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 

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

Visit our Alberta Youth Championships website for a report about the 2014 event held in Canmore/Bragg Creek.  

Here is the blog post originally posted in Dec 2013.

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

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 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.

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.

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

- 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.


- 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  

- early registration - $125 - until Dec 15 -  
- 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.

Roy Strum, Chief of Event, 2014 AYC 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Putting Racing into Perspective - a critical skill for adolescents

what is really important to kids...

This past week I participated in a ski club exchange with kids from our club in Canmore and kids from Chelsea and Gatineau, QC.  It was a fantastic week - one of those experiences that will stick with kids - the right mix of adventure, fun, new experience, and community building.  Its something that 12 and 13 year olds in our club eagerly look forward to as they grow.  We've done a few of these exchanges with Chelsea as well Whitehorse.  Always incredible experiences. 

Usually as part of these experiences we throw in a race event as part of the exchange program.  This past weekend all of the Chelsea kids and Canmore kids raced in the season opening Alberta Cup races in Canmore.  As part of the lead up to the races we did a race prep session.  I led this session and am pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Pleased because I think most of the kids were engaged with the session.  Here is what I did:

I did a question response activity.  I put sticky notes and pens on each table, enough for every kid.  The sentences I asked kids to complete were:  Success is....    When I am doing my best effort, my body feels like...   Pride in my effort looks like...

I chose these questions purposefully.  First, I wanted kids to think about success in a broader scope than finish position. In a sport like cross country ski racing, you need to do this.  Only one person wins the gold medal, everyone else doesn't - certainly we can be a bit more creative about success than finish position.  Secondly I wanted kids to think about best effort and what their body signals and sensations would be telling them if they were doing their best effort.  Sometimes its our bodies that let us that we are really trying our best.  Thirdly, I wanted kids to know that someone was watching them and that what was going on in their heads shows on their face.  I created some expectations that I wanted them to do their best and that I wanted them to feel pride in their effort.  So what does pride look like when you wear it. 

The adolescents I worked with in this session were for the most part very engaged in answering these questions and came up with surprising and authentic responses.  Kids this age think about this stuff and sometimes, well ok, maybe always, need some help framing what a race is all about. What is success?  What does pride look like? these are important questions that help to frame a race for kids.

I share this out because I think its important to voice the power of our roles as coaches and the importance of reinventing the work you do with kids every year.  Great teachers and great coaches do that work - they reinvent their role, their processes, and their learning activities to meet the needs of each new group of kids they work with.  Its what I strive to do - reinvent myself regularly; keep myself current, and always find an edge to the work where I am using my skill set to help kids develop a love of being active, a love of cross country skiing, and a love of being an athlete.  I encourage you to find your own edge and to go for it!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Monday, 25 November 2013

