Saturday, 12 April 2014

Professional Learning Networks for Coaches - do they exist?


I've been at this coaching thing a little while - mostly focused on developing adolescent age athletes.  Over the years I been coaching, I have sought out mentors and opportunities to learn.  I've learned lots from these folks and appreciate the many times when someone with more knowledge or experience has shared some insight, learning, or wisdom about what it means to be an excellent coach. My experience as a coach in general though is that coaching in cross country skiing is closed business.

What I mean is that most coaches keep their coaching wisdom pretty close to their chest.  Sharing of wisdom and knowledge, although fairly common within a ski club, is a pretty rare occurrence between clubs and sometimes within clubs.  If you come from a small club without someone with advanced knowledge or experience, good luck trying to learn from folks with advanced knowledge from other clubs.

My observations are that there is something very proprietary about coaching knowledge.  Although NCCP offers coach training in the form of workshops and certification levels, most of the important learning happens when you work with a master coach directly.   Just being able to work alongside a master coach allows some osmosis to occur, but significant learning can occur when that master coach is willing to share out ideas of best practice.   I know there are many master coaches who share out their knowledge freely and liberally.  My experience is though, that this sharing happens far less in coaching than it does in the world of teaching.

The reality of learning to be a better coach is in stark contrast to my experience of learning to be a better teacher.  In the formal education world of teaching, professional learning networks exist whose sole purpose is to share out best practice.  These are groups of educators who share out what they do and why they do it to advance learning.  Twitter has become the primary conduit for professional learning networks in teaching.  Pinterest is also used extensively.  Thousands of teachers have blogs where they share out their experiences, their learning, and the effects of their attempts at innovation with their students.  No where in cross country ski coaching does a parallel to this exist.  Why is this?  How much better could our young athletes develop if ideas were shared more freely between clubs and by experienced coaches?  Why doesn't this happen in our world of cross country ski coaching?  I don't want to come off as a cynic, but really, I think that there is this mentality in cross country skiing that parents pay for a specific coach's experience and that if other kids want to access that coach's expertise, then they should pay just the same as every other kid who wants that specific expertise.

Its time that we move beyond this approach.  Narrow self interest such as what seems to exist in cross country ski coaching in many communities doesn't exist in the same way in teaching.  Its sad really, because how much better could beginning and intermediate coaches become if they had access to professional learning networks where coaches openly shared their ideas.  How much better could our kids become as skiers and athletes if professional learning networks existed?  Its time for a shift in culture in the coaching community.  A culture that supports coaches in their professional development.  In teaching, every classroom is still unique, teachers still struggle with learning to become better at what they do, but in education world, teachers live in a culture where everyone's best ideas and leading practice is shared openly.

Its time for change.  Its time to change the culture of how cross country ski coaches share out knowledge and experience to advance a broader community of coaches.  Right now, there is very little evidence that professional learning networks exist in cross country skiing.  I'd like to know of some coaches who write blogs sharing out their best practice.  I'd like to follow coaches who share out their best practice with other coaches.  I'd like be part of chats on twitter with other coaches interested in sharing best practice.  Sure, some coaches have blogs - but most often the content of these blogs is more about the trips that these coaches take their athletes on than about the nuts and bolts of coaching.  Please , someone, point me to a group of coaches who do this work. I'd like to meet them and grow with them.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Alternatives to Mass Start races for Adolescent Cross Country Skiers


OK - I'll admit, I am an advocate for change.  Not just any change, but change that increases the profile of ski racing for youth, and change that increases engagement of youth.  I've talked in previous blogposts about some of my thoughts about why our racing community does what it does when it comes to youth racing, and some of the positives, challenges, and downsides of our current youth racing reality.  What I haven't done much of is share out some ideas that we could use to enhance development and engagement of the youth we organize events for.

I never cease to stop learning from others.  This weekend I was in Red Deer, AB working with beginning coaches from central Alberta.  Its amazing really, when you work with a crowd like this, because most often they are a pretty open slate when it comes to thinking about what is possible.  Often, they have young children who they want to engage in a lifelong love affair with cross country skiing, being positive and active people, and they are not tied up in the advancement of their own children on a pathway to excellence, or engrained with a way of doing things - they simply want to create engaging experiences for their children with cross country skiing.  What is always remarkable to me is their openess to the value of competition regardless of their own personal history... if competition is done well.

So as a community lets throw off the shackles of historic conceptions of scaled down versions of adult format cross country ski competitions and replace it with something better - we need to be smart about what we do when we have a small pool of kids to draw from.  This past weekend, we had a creative and engaging discussion about how to create stimulating and rewarding competitive experiences for children.  Here are some the ideas that surfaced:

- rethink competition groupings - why not do something different than age on december 31 and two year age groups?

- individual time trials - why not do more interval start races with novice kids? - there is alot to be said about racing the clock.

- wave start races - why not group kids with similar ability kids and have them start together? this way kids could actually be in the race instead of left far off behind after the first 100m of the race.

- club events - every club should host a club race that is primarily intended for their own club kids.

- relays - why is it that there isn't a relay event for kids at every weekend event?  lets think about creative ways to emphasize the team instead of the individual as youth begin to see themselves as racers.

- skier cross - could you imagine an event where five kids start together and race to the bottom of a mostly downhill course?  hmmm...lots of fun built into that idea.

- single technique races - why don't we do more 'double pole' drag races? or uphill diagonal stride races? or two skate races on appropriate terrain?  why not isolate a skill and give kids more ways to identify with what it means to be a skilled cross country ski racer?  why do we have to jump to the adult model of what a ski race is?

- tiered competitions - they do this in hockey, why not in skiing?  the Built for Speed event series in southern Alberta has had great success with this idea this year - http://builtforspeedeventseries.blogspot.ca/

- team competitions - gymnastics does a great job of structuring a team event made up of a bunch of individual athletes each doing an event that they are good at.  what could this look like in cross country skiing?

Its time to redefine competition for children and youth involved with cross country ski racing.  Its time for race organizers to broaden their conception of what to do with children at a ski race.  Its time for provincial sport organizations to lead the way with encouraging and supporting this type of development - bravo to @xcountryab for leading the way with this work.

We are into our last couple of weeks of the competitive ski season here in Canmore.  I am super stoked for our 3rd Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships being co-hosted by Canmore Nordic Ski Club and XC Bragg Creek Ski Club on April 4-6.  These are a couple of clubs who get it, who understand the importance of doing something a little different.  The real challenge of transforming ski racing for kids is that the folks who organize the events often have children who are well past the development age group - so its not on the radar of these folks - can't blame them, they're just organizing the event the way they know how.  The real challenge is that it takes some negotiating with the people in positions of power in ski clubs to advocate for doing something different for children.  

I believe most clubs support great ideas to expand youth engagement.  I encourage you to be that agent of change in your ski club.  This is a conversation I love to have.  Follow me on twitter @RoyStrum and we'll exchange contact info to see how we can collaborate on increasing engagement of youth in cross country ski racing.

cheers
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Friday, 21 March 2014

Simple Things...like Friendship


The longer I travel my journey through life, the more I realize that the things that are really important to me are relationships.  Its friendships that add value and richness to life.  As children we find these friendships often very easily.  As I have transitioned through various stages of my life, I have found that authentic, deep and richly meaningful friendships are much harder to find.  I'm not really sure why this is - life does get busy with career, with events, with cleaning the house, and maintaining equipment - all important things to tend.  I think its why often your spouse becomes your best friend - because you share all of the important life events with them.

Often, parents go through their mid life caring for, supporting, and cheerleading for their children.  For me, it really is the most important job I have found - helping my children become independent, confident, and successful in their ambitions and relationships.  This week, its been a particularly hard week as a parent as two of my children are 3.5 time zones away both accomplishing amazing things and I'm not there to celebrate their success with them.  So I'll take a minute to brag about them.  My son, Matt, won four silver medals at biathlon nationals in New Brunswick last week and had a top 20 finish at cross country nationals in Newfoundland on Tuesday.  My daughter, Molly-Jane, won the sprint event at cross country nationals on Wednesday of this week and a top 10 finish on Tuesday.  Incredible really.  I'm proud of their success, but more than that, I am proud that they are becoming independent, confident, and ambitious young people who are learning to create their own support network separate from their parents.  

Friendship really is at the core of my work with adolescent cross country skiers.  Creating a space where kids can develop meaningful and deep friendships with others.  Oh sure, I want them to learn to ski really well, and have incredible fitness, and I think based on the race results of the kids I coach they are developing those attributes.  But its relationships that really drive my priorities both in my coaching work, in my day job, and in my personal life.  Its why when you come across someone who you really connect with you on many levels, you grab ahold and hold on tight.  

I know lots of people who I have very positive relationships with; but its just a few of them I would say where there is deeper reciprocation and validation of core being - someone who likes you just because.  For me, its the human relationships that add value to the work I do and to my life. Because, for me, when you get to the end, it doesn't matter how many medals you've won, how many championships you've attended, how much of anything you have.  What matters is caring, positive relationships, and knowing that your efforts have made a positive difference in the people around you.   

This year, I am hoping to move into an administration position at a school.  I know which school I really want to be at.  Its a school that works with kids who are high performing athletes.  I want to make a difference in the lives of kids.  I know where I want to do that work.  I love my coaching work.  I'll continue with that as well.

This weekend I am off to Red Deer, Alberta to facilitate a coaching workshop for the Parkland Ski Club.  This is incredibly important work - to break down this idea that to be a good coach, you have to have skied in the Olympics. What rubbish that idea is.  For me, what is truly important in coaching are a few things.  Here is my list of priorities:

- technical proficiency

- physical fitness

- positive relationships

Not a big list but if you asked me what I've learned from my years of coaching children and adolescents, that's what I'd tell you.

Happy Springtime!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Friday, 14 March 2014

Building Confident Adolescent Ski Racers...

I love my work as a cross country ski coach of adolescents.  Its a critical age for kids.  A time in their life where they start making lots of choices for themselves.  Working with early teens is an art - how do create a space where kids flourish?  I don't pretend to have all of the answers, or to have an all seeing eye that captures best practice across the landscape.  What I do have is a keen interest in creating engaging learning for kids.  This interest gets me reading and talking with others about what works best.
 
Recently, I have been reading a book by Tom Schimmer of Penticton, BC.  One of Tom's big ideas is that confidence matters - that there is nothing more important to learners than confidence - that confidence is the foundation for all success.  Let's think about that for a moment.  Think about the confident kids in your group - are they the ones having success?  What about the others?  what level of confidence do the kids have who are not on the podium regularly?  Something is going on and as coaches of adolescents, who are early in their self conceptualization of being an athlete, we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to create environments where confidence is fostered, nurtured, and developed, not just by the early developing kids who are on the podium alot, but in everyone? Will we get there by goal setting? realistic goal setting? pats on the back? personal reflections? Come on folks - what are we doing to nurture, grow, and sustain young people who are confident as learners and who can see that there is a direct line between effort, perseverance, and success.
 
 
As coaches, we get to decide on the sequence and focus of instruction; we get to decide the sequence, type, and volume of physical training.  But it is individual athletes who decide when learning occurs.  That is an important idea so I'll say it again - it is individual athletes who decide when learning occurs.  As coaches, we can put it out there, offer it, and hope that kids pick it up.  Ulitmately, we all know, its kids who decide whether they'll pick it up or not.   Schimmer points out in his writing that often learners base their decision to learn on their own past record of success and failure.  Big idea here - success reinforces confidence and the desire to learn - lack of success inhibits the growth of confidence and the desire to learn.
 
 
What I try to stay away from is creating learning situations that create either arrogance or despair.  Arrogance leads to unfounded optimism - a sense of entitlement where success is expected for all the wrong reasons.  Its a hard one to teach kids, not to be arrogant, but maybe sheds some light on the high drop out rates of early developers in cross country skiers.  Despair leads to a feeling of hopelessness - a sense that their no point in trying.  Maybe there is a connection here - maybe its that late entry kids, or late developing kids drop out of competitive ski programs as teens because they get the sense that they will never be able to catch up.  Confidence, on the other hand, leads to young athletes expecting to succeed - maybe not every time, but it does mean that they believe they can learn to be a great skier.
 
 
The key that Schimmer points out is that it is learners who decide whether they are capable enough to succeed and learn.  If learners believe they can learn and that success will be the eventual result of effort, then they will actively engage in learning.  Its about the confidence.  Confident kids learn more, learn more quickly, and stick with their learning - they keep trying when others might give up.
 
 
So if confidence is really important what should be doing to create environments where confidence is nurtured, grown, reinforced, and sustained?   Great coaches of adolescents do this.  They create conditions that allow kids to maximize their success.  Here are some of my ideas of how I reach for this:
 
 
- aim to see every child as equally able to learn and succeed.  I don't use a crystal ball to foresee who will be successful at 25 year olds.  Economic situation of parents aside, every kid is just as likely to be the next world champion
- don't use race results as the primary informer of learning - when kids get regular feedback about their improvement that is not connected to race results, race results don't become the measuring stick of learning
- let kids and their parents know you think they have lots of potential
- make sure you let kids know what they are doing well and not just what they need to work on
 
 
Every parents wants their child to be confident and successful at what they do.  As coaches, we need to make sure we're thinking about creating spaces where confidence thrives. 
 
 
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB
Ten Things That Matter From Assessment to Grading, Tom Schimmer, Pearson Publishers, Toronto 2014


Friday, 7 March 2014

The Ability-Effort Conundrum - why we lose so many talented young skiers...

the role of coaches in engaging adolescents
 

If you've been around awhile you'll have seen the pattern happen many times.  Adolescents who have early success and then disappear.  It's easy as coaches to shrug your shoulders and say 'obviously this sport isn't their passion, their interest...'   I say booo on that idea.  If there is one thing that grounds my coaching work it is that coaches are pivotal in the developing conceptualization of self of a young athlete. 

