ski at a mountain you’re not familiar with. Ski with people better than you. Ski terrain that scares you a little. Ski terrain that scares you a lot. Use natural terrain features in a creative way. Use both sides of a berm to work on flexion/extension movements. Ski on one ski to work on balance. See how many turns you can make in a short section of trail. See how fast you can go, how many angles you can create, and what your upper limits are. Do skiing things that are out of your comfort zone like backcountry skiing, park skiing, and pond skimming. Ski, then cross off the day on your calendar.

If you can’t ski, do something skiing related. Exercise to work your skiing muscles. Break out the rollerskis and get an XC workout. Don’t have rollerskis? Simulate tree skiing by riding your bike through the woods on some singletrack. It helps your quads, your balance, and your vision. Water ski to work on some edge angles. Kayak to develop core strength. Do Yoga. Watch ski videos. Watch more ski videos. Watch ALL THE SKI VIDEOS (that’s a big part of my training regimen). Do something and cross it off on your calendar. You earned it.

If you’re trying to make yourself a better instructor, it’s not about just accumulating knowledge. Yes, you should know all of the basics, a few of your favorite “stepping stones” and some technical terms that come up a lot, but great teaching is about more than pulling facts out of the air. Watch videos of random people skiing. Listen to other instructors describe that skiing. Work on your eye. Work on movement analysis. Develop plans for fictional clients. Come up with some creative ways to say and do things. Write an article or five. Teach kids? Watch some kids’ movies. Learn what kids are into so you can relate to them.

Even if you have the teaching concepts down, maybe you need to work on other parts of the instructor life. Get better at public speaking. Get more comfortable speaking to strangers. Try to develop a more sunny disposition (easier for some of us than others). Learn about things other than skiing so you can engage with your clients. LEARN something new. Get taught something. Ask yourself: what did the teacher do that was helpful? Ask yourself about the unhelpful parts too. How could they be improved? Cross the day off! You’re helping yourself be a better teacher.

Next ski season, instead of dreading the exam at the end of the year, embrace it. Look at the chain of X-es that you developed and realize that you’ve been working hard at this goal for a long time. You’ve made yourself a better skier, a better instructor, and a better person. You’re coming in more prepared than you ever have, and you are in charge of how this thing plays out. You’re ready. Just do what you’ve been doing for months.

I've been trying to live that mantra this year. My goal is to make the Telemark National Team and I'm trying to get as much Telemark skiing in as I can. I have about 20 days in so far, and I'm itching for more. Also, I need to be in phenomenal shape (because of the elevation at Breckenridge and the long tryout days), so I skinned up about 1,200 vertical feet on Monday after skiing Gore all morning.

Finally, I'd like to get better at Park riding, so I spent 2 hours in the cold on Monday night sessioning one flat rail in the West Mountain Terrain Park until I was confident that I could nail it. Next time I'm there, I'll spend 2 hours coming in switch until I have that move down. This might not help my tryout that much, but I'm kinda doing that for my own personal motivation - I want to be better, and that means I gotta work at it.


  1. Matt I am always inspired by your writing. You think clearly, study the data and make solid conclusions that are more than tautology. Keep skiing and writing, I like learning from you.

  2. Just came across this post and it was very interesting and for sure there is all truth in this latest piece. I am not that good a skier, as my MA has created some very long threads on various discussion groups but, I try and keep trying and even after lessons, I keep practicing, visualizing how to be be better at skiing but, there are times I just want to enjoy the moment. So, I ski and get into old habits but, I am OK with that since my goal is to enjoy the moment and not fret upon whether or not I be worried about how I link my turns. Great article for sure.