Teaching for Understanding...helping young skiers put skills into a context

rethinking how we are teaching skills

I just had a wonderful weekend in Edmonton.  Folks there had invited me to come up to work with a group of coaches on how to work with kids and to deliver a couple of NCCP coaching workshops.  Every time I do this sort of work I learn something new.  I try something different.  Although I plan out the details of the workshop I will lead, often, the input of participants leads me to a different place than where I had first thought I would go.  Thats what happenned this past weekend in Edmonton.  Here is the epiphany that followed.
So often when we teach skills to kids (or adults for that matter), we find a nice flat space to work with them, often this spaces has tracks and flat areas for skating. We work with them on diagonal striding without poles, or free skating.  I have done this alot - worked on basic technical points in isolation of terrain.  This weekend, as I was pulling together a little skills/error detection correction session, I thought about a body of literature that exists called Teaching Games for Understanding.   When I was undertaking a MSc Kinesiology at U of Calgary, I did some reading about this work as I was interested in advancing the effectiveness of coaching interactions on skill development in youth.  Games for Understanding focuses on the advancing instruction of sport by putting skill development in the context of the game.  Instead of just learning the forearm pass in volleyball in isolation in a drill, the forearm pass is taught in the context of tactics.  The big idea is that when a player understands where and when to use a forearm pass in a game, their readiness for learning is much greater.  The same idea applies well to cross country skiing.
Why is it that we teach free skating on a stretch of trail back and forth, watch it on video, look at joint angles, body position - all of the technical pieces.  Then during a race, particularly with adolescents, they don't perform the skill in the context of the terrain where is optimally performed. With the games for understanding approach, ski skills would be taught more explicitly within the context of the race or of the terrain in which it should be used.  This seems common sense, but its not what I have done most of over time.  When I have worked on weight shift and diagonal striding, I have typically done this on flat terrain or gently rolling terrain.  It worked for my purpose, I wanted to have athletes experience some success in getting a feeling for what gliding on one ski at a time felt like.  There is nothing wrong with doing this.  However, it does present an out of context learning situation for young learners when we teach them a skill like diagonal striding on flat ground which in the context of a race, we ask kids to mostly perform on a climb. I know what I emphasize is that diagonal striding is our climbing gear.  It makes me think, why is it that I didnt do most of my instruction on a climb when focusing on diagonal striding instead of flat ground.  Not many of the fastest skiers diagonal stride on flat ground.  They double pole on flat ground. 
Teaching kids a skill out of its context might make sense in some ways, however if we really want kids to learn that diagonal striding should be used primarily as a climbing technique, then that outcome should be visible and explicit.  We should practice diagonal striding technique on climbs because that is where we perform that skill.  Rocket science, no.  Common sense, yes.  But this is what the work of the games for understanding model tell us.  If you want to create skilled performers, put the skill in the context of the game.  In cross country skiing the game is a race.  Where and how and when do we want athletes to perform a skill.  I think that developing this understanding is a key piece of both enjoyment, skill development, and success as a young athlete.  Adolescents are ready for this type of work.  I encourage you to give it a try.
all-around nice guy
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Coaching effectiveness - what do we know...

how can teaching and learning literature contribute to enhanced coaching effectiveness
I'm not sure if I am out of the loop, but over my years as a coach of adolescent cross country skiers, I have not come across a great deal of literature about what aspects of coaching contribute most to athlete learning and achievement.  If you can point me in that direction, I would appreciate it.  You see I have worked for a number of years in the education world.  In the Teaching world, professional learning networks are the norm - particularly on Twitter, which is probably the single most used and highly effective teacher professional development tool in existence.  I know that there are a ton of athletes who use twitter to update followers on their travels, but I have yet to find a network of connected cross country ski coaches who use twitter to share out their ideas, reflections, and best practices through their blogs or tweets.  If it exists, I sure would appreciate you connecting me to it.  Please message me @RoyStrum on Twitter if you want to connect as a ski coach in this manner.  I am game as I have professionally benefitted so much from my professional learning network in my world as a phys ed teacher.
The real aim of this blog post is to share out some reading I have been doing from an education researcher from New Zealand, John Hattie.  In my work in the Calgary Board of Education, Hattie is the latest rage - everyone is reading his work and applying his findings to their professional practice.  Why - because his work is based on a meta-analysis of thosands of education research studies on student achievement.  As I have been reading Hattie's book - Visible Learning - I have constantly been thinking about my work as a coach of adolescent cross country skiers and ways that I can apply Hatties ideas about advancing achievement to my work as a coach.
Hattie identifies teachers as a major influence on student achievement.  Not that all teachers are effective or are experts or have a powerful effect on students - but that some teachers undertaking certain acts with appropriately challenging curricula and who show students what the learning outcome is very clearly have a powerful effect.  Some of the major contributions that effective teachers have on student learning are:
  •  quality of teaching as perceived by the students - students can pick out the teachers who focus on cognitive engagement with the content and who help students develop a way of thinking and reasoning that fits for the context.  This is completely relevant to coaching - coaches who can enage athletes in thinking about skill acquisition and developing understandings that can be applied in the contexts of being a ski racer are more effective in helping young athletes become better skiers.
  • teacher expectations - having high expectations of athletes' success is a self fulfilling prophecy in much the same way as having low expectations of athletes' success.
  • teachers' conceptions of teaching, learning, assessment and students - this relates to coaches' views on whether all young athletes can progress and whether achievement is changeable or fixed and whether progress is understood and articulated by coaches.
  • teachers' openess - this relates to whether coaches are prepared to be surprised.
  • classroom climate- this refers to having a warm socio-emotional climate at practices where errors are not only tolerated but welcomed.
  • a focus on teacher clarity in articulating success criteria and achievements - this relates to the degree to which coaches identify success criteria in skill development and athlete development.
  • the fostering of effort - probably one of the single most important coaching influences - how much do you foster and champion effort instead of outcomes.  Who gets the recognition in your club, the kid who stands on the podium or every kid who demonstrates effort?
  • the engagement of all students - great coaches focus on all young athletes equally, regardless of initial ability.  Every adolescent cross country skier can improve with the right type of coaching interventions.
I get excited when I read stimulating books or listen to the stories of folks who have worked hard to achieve something worthwhile.  My practice as a coach is altered by this type of learning.  I would like to find more coaches interested in sharing their practice and their ideas.  You can follow me on Twitter at @RoyStrum - I look forward to connecting with you.
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Thoughts on risk and success


Ted Talks is an amazing phenomenon in our digital culture.  A place where people share their thoughts; often delivered by folks who've been at something a while and whose message has some resonating quality that in many cases shifts perspective.  I enjoy Ted Talks - tune in every now and then to listen, learn, reflect, and give myself the opportunity to see the world through another person's lens.  I recently tuned in to a couple of Ted Talks videos that I wanted to share out because they have particular relevance for working with youth and thinking about the risks and benefits in the choices we make.
Chandra Crawford's story is remarkable in its accessibility.  With Chandra, you get the feeling that anything is possible.  Her story includes the remarkable gift of using her success as a platform for inspiring girls and young women to have confidence in themselves and strive to be their personal best.  She embodies this work by embracing her role as a mentor, role model, and agent of positive change all the while striving for her own personal excellence.  We need more Chandra Crawford's in the world.  What Chandra models about success is that the most important piece is about the platform for influencing others in a positive way.  Her Tedx Canmore talk brings this message home.  Definitely worth the 12 minutes to watch on the link below.
Grant Statham is a mountaineer and guide.  He speaks to risk and the acceptance that some risk is worth taking because the outcomes outweigh the potential for negative consequence.  Some risks aren't worth the potential for harm or injury and so need to be avoided or minimized.  When we work with skiers we work with risk.  There are the inherent hazards associated with cross country skiing.  There are the other risks associated with introducing kids to competition. How do you balance risk with potential positive outcome?  Statham has some good ideas in his Tedx Canmore talk on the link below.
In my work with young skiers, I have come to see that there are many things that go into transitioning young skiers from 'i'm doing this cause my parents want me to do it' to 'i love this stuff'.  Some of that has to do with how risk is framed.  Is your club a space where finish position is championed? Is it ok for kids to be in a learning space and feel valued and recognized for their effort?  How is success framed in your club?  these are good questions.  I've my own ideas about these things. 
Creating success means framing the work i do with kids to reflect effort, skill improvement, and achieving both process and outcome goals.  Creating success means recognizing the power of relationship between the coach and the athlete.  The tone I set in my interactions with kids is something i think a great deal about.  Keeping things lighthearted, respecting boundaries, and ensuring I have an appropriate balance of personal interactions as well as focused reinforcement or teaching interactions are important to me.  I have been reading a book called 'Visible Learning' by John Hattie lately.  Hattie's work is in the meta-analysis of thousands of studies focused on teaching and learning influences on achievement.  One of the gems from yesterday's reading from Hattie's work is that the Teacher (or Coach) is the variable with largest d value or effect on achievement - in his work Teachers (the person) have a d=0.49, compared to Curricula where d=0.45 or the Teaching (what the teachers does to teach) which has a d=0.42. 
What we do as coaches to balance risk andn define success is important work.  I use my role as coach to be an influence of positive change, of growth, of skill development, or positive relationship, and of creating a positive culture.  I encourage you figure out what is important to you.  As Hattie points out, there are lots of things that work when it comes to learning, what we need to do as coaches of adolescent skiers is figure what what works better.
Canmore, AB

Monday, 28 October 2013

Optimizing the Positive Potential of Coach-Athlete Interactions

I love being a coach...

Coaching continues to be one of the great joys in my life.  Each one of us acts on our values, our ambition, our passion.  If you work hard, opportunity comes along and your hard work puts you in the place where you can jump off and do the things that actualize your passion.  Every person has their own starting place, their own story, their own unique pathway that has gotten them to where they are.  My own story isnt one that includes lots of opportunity as a child.  I knew from a young age that being an athlete was what I wanted to be.  My family was not a sports family and any and all opportunity I was presented with came from the public schools I attended.  I think its why I dreamed of becoming a phys ed teacher.  The idea of being an athlete was my own.  I owned it.  It came from my dreams.  It was a couple of high school phys ed teachers who vailidated my ambition that helped me actualize my vision.  It was the influence of some caring adults who helped me to change the way I thought about my potential and give me the courage to go for it.  Coaches play a huge role in the way young people see themselves and the possibilities that exist when you work for what you get.  No matter what you do or dont accomplish as an athlete, the way that you see the world can change in a positive way when you have a coach that helps you set your sights on some appropriate targets.

The more I read and the longer I am on this planet, the more that I realize that the important stuff is about working hard, about continuous learning, about seeing a picture of where you want to go and what you want to be.  Along the way its important to have friends - friendships that are recipricol in nature - ones where you give and receive equally.  I've recently rediscovered the joy of having a best friend and how having a deeper friendship with someone can change the way you see your world.    Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, points out that friends can give each other wisdom and courage to make growth enhancing choices. For me part of the learning is reading - reading material that gets me thinking - that stretches my perception of what I can do and fuels me with ideas of how to get there.  One of these books has been Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In it Dweck speaks to the role of coaches, teachers, parents in helping create the type of thinking framework that helps people become their best. Isnt this really what coaching is all about?  helping kids become their best.  For me, its certainly why I coach. But why blog about it?  Who cares really about what one dude thinks.  I blog as a way of processing my learning - there are alot of great ideas in a book like Mindset - for me blogging is about synthesizing ideas into manageable bites.   Here is some more of the takeaway from this book.

What we say to the kids we coach matters

Delivering the message that 'success is about hard work' is something that is important to me.  When we give that message to kids it says - if I work hard, if I am persistent, if I focus on learning I will improve.  Its important for kids to own their effort and to see the link between success and hard work.  No successful champion of anything worthwhile has acheived something just on natural talent.  What is particularly astounding is someone like a Marit Bjoergen, World and Olympic cross country ski champion who continues to be at the top of her game for 8-10 years.  How is this possible - not natural ability alone - but a willingness to work as hard as she can to do everything in her power to be the best that she can be.  A sport like cross country ski racing I think has hard work built into it and its perhaps why as a sport it appeals to those with a growth mindset - someone who says to themselves 'I am going to work hard to be my best'.

How we praise kids matters

Focusing on the effort and choices is something Dweck says is critical to helping kids grow because it focuses on the piece that kids can control.  No one can control natural abilities - so focusing on it sends the message that 'you were born this way, destined for greatness'.  Praising talent or the outcome can set kids up when they hit a snag and don't win and their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom.  How many times have we seen this with young skiers in cross country skiing where early success kids drop out as soon the late developers catch up.  For me, its important to give these early developers the right mindset that focuses not on talent or outcome but instead on effort.  We lose too many early developers from our sport and its almost accepted as normal and expected - early development in cross country skiing can almost be seen as a curse because the pattern seeems to be 'win early on talent and size, then drop out later when the going gets tough'.  Its important that we don't give a message that leads kids to think to themselves 'I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning'. We can't afford to do this in our sport. It just isnt big enough in Canada to be so reckless with young people.   Instead, we need to focus our work on developing a culture of hard work, effort, and perseverance.

How we help kids deal with disappoinment matters

Lets face it, as an individual race type sport, most kids who try out racing never get on the podium.  What we say to these kids can help them develop the tools for success later on.  As coaches, do we champion the champions or do we focus on developing a culture of 'hard work leads to success'. 

Dweck offers a few great ideas of things to say to kids experiencing disappointment

- I like the effort you put in, but lets work together and figure out what you didnt understand

- We all have different learning curves - it may take some more time for you to catch on to this, but if you keep at it, you will improve

- Skills and achievement come through effort and commitment

We live in a world now where so many parents bubble wrap their children - avoiding sports and situations where their children might experience set back or disappointment.  Here is a great response Dweck shares in Mindset of a parent helping his daughter deal with a competition result she was disappointed with.

"I know how you feel.  It is so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win.  But you know, you havent really earned it yet.  There are many girls here who have been at it longer and who have worked harder than you.  If its something you want, then it is something you will have to really work for".


I love being a coach.  It provides an opportunity everyday to shape the future of young people.  It provides me with chances to show concern, be compassionate and have consideration for others.  You never know what kind of influence you might have on a young person through helping them be their best.  I like to keep it fun but focus on the bigger ideas - the learning that comes from deliberate and thoughtful interactions that promote growth.

Its already winter in our part of the world.  Time to strap on my skis and enjoy the incredible feeling that is cross country skiing.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What the Growth Mindset can teach us...

reflecting on talent and hardwork
Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset, the New Psychology of Success - How we can learn to fulfill our potential.  Dweck makes the case in her book that there are two mindsets - a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.  A fixed mindset is one where an athlete sees their limits as fixed - you are either destined for greatness or not.  You either have the talent or you don't.  A growth mindset is one where an athlete says to themselves 'I can learn this, I can get better with practice and hard work'.  Dweck points out that most highly successful athletes have a growth mindset - one that allows them to respond to setbacks with the perspective of 'how can I improve'.  In our work with young skiers, how can we create a space where a growth mindset is encouraged and supported.
Talent is a word that comes up often in sport, especially when a group of coaches get together.  'Oh, that kid has lots of natural talent' is a phrase you might hear.  Talent is sometimes associated with physical endowment - large muscular kids, or kids who ski effortlessly and technically better as an 8 year than most adults.  The problem with 'talent' is that it doesn't naturally encourage hard work.  We see this all the time - 150lb 13 yearold boys who win races by 5 minutes only to drop out of skiing when the later developers catch up in their development.  Dweck points this out nicely- "the naturals, carried away with their greatness, don't learn how to work hard or how to cope with setbacks".  Focusing on talent, creates a fixed mindset - one that says - you were born with 'greatness'.  It is almost a curse to be identified early as 'talented' as most highly successfull athletes weren't necessarily blessed with lots of early natural ability - they became great because they worked hard. Michael Jordan, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Billy Jean King, Babe Ruth - all athletes who didnt start out as the ones identified with lots of talent.  Champions it seems find success in doing their best, in learning and improving.
'You must have worked really hard' - this is a good response when to a young athlete experiencing success.  It focuses on the piece of the work that the athlete can be responsible for.  'Success is 99% effort, 1% talent" - another great message for young athletes.  "If you work hard at something, you get out what you put in" - another message that focuses on the effort piece and not whether you were born with natural gifts.
There is something to be said for natural ability.  But more important I think is focusing on hard work.  How can we create a space for adolescent athletes where the focus is on the hard work.  How can we create competitions that don't just reinforce early development over late development.  Creating hard work is pretty easy.  Creating a space where kids can learn that hard work is what is going to take them to success is the challenge. 
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Friday, 11 October 2013

Built for Speed - a new event series aimed at 10-14 year olds in Southern Alberta

Good stuff is cooking in Southern Alberta

Greetings members of the cross country ski community.  This is the coaching blog of Roy Strum.  A cross country ski coach interested in supporting developing coaches in advancing the level of cross country skiing in Alberta and beyond.  This is not the website for the Built for Speed (Southern Alberta) Event Series.  If you are looking for the Built for Speed website - please visit -   There you will find information about dates and locations of various B4S events in the greater Calgary area.

What follows is a blog post that I wrote in October 2013 that includes some of my reflections about the process that was undertaken to create a new event series that aims to change how children experience a ski competition. 

hey folks

what began as a conversation about broadening the reach of our local race series for children, has resulted in the creation of a new event series.  

Built for Speed is aptly named to reflect the developmental window of trainability for children age 10-13.  The 'event' series aims to be a first step for club athletes to participate in a multi-club event.  The idea for Built for Speed comes from the intent to broaden participation in regional development events to more clubs; to support smaller clubs in developing the capacity and interest in racing; to focus on a bigger geographic area than the bow corridor.

There are lots of clubs that focus on children's ski programs in southern Alberta that we hope to attract with this series:  Medicine Hat/Cypress Hills CCSC, Brooks CCSC, Crystal Ridge NSC (Okotoks), Crowsnest Pass CCSC, XC Bragg Creek, Foothills Nordic, Calgary Nordic Training Group, Calgary Ski Club, Rocky Mtn Jackrabbits, Red Deer Nordic, Bow Waters Jackrabbits, Canmore Nordic Ski Club.