An important question to ask as a club is - what is the acceptable level of achievement each year that we set for ourselves.  Is the assumption that any level of achievement is the target?  Researchers who focus on teaching and learning (Hattie, 2009) point out that there is appreciable variability in coach (teacher) effectiveness.  Also, that there are few things that a coach (teacher) can do that will have a negative effect on achievement.  He points out that simply by having kids interact about content with their teacher and other students will result in some learning.  A big question in coaching adolescent cross country skiers is - how do we measure achievement? Is it ok to assume that any achievement is better than none?  I would suggest that in skiing hotbeds (clubs whose kids dominate at races), where kids are performing well, their expectations about level of achievement are not 'any improvement is better than none'.

As coaches, this is important to consider.  Are we great coaches when we have a child who wins races?  Is that the measure of achievement?  Hold on, because if that's the case, let me make sure I get all of the early developing kids in my group - because at 12-14 years old, ability/achievement has a positive correlation with physical maturity - I don't have a study that backs this up, but you and I know as experienced coaches that this is the case.  Sadly, the pattern goes on to show that many or almost all of these early developers are not on the scene once growth and development of peers catches up to them.  Surely, we need to start asking ourselves as coaches of these children, what can we do differently to ensure this doesn't happen at the current frequency.  Sadly it seems, most coaches shrug their shoulders and say 'I tried my best with these kids'. 

So I put it out there to you - what can you be doing differently to create engaging learning situations for adolescents?  how can you structure your coaching environments to focus on achievement that is something other than standing on the podium.  There are some incredible things we can be doing - I'd like to suggest a few here.

An important question to ask yourself is - are their kids in your group who don't progress because you have low expectations of them.  It is very easy to give attention to high achievers.  What are you doing to give the message to kids that you believe they are capable of learning and achieving?

Another important question to ask yourself is - is your focus on 'ability' or on 'effort'.  When we create challenging learning environments, where kids are challenged to master complex skills, is effortful engagement with task the expectation?  How is it that some coaches can create effortful engagement, while others create less engagement?  A child I know who was an early developer and a technically proficient skier at a young age, reported after a provincial development team training camp that her coaches didn't offer her one bit of constructive feedback or ideas on how to improve. Granted, with kids who already perform at a high technical and physical level, its a bit harder to provide them with ideas on improvement.  To do so as a coach, requires a high level of content knowledge as well on process knowledge to offer strategies that engage those early developers.  Maybe as coaches we need to take a bit more responsibility for engaging early developers to ensure they remain engaged after their early development effects are less pronounced.  I personally know coaches who do this.

A big challenge in the coaching world of adolescent cross country skiers is that there just aren't that many people around who do the work professionally, who have the time to engage in reading, collaborating, thinking about, designing, and delivering learning experiences that optimize engagement for every kid they coach.  If you've been following my blog recently, you'll know I've been captivated by an author, John Hattie, an educational researcher from New Zealand.  I'm lucky to have a day job in an instructional leadership position with a local school division where I have time to read and share best practice.

One of the most important and statistically significant findings from Hattie's research is that one of the most powerful indicators of successful educators is passion.  Passionate coaches are those who engage kids in learning and achievement in a pronounced and profound way.  When kids sense that their coach loves what they do, kids get excited. 

So get excited about what you're doing.  Show and share some passion for our sport.  It may be the most important thing that you do when you spend time with adolescents.  Be passionate!  Love what you do! Show kids through your joy of being on skis that it is one of the most worthwhile endeavours and choices that they can make in their lives.  Your passion will increase engagement and achievement.  You don't need to be a former world champion to be passionate.  You don't need to have skied on the national team to be passionate.  Great coaches are passionate.  Kids can pick out the coaches they really want work with.  Aim to be one of those coaches.

Enjoy the homestretch of ski season.

Roy Strum
Coach of fun and incredible adolescent cross country skiers
Canmore, AB



Friday, 28 February 2014

Ideas about Feedback when Coaching Adolescent Cross Country Skiers

focusing on the important stuff...
 

Pick up any undergraduate textbook on motor learning, and you'll find a couple of chapters on feedback.  Its important stuff when you're learning and refining a motor skill.  Important because its how our brains work - when we first learn to walk, falling down and getting back up provides great feedback to refine balance - with enough practice and some hand holding from mom and dad, we learn to balance on our legs.  Feedback is important information provided by an agent (coach, peer) about aspects of one's performance or understanding. 

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I've been reading John Hattie's Visible Learning lately.  Hattie points out that there are four different types of feedback. 

1. feedback about the task or product of work - e.g. a description of how an athlete is performing a task
2. feedback about the process used to create the product/task - e.g. hey, you worked through that skill progression really well - you did this, then you did this, then you did this...
3. feedback focused on self regulation - e.g. hey, you did a good job listening to the description of what i wanted you to do
4. feedback that is personal in nature - e.g. hey, you're a great skier

Of these four types of feedback the least effective has been shown to be feedback that is simply personal in nature.  This is because when feedback draws attention to the self, learners can sometimes try to avoid risks involved with tackling challenging tasks - they tend to minimize their effort, and have a high fear of failure in order to minimize the risk to self.  This is important when working with novice skiers.  Giving them feedback that draws attention to themselves as a person can lead them to taking less risk in their learning.  Ideally, learning focuses on the task and then to the processes necessary to learn the task and then on to more challenging goals.  With learners at the acquisition stage it is better for coaches to provide elaborations than to provide feedback on poorly understood concepts.  Simply stated - when you're working with kids who arent at a refinement stage of learning a skill, you should focus more on giving elaborations of the skill than on telling them what detail of their skill is incorrect.  It comes back to the old adage of telling kids what you want them to do and not what you don't want them to do.

So much of what we do in working with children has a starting place with working with older athletes.  With older teens, or young adults we think nothing of error detection and correction.  With younger kids though Hattie's research would show us that focusing on the errors doesn't necessarily provide the most powerful learning, but instead Hattie points out a number of other important feedback priorities. 

Feedback needs to:

- prompt active information processing - e.g. how does what I am telling you as a coach fit into what you already know and help you close the gap on getting to where you want to go

- have low task complexity - e.g. - feedback should focus on one task alone rather than on for example six components of a skill

- relate to specific and clear goals - e.g. - cutting out wasteful movement

- provide little threat to the person at the self level - e.g. feedback should describe the task rather than the person

Hattie goes on to state "a feedback intervention provided for a familiar task that contains cues for learning, attracts attention to feedback standard discrepencies at the task level and is void of cues that direct attention to self is likely to yield impressive gains in achievement".  Big idea  - to optimize learning from feedback, give kids a clear picture of the task, describe or show them the gap between what they are doing and what they should strive for, and don't direct feedback at the person.

Out of over 150 different learning influences that Hattie identifies in his research, feedback is #10 in the most impactful interventions on improving achievement.  In our context, as coaches of adolescent cross country skiers, achievement is the increase in proficiency with which a child can perform a skill.  Feedback is important stuff and is often most impactful on learning when kids can tell their coaches what they know, what they understand, and where they are making errors.  Feedback has been shown to be least impactful when provided as praise, punishment, extrinsic rewards or programmed instruction. 

