Olympic expectations

Have fun, ski well and ski smart.

No one could possibly disagree with Sarah Höfflin’s ideas and approach to skiing. Although most of us may not be as conscious of it, it is certainly what we are all trying to achieve when we are out on the slopes, especially as it will come with various levels of success.

But the big difference between us, the regular skiers, and Sarah Höfflin is that her approach was borne of a necessity to reduce the pressure and expectation of competition. It also led directly to her becoming world no.1 and getting an opportunity to represent Switzerland at the Winter Olympics.

Before embarking on a career as a professional skier, Sarah Höfflin graduated with a degree in Neuroscience, which was no doubt a useful tool in being able to ponder the effects of mindset on performance, especially in the mind-boggling, gravity-defying world of slopestyle.

Like one of the Olympic size kickers it’s a skill that came rushing to the fore on the eve of her Olympic Slopestyle run at the Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018.

Few athletes would give up the chance to do their chosen sport professionally, but for those who do make it, it arrives as part of a natural process, which happens almost organically from one day to the next.

There is no course to go on, and no real guidance on how to get there, but once you are there the landscape changes. No longer do you have a few friends shouting you on, and falls are laughed away, instead it’s a country and a level of seriousness creeps in, and that can change everything.

Lucky charms? / 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

Trying to grasp the magnitude of what she was about to embark on; all the hours of training, the dedication and the sacrifice, all led to a buildup of pressure that seemed to throw a cloak of burden over her shoulders.

As Sarah recalls – “The night before my Olympic finals I was thinking about what I [was] supposed to think about, it was an odd feeling and the pressure just seemed to ramp up.” So, as anyone on the eve of an Olympic competition would do, she went out to a party!

Designed more as a change of scene and a chance get away from stifling internal expectations, it provided a moment of clarity that has stuck with her ever since.

The key was to reset her thinking. “Winning is pleasurable, losing is not. But you can only control what you can control.”

“When you think about it, there are so many variables in training and competing, when you consider all the possible outcomes it’s not only unrealistic to think you will be top, every single time, it’s also unhealthy and unsustainable.”

It’s hard to imagine that lowering your expectations will lead to such a level of success. But in some ways the ability to step back and understand pressure, how it restricts the mind and body, and adjust accordingly may be vital to achieving your goals.

At that party, amongst all her ski friends, on the eve of the biggest competition in her life she was reminded of the joy in the sport; why she had started. “Because it makes me happy. If you think about it, skiing is that simple”.

The next day Sarah Höfflin won an Olympic Gold Medal in Slopestyle skiing for Switzerland.

Not bad for lowering your expectations.

Have fun, ski well and ski smart. The rest will fall into place.