Taking the Time to frame 'Team' with T1/2 athletes
Kids are so ready to take an active part in sharing their ideas, in creating a team, in owning what its going to be about - when you give them the chance to contribute and put their ideas at the centre, they really run with it. When building a team, there are lots of things to consider - helping kids to own their own experience, to buy in, to do something because its important to them - these are important roles of a coach of adolescent cross country skiers.
Framing what 'team' means is a balance of many things in an individual sport like cross country skiing. Focusing on social norms is important in creating a culture where kids strive to learn and to be their best. Creating some expectations around what coaches expect of kids is important, and giving kids a voice to express what they expect from coaches helps to create boundaries and helps to paint a picture in kids' minds about what is important when they are at practice.
I am the lead coach with the T1/2 group at Canmore Nordic Ski Club. We recently engaged in such a session - 20 minutes well spent where kids answered four questions to help them create some group norms about expectations of each other, of coaches, and of themselves. These young athletes were asked to write individual responses on sticky notes and then stick them to the questions which were posted on the wall. Here are the questions and the responses from the athletes:
What is important to our T1/2 team?
- strength and fitness and racing
- have fun, be positive, no bragging about races, dont distract team mates when coach is talking
- having fun, being nice to each other
- being a good team mate
- dont complain (too much)
- work together
- no bragging, be encouraging, dont put other people down, be nice, have fun, be awesome
- have fun, get along, be helpful with each other
- always have fun, be a good team mate
- support each other
- be kind to your friends, be a good sport, be supportive to others
- make new friends, make new memories
- have fun
- work hard
What part of your 'game' do you want to work on the most this season?
- do more races
- offset technique
- skate skiing
- 1 skate and offset
- i want to work on my technique and race strategy, also learn some warm ups for races
- my technique
- work on endurance
- I want to work on my technique
- to help me get better at skate skiing and long distance
- getting back into the skiing habit
- my 1 skate technique
- 1 skate
- skate technique, double poling
- technique in classic skiing
- 1 skate and 2 skate
What do you expect of coaches?
- be super ultra fun and nice, coach really well, tell us what our mistakes are (if we have any)
- to encourage us and give us good strategies
- tell me how to improve my technique, be nice, be encouraging, always smile
- to give us tips
- lots of feedback, good comments
- making skiing fun
- tell us how to improve our technique
- to teach us well
- give us good tips for technique
- to be helpful, encouraging, but not pressuring to do things they are uncomfortable with
- to listen to us, help us, and be encouraging, be AWESOME!
- dont have too much core, more games with core involved
- to help us to have good tactics
- making skiing fun!
What should coaches expect from you (athletes)?
- be cooperative
- focus, fun, fastness, try our best, be a good sport
- to work hard and focus and to pay attention and to have fun
- listening and participating
- good sportsmanship, work hard, courage
- try our best
- to have a smile
- listening and participating
- not talk while coaches are talking, pay attention, focus on drills, SMILE
- be a good sport
- to listen
- 100% effort
- to always listen
What is interesting about taking the time for this sort of exercise, is the level of engagement. Doing this sort of thing, gives a chance for athletes to voice their hopes and in doing so helps to create a culture where their hopes can be realized.
The challenge with doing this sort of activity is being ok with not being out on the trail doing physical training or technical training. As a coach, I really want the kids I work with to be fit and to ski technically well. But more importantly, I want the adolescent athletes in the group of kids I work with to develop a love of the lifestyle of being an athlete, to enjoy the time they spend at ski practice, and to really own their experience.
The next steps - well at some point in the next while, it will be important to reinforce the ideas that these young people have shared with each other. The important work of engaging adolescent athletes in seeing themselves as part of a team, of seeing themselves as athletes who strive to be their best, of these young skiers saying to themselves 'I really love this stuff' is I think the goal of all coaches of 12-13 year olds. And the role of coaches creating expectations is vitally important to the building of a positive culture of excellence appropriate to a group of 12-13 year olds.
All of these ideas aren't new or novel or even leading edge - but they are a good thing to do - building a solid foundation for kids, a positive space, and ownership of their own experience. Ultimately, when they are out on the trail ski racing they are on their own - they need to be motivated to doing the work themselves.