In Ted We Trust

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AP photo by Schinichiro Tanaka
Ted Ligety – AP photo by Schinichiro Tanaka

To win is wonderful, but to win respect is divine.

Hero worship is way overrated. But I make an exception with Ted Ligety. When you have the world’s best skier (today, and on many other days) who also runs a successful business, makes fun a priority, takes a stand on issues for the benefit of fellow athletes, literally shrugs off disappointing runs and takes time to fist-bump his pint-sized fans on the way up to the podium—when you find all that in one person, I’m good with having my kids worship at his altar.

Truthfully, as a parent and a coach I feel somewhat indebted to Ligety for filling this role in their religious training. To be sure, we are not churchgoing people. My kids, however, are well-acquainted with sermons. Our sermons are usually on Sundays on the way to a ski race and they go something like this: About 15 minutes from the mountain I turn down the music of choice, and look in the rearview mirror to see that I have the majority of their attention. Then I dive in.

“What’s the most important thing you need to do today?”

“Be a good sport,” they answer. To their credit, they do not groan or roll their eyes, yet. Then we go in to a brief review of what that involves, chiefly about being a good winner and a good loser.

We have a little quiz about things good winners do: accept congratulations gratefully and graciously, ask others how they did, support teammates, refrain from gloating, thank coaches and race workers, etc. And then, even though it is less fun to imagine, we review what good losers do: congratulate the winners, control frustration, be happy for teammates, avoid making scenes or excuses, etc.

It’s not over until I bust out my favorite line, because while preaching is easily forgotten, scare tactics often stick: “Twenty years from now nobody is going to remember how you do in this race. But everyone will remember if you’re a bad sport.” I know this is true because of a story my Dad once told me about a famous ski racer who, after the awards ceremony, disassembled her trophy and loudly proclaimed it “cheap.” To this day I cannot recall one of that athlete’s racing accomplishments, but I have a crystal clear vision of that unfortunate scene played out before my birth. And now my kids do too. I doubt that racer would be proud if she knew.

They indulge me these sermons, and all the little stories that go along with them, perhaps because they know I can’t help myself from yammering into them the messages that were yammered in to me as a kid. But they are also building their own image library of good vs. poor sportsmanship from real time scenarios. What stands out at the end of the race day is rarely an exceptional run, but often particular comments, gestures or behaviors that range from endearing to appalling. Especially in the heat of competition, sportsmanship matters. It shows that you can see beyond your own performance. It shows that you respect the efforts of everyone out there, and it shows that you are worthy of their respect as well.

That sense isn’t innate–it is learned, usually at home. Phil Mahre grew up being reminded to “be nice to the people on the way up because they’re the same ones you’ll meet on the way down.” Last summer I asked Ted Ligety about what or who instilled his sense of sportsmanship. “My parents I guess,” he grinned, adding, “I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have kept paying for me to do this if I was a jerk.” Note that these parents are not obsessed with outcomes and even if they’d had the opportunity, I doubt they would have tweeted or posted their kids’ results.

Parents may have the most opportunities to instill and support the value of sportsmanship, but they are not the only influencers. Recently I asked my parents about a particular race day ritual that was set in stone in our household. After every race, no matter how much we felt like slinking away, we had to congratulate the winner. And win or lose we had to thank the person who put on the race. It was often a mad scramble to track down the right  people so I could get on with the rest of the day’s shenanigans, but I always did it because I liked the way it made those people smile.

And let’s be real. I did it because it was a rule. I asked my parents how they, who were not hugely into sports as kids, knew to prioritize sportsmanship by requiring those acts?

“That doesn’t sound like anything I’d have made you do,” my Dad replied with an honesty that can only come from complete disassociation with a concept.

“I wish it was me,” my mom admitted, “but I think it was your coach.”

I thought back to that coach, the one I remembered as a quaint fixture of my junior racing days, who happened to be at the helm of many fun adventures. But then I remembered how he’d host the race families at his house to wax our skis the night before a race. To prepare for our most challenging race of the year, at a place notorious for complicated course sets, he’d unfurl a roll of toilet paper onto which he had copied the entire course as we would see it the next day.  He clearly wanted us to do well, and took pride in our performance but he also had a higher purpose. He wanted us to be a team, to love the sport and to be good sports first.