So what's the big deal - we all know feedback is important.  For me, the big deal is that some forms of feedback are shown to be more effective in helping kids learn.  Figuring that out is huge part of effective coaching.  Not all coaches are equally effective in the work they do.  The good ones  have thought about how they structure feedback; intertwining feedbak and instruction.  These are things I think about and try to incorporate in the work I do with adolescents.  I encourage you to do the same.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Ideas about Structuring Skilful Learning for Adolescent Cross Country Ski Racers

 
 
There are lots of choices we make as coaches about what we do with the kids we coach, the volume of what we do, and the frequency of what we do.  The great variation in performance by athletes from various clubs reflects these choices.  Somehow, and maybe its not so magical, kids from some clubs perform at a higher level than kids from other clubs.  Sometimes I wonder what the cause of this variance is.  To me, almost any child is capable of learning  to ski technically well; any child can develop fitness comparable to same age peers; any child can develop the disposition to be resilient.  If that is really the case, then what's going on in those development hotbeds. 
 
Motor skill learning is enhanced by what sport scientists would call 'blocked' practice.  Blocked practice refers to skill learning that includes varied opportunities, with breaks in between learning sessions, and sequential tasks that include increasing complexity.  The opposite of blocked practice is termed 'massed' practice. Massed practice refers to learning sessions focused for extended duration on one skill.  Research shows us that it is the frequency of different opportunities rather than the total time on a skill that makes the biggest difference in skill acquisition.
 
For effective skill learning to take place the emphasis should be on:
 
- helping athletes to understand what they can do
- then on athletes knowing what they are aiming to do
- then on athletes having multiple strategies for learning to do what they aim to do
- then on athletes knowing when they have done it
 
Not rocket science, but often as coaches we want to jump right to focusing on giving kids feedback on what they are doing without first having them understand where that fits into what they already know how to do.  Sometimes as coaches, we give athletes a one size fits all strategy for skill acquisition when what would help them is to have three or four different strategies for learning a motor skill.  And often, as coaches, we probably don't take the time to have kids reflect on identifying what they can do and what they need to work on.
 
Often we think about goal setting in terms of helping athletes set realistic performance goals.  This is a worthy task and for some athletes very worthwhile.  When we think about goal setting from a skill development perspective, what we really need to also focus on is setting challenging goals around learning.  These goals should include things like:
 
- knowing where you are
- knowing where you are going
- knowing how you will get there
- knowing what to do next
- knowing how to reduce the gap
 
There is tendency to make assumptions based on our experience and training - experience that is both personal and academic.  One of the assumptions I have found myself making over time is that individualized instruction is more effective than group instruction.  Research focused on learning strategies would show us however that individualized instruction does provide some positive gains, but relative to other interventions we can make as coaches, it is not the cash cow we might think it is.  A much more effective strategy in terms of skill learning is peer tutoring.  Peer tutoring is where one athlete helps another to learn a skill.  For peer tutoring to be effective though, athletes have to have a clear understanding of the learning outcome.  What is the key learning point about one skate or offset that you are working on during that practice.  When kids understand that clearly, their tutoring activities consolidate their own conceptions of the skill and help them to provide feedback to another youth about their observations.
 
One of things we need to be careful with is setting challenging goals for kids who lack the knowledge or skill to attain that goal.  Goal setting needs to be a collaborative task between coach and athlete.  Setting a goal that is too challenging for a novice skier, can sometimes lead to lower performance.  In addition, goals can have an adverse effect on risk taking if failure to achieve the goal is punished in some way.  This speaks again to focusing on learning goals rather than performance goals for kids. 
 
So much of what is included in my reflection here comes from John Hattie's Visible Learning.  Hattie compiled a meta-analysis of over 50,000 educational research papers on teaching and learning.  There is much to learn.  For me, continual learning and learning in small bits that I can apply to my coaching each week is a part of my practice.  Learning is a great thing.  Some day I want to go back to school and complete a PhD focused on physiology/biomechanics related to cross country skiing.  I encourage you find your own learning pathway.
 
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB
 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Small Things that Make a Difference

 
Leadership for Empowering Engagement
 

As we prepare for a big trip to Chelsea, Quebec this week, our coaches and kids in our club are engaged with the exciting prospect of visiting a new place, reacquainting ourselves with friends, and fired up with anticipation of a fulfilling, fun, and engaging socio-cultural and athletic experience.  Every year or two for the past number of years, our ski club has embarked on an exchange with another club somewhere else in Canada.  Last year our 1999 birth year skiers travelled to the skiing development hotbed of Whitehorse, Yukon to spend a week embedded in Yukon ski culture and hospitality.  This year our 2000 and 2001 birth year kids are heading east, back to Chelsea, Quebec for 9 days of immersion in the unique culture of the Outouais region, and visiting national landmarks in Ottawa, our national capital.

These initiatives are driven by volunteers and coaches in our ski club who know the value of gifting kids with the unique opportunity to travel and ski with other kids in other places.  This year, 1988 Olympian, coaching colleague, and good friend, Carol Gibson-Coyne has done the remarkable  feat of organizing our families both when the Chelsea kids were in Canmore for 9 days in December, and also helping with the organization of our 9 days in Chelsea.  The herculean effort to pull off an exchange like this is noteworthy of immense praise; but the benefactors of the effort are the children in our club who receive the incredible experience.

Carol's effort is typical of coaches and parents who want to engage kids with something worthwhile; a gift to children to give them an experience that might hook kids on skiing for the long term.  Kids will decide themselves what their future will be and no amount of coercion or influence can make a child do something they dont want.  But positive experience, framed appropriately, supported with care and enthusiasm, reinforced by the joy inherent in physical activity, fostered by relationships aimed at advancing engagement, with an emphasis on improvement, fitness, and skill development are the types of factors that help make it easy for kids to say - 'hey this is for me'.

Occasionally these types of things all come together and what happens, I think, is something magical.  I had this type of conversation with a coach this past weekend at Alberta Winter Games.  The coach I was chatting with is an ambitious coach wanting to create something spectacular for kids from her community.  She was seeking advice as to what we've done in my club to create an environment where kids have fun and where they ski really well and are super engaged with racing.  I do have to say, as a coach with our Alberta Winter Games team from south central Alberta region, that it was impressive what our kids did.  Gold medals in all five relay categories as an example.  What I was particularly impressed with, with our kids from Canmore, Cochrane and Bragg Creek, was what they did when they weren't racing.  They were playing card games, board games, taking care of each, laughing lots, supporting each other, getting to bed early, mentoring younger athletes, and just having alot of fun. Sure they worked on a race plan and they focused on their best effort in races, but they were also super nice kids who thanked officials (alot of whom were their parents or grandparents as the event was held in Canmore), were friendly with kids from other clubs and super respectful of adults.  Wow - what a lucky dude I am to be here in this community.

The fact is that great energy and small things you do can make a difference in your own community.  The fact is that Canmore wasnt always a hotbed for cross country skiing, someone built this energy here, and although I might do small things to contribute to it, the real credit goes to our current leadership (board and head coach) for creating a space where kids flourish.  I see this work happening in lots of places.  Be patient, it takes time and effort.

Happy skiing!

Roy Strum
Canmore AB


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Changing the Landscape of Youth Cross Country Skiing...

shaking it up...
 
 

 
 
Its pretty cool to see an idea turn into reality.  That happened yesterday.  It started with some conversations with friends and colleagues about how to engage more kids and more clubs in ski racing - to make ski racing more accessible for more kids.  There is alot of inertia moving against this.  It takes a shift in thinking to think beyond your own club and the kids you coach.  But its been that kind of leadership that created an event yesterday where almost every kid there was pretty new to ski racing. 
 
Refreshing.  Inspiring.  Fun. 
 
Casual conversations turned into more formal discussion about what was important to all of the stakeholders.  This allowed some shared values to be discussed.  The conversation focused on creating a shared vision about the future of skiing in our region.  Everyone agreed that more clubs and more kids engaged with racing would be a good thing.
 
Next came some conversation about what it would take for clubs currently not engaged with racing to join in.  From this, we learned about the diverse needs of clubs of different sizes and stages of maturity.  What was remarkable in our process was the willingness of big established clubs to accommodate the needs of younger, start up clubs in our region.  We decided on two types of events for our new regional development series - 'open' events that would accommodate any child and 'development' events that targeted kids in their first year or two of racing.  Our provincial sport organization, Cross Country Alberta, was quick to pick up the event series and support it with the idea that this type of regional series would be good for any region in our province to roll with.
 
Yesterday was a pretty amazing day.  A young, start up club, Crystal Ridge Nordic Ski Club from a small town in the greater Calgary area, Okotoks, hosted the Built for Speed (B4S) Event Series first 'development' event.  I'll tell you it was awesome.  Almost 80 kids from 5 different greater Calgary ski clubs, almost all of whom would be too intimidated to line up in a provincial level race, were there lining up at this development race. 
 
Its where it starts.  Racing needs nurturing.  Outside of small pockets of highly motivated parents and a small percentage of ski clubs, the reality is, racing is new.  Taking the high rollers out of the equation meant that kids who might usually finish 20th in an Alberta Cup race, were there winning their event.  Every kid needs a chance to step on the podium.  In our highly competitive region where a few clubs are large with professional coaching staff, but where most of the clubs are run by volunteers and keen parents who want to do something good for their children, we created a valid interclub regional race where the needs of kids starting up can compete with others who are about the same place as they are.
 
My own personal children didn't race (I have three of my own offspring, who are all pretty keen on racing).  Most of the kids I coach didn't race.  Some of the kids I coach competed, because in every club there are kids who are just getting started.  For a group of ski clubs to agree to create something to foster and engender positive racing experiences for those kids on the edge, for kids who don't have parents who competed at some high level, the event yesterday was incredible.  Bravo to the leadership of southern Alberta ski clubs for creating a space for this type of event in our regional event series for children.  Not one kid finished 10 minutes behind the winner - every kid had a chance to see themselves as a contender. 
 
Hats off to the Crystal Ridge Nordic Ski Club for hosting B4S2.  It was an unqualified success. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Energy...A Key Ingredient for Success

The story of energy production...

(photo credit - Doug Stephen)

I've been doing some reading lately about energy - wanting to find a way to explain to kids how energy systems work.  Its complex stuff, and the average coach might be hard pressed to explain in a few words how energy is created and through what processes, and the role of our muscles, our breathing, our circulatory system all play in creating the energy we need to move our bodies.  In a sport like cross country skiing energy systems are hugely important, as we create much of our own propulsion.  We spend many hours engaged in physical training aimed at improving efficiency in cellular processes of using stored energy and oxygen to create 'energy molecules' (adenosine triphosphate) that explode, reform and resplit countless times in every muscle cell used in our activity.  Some of my reading has come from a couple of textbooks from my undergraduate and graduate study days (Human Physiology by Stuart Ira Fox, and online textbooks such as http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com ).  My reading has made me think about how to share out this information in manageable bytes to adolescent athletes.  Here is my attempt.

Energy is an essential part of success at anything.  Success as an athlete, success as a coach, success as a parent  - it takes energy to achieve.  Energy at a physiological level, and energy at a mental level.  Energy literally is the capacity to do work.  Energy takes many shapes - it can be chemical, solar, mechanical, electrical, nuclear or heat energy.  For humans, chemical energy is a prime source of the materials we need for muscular activity, cellular regeneration, or creating electrical impulses through our nervous system.  Energy is measured by a unit called a calorie or in the metric system, a joule.

When we eat something, we transfer the energy stored in that plant or animal tissue and use it in our body.  One of the jobs of our cells is to transform the chemical energy stored in this plant or animal tissue into another form that our body can use more easily.  Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is that easily usable molecule that the cells produce from the chemical energy stored in the food we eat.  During cellular metabolism, ATP molecules are split by enzymes.  The splitting of ATP molecules, creates a highly usable form of energy for things like muscle contractions.

ATP is considered a high energy compound that is stored in muscles in small amounts.  Because there are only small amounts of ATP stored in cells, there need to be other ways of replenishing this important compound.  Phospho-Creatine is another phosphorus based compound that is found in our cells in small amounts in our muscle tissue.  It is used to rapidly replenish supplies of ATP in muscle cells.

When we eat carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, our body stores some of that energy to be used when needed.  Energy is stored in body fat, our blood (in the form of blood glucose), our muscles (in the form of glycogen), and in our liver.  In an average adult huge stores of energy are found in various tissues.  There is enough energy in the form of muscle glycogen stored in the average adult's muscle tissue for him/her to run for 25 km. There is enough energy stored in adipose tissue (body fat) for an average adult to run for several hundred kilometers if it was possible.  And there is enough energy stored in muscle protein for an average adult to run for more several hundred kilometers.  That is a lot of stored energy.  The challenge is for our bodies to become efficient at converting that stored energy to ATP - this efficiency happens with lots of practice.  Which is one of the reasons why your fitness improves with physical training.  Training on an energy level, is about your muscle cells becoming efficient transformers of carbohydrates to glucose to ATP, proteins to amino acids to ATP, or fats to fatty acids to ATP.

So what is really important to share with kids about energy production - maybe it comes down to this:

- we have alot of stored energy in our bodies
- we do physical training to create efficiencies in the transforming of this stored energy into more usable forms of energy
- energy is created by the breaking of an important molecule called ATP
- ATP is created from stored energy
- what we eat is important to help our bodies optimally convert stored energy to ATP

There it is, Roy's energy lesson.  Go ahead and use it if you want.  At a certain point this is really interesting and useful information for young athletes.  The trick is knowing when it to pull it out and how to make it relevant.  In the end one of our important jobs as coaches of adolescent cross country skiers is to help kids learn about how their bodies work.  Good luck with that.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB




Friday, 17 January 2014

Quality Coaching - what does it look like?

reflections on effective coaching...
 


So much of the reading I am doing recently has focused on indicators of effective teaching.  As I read, my mind drifts naturally to thinking about how does this relate to coaching adolescent cross country skiers.  The parallels in ideas are striking.  Quality teaching and coaching definitely has some indicators.  The key to quality coaching is not whether a coach is seen to be 'excellent' by colleagues, but  rather, whether they are 'excellent' as seen by athletes.

According to Hattie in Visible Learning, quality teaching it seems can be enhanced by a teacher's verbal ability and interpersonal skills.  Coaches who can express their ideas articulately in language understood by athletes, and who can build relationships seem to be seen as better coaches by kids. But being a great coach of adolescents is a bit bigger than that.  Some of Hattie's other research findings would indicate that there are a number of other characteristics of coaches (teachers) that also are highly correlated with effective coaching.  These include:

- having high expectations - encouraging your athletes to place a high value on being a skilled and fit cross country ski racer

- teaching the language, the love, and the details of a sport - helping young athletes construct understandings of the technical, mental, and physical aspects of our sport

- monitoring and evaluating - getting kids to think about the nature and quality of their skiing - giving regular and effective feedback

- coaches who challenge athletes - encouraging kids to think through and problem solve

- coaches having a deep understanding of their coaching and its effect on athlete learning - thinking about how are go about interacting, teaching, assessing, and communicating

- having a high level of passion - loving what you do as a coach

- being adept at improvisation - being able to react to the immediate learning need of each athlete

- having respect for athletes - being respectful in voice tone, language, and appropriate personal boundaries

- having a positive practice culture/climate that fosters learning - adolescents can tell when the focus is on learning and improving

These aren't my ideas.  They come from John Hattie's book Visible Learning.  They are however my reflections on how his research based ideas relate to coaching adolescent cross country skiers.  When I read this stuff, I kind of go, ya, there are no big revelations in there.  But improving your practice as a coach, and striving for quality coaching asks us as coaches to reflect on what we're doing and extend the work we do in new ways.  That my friend, is the real value of these ideas about quality coaching.  Its work I try to do every day when I work with kids.  Try something new.  Push my envelope of skill a little more by taking an idea and changing how I interact with the kids I coach.  It is the only way to improve.  To try new things, to find areas of the work you do to improve. 

I know alot of teachers and coaches.  My experience is that those teachers and coaches who are most masterful at their work are folks who have made very deliberate attempts at improving aspects of their coaching or teaching.  They do this by reading, by talking with colleagues, by trying new strategies and methods. 

The fact is that Hattie's research would show that 'content' knowledge is not the biggest predictor of quality teaching.  The items listed above have a much stronger research based correlation to quality teaching. 

So you don't have to have competed in the Olympics to be an excellent coach.   Its not that olympic athletes can't be excellent coaches because in fact many olympic athletes go on to be highly successful coaches.  But research would show us that there are many other more important indicators of quality coaching than personal experience.  Most of those don't require initial expert content knowledge.

So...go for it.  My best pal in the world sent me a message the other day that read:

If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it.

If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.

If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.

That is one of the great benefits of best friends - they help nudge you along to become something better.  Thanks to my pal, Vince for doing that for me.

Monday, 13 January 2014

How to get the most out of your kids...some ideas borrowed from Teaching

Lets borrow what we know works well...
One of the most referred pieces of research literature right now in the school division I work for comes from a researcher in New Zealand named John Hattie.  Hattie's book, Visible Learning, is essentially a meta-analysis of meta-analysis studies.  That might sound kind of boring, but in fact, research like this would have been so valuable to me as a beginning teacher and coach many years ago.  What Hattie's work does is quantify things that teachers do and their affect on acheivement.  We all know anecdotally that there are great coaches (and teachers) and others that aren't quite there yet.  What Visible Learning does is quantify the effects of teaching and learning influences on achievement.

We all want the kids we work with to achieve, to learn, to be successful.  Why else would you put the effort into coaching if it wasnt because you had some specific outcomes in mind.  In the coach training work I lead in southern Alberta, fun is often articulated as a major outcome in children's ski instructional experiences.  The fact is that kids have more fun when they have success, when they achieve goals they set for themselves, when they learn a new set of skills.  As coaches we can learn something from strategies that successful teachers employ.  You can identify these coaches and teachers because the kids they work with are engaged, acquire skills, and enjoy themselves.  What is it that these coaches of children are doing?  Hattie's research can help articulate some of those strategies.  Here are a few gems from some reading I did this morning from Visible Learning.

Attributes of Coaches (Hattie refers to Teachers, but I think subsituting 'Coaches' is appropriate as both coaches and teachers are focused on learning and acheivement) that have the greatest influence on well managed classrooms/practices (the higher the d= value the more significant the effect):

- with-it-ness - d=1.42 - this is a coach's ability to identify and quickly act on potential problems - looks like 'hey I see you doing that, and that needs to stop"
- appropriate mental set - d=1.29 - this is the coach's ability to remain calm and in control  - looks like never getting flustered or raising your voice
- verbal and physical behaviour of coaches - d=1.00 - this the behaviour of a coach to indicate disapproval of off task behaviour - looks like 'the look' or a one word intervention such as 'enough'
- disciplinary interventions - d=.91 - this is the coach's ability to use an appropriate intervention to get kids back on track - looks like 'hey, take a break here and cool your jets - i'll talk to you in a moment'
- group contingency strategies - d=.98 - these are strategies that require a specific set of kids to reach a certain criteria level of approp behaviour - looks like 'hey kids, show me 5 minutes of focused effort, then we can play a game'

- tangible recognition - d=.82 - students being provided some symbol or token for appropriate behaviour - looks like - 'kids who show the most focus on task, get to pick the teams for our relay'
- direct or concrete consequence - d=.57 - looks like 'if you interupt me, you're on the bench for 5 minutes'
- coach/athlete (teacher/student) relations - d=.87 - positive relationship are powerful moderators on managing behaviours or off task activity - coaches who build positive relationships with kids have fewer behaviour problems/off task focus
- rules and procedures - d=.76 - stated expectations regarding behaviours and well articulated rules that were negotated with athletes have thei highest impact. - looks like 'hey kids lets talk about what is going to be normal for our team this year'

There is lots to learn and to try when you are leading a group of kids.  According to the research one of the most powerful things we can do is pay attention and intervene early (having some with-it-ness). We need to stay calm when redirecting kids and we need to have a few tools in our belt. 
The biggest and most important to me over the years I have been coaching and teaching has been building positive relationships.

Appropriate coach/athlete or teacher/student relationships go a far way - when kids care about what your reaction is to something they might do, it has a huge influence on whether they do it or not.  When you've got a positive culture and great relationships few behaviour problems or off task behaviour occurs.  We've all know coaches and teachers who have this skill.  This skill comes from deliberate and thoughtful leadership.  I encourage you be that kind of leader.

cheers
Roy Strum
Canmore

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Early Specialization...reflections on where we're at

How early is too early?
 
 
 
In Canada, ski clubs are asked to adopt the Long Term Athlete Development Plan (LTAD)http://www.canadiansportforlife.ca/learn-about-canadian-sport-life/ltad-stages 
This document was created by sport scientists and experts in the field of kinesiology, physical education, coaching, physiology, biomechanics among others.  LTAD was introduced over 10 years ago in Canada to the cross country ski community. Clubs have responded by using the language and recommendations to design yearly training and racing programs.  This has had far reaching effects.
 
