Recently, a guy we know posted this video on Facebook and some commenters lamented (perhaps sarcastically) that, "you don't see discipline like that" at races in North America. Is that discipline? We often associate discipline with ski racers, and especially Austrians. But he's 5-years old. He probably still poops his pants occasionally. His head looks disproportionately large. His poles are way too long. His skis are tiny! Do they really make training shorts that small?
Then, immediately above this post in my Facebook timeline, there was this other video. This one is of a 9-year old girl. Again, comically small human, oversized head and clothing, tiny little skis. And again, ripping. There were no mentions of discipline with this video, and nothing about it suggests discipline, per se. To anyone, this just looks like fun.
Kelly Sildaru / Wanted from Sildaru on Vimeo.
Most of the comments on this video are expressions of astonishment that someone this young (and a girl, no less! Gasp!) could be this skilled. She hits every feature in the terrain park. She pops and bounces down rails and across features, she drags her knee, she engages with the camera and the viewer and in doing so displays a remarkable knack for the beauty and flow and fun and the truth of skiing. Is she doing these things as they occur to her, or is she simply emulating the cool that other, more mature, skiers exude? Not sure, but either way there are two things that seem clear: 1) She's incredibly skilled and way ahead of the curve, and 2) She's really enjoying what she's doing.
It got me thinking about the 5-year old again. What's this guy thinking? Is he disciplined or is he just out enjoying himself? Is he working on becoming masterful at a preexisting craft, or is he creating his turns and technique based on what he thinks skiing should feel like? Ripping miniature turns and throwing massive pole plants with a day-glo helmet and a team uniform, but what's going through his head? Why is he there?
Then I started getting all existential about it. What is the right way? Can you be successful in ski racing based on discipline alone? Can you be successful just by keeping things fun day in and day out? What's going to happen to this adorable 5-year old if he's not having fun? What kind of person will he turn out to be? What if the 9-year old is only having fun and isn't disciplined? Can she still be the best ever? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?
It occurs to me that the answer is probably somewhere in between: Discipline is important, but so is enjoying your time here on Earth. What joy do you take from ski racing? Those who find happiness primarily in the fruits of their discipline (race wins, lowered FIS points, etc.) are bound to be disappointed vastly more often than not. But without that discipline, is the happiness of skiing enough to keep you in ski racing for the long run?
This is the real challenge for coaches and parents. We all know what good ski technique looks like. That's the easy part. The hard part is helping an athlete into that balanced state of discipline and fun. Hips forward. Hands up. Outside ski. Yes, yes, and yes. Equally important: Happy to be here. Grateful for the opportunity. Embracing and enjoying the act itself.
From the master artist himself: