A Healthy Mindset Starts at Home

Photo: Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Barbara Ann Cochran

Barbara Ann Cochran talks about the mindset that builds success and happiness.

Summertime’s here! The pressure is off, and it is an ideal time to work on mental skills. That may sound like homework or a trip to the sports psychologist. However, mental skill development can start at home by simply defining your approach to the sport.

Here is the short version for anyone unfamiliar with the Cochran family’s rich history in the sport. Barbara Ann is one of four siblings who grew up skiing on their backyard rope tow in Vermont. They went on to compete in the Olympics under the guidance of their father / coach Mickey Cochran. Barbara Ann Cochran knows a thing or two about being a ski racer and a ski racer parent. She went on to win Olympic gold in SL in 1972. And her son Ryan Cochran-Siegle won the SG silver medal in last winter’s Pyeongchang Olympics.


Barbara Ann Cochran

Today, in her consulting work with athletes, Cochran talks about mindset, specifically a fixed vs. growth mindset. A fixed mindset is outcome-oriented, where success is based on results. Comparatively, a growth mindset is process-oriented and success is based on effort and progress. Considering the odds of success in any competition — particularly ski racing, in which so many elements are out of your control — it is pretty easy to imagine that a fixed mindset often leads to anger and frustration. In contrast, a growth mindset supports optimism and persistence.

A mindset — whether fixed or growth — resides within each athlete, but it can be shaped and reinforced by everyone around an athlete. Much of what helped Barbara Ann and her siblings succeed started with their parents at home.

“What I’m realizing is how lucky I was to grow up with my parents,” says Cochran. Mickey Cochran’s mantra and central to the “Cochran Way” was to “focus on the skills and let the results take care of themselves.” The family also lived those values ​​off the hill. Cochran recalls coming home with a bad grade on a topic she did not understand. Rather than scold her, her mother di lei Ginny simply asked, “Was it your best effort?” Mickey and Ginny’s consistent messaging around the growth mindset (though the term would not be coined for years) naturally became the norm in the Cochran household.


In her sports consulting business, Cochran helps athletes of all ages and abilities. And (to her surprise di lei) she has been enlisted to help athletes as young as U12. She realizes it is often the parents and coaches, more than the athletes themselves, who would benefit most from understanding the growth mindset.

“Coaches often will coach from a fixed mindset, where the focus is on the results. The results define the athletes, and it defines the coach as well. ” That approach can yield results at first because fear of underperformance or letting people down is a powerful motivator. However, focusing on results more often leads to burnout, frustration, and plateaus after early achievement rather than long-term development. Supporting a growth mindset means always focusing on the process and a particular skill rather than the result. “That’s what you’re always, always doing,” says Cochran.


“I just like how my dad did it,” says Cochran. “He loved coaching kids and people of any age. It didn’t matter what their talent was. He was taking them from wherever they were and trying to help them improve. ” Whether coaching skiing or baseball, Mickey was known to bring kids back to their love of the sport. He reconnected them to the enjoyment of the pursuit rather than the outcome.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle with a friend.

“The other great thing my dad did was that he coached the emotional side,” says Cochran. He did this at the 1970 World Championships when Barbara Ann was exceptionally disappointed and anxious after the first run. Between runs, Mickey calmly reminded her that she was the “cool cucumber” of the family, Cochran recalls. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I am.’” She went on to win a silver medal. A good coach, says Cochran, can play to your emotions and help you realize the emotional states that are most helpful, such as: “When you’re feeling happy; loving what you’re doing; when you’re having fun with it; when you’re not doubting yourself. “


When Cochran works with people on mindset, the first step is to recognize the thoughts that are fixed mindset. The fixed mindset thoughts are typically oriented to an outcome: “I need to win this race”, “I need to score these points”, “I need to make it to the champs”, etc…; or they are tied to a static belief: “I can’t ski slalom”, “I’m going to fall behind if I don’t ski this summer”, “I’ll never be good in the air.” That kind of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Says Cochran: “Whatever it is, if you believe that, that will happen.”

Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Barbara Ann Cochran

The next step is reframing what you say, replacing the fixed mindset with a growth mindset. Using the summer skiing example, Cochran explains that a growth mindset acknowledges the advantage of the time off from snow and focuses on the things you can do during the summer. A growth mindset reminds you that getting physically stronger is essential. It lets you acknowledge that you can get fit and recharge by doing all the fun activities you can’t do during the winter.

Beyond hard work, the key was the mindset. “I never believed that if somebody got on snow more, they would get that much further ahead than I was.” Cochran cites many examples — with herself and Ryan and so many stars in between — of athletes who skied less than their peers and managed to reach the top.

Likewise, if you think, “I could never do that,” about a particular skill, you could simply change that thought to “I can.” Cochran often informs the kids she coaches, “You might not be able to do it as well as you would like, but yes, you can do it.”


Another way Cochran suggests improving any time of year, anywhere, is through visualization. “Watch lots and lots of videos so you understand the technique that you’re trying to improve,” says Cochran. She recalls Mickey doing exactly that, helping his kids replicate the correct body position in their living room. Another bonus to visualization is that when you’re physically on snow and trying to make a change, your habits will constantly take over. “When you’re doing mental rehearsal,” says Cochran, “if you have a good vision and have broken down the movements, you can be stronger and improve your skills without being on snow.”


Another tool Cochran uses to instill the growth mindset is reflection. She suggests taking the time, immediately after a run or a race, to go over what went right and what went wrong. Cochran points to Bode Miller and his way of reflecting on his skiing di lui and dissecting it. “Don’t even look at your time before you analyze yourself.” Another bonus of the growth mindset is that focusing on steady improvement instead of a timeline naturally instills patience.

If Cochran has one recommendation to parents to support their kids’ athletic and personal development, it is to create a healthy environment at home. The off-season is the ideal time for families to slow down and connect with each other and their values, doing things like sitting down to dinner together, going hiking or camping, playing games and just relaxing. “Those are all valuable things for parents to do with their kids,” says Cochran. “If parents can develop the growth mindset within the family, that comes first.”

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