The conversation is at different places with different sports.  I came across an article on Sport IQ, a blog I follow.  The conversation focused on early specialization in ice hockey.  Hockey Canada is the national sport organization and has a section of their website devoted to long term athlete development - http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/Hockey-Programs/Coaching/LTPD.aspx 
 
In Canada, hockey dominates the sport culture.  In a city the size of Calgary there might be over 100,000 children playing organized hockey.  There are schools and specialized programs aimed at hockey players such National Sport Development or The Edge private school.  There are year round training opportunities, leagues, and camp programs for developing hockey players.  Children attend tryouts at 6 or 7 years old and are tiered into ability groupings.  Its big business and taken quite seriously.  Lots of good work happens in hockey.  Kids develop a passion for the game.  Kids develop technical and social skills.  Kids have fun.  I certainly am no expert on hockey player development but I do get sense from talking with parents of hockey kids that there is no shortage of opportunities for children of all ages to play hockey every month of the year in the greater Calgary area. 
 
The Sport IQ blog post I came across provides a good perspective on the pitfalls of early specialization.  In Canada, where passion for hockey resides like almost no other place, it is I think quite easy for alot of parents to get caught up in the 'my kid is the next Sidney Crosby' kind of thinking.  That type of thinking can encourage parents to do too much too soon.  I encourage you to read the article titled 'Early Specialization and Year round training are destroying youth hockey' http://www.getsportiq.com/2013/11/early-specialization-and-year-round-training-is-destroying-youth-hockey/   The ideas there are just as relevant to the cross country ski perspective. 
 
Its nice to come across something that aligns with your own set of priorities.  Its nice to see the conversation happening in other sports.  Bravo to Hockey Canada and to the hockey community for tackling this important athlete development issue.
 
cheers
Roy
Canmore

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Measuring Growth of Adolescents - what does it tell us?


For the past several years, we've been recording growth data for our adolescent cross country skiers in our club.  This is recommended practice for clubs in Canada.  The data gathered is interesting and diverse.  It really happens - each child has their very own unique growth curve.  Some adolescents are early, some are later, and a lot of somewhere in the middle of the normative data.  Its good information.  The challenge is not in the gathering of the data but in what to do with it.

How can growth data influence athlete development plans.  There is certainly lots of information out there about measurement protocols and interpreting the findings to indicate readiness for windows of trainability.  There is a lot less information easily available for coaches about how to individualize training plans for kids experiencing peak height velocity (PHV) or pre PHV.  I've been thinking about this for awhile because I recognize there are lots of variables at play.  Group size, social groupings, coaching expertise, family variables, club culture, yearly planning, structural realities, among others.

What can we do with growth data - here are some of my reflections

- share it with kids - probably one of the most useful and easy action items - kids are interested in how they are growing relative to peers; they are interested in understanding how their bodies grow and how that affects what they are ready for.  I do a weekly strength session with the 12-13 year olds I coach, and the boys in particular have natural interest in moving beyond body weight exercises to doing what the high school age athletes are doing.  I have found that when kids can see some data about limb length relative to standing height they understand in a different way how their bodies aren't ready to do that kind of work.

- post it in the team room - it creates some awareness for parents and kids that as a club we are paying attention to some details about their children and their readiness for various types of physical training.

- differentiate physical training - according to the literature, this is the ultimate reason for recording growth information.  It is also really difficult to do when chronological age directs so many other variables in our sport.  I have tried a few strategies to differentiate instruction and I'll admit, not with the regularity or accuracy that data seems to imply.  The question that I ask myself when deciding on what best to focus on in training sessions is 'where can I get the biggest return on investment?'  I have found that for example, although flexibility or technical instruction is identified as a window of trainability for pre peak height velocity athletes, athletes experiencing PHV can benefit as well from flexibility or technical instruction.  Differentiating focus based on developmental characteristics is important, but of more importance in my mind are a number of other variables including some of the following:  team culture - kids improve because they want to and they improve more in positive, fun environments where they are challenged and recognized; quality instruction - kids improve because they have good models, coaches use the right tools and sequence skill development based on individual variables.

So, is it worth it to gather growth data every quarter on your 11-17 year olds skiers?  Ya, I'd say so - but it is important to note that having appropriate expectations of what you will do with the information is important in sustaining the effort of data collection over time.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB 


Monday, 16 December 2013

Changing the Face of Ski Racing for Children


I facilitate lots of coaching workshops for coaches with all levels of experience.  For me, its such a rich learning environment.  The folks who take part in my workshops bring broad and varied experiences and perspectives - sometimes former national team athletes or coaches and sometimes parents who are just learning to ski themselves.  As part of the NCCP Community Coach training, we are asked to discuss, reflect, and think about introducing kids to competition.  What's surprising to me really, given the varied background of coaches in my workshops, is the almost universal support for competition in some form.

One of things we get talking about is 'what should competition look like for children'.  Invariably, someone brings up the very good point that ski competitions don't have enough in them to engage alot of kids.  Why is it that track meets or swim meets or gymnastics meets or speedskating meets for children can include multiple opportunities and disciplines for children to compete in a day but cross country ski races only include one 3-5 minute event for kids in a day?  The discussion around the table is robust and refreshing.

Why is it that children's events include only one event?  Workshops participants come up with lots of ideas to address this question - kids events are often an after thought for race organizers - the really important races are the ones for the juniors and U23 athletes.  Its too much work for volunteers... There isnt enough time in the day... Kids will be too tired to do more than one race... Coaches won't have enough time to prepare skis for multiple events...  Who will do the timing...  Why not just maintain the status quo...

Folks, I am big believer in the value of competition for children as a positive force in shaping identity and passion for being your best.  This starts with engaging children in ways that go beyond what we currently do for kids.  Come on folks, we can do better than ask parents to drive for 1 or 2 or more hours in a car with their children to compete in a 3-5 minute event.  Children are capable of doing more than one event. 

My vision for children's ski competition (we can all have our own visions) is to change the face of competition for children involved with cross country skiing.  To broaden the scope of what a ski competition looks like.  To do something bigger than a scaled down version of an adult race.  To broaden the base of participation in races by creating something where there are more opportunities for success and participation and self identification of children as ski racers. 

I remember listening to Istvan Balyi speak at the Coaches Association of Canada's Sport Leadership Conference in 2008 in Calgary.  Balyi is one of the architects of the Long Term Athlete Development Plan in Canada.  His message in this session was that when we dont have the luxury of large numbers of participants in a a sport, we need to be strategic about how and what we do with children's sport competitions.  Its not good enough to do a scaled down version of an adult race.

I am thrilled that in Southern Alberta this season, our clubs are engaging in a new event series that aims to change the way children experience a ski competition.  You can read some more about this series at http://builtforspeedeventseries.blogspot.ca/ 

Good luck with your efforts in creating engaging ski competitions for children this winter.  I would love to hear about some of the innovative ways your club or region are changing the shape of children's cross country ski competitions.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

2014 Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships

Get Ready for some Super Fun Ski Action in Bragg Creek
Feb 28-Mar 2, 2014



Every once in awhile, things come together in a magical way - where kids have fun, where adults have a great time, where kids get turned on to racing, where the weather cooperates, and everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.  Alberta youth Championships has been that kind of event for the past couple of years.  We've worked hard to build excitement and some tradition around the event - to brand it as the biggest provincial event for the four year age group of 2000-2003 in Alberta.  And its worked.  Thanks to the great work of coaches in clubs across Alberta, NWT and Saskatchewan in championing this event and the importance of it as a developmental tool, AYC really has grown to be the largest event of its kind in Alberta.  

