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Does Fear Hinder Progression?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I was watching my nephew learning to ski and noticed he was not interested in giving the steeper slopes a go as I did when I was learning. So how do instructors get
learners to step outside their comfort zone in order to progress to the next level?
post #2 of 22
Don't know how they do it. I suspect they don't.  Fear does hamper learning; it shuts down sections of the brain.  Even too much stress will hinder learning.  If your relaxed and having fun, you can learn.
post #3 of 22
Stepping outside your comfort zone in order to apply skills you have already acquired is one thing, stepping outside the comfort zone in order to acquire such skills is self-defeating.

The key to teaching successfully and setting people up for continued success is to find ways to allow them to acquire skills within their comfort zone and to move them onto terrain they  then have the skills to handle but to do it skillfully so that they are not aware they are venturing into something that might frighten them. Far better to look back up at something you have just skied amazed that you have just skied it than to look down in fear at the terrain before skiing it.
post #4 of 22
Phew - I don't know where to start. Maybe with Mermer's book ( A conversation with fear - I'll edit and add the link later)? The book would be an attempt to understand fear. I say "attempt" because fear comes in many flavors. The more instructors know about fear, the better they are with helping their students.

Ghost - sometimes it's literally our job to get our students out of their comfort zones. I've had students who walked up to the private desk and literally said the equivalent of "I'm afraid - fix me". Most of the "I want to ski a (blank) run" lessons are requests to overcome fears. Then there are the other kinds of fear lessons. I can still feel the holes in my arm from one lady who had a death grip on my arm every chair ride. My "job" in that lesson was just to ride the chair with her. There are even some fearless students who we need to induce some fear into. I've had kids and adults who could not recognize the dangers they were exposing themselves to. And then there was this senior lady who just "wanted someone to ski with". Halfway through a mogul run she lets me know that her doctor told her she could not ski any more because if she fell she'd break her hip and bleed to death on the spot. I think she was trying to give me a heart attack.

Recognizing fear and determining the cause/type is where we start. I won't pretend that this is done accurately, but this what we do. Here are some the tactics I use after that:
-Recognize the fear as a positive and healthy thing. Explain that fear is the unconscious mind's message that you do not have the skills to deal with the danger involved. It's the conscious mind's job to understand the danger, the skills required to manage the danger and recognize that those skills have been acquired. The right drills and feedback then give the student the ability to move forward.

"Ignore" the fear. Sometimes we see fear in our students that they don't want to recognize in themselves. If you ask them they will say they are not afraid. Telling them what they are doing because of fear will lose them. So we visibly and audibly ignore the fear while working the issue stealthily.

-Chip away at the fear. One basic tactic of the level 1 lesson is that we present a series of tasks where we start with something simple (e.g. walking in ski boots) and add one tiny new element (e.g. walking with one ski on) at a time. A straight run of 100 feet becomes more doable when it starts at 5 feet, then goes to 10, 15, 30, 45, etc. Afraid of falling? Fall on purpose into soft snow on a steep uphill pitch (e.g. the side of a lift mound).

-Create a safety net. This could mean showing a flat (or uphill) run out, holding on or just being nearby and saying "I'll get you", or teaching a bailout technique,

-Reverse psychology. Tell the students what they can't have or don't want and that that's ok or not a problem.

-Distractions. Halfway up the chair ride with my death grip lady, I asked her an open ended question and her answer was "I know what you're doing." I was trying to get her focus away from the fear of the chair ride. There are lots of potential distrations: whistling while you're skiing, counting, listening to the snow, watching someone else, etc.

-Terrain management. Some students develop a speed limit on easy terrain that limits their progression. Although they are not "fully ready" for harder/steeper terrain - I take them there (and go slow) so that they will feel the increased forces involved. Then I take them back to the easier terrain where they have to recreate the same force with more speed. You can cure a lot of ills simply by changing a skier from going straight down the slope to using a diagonal path to decrease effective slope pitch. There are tons of ways to manage terrain even within the confines of a single trail.

None of this is intended to make the process sound easy. None of it works without first earning trust. Mistakes can and will be made. Then we learn from the experience. Is this what you were looking for Cassina?
post #5 of 22
 Great post Rusty.

