Most people in Philippe Marquis’ position would have given up.
In 2018, Marquis aimed to be on the Olympic podium for men’s moguls. One month before the competition, he tore his ACL, a key ligament that stabilizes the knee joint. “It wasn’t even a crash,” he remembers, “just the violence of a turn, the intense impact, maybe aggravating some pre-existing damage.”
Meet Philippe Marquis
Philippe Marquis is a two-time Olympian in freestyle skiing. Read his tips for sports parents here.
Marquis had already proven himself one of the very best in the world, recently placing third at a test event on the Olympic course, but, in that single damaging moment, his dream of an Olympic medal evaporated. “I knew I wouldn’t get the result I’d been training for—for years.”
Despite his injury, Marquis did not withdraw. Although he still couldn’t walk without limping, he showed up to compete. Against all odds, he qualified in eighth place and made it to the Olympic finals with a torn ACL.
Confidence and an ability to redefine success got Marquis through that crisis with admirable grace. His story inspired a nation and taught him lessons that continue to improve the quality of his life today, nearly three years after he retired from his career as a competitive athlete.
A two-time Olympian, Marquis was not always a confident athlete. “In my career, there were a lot of ups and downs,” he recalls. “There were moments when I questioned why I was doing this high-level training and why we put ourselves through the challenges we do.”
Early tests to his confidence came especially in relation to his size. “I’m 5’6″ and 150 pounds,” he says with a laugh. “And that’s now, as an adult.”
Marquis’ older brother Vincent represented Canada in the 2010 Olympics, also in freestyle skiing. A five-year gap between the boys meant that the younger brother always struggled to keep up. “There’s a picture of us in football gear. My brother was heads taller. We ran into each other until I cried. That was the game,” he says, laughing. “When I cried, it ended.”
Marquis’ mom assured him that he’d grow to be as big as his brother, but that never happened.
“I always had drive, but I felt physically inferior, especially in high school when some peers had their growth spurt and I was just so small.”
Marquis wanted to play hockey and football, but he felt restricted by his body. However, his compact stature, which comes with a lower centre of gravity and better balance, works as an advantage in mogul competition. “Eventually, as I came to accept my body and use my size, I found more confidence.”
Rebounding through injuries
Injuries also contributed to Marquis’ struggle with lack of confidence. “I had a rollercoaster ride with injuries in my career. I had two shoulder surgeries, even before my ACL reconstruction after the 2018 Olympics.”
The recuperation time required by surgery affects qualifications and placement on a team, ultimately shaping an athlete’s future. But Marquis insists that getting hurt made him stronger. “My first surgery in 2011 was a great moment for me to realize how much I loved skiing and how much I missed it. That realization drove me to come back strong.”
Changing his mindset about injuries—perceiving them as an opportunity for transformation, growth, and renewed commitment—allowed Marquis to not only survive the temporary downtime but use it to excel.
“Every injury taught me something about myself that I could put in my backpack. When I return after forced time away, I’m the same athlete, but I have new tools that help me persevere and perform a touch better.”
Distraction decreases confidence
The other early hindrance to confident performance came in the form of distracted focus on other athletes’ abilities. In his first World Cup, Marquis found himself skiing against athletes he’d looked up to for years—skiers he’d seen on TV.
“I’d watched hours and hours of YouTube footage of them competing. I was pretty intimidated.” While Marquis emphasizes that watching and learning from the best helps, the admiration of their performances also made him feel inferior: the fan suddenly up against the celebrities. He had to change his mentality.
He knew how to access competitive spirit from a long rivalry with his older brother. “We were best friends,” he says, “but, man, when we competed together, it was unfriendly!” Even now, Marquis brings that competitive nature to his interaction with the athletes he coaches in Colorado. “I don’t let them win,” he says with a smile. “Not ever.”
On the national ski team, when he and his teammates played other sports, Marquis liked to act a bit cocky, embrace his confidence, poke at people. “Always in a respectful way,” he adds. “Obviously.”
A big turning point came when Marquis realized he didn’t bring the same confidence to his skiing performance. “I knew I had to be the same way on the mountain.”