What we envisioned for this event was that it would offer some unique qualities that werent available in any other ski race in Alberta.  An event where kids represented their clubs (much like the feeling at Nationals), where kids stayed at a camp, where food services were included, where coaches could mingle, chat and build relationships, where kids could experience a number of events where lots and lots of them received recognition for their efforts - we handed out 164 medals in the 2013 AYC and a club champion banner for the top performing club.  That combination has been a winning combination for this event and something that you wont find at any other ski event in Alberta.  We see this event growing over time - once the word gets out about a good thing, people like to share it.

Our early registration deadline, Dec 15 is fast approaching and what follows is a letter I have sent out to club contacts from across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and NWT.  We would love to see you at the 2014 AYC in Bragg Creek.  Please feel free to send this information around to anyone you like.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB


Greetings club coaches from across Alberta, NWT and Sask,

the organizing committee for the 2014 Alberta Youth Championships are pleased to invite you to participate in the what is the largest provincial event for midget and minimidget age skiers in Alberta.  This event is open to all interested skiers born in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 from all clubs.  Please feel free to share out this communication with any and all ski club members and others who are not on this list.  Please also distribute this as you like to any and all of your club members who would have interest.  this event is cohosted by XC Bragg Creek Ski Club and Canmore Nordic Ski Club.  The event has had two very successful years in 2012 and 2013 and we anticipate another incredible weekend in Bragg Creek.

a quick reminder that the early registration deadline for the Alberta Youth Championships is December 15.  Afterwhich it will still be possible to register just at a higher cost.  We are really hoping to have folks register early so that we have a good idea of how many people will be in attendance as the camp we are staying at wants a rental deposit three months in advance of the event.

a few details that I have had some questions about

meals 
1.  special diets - most special diets can be accommodated by the camp chef.  If your child has a special diet, i would encourage you to contact the camp chef, Matthew Prosser at 403-686-6325 and ask him if he can accommodate the special diet that your child might need - Please go ahead and compile a list of special diets for your club and send them to roystrum@gmail.com by monday feb 24, 2014.
2. there will be a friday evening snack of fruit, a hot and cold breakfast on saturday and sunday morning, bag lunches on saturday and sunday, and a banquet on saturday evening.

transportation
1. transportation from your home community to and from Bragg Creek is your responsibility.
2. ground transportation during the event is the responsibility of each ski club to organize.  no ground transportation to and from the event site is organized by the event organizers.  this is similar to how transportation works at nationals.

events
1. there are a number of race events as part of the Alberta Youth Championships in Bragg Creek:
- an interval start skate race on saturday morning - year of birth boy and girl categories for each of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
- a 4 person skate relay (official and unofficial teams) on saturday afternoon - official teams are two boys, two girls, two minimidgets, two midgets all from the same ski club; unofficial teams are any combination
- a 3 person coach relay - from the same club
- wave start classic race on sunday morning - year of birth boy and girl categories for each of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

eligible athletes
- athletes must be born in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 to participate.  Athletes born in 2004 or 2005 or younger are not permitted to participate

accommodations
- clubs will be assigned bunkrooms in one of the lodges at Kamp Kiwanis located at intersection of highways 8&22, 12 km north of Bragg Creek.  the number of bunkrooms assigned will correspond with the number of kids registered from each club.
- showers are available for everyone.  some showers are located in ensuite bathrooms, others are located in bathrooms down the hall from bunkrooms or in neighbouring cabins.
- bunkrooms sleep between 4 and 14 people.
- number of adults at youth champs from each club.  Please plan to bring at least one male and one female adult from each club.  The ratio of adults to kids from your club should be about 1 adult for every 8 children.  e.g. if you have 32 kids from your club attending, please have 4 adults register as coaches/chaperones.  
- coaches and chaperones must register as well on zone 4.  the cost for chaperones does not increase on dec 15.  it remains the same until the event registration closing date on feb 23.  this way clubs can register the appropriate number of adults to match their child registration numbers from their club.
- bedding - every adult and child staying at Kamp Kiwanis must bring their own bedding, pillow, toiletries, towel.
- bunk beds are camp style, vinyl covered mattresses.
- we will not have room for extra adults and younger or older siblings - cochrane is the closest town (20km north) that has a number of hotels.

waxing information
- high flouro glide waxes are not permitted at the Alberta Youth Championships.  We believe that the focus of this event should be on good skiing and not on who has the expertise or ability to pay for expensive high flouro glide waxes.  We also think that simplifying waxing will give coaches more time to focus on the important work of helping young skiers have a positive experience with racing.
- an indoor wax space is available at kamp kiwanis - the hobby hut has plenty of plug ins and you can drive your vehicle up to the door.
- there is no electricity at the race site - west bragg creek ski trails - so if you plan to wax at west bragg, you need to bring your own generator.

race site information

- West Bragg Creek Ski Trails are the official trails for the 2014 Alberta Youth Championships.  These trails are located at the end of Township Road 232, 8km west of the hamlet of Bragg Creek.  The trails are north facing, hold snow very well, and are well maintained by both Kananaskis Country and a local volunteer group, the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBTCA).  GBTCA is our official race trail groomers - they do an excellent job preparing for this event - it is the biggest event of the year at West Bragg Trails.  West Bragg Trails are located at 1450m - a similar elevation to Canmore Nordic Centre and over 300m higher than downtown Calgary. The site recieves abundant snow and with the excellent grooming, the site is skiable on great trails 90% of the winter season.
- West Bragg Trails were designed and built in the early 1980s by the trail designer as other K Country trail systems.  They are narrow old school trails that are very hilly.  The Stairway to Heaven climb is well known by kids who have skied at west bragg in the past.

arrival and departure times

please plan to arrive around 6pm on friday evening.  we will move out of Kamp Kiwanis on Sunday morning before the race events.  Bags can be left on the deck to pick up after the sunday races or can be loaded into vehicles on sunday morning after breakfast.  Over the past couple of years we have been able to do sunday awards on site at west bragg and be driving home by 1pm.

awards

- medals to 10th place in each single year, single gender category
- medals to 3rd place in the official relay (only the fasted team from each club is eligible for medals)
- medals to 1st place in the unofficial relay
- hip hip hoorays for the winners of the coach relay
- club aggregate banner awarded on sunday - formula for determining aggregate champions found in race notice
- race notice is located at xcbraggcreek.ca  

registration 
- early registration - $125 - until Dec 15 - https://zone4.ca/register.asp?id=5602&lan=1&cartlevel=0  
- registration deadline - Feb 23, 9pm - $175
- coach and chaperone registration deadline- Feb 23, 9pm - $80
- please note there is one event price that includes accommodation, food services and events.  If you choose not to stay at Kamp kiwanis and join us for meals that is entirely your choice but there will be no reduced registration price if you choose not to stay on site.  We are purposely organizing a camp style event to promote relationship building amongst kids and coaches and clubs from across the province.  We would like every child who is participating in the events to stay on site at Kamp Kiwanis, but if you choose not to, there will not be a reduced fee for registration.

questions
Roy Strum, Chief of Event, 2014 AYC