So here’s to you Paul Arthur. It may have taken me close to 40 years to recognize all that you taught me, but God knows as a parent and a coach you had to have patience.

And speaking of God, here’s to you Ted Ligety, for being a hero worthy of worship. Thank you for not throwing a fit when you fell six gates into the Kitzbuhel slalom or when your ski came off just before the finish in Wengen. Thank you for remembering to smile and laugh and keep it fun even when the pressure is on. There is a reason the competition smiles when congratulating you. Thank you for showing your many fans, large and small, that you can take the high road all the way to the top.

59 thoughts on “In Ted We Trust

  1. Edie……This is another winner …..love the sensible and easy lessons that are always so important to instill in the mind of all competitors. I am sure that both Ted Ligety and Paul Arthur will be filled with a happy pride knowing that the lessons they taught have a lasting importance for those who are taking up the teaching and coaching for the skiers of the future.

  2. Thanks for this Edie – it is great. I have been feeling unsure about ski racing for my children and in the general big picture. This helped a lot. Big hugs. Brent Hansen

    • Hi back atcha Brent! I hope those kids of yours keep racing. Lots of good lessons to be learned and lots of fun along the way. But you know that:-)

  3. Edie-printing this out right this very minute to share with my family. Thank you for knowing that being a good ski racer means being a better person! Hope you are happy, healthy and soakin’ up winter time.

  4. Thanks for such a level-headed post, one that I will be sharing with my three ski racing boys. We talk a lot about good sportsmanship and how important it is to be a good loser as well as winner. It’s tough, especially on the days when we might go home with one of each.

    • Yes, it’s not easy, especially when you have a split decision! But what better scenario to show why being a good sport matters. Thanks for reading!

  5. You hit it on the head again, Edie. Thanks so much for sharing your incredible passion for the sport and your writing. Can’t wait to share this. Thank you.

  6. When Lexi was 7 she won the “Kinder Cup” here in Sun Valley. She just nudged out Samantha Busby. Having grown up in a family much immersed in the world of competitive skiing, she’d seen athletes shake hands on their way to the podium with fellow athletes. I’ll never forget watching her go up to Sam and shake her hand and congratulate her! She didn’t know this girl (yet…now they are great friends and Sam dominates in skiing!), but it was a very proud moment to see her do that unprompted. I think it’s great, too, though to thank volunteers and organizers. Think I’ll plant that seed… Great piece!

    • Thank you for reading and passing the message along Kara. By the way, my ace webmaster Monique Andersen added a subscribe button so you can now do that.

  7. Edie-
    This is an article that every parent, coach and ski academy should read!! Thank you! Thank you!

    Hope you are well!

    Megan Brown Brent

  8. We are really struggling at Cannon right now educating the parents and kids about focusing on the process and not the results. It is so tough now because the qualifying races have just started. Its amazing how people react when the word qualifier is mentioned! This will help. Thanks so much.

    • Thanks Ryan and I hope it helps. Check out my blog post called “it’s a long road.” It was written especially for qualifier season last year. I am quite sure it will apply this march, and every march. Good luck and thanks for spreading the good word!

  9. Hey Edie,

    this is fantastic, i just started my kids at the Sugar Bowl ski team. I am having a great time re-learning with them and helping out. You have so eloquently put in words the heart of what is important in sports and life.

    best,

    -chris

    • Thanks chris! Glad you are getting the tribe in to it. It’s a great way to grow up and learn a lot more than how to turn a ski. Have a great winter!

  10. Thanks for writing this! Love all of it, and just shared it with our ski team families! Always looking for ways to help parents understand the sport and what the kids can learn from it BESIDES going fast! And it is so great to hear how awesome Ted is as a person for our ski kids, thank you!

    • Thank YOU for passing it on. That’s the way it works. Good luck to all the Brighton kids and may they always keep the bigger picture in sight.

  11. Great stories! Even though I wasn’t there, it’s easy to picture you thanking the race organizer and congratulating the winner. I think you and Mari were birds of a feather.

    • We certainly were. I remember connecting with Mari the first time we met. She’s a gem! Thanks for reading and taking the time to chime in.

  12. I can still hear Paul’s big booming voice at the start of those Far West races! Thanks for this article. A great reminder of what I need to remind my kids to do on race day!

