Growing up I was lucky to have two dads: one that taught me the values of schooling and of striving hard, and one who showed me how to use my talent to the maximum with some mental “tricks”.
My real dad was my Ski Dad. He was extremely fit and knew how to wax a pair of cross-country skis better than pretty much anyone I would ever meet. He brought me along on his ski runs and had pulled me in a pulk (Norwegian sled for transporting kids). By the time I turned four I skied downhill faster than most adults, albeit a bit more recklessly. Throughout my upbringing I spent the autumns running in the woods and lifting weights. In the winter I bashed gates under the lights while my father watched from the sidelines. In the evenings we tuned skis together and went to theoretical classes to study the basics of skiing.
There was only one issue: no matter how hard I practiced and how many races I went to, I never made it even near the top of the podium. In fact, even the girls in the club beat me on a regular basis – something which can seriously hurt the self-esteem of any adolescent boy, trust me.
One day I asked Ski Dad what I needed to do to finally win some competitions. As I expected the reply to be “train harder”, I was baffled when he told me he didn’t know the answer. Instead he told me to go ask the dad of one of my friends at school, Tom. He didn’t say why, but I was an obedient kid and made a mental note to do it.
Tom’s dad was an ex-chef who now owned a number of restaurants at the nearby ski resort. He was also a former European Champion at vert skateboarding and had for many years had a pro model with one of the larger brands. He wore his long curly grey hair tucked into a ponytail and his clothing was usually a bit on the rugged side.
A few days later, when Tom was picked up after school, I saw my chance and walked up to their car. Before I was there Tom’s dad spoke to me:
“Hi Anders, how you been? Heard you and Tom tried snowboarding during the weekend. How was it?” He was all smiles as always.
“Well, it wasn’t that easy but I guess chicks dig scars, right”, I joked back at him.
“Ha ha… Tom said the same thing, but we’ll have another go this coming weekend. Wanna tag along? I’ll teach you both some moves which will catch the eyes of the ladies!”
“Sure! See you at the hill”, I replied and thought I’d save my real question for then.
Saturday came and I could hardly control myself. I made Ski Dad drop me off at the slope long before the lifts were running. Under my arm I had a borrowed snowboard and I intended to hike a few runs before the others arrived. I really wanted to impress Tom’s dad by being able to at least link a few turns together.
When the others arrived and the lifts opened I was sweating a lot but hadn’t been able to do even a single turn, just fall over a lot at slow speed. I felt embarrassed, even though there had been no-one there to see me. Snowboarding was a silly sport, I reasoned, but deep down I had a feeling I thought so only because I sucked at it.
I had decided to ask Tom’s dad about how he won all those skateboarding competitions already on the first chair of the day, but thought I’d start with some small talk:
“This snowboarding thing is really hard for me, but that’s probably because I’ve spent so much time skiing, right? I’m not used to going sideways.”
“Nah”, Tom’s dad said. “You’ve got better potential for it than most. You just need to focus on making it work for you.”
“But I focused pretty hard on it this morning and all that happened was that I fell over a lot on a board which was probably not the right one for me anyway. Also, my feet hurt already from these bindings, or perhaps it’s the boots… Can’t wait to get on my skis again!” I didn’t really mean the last part, because I wasn’t looking forward to being beaten by the girls again either.
“Really?” Tom’s dad asked.
“No, not really,” I said regretfully, “because I sort of suck at skiing too. What I meant to ask you was how you managed to become a skateboarding professional and win all those competitions. How did you make it?” Finally I had managed to ask my original question!
“Well’,” the man who I would soon call my Skateboard Dad started, ”Life is tough. We all have weak spots. But when you focus on them you are actually creating excuses for losing, and finding excuses for losing leads to losing. It makes it easier to accept losing, but it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Guess I was guilty of that a moment ago, right?” I asked already knowing the answer.
“Well, everyone’s better off focusing on their strengths and finding places were they’ll do them the most good. So focus on the ways you can advance. I seriously believe you can kick-ass on a snowboard, considering the commitment you showed when hiking this morning. That’s an important part of it.”
He continued: “Many of the guys on the skateboarding pro tour come from broken homes and from poor neighbourhoods. When they were young they were sometimes forced to prioritise between buying a new board and between buying the books their school required them to read. When they made the decision to buy the board they also made the decision that it was the right choice for them. It made them a lot more committed to succeeding as a skateboarder than they would have been if they had gotten it handed to them as a present. If you think about it, the same is probably true for many NBA and NHL stars.”
“Is that all there is to it, commitment to success?” What Tom’s dad had told me made sense but I wasn’t sure it would make me win any ski races.
“Well, there is one more important thing: worry only about the things you can control and forget about the rest.
It’s sort of as with people who are afraid of flying. What they are really afraid of is not flying – it’s crashing. So they focus on crashing and this makes them scared of flying, and it stops them from reaching their destination quickly and comfortably. If you think about bailing out on the trick you are dropping in for, then you are likely to actually do just that.”
I sat silent for the rest of the ride, thinking about these ‘rules’. A little later, after a few lucky successful turns, I committed myself to learn to snowboard as well as I could. Tom’s dad said he’d help with some more advice along the way – even if I went back to skiing again – and this was how he became my Skateboard Dad. I continued to learn a lot from him over many years.
As I pretty much never touched my skis again, I never won a ski race, but I did win quite a few halfpipe competitions – and the respect of most of the girls who had beaten me at skiing too. When I later turned pro – getting respect from a larger part of the snowboarding world – I realised there are a hundred guys and gals around the world who more or less had figured out the same secrets… But they did get me that far and then some more.
And even now, having retired from the pro life a while back, I still think about these ‘secrets’ when I drop in for a run in the park. The times I’m able to get thoughts about how icy the landings are out of my head, and thoughts about the respect a 35-year old father of two kids gets for sticking smooth 720s into it, then I’m pretty much there before I even drop in. So I know it still works – for me as well as for you.
Anders Hagman is a Swedish former pro rider who twisted the story of his life based on a text he found on the Internet. But people on the Internet see Elvis at their local 7-11, so perhaps you shouldn’t believe every word of it.