The book is called "In the Yikes Zone - a Conversation with Fear" and is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and not just on skiing.  Mermer is a great writer and the concepts she presents are wide ranging.

http://www.amazon.com/Yikes-Zone-Skiing-Teach-Surrender/dp/0525946381
post #6 of 22
Great post Rusty, you touched on a lot of stuff. To the original question, Does fear hinder progression? Absolutely! But it also keeps one alive. Finding that right balance with pushing your limit and still having a bit of fear is the key. Face it if we wanted thrils with almost no chance of being hurt/killed we would all be at Disney World waiting in lines to ride attractions, yuck. One of the thrills to me in skiing is that any run, green to extreme could be my last . I have to be in command or I'm potentially dead. Yeah I might get some goose bumps on an amusement ride but I know the outcome. I think building trust with ones guest and appreciating their limits lets an instructor come up with a plan to help guests overcome some of their apprehension. Some times you work a drill or tactic until they are bulletproof, other times you dip their toes in the water and go for it. You have to know your terrain / conditions at the moment and the ability of your student to work thru a particular challenge.
True story while skiing with my girlfriend now wife who at the time was learning to ski, had about 2 years of skiing in her we were skiing at Jay Peak. Sunday morning comes and we are riding up the triple which is on a black diamond 50/50 groomed/bump trail with decent pitch on the top section. As we were riding up she says to me, I'm never going to ski that type of trail, no way/ no how. I mentioned that is too bad because she had skied it on Saturday. She was pissed, Saturday was a complete fogged in day. I took her down it, she didn't know what trail it was or what is was like, but I knew what her ability was and she skied it in very good control, short round turns on the groomed. Sometimes a persons head messes up there potential, sometimes it saves their life. finding that balance thats the key. My fear is in leaning over my motorcycle too far in a turn, I want to touch a knee down but I'm scared, fear is definately hurting my progression as a rider, but it is also keeping me alive.
post #7 of 22
As a masters ski racing coach specializing in SG and DH, I encounter a lot of fear. These guys are out there trying to go faster yet still have basic fears of acutually succeeding.

I emphasis understanding what can happen that will cause them to fall and how to avoid it. I also impress on them to always have an escape route planned out. Sometimes that escape route means straight-lining a section that has turns and actually going faster than they would if they were in the race course. The key is that they understand that it will help them avoid the crash which is usually going to hurt and often injure. Knowing how to avoid the falls is obvious, enforcing it as a safety measure helps. Educating them on what to do when the stuff hits the fan is something many don't consider and reminding them that there are other options than just 'sticking to the line' helps them think about the big picture of being able to walk away, even if you don't finish.

'An out' can help with lots of things. In sky diving, there is no 'out'; you jump, you soar, you open your chute, you land. If you are learning bumps, going down a slope that is has a groomed section beside the bumps provides an out. Ditto for trees: don't go deep in them, stay near the edge so you can get to the slope. I'd bet that more often than not the out isn't utilized, but it removes the fear that they have to spend 1000 vert dowing something when they thinkI they are only good for 500 or even 50 vert.

Changing perceptions can help, too. They could be imagining the worst when the worst isn't even possible much less likely. Find out what they are afraid of. It could be that they won't look good. That's easier to overcome than a fear of injury. Take them down a trail that doesn't have a 'gallery'. Or convince them that it doesn't matter how they look.

There are two ways to solve a problem: 1) change reality or 2) change the perception of reality. Often when I apply this principle I come up with new solutions. It works in business, it works in sports, it works in life.

Become a beginner in something and you will soon be on the 'other' side of the learning/teaching game. It won't take long to relate to the issues that you have to overcome as an instructor/coach. You will know what the issues and fears are first hand.

MR
post #8 of 22
Have taught hundreds of non motorhome owners how to drive very large (36'-45') coaches.  Many of these people had never driven anything bigger than a car.  Often having the wife drive was the key making the sale, typically they were more reluctant to drive than the husband.  Developed my techniques from my ski teaching days.  Dealing with the fear factor very important to me, I was a passenger.  Tried to never ever take the student outside their comfort zone (after we left the parking lot), but pushed the wall of the zone continually outward.  Like it says in the ads, "don't ever let them see you sweat".  The progression was very similar to level 1 skiers: orientation, slow straight, circles left, circles right, hard brakes, .... you get the idea. 

One very successful approach in backing off the fear was getting people to just slow down if they get scared.  Going a few MPH slower whether driving or skiing gives so much more reaction time, and your toes won't hurt as bad from curling under.
post #9 of 22

Cassina,

Some really great posts above!  I have worked my way out of many lessons where fear was the issue.  When a fear full customer takes a series of lessons to overcome fear, and then stops coming, my work is done.

 

I start by asking what they are fear full of (sometimes many things).  From there we develop a plan to overcome the fear(s).  In your case, your nephew is reluctant to ski steeper terrain.  It could be a result of many things that make him reluctant.  Lack of speed control, lack of effective technique, past experiences, or even afraid of heights to name a few.

