Tuesday, March 10, 2020

What law students can learn about developing key legal skills from ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin

U.S. Ski Team racer Mikaela Shiffrin has been called the world's most dominant athlete today and is on track to become the winniest ski racer in history. When it comes to her remarkable skiing ability, she's also been called a "stark example of nurture over nature, of work over talent . . . ." More specifically, her success as a ski racer is attributed to the work ethic instilled by her parents at a young age that also emphasized technique rather than race results. Her parents also taught her, first and foremost, to love skiing itself and have fun whenever she was on the snow. They further encouraged her to become a well-rounded athlete by engaging in a diversity of sporting activities like tennis, soccer, wind-surfing, and riding a unicycle.  

Just a couple of weeks ago, her dad Jeff Shiffrin, who was Mikaela's sometime World Cup tour companion and coach, died suddenly and tragically from an undisclosed head injury back home in Vail, Colorado. In a tribute piece published in the New York Times, the reporter mentioned another training technique Mikaela's parents employed that ran contrary to conventional wisdom but focused on skill development rather than race results. Jeff Shiffrin had an epiphany one day that rather than have Mikaela attend as many races as possible in order to rack up a bunch of trophies, they'd pass-up a lot of races so Mikaela could spend more time at her home mountain practicing her technique. Jeff Shiffrin figured out that all the time they'd spend driving from one mountain to the next and then waiting around all day for Mikaela to race one or two runs would be better spent close to home skiing all day. So the Shiffrin "secret formula" for becoming a better ski racer was to race less but ski more.  

I shared this story with my legal writing students today to make the point that there's no secret or special technique to becoming a better legal writer. Instead, it's all about hard work and practice, practice, practice, and then even more practice. That if they follow the Mikaela Shiffrin approach by working on their technique rather than worrying about their grades, the results they are seeking will surely follow. 



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