The mental game
After his first Olympic Games in 2014, Marquis made that mental transition. “I realized I could not go out there in those big events and feel I’m inferior and be satisfied if I finish tenth or twentieth. I have to go out there and believe I’m the best and just look around and think, I can beat you and I can beat you and I can beat you.’”
That’s what he did. For the last four years of his competitive career, Marquis remained top five in the world, competing neck and neck with Mikael Kingsbury, the best in the sport.
Marquis attributes the success to his changed mindset and says that the whole Canadian freestyle ski team shared that attitude. “We had super strong confidence. We knew we were the best.”
Confidence takes time
Now in a coaching role, Marquis helps young athletes grow this kind of confidence. He emphasizes that strong minds do not emerge overnight.
He sees fear as the number one obstacle to confidence. In an acrobatic sport like moguls, fear of injuries is natural but it must be overcome. In any sport, fear can also be about not reaching potential or letting people down.
Marquis battled his fear of injury through training, letting repetition do the work of decreasing the likelihood of a crash. “The more you build strong skills,” he says, “the more you trust yourself and the less you respond to fear.”
The fear of disappointing others can be harder to overcome. “I was really scared for a long time about letting myself and other people down. I had trouble competing on home soil because of that and loved competing far away where I felt less pressure.
“When I hit lows, my family and friends were always there to support me. Over time, I realized whatever happens, those people will be there. It’s not the 25-second run that defines my journey. It’s the other 364 days of the year—who I am, how I behave, my leadership, being a role model—that will dictate how people see me and how they support me.”
In the end, Marquis sees his 2018 Olympic performance, competing with a torn ACL, as a success. “One-hundred percent I do, because I stayed true to myself. I walked into the Olympic Games and I was beat up. I was not how you expect to see an Olympic athlete, physically sharp with laser focus. I was the complete opposite. I was absolute chaos. I was limping in the Olympic village. I was trying to ski 250 meters of pure icy moguls. It was scary.”
But he told himself: I’m here because I want to be. I deserve to be here.
“I saw that Olympics as a test for myself, but I also knew the story could be inspiring to others. I committed like my parents taught me, through to the end.”
Marquis carries that confidence with him all these years later. “Who you are as an athlete stays inside you.” His confidence and strong mindset help him make daily decisions. “It’s not what you decide to do,” he says with a smile. “It’s how you do it.”
Sport has taught him to do whatever he does with strength of mind and character.
Three tips for sports parents from Olympian Philippe Marquis:
1. Emphasize teamwork, even in individual sports.
Marquis is grateful for the lessons that youth soccer taught him about creating a team environment with camaraderie and respect.
“We are so influenced by the people around us. When someone’s energy drops or someone is in a bad place, that negative mood will affect the whole team, even in an individual sport. Eventually, the shift affects performance. The more we can build up a strong culture that elevates everyone’s game, that’s where we create magic.”
Marquis encourages this kind of teamwork and positive culture now as head coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Confidence in the whole team leads to confidence in the individuals leads to confident performances.
2. Model a healthy, active lifestyle for your children.
Since both Marquis and his brother Vincent qualified for Olympic teams, people might expect they come from extraordinarily athletic parents.
“Yes, my parents are very active,” says Marquis. “It’s inspiring when you’ve competed your whole life and you get out of that competition sphere, and you see your parents still going at it. Now I want to make sure sport is always integrated in my life.”
His parents show him the physical and emotional benefits of an active lifestyle. “Days I stay inside in front of my computer all day, I’m grumpy and I have problems falling asleep. Chemically, our body needs to move. Plus, doing sport is a beautiful opportunity to connect with people and connect with our natural environment. Sport is an excellent way to keep healthy, centered, and confident—in our minds and bodies.”
3. Focus less on outcome, more on process.
We’re in a system where we focus on the peak, on best performance. For children, that system creates too much pressure and ruins the experience. “In the Olympic environment, emphasis on performance is fine, but when we see that attitude directed at a young athletes at the recreational level or just starting to be fairly competitive, that’s a problem.”
To build athletes’ confidence, Marquis insists we need to refocus on a bottom-up system: build fundamentals, share the passion for multisport, emphasize the fun, teach kids that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Teach kids how to catch and throw a ball, how to do a cartwheel. “Know how to move in space,” says Marquis. “That is how you develop confidence. It takes time.”