    • Me too! When you think of how many kids of our generation he influenced, and how that influenced the next generation, it’s pretty cool. I know you and Rob are passing it on. Hope to see you in March out there!

  13. Bought your book “Shut Up and Ski” at Russ Shay’s Surefoot Shop in Vail and looked up your Blog to find this great piece on Ted and his humility and your shutout to Paul Arthur. I first met Paul when Mark Sullivan introduced me and Paul gave me my first carpentry job when I moved to Tahoe and taught me so much. My memories of coaching at Squaw and skiing with you and Tamara and all the best little rippers while letting the mountain do the coaching as we put on the miles with smiles on all our faces. Now I’ve come full circle as I coach my Carver Corps girls at Ski Club Vail along with Amie Bervy… We relocated to Vail to allow our son to learn good life lessons while attending the ski academy for his high school education. I’m enjoying your story and will pass along it’s many gems. Keep up the good work…

    • Hi Lad and I am so glad you found the book in Russ’s shop. It’s only available in the finest shops you know! I hope it brings back some good memories and am glad you are keeping the next gen of ski racers going. Thanks for reading and Happy spring!

  14. Edie,
    Love reading all of your articles. They are “gifts” to all parents who read them. I miss alot of your stuff, but when I actually “bump ” into your thoughts I love it! Dollie

    • Awwww. Thanks so much. That means a lot coming from a master at raising good sports. I know the Armstrong’s always had their priorities in good order, all the way to the top!

  15. Edie,
    great post! Sooooo true. I’m going to use some of your ideas this weekend. We have three kids racing at three mountains! Our coaches shared this with all the parents, so the gospel is getting spread.

  16. Hi from Calgary, Alberta, where, as a family, we watched last week’s World Championships in Austria and cheered for both Ted and Mikaela! Their results were outstanding but it was their demeanors that left a lasting imprint in our hearts and minds. One moment (or, in Ted’s case, 3!) encapsulated many, many years of communication with the community that raised them well.

  17. Edie,

    Your sister just told me about this post. Great piece and eloquently written. My Dad’s passion for the sport and sportsmanship definitely became teaching moments for those of us that were there and will continue with all of our kids. A big shout out to your Dad too who was motivating and wealth of knowledge that influenced me and continues to this day. Go Ted!

    • Yes! I am so glad the Arthur clan is in on it. I am sorry it took me 40 years to give your dad a fraction of the props he deserves. It’s cool to think of how many generations he will influence with his enthusiasm for the sport. Thanks for tuning in Kim and all my best to you and yours. Hope we can make some runs some day!

  18. I’M PRINTING THIS ARTICLE RIGHT NOW FOR MY KIDS TO READ AND MEMORIZE! I HARP ON THEM WITH THIS KIND OF STUFF ALL THE TIME, BUT IT’S GOOD FOR THEM TO HEAR IT FROM AN “OFFICIAL” SOURCE. THANK YOU….SORRY TO HAVE MISSED YOU AT SQUAW…

    • Thanks Petra! Yeah, we can’t say this stuff enough. And then just when you think the message has sunk in, it’s time to circle back! Hope you are well and happy spring.

  19. In the words of my mother in-law “I vill find cheaper ways to make you cry”.It still works for my children,skiing is a privilege and we must treat it as such.

    • I love that! I may adopt an accent and heritage just to be able to use that line. Thanks for reading and for an excellent perspective.

  20. perfect article for me this morning as Cat has decided she is the ONLY one not going to some kind of camp- this was just right for her as much better from someone else’s mom than her own:)

    • Yeah- it’s a long road. Even harder for kids to see that when Shiffrin is World Champ at 17. There’s a reason patience is a virtue. I was just having this conversation Sunday, about being left home from camps or races, and how it was the best thing in the long run. Tell Cat to hang in there!

  21. Edie,

    We’ll be adopting the pre-race routine this season Edie. We’ve always wanted to impart sportsmanship, but I have a feeling we are about to get crisper!

    We are also looking forward to seeing this weekend at the Wachusett Youth Festival. We are all getting very excited as the weekend approaches.

    Travis
    @ttgrant

    • Looking forward to being there! I was just in Vail and can attest that Ted is still killing it as a role model, as is Warner Nickerson among others. It’s great to see the big guys being cool to the little guys.

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