I always tell my customers that they get to be better skiers by developing their technique on easy terrain and then taking that to slightly harder terrain and so on.  You learn better by being in an environment that you are comfortable with, and once a movement is learned in that environment, it is time to explore that movement in different environments (or terrain).

There is nothing wrong with staying on easy terrain until it is boring.  I have had many children brought to me with the instructions "he/she skis in a huge wedge.  Fix him/her."  The parent has taken a novice wedge skier to hard blue terrain because the parent was tired to skiing the greens with their child.  The result is a huge breaking wedge, a fear full child who will still go to the blue trail to please the parent (but hates it). I can get the child to glide through the turns on easy greens in an hour, but have to explain to the parent where the child should be skiing with the skills they have.

So the answer to your question is yes, fear can definitely limit how a person progresses and quite often, defensive movements are learned that can hinder development for quite a long time.  The solution is usually quite simple if put in the hands of the right professional instructor.

RW

post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies guys. From what has been said there is no "one method fits everyone" as far as ways of overcoming fear. As a first time skier I was told at the end of my lesson I had to learn to relax. So my focus the next time I went skiing was to try and relax and being in a more relaxed state I was able to make small progressive steps. As I made progress I used to try and pick uncrowded slopes where if I got too freaked out in a turn I could simply ski slightly uphill at the end of the turn to slow down. Many times this did not work for me however and I would try and ski uphill near the end of the turn too quick and crash. This repetitive crashing resulted in me loosing my fear of crashing as I would fall painlessly "mostly" near the tail of the ski. So I found having loosing the fear of crashing this further helped me with becoming more relaxed and therefore finding progress easier to make. Another fear I had was of the bindings not releasing as I wound them progressivly up due to having more and more pre release falls. I did reach a point with the binding settings where pre releases stopped happening and found quite by surprise they matched a shop rating for my age weight height and skiing ability.
post #11 of 22
In your nephews case, I assume that he's got the skills to handle the steeper terrain. In which case, it's a matter of finding terrain that is suitable -- a short steep pitch in the middle of something he has confidence with is perfect.   

The advantage that we'd have teaching him, is that he'd be willing to do some drills.  So, just take a drill that you want him to do from top to bottom, including that steeper section.  Let him do a few more repetitions after the steep section then stop and ask questions about how the pitch influenced his movements.  Did they have to be done quicker? Did he feel he had to exagerrate them?  Was he more athletic? (eg. Make your turns as round as you can...focus on the pole plant starting the turn, or shovel pressure or something.....anything will do really.... even the athleticism of the movements could be enough....)

Then repeat with the emphasis on the exaggeration/athleticism/range of movement.  He'll be managing the pitch without fail in a short while, since he was refocussed to MOVE instead of FREEZE.   Which is what may be causing his issues -- it's may not be fear of the pitch,  it could easily be the fear that his technique is not good enough for the pitch, so he's afraid he'll freeze.  That could just be all he knows how to do in that situation.

In short, no one likes to be humbled; you have to set the student up for success.  Simply show him that the SAME techniques he already uses are appropriate but are used more athletically and are more exagerrated than on flat terrain.

But this sort of "fear" is not the debillitating fear that will leave divots in your arm from their death-grip on the chair. This sort of fear is based on a low appraisal of ability.  That is easily handled.  The death grip is not...

OTOH, if he's not got the skills, they why would you want to take him to steeper stuff???
post #12 of 22
Skiing requires a level of confidence in your abilites that is rather unique.  You start with trying to master complete control, and then progress to a point where you let go knowing that you can gain it back when needed.  The inbetween "letting go" part is where alot of the fun comes. You eventually end up at a point where you can be sailing down the mountain in a more or less relaxed state with little dabs of control here and there when needed, which requires the confidence (gained from experience) that although you may not be in complete control at the moment, you can regain it sufficiently at any time to avoid harming yourself.  I believe that the learning curve on letting go of control and fear is vastly different for different people.

Some people love skiing and are fearless from the first run, others will never be able to get completely beyond fear.  I think a really good instructor needs to inspire confidence, and be more than a little bit of a psychologist.
post #13 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by mudfoot View Post

Skiing requires a level of confidence in your abilites that is rather unique.  You start with trying to master complete control, and then progress to a point where you let go knowing that you can gain it back when needed.  The inbetween "letting go" part is where alot of the fun comes. You eventually end up at a point where you can be sailing down the mountain in a more or less relaxed state with little dabs of control here and there when needed, which requires the confidence (gained from experience) that although you may not be in complete control at the moment, you can regain it sufficiently at any time to avoid harming yourself.  I believe that the learning curve on letting go of control and fear is vastly different for different people.

