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How fear influences athletes—and what you can do to have a healthy relationship with it

Former professional skier Kristen Ulmer teaches us why conquering fear won't work and what we can do instead to succeed, in athletics or in life.

Fear is one of the common threads that ties people of all backgrounds together. From children trying something for the first time to professional athletes performing their craft of many years, fear finds a way to manifest itself. In a new book titled The Art of Fear, former professional extreme skier Kristen Ulmer explores the complicated relationship we all have with it.

She simplifies the four “levels” in which people handle fear, shedding light on a handful of athletes who use fear as a vital tool for their success. Ulmer spoke with SI about her work and journey that led her to grasp how so many athletes are strapped down by fear.

Connor Grossman: How can fear influence athletes?

Kristen Ulmer: From working with thousands of athletes, I’ve found that more than 99% of us repress fear in order to perform the way we want to. Over time you wind up inadvertently abusing yourself, with fear getting louder and louder in your ear, screaming if it has to, until the athlete ultimately ends up quitting their sport because they can’t handle the fear anymore. It may not even show up as fear. It may show up as anger, under-performance, injuries, insomnia or panic attacks. I can’t tell you how many athletes reach out to me and they had some sort of terrifying incident and they keep trying to block out the fear and they’re now starting to have panic attacks. That’s a sign of repressed fear.