John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Some skiers are driven by the chance to race down a frozen mountain at high speeds, others are driven by the chance to win shiny medals and others are driven by the chance to represent their country at the Olympics.
But when young ski racer Riley Smith stepped into the starting gate at the J5 Rocky Mountain Division Finale on March 11 in Powderhorn, she was motivated by something completely different.
“I think most young racers are motivated by the chance to make their coaches look ridiculous,” Smith’s coach Chris Puckett said.
For generations, coaches have been making outrageous offers to athletes in order to inspire them to reach new heights. Sometimes those offers go without a response, but every once in a while, a coach’s hair-brained idea, well, leaves him with no hair.
That’s exactly what happened to Puckett.
In a long-running tradition, Puckett challenged the young skiers on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s age class team by offering to let them shave his head if any of them could win the race. The coach said it seemed like a pretty good offer at the time, but Smith took the challenge to heart and made her coach pay by winning her race with one of her best runs of the season.
While the challenge means a new look for the coach this spring, you will not hear him complain about his new hairdo.
Puckett said he’s not sure why coaches always try to motivate their athletes by offering to let them shave the coach’s head, but he said he couldn’t complain about the results. He’s done it twice in his coaching career, and both times the offer ended with a new look for the coach and a top result for the athlete.
“I’m not sure that I would do it again,” Puckett said. “I might have to come up with something different for motivation the next time.”
Puckett understands a thing or two about motivation, and he said he is willing to do almost anything to get the most out of the athletes he coaches.
Puckett spent years chasing World Cup and Olympic titles as a member of the U.S. Ski Team.
As an athlete, Puckett said, he was motivated by the chance to win, but these days he finds motivation in the opportunity to teach some of the Winter Sports Club’s skiers the skills they need to find success on the slopes.
“My motivation is trying to make sure that the athletes I work with get a good foundation, that they continue to improve and that they have a good time and enjoy the sport of ski racing,” he said.
Puckett proved this winter that he would do just about anything to push his athletes to that next level, even if it means looking ridiculous.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com