Some people love skiing and are fearless from the first run, others will never be able to get completely beyond fear.  I think a really good instructor needs to inspire confidence, and be more than a little bit of a psychologist.

As Buzz Lightyear put it: 'falling with style'.

MR
post #14 of 22
My hat is off to all you instructors, something I have never been. I cannot remember the number of times over the years I have seen some poor soul in there first lesson locked in a "death wedge" ridgid with fear, and then seen them again later in the day with a guarded smile cruising down the bunny hill making slow controlled turns.  Getting someone past that intitial fear must not be easy, but it is easy to understand how it would be very rewarding.
post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by mudfoot View Post  Getting someone past that intitial fear must not be easy, but it is easy to understand how it would be very rewarding.


 Bingo, yes it is.  One of the greatest days of my life was getting an adult, overweight woman from in pain (foot cramping) and falling getting off the lift - to getting off the lift without falling and making it down the bunny slope. 

I wrote a piece on this first on epic, later published in the PSIA-E newsletter.  It was a deeply moving experience for me and to this day, 2 years later, still makes me feel good.

ps I've only been teaching for a 3 years.
post #16 of 22
Wow...this thread is full of good advice....here are my


Quote:
Originally Posted by oisin View Post

Stepping outside your comfort zone in order to apply skills you have already acquired is one thing, stepping outside the comfort zone in order to acquire such skills is self-defeating.

The key to teaching successfully and setting people up for continued success is to find ways to allow them to acquire skills within their comfort zone and to move them onto terrain they  then have the skills to handle but to do it skillfully so that they are not aware they are venturing into something that might frighten them. Far better to look back up at something you have just skied amazed that you have just skied it than to look down in fear at the terrain before skiing it.
Gold
Quote:
Originally Posted by MastersRacer View Post

'An out' can help with lots of things. In sky diving, there is no 'out'; you jump, you soar, you open your chute, you land. If you are learning bumps, going down a slope that is has a groomed section beside the bumps provides an out. Ditto for trees: don't go deep in them, stay near the edge so you can get to the slope. I'd bet that more often than not the out isn't utilized, but it removes the fear that they have to spend 1000 vert dowing something when they thinkI they are only good for 500 or even 50 vert.

There are two ways to solve a problem: 1) change reality or 2) change the perception of reality. Often when I apply this principle I come up with new solutions. It works in business, it works in sports, it works in life.

Become a beginner in something and you will soon be on the 'other' side of the learning/teaching game. It won't take long to relate to the issues that you have to overcome as an instructor/coach. You will know what the issues and fears are first hand.

MR
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post

 None of it works without first earning trust.
Bingo!


Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger View Post

Tried to never ever take the student outside their comfort zone (after we left the parking lot), but pushed the wall of the zone continually outward.  Like it says in the ads, "don't ever let them see you sweat". 
 
Another great point...students get confidence from your confidence.



Quote:
Originally Posted by mudfoot View Post

I believe that the learning curve on letting go of control and fear is vastly different for different people.

Some people love skiing and are fearless from the first run, others will never be able to get completely beyond fear.  I think a really good instructor needs to inspire confidence, and be more than a little bit of a psychologist.
Yup!


Quote:
Originally Posted by BigE View Post

it's a matter of finding terrain that is suitable -- a short steep pitch in the middle of something he has confidence with is perfect.   

So, just take a drill that you want him to do from top to bottom, including that steeper section.  Let him do a few more repetitions after the steep section then stop and ask questions about how the pitch influenced his movements.  Did they have to be done quicker? Did he feel he had to exagerrate them?  Was he more athletic?

Then repeat with the emphasis on the exaggeration/athleticism/range of movement.  He'll be managing the pitch without fail in a short while, since he was refocussed to MOVE instead of FREEZE.   

In short, no one likes to be humbled; you have to set the student up for success.  Simply show him that the SAME techniques he already uses are appropriate but are used more athletically and are more exagerrated than on flat terrain.

 
post #17 of 22
I took the liberty of making this conversation into a wiki called Fear and Skiing. Please feel free to comment on the wiki (try the "Discuss" button to keep conversation about the wiki separate from this thread...) and consider this an invitation to add, tweak, or otherwise improve the piece. 

I hope you like the thread, retreaded.



Edited by nolo - 7/20/2009 at 03:28 pm GMT
post #18 of 22
Cassina,

First, I'm not an instructor or the best of skiers, but at times find myself dealing with the very thing you are posting about.

