Navigating Pressure- Controlling the highs and lows

BY Greg West

Physics have a large influence on every sliding athlete's daily life during the sliding season. As our sleds traverse down the icy water slides that make up our tracks, even the greenest of sliding fan can see how a sled rises up and falls down the banked corners as it approaches and passes a corner's apex. Sliding athletes commonly refer to this as the corner's "pressure" or "pressure point."  How a slider manipulates the sled in, around, and through this pressure dictates how quickly the sled will make it to the bottom of the hill. So, as you can see, pressure is always on a slider's mind. Finding the way to control the highs and control the lows in the most efficient manner is where the sports of Bobsled and Skeleton switch gears from a science to an art. When people ask me about the feeling of driving I tell them it's a dance where you and your sled find the feeling, vibe, flow and rhythm of the track. When you, your sled, and the track start working together is when you start to find the speed.  Learning when to drive the corner and when to let the sled fly is probably the hardest aspect of becoming a seasoned pilot. 

However there is another side of the sliding coin that has been on my mind over the past season. How an athlete reacts to the positive and negative emotions that come about throughout the sliding season has an amazingly high impact on how well or fast that person slides. Just like in a corner, each sliding athlete must find his or her own way to control the emotional highs and emotional lows he or she will almost certainly experience over the course of the season.  How that is accomplished will dictate the success of an athlete just as off-season lifting and running will. 

There is a Sports Psychology Theory that I learned during my time at Baker University under Kathy Allen that explains this in a much clearer manner. It is called the Inverted U Theory of Arousal. Basically it is an inverted bell curve showing the relationship between arousal or stimulus and the effect it has on performance. In short, not enough stimulation leads to contentment thus lower performance. Too much stimulation leads to anxiety thus lowering performance as well. But sitting there on the middle is the sweet spot or what athletes refer to as "being in the zone."  It is where everything is in tune and harmony and it feels like you can't go wrong.  This is where we all strive to consistently be. 

Triumphs don't make you invincible, and failures are not the end of the world. My friend and teammate John Daly reminded us at the beginning of last season that, "This is sleigh riding, it is supposed to be fun." That has stuck with me. This is a lesson that I am trying to apply to my daily life as well as sliding. It's all about controlling the highs and the lows. 

Greg West was invited to a skeleton school in April 2010 after filling out an athlete resume on the USBSF website. West quickly moved from up from the development team to the national team, and made his World Cup debut in February 2012.  Follow @west_greg on Twitter to learn more about West's journey as a skeleton athlete.

*Athlete blog entries are the sole opinion of each individual author and may not be representative of the USBSF or its athletes.