Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The "X" Factor

Have you ever watched the X Games? My daughter competed in Winter X three times so I am not only familiar with it, I'm a huge fan.

I was trying to figure out what it is about this hybrid set of sports that fascinates me. Yes, the competition is beyond convention. Yes, the difficulty is beyond definition. But what impresses me the most is the camaraderie. Wow - compete and then cheer for your competitor? Compete and appreciate the talents of someone else? Sportsmanship? What a radical notion!

So, what is it about our sport that seemingly makes sportsmanship taboo? What is it that keeps most of our athletes from cheering and admiring the skills of their competitors while honing their own talents? I have to openly admit this is the part of skating I have no patience for and I absolutely abhor; it gives too many of our athletes a reputation for being divas.   

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that everyone has to like one another off the ice. What I am saying is that skills develop differently and talents are as diverse as the skating population. To admire is not to acquiesce. To look at a competitor and applaud his or her skills is not admitting weakness. To me, it is the ultimate display of being appreciative while also being self-assured. You feel good enough in your training and the level of your skills that you can allow yourself to acknowledge the skills of others. You see a gauntlet thrown, you admire it and then you pick it up and throw down your own. May the best man - or woman - win. When someone else wins, you don't condemn the judging, you congratulate the victor. Then you figure out how you can be that person next time around so they are congratulating you. It's a simple concept, really.

I'm very lucky to have a lot of young guy skater friends, which I guess comes as no great surprise. But in looking at why, I realize it's because they are people who I admire for being able to separate the yoke from the white by simply cracking the shell of competitive sports. They know the balance of enjoying two distinctly different elements of the whole. They appreciate the well-turned omelet more than the hastily scrambled egg because they understand the subtleties and balance it takes to create rather than just dish; they applaud all effort because they deeply understand the essence and the art of execution. They not only love the sport, they live it. And they love others who share their same passion, whether they compete against them or not.

Back to the X Games: Four athletes stand at the top of a half pipe awaiting their turn. They are inwardly focused. With eyes closed, they are visualizing their tricks over and over. They compete. They do their best. Some succeed; some fail; some get openly upset with themselves for not doing their best. But almost without exception, when their turn is done, they wait at the bottom of the hill, watching and cheering on their rivals. When it's over, there they are by the sidelines to offer high fives and hugs of congratulations or words of encouragement, no matter the outcome. They appreciate the difficulty of their disciplines. They observe and learn. When the scores are in, they congratulate one another and start working to hone their considerable talents so they can win next time. It's the culture of X. It's a recipe for success. It's what draws audiences, but more importantly it is what keeps them. These are not teams. X Games is a series of individuals drawn together because of their shared passion. This is what separates these athletes from the rest of us. This is why people will pay money to go see them, and why the divas of their sports don't survive.

In a world of mostly "Me's," there is much to be learned from X Games athletes. Are they all perfect? Of course not. But their culture is one of sportsmanship and support in disciplines - like half pipe, bumps and big air - that are also subjectively judged.

The X Factor is defined as the intangible that separates good from great. To me, it's not only skill, it's sportsmanship. Those are key ingredients in the recipe for success.


  1. Your writing, as always, superb! The analogy, consummate. I so enjoy your blogs. Another thought provoking write...


  2. Rock on, X Games mentality. I see a lot of the same with adult skating events. We are at ALL ability levels (and I do mean ALL) but we all cheer for each other's successes, whether that means mastering an axel or barely eeking out a swizzle.

  3. Well said. I experienced a moment of 'wow!' while watching Skate Canada this past weekend. Andrew Poje, sitting in the kiss and cry, cheered for and clapped for his competition: Scott and Tessa, when they took the ice. It was the first I'd seen of it in quite some time, and I've been watching skating for years. We need to see more of that!

  4. THAT is exactly what I'm talking about. Ice Dance seems to get it more than any other discipline.

  5. BY the way, this blog is dedicated to Sean Rabbitt, Chad Phillips, Nicholas LaRoche and Tim David. These great skaters have paid it forward and paid it back. If you don't know who they are, find out about them and what they do for our sport.