What you wrote here - "So I found having loosing the fear of crashing this further helped me with becoming more relaxed and therefore finding progress easier to make." - I found to be key.

I'm surprised that "Nobody" hasn't chimed in.  His signature quote fits this thread perfectly -


"Una salus victis, nullam sperare salutem
"

post #19 of 22
One of the things that can cause anxiety and fear is the fact that there is a lot happening on that tough-looking ski run which seems to go on for so long with people all around you and clumps of snow coming up when you least expect them to...and a whole bunch of other stuff.

This is a case where shifting your instructional focus to narrow internal can help filter out those distractions and the fears that accompany them.

I'll bring an anxious student down with more of a "one turn at a time" approach:  this allows a focus on the immediate environment, presented in small and comfortable segments.  This doesn't mean stop after every turn, but rather work with a small and controlled window.

Instructors working with beginners often like to ski backwards in front of their students.  This is another way to give the nervous student some reassurance as you go down, filtering out the noise and discomfort of the broader environment.

Sometimes tactics like consciously looking at ski tips or watching a pole plant can help.  This isn't something that you want to encourage as a final goal, but it can help build a foundation.

At the bottom of the run, then you can look back up with the student and congratulate them on how far they have come and how well they have done.  The mental reinforcement that you are building for when they get to the top again is that they have done this before, and it can be done again.  Smile and repeat...
post #20 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cassina View Post

I was watching my nephew learning to ski and noticed he was not interested in giving the steeper slopes a go as I did when I was learning. So how do instructors get
learners to step outside their comfort zone in order to progress to the next level?

One thing I try to do is alternate between increasing the students' comfort level with increased speed on easier terrain and skiing slowly on a little steeper terrain.  This seems to help build confidence without inducing too much fear or defensive movements.  "Speed before accuracy" is another thought that is worth remembering.  I try to focus on getting the client to increase their speed/fear threshold on easier terrain before I introduce skiing steeper terrain slowly.  This seems to help develop offensive movements better than simply introducing progressively steeper terrain without changing the speed.  The key is to develop offensive attitudes and movements.  Too many skiers rush to ski steeper runs or runs that terrify them just to prove they can do it.  This only serves to develop bad habits and ingrain defensive movements which create plateaus and impede progress.  

Teach offensive movements and nurture offensive attitudes.
Edited by bud heishman - 7/27/2009 at 10:53 pm GMT
Edited by bud heishman - 7/27/2009 at 10:55 pm GMT
post #21 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cassina View Post

I was watching my nephew learning to ski and noticed he was not interested in giving the steeper slopes a go as I did when I was learning. So how do instructors get
learners to step outside their comfort zone in order to progress to the next level?
A couple things about this post concern me. The first is that Cassina is comparing her progress with her nephew's progress. No two skiers wil develop at the same rate, or ski the same at the same level. So IMO just let him play where he's comfortable and pretty soon he'll start getting bored with the same old slope and he will want to find new adventures. Before he gets too bored you can use this as a carrot for learning how to handle the harder terrain. The conversation usually goes something like this...

... Well Johnny, to go there we need to be able to make really round turns and the extra steepness will make us go a bit faster as well. So we need to be comfortable doing that here before we can handle that steeper run...

As far as how to coach a student and get them to willingly accept the challenge of new terrain, Start very small and short. Rolling terrain is perfect because it doesn't involve the same commitment as a top to bottom steeper run would. It also has a relatively flat section just below the steeper section. When they can see that flatter terrain so close below them they are usually willing to give the short steep section a try. They will be tenative the first few times so make sure you are there encouraging them and offering a lot of emotional support in the form of positive praise. When they finish that section make it a point to stop and celebrate their acheivement with them! It's an exciting moment and letting it pass without recognizing it as important progress is a mistake.

Beyond that, it's just not all that difficult if you remember that the student's success is how we measure our success.
post #22 of 22
Movement analysis of the skier is a huge help.  If the skier is making some defensive movements, work to correct those on comfortable slopes.  If the skier is sitting back on their heels or heavy on the uphill ski, or other harmful defensive movements, nothing can go right.  Get them moving correctly on the slopes that are comfortable for them, then gradually introduce them to slightly more challenging slopes.  Take snow conditions into account and explain to the skier how one slope can be OK for them if it has fresh, soft snow on it, and not OK for them if it is crusty.  Teach them correct ways to handle a pitch that gives them worries...have them practice slide slips, big traverses & Z turns, and what ever will get them off the tough pitch without freaking them out or putting them back into their harmful defensive movements.
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