Built for Speed events are unique in a number of ways:

- each BFS event will include more than one 'race' - to encourage families and kids to travel more than an hour in some cases, more than one event will be held consecutively on a day.  e.g. the day might start with a indiv start race, followed by a downhill race or relay.  Each club will decide what two races they would like to organize.  This idea has been tested at CCC Racing Rocks events where up to 3 or 4 races are organized over a single day.

- There will be two formats for the event series:
    -  Open events - these competitions are intended for all skiers from all clubs
    -  Development events - these competitions are intended for novice skiers from     all clubs - entry in development events will be at the discretion of club coaches.  These events are intended to provide a positive experience for kids new to racing in an environment where most of the kids are at about the same level of ability.  This idea is similar to the tiering of competition groupings in organized hockey in big centres.

- BFS event series will include 4 events - in the first year, one in each of Calgary, Canmore, Bragg Creek, and Okotoks.  Foothills Nordic will host an 'open' event, Canmore Nordic will host an 'open' event, XC Bragg Creek will host a 'development' event, and Crystal Ridge Nordic will host a 'development' event.

- BFS events will focus on the four year age group - minimidget (2002, 2003) and midget (2000-01).  Competitions may be organized as single year competition groupings.  Host clubs can choose to add to the age groupings to suit their needs.

- Registration for events will be organized individually by clubs.  Profits (if any) will reside with the host club to help them build their program.

- BFS awards will include club banners for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th place clubs based on points accumulated through the series,

Look for more information/details soon about this exciting new event series including event dates and locations and registration information.

Welcome to all of the clubs in southern Alberta to this new event series.  We hope that it is the start of extended growth and development of clubs in the southern half of the province.  We know there are many small, developing clubs in southern Alberta.  This event series is aimed at all of our clubs in the south.  We hope to see you at these events.

CNSC Coach
Built for Speed EVent Series Advocate

Monday, 7 October 2013

Do your best...what are we really teaching kids...

Is 'do your best' the best we can do as coaches?
Somewhere along the way we have to ask ourselves as coaches - are we doing everything we can to advance athlete development?  Do we reflect on the impact of what we say and what we do on the achievement of learning outcomes attached to our work?  Are we doing the things that are important to help kids become more than what they are predisposed to do?
These are good questions.  They come from my introduction to some research done by John Hattie, an education professor from New Zealand, who has conducted some meta-analysis research on several thousand research papers focused on teaching and learning.
In my role as a learning consultant with a local school division, I explore and share this type of learning with other teachers to advance the work that teachers do with students.  This work is equally as important and maybe moreso with coaches,  where outside of a small elite group of professional coaches, ready access to ideas about best practice when it comes to creating learning environments where kids can surpass their predisposed potential as athletes and instead become more than their best may not be that readily available.
Hattie's work abounds with great ideas to improve practice as it relates to the role of teacher or in the case of most folks reading this blog, to the role of coaches.  Great learning often is attached to reflection - being able to synthesize some key ideas into practice.   It is the change in practice that is the evidence that learning has taken place.  One of the reasons I blog, is for my own synthesis of ideas that come from literature, video, mentors, or my own practice as a coach.  Hattie suggests, and with research to back him up, that it is the teachers or in our case, the coaches whose reflection on their own practice is what is of key importance to student learning.  What are we doing and how does it affect achievement?
Hattie's research examines 138 different influences on achievement.  He notes the relative importance of various influences on the rate and success of student achievement.  We all have this idea that smaller instructional groups has a positive affect on achievement.  But how does small instructional groupings compare relatively to the impact of influences such as providing a challenging task.
The essence of good teaching according to Hattie comes down to a number of important things that successful teachers do.  Successful coaches do these same things.
1.  learning intentions are clear - kids should have a clear picture of what the outcome looks like - e.g. today we are going learn to be kick-ass double polers... 
2. success criteria is absolutely obvious - kids should know what success looks like - e.g.  double poling should look like.... it should include this important piece...
3. peer work is dramatic and critical - good learning includes kids talking to each other about the learning task, helping each other figure out what to do, what it looks like, how it should feel, and how they know they are doing it.  e.g. after making the learning intention clear, kids should have opportunities to engage in peer teaching, feedback, and skill correction
4. discussion about the task - good learning includes some discussion about the learning task
5. when you achieve the task, you want to do it again - when learning has taken place, kids are excited about their improvement and seek to make further improvement
The worst thing that you can according to Hattie is to tell kids to 'do their best'.  Doing your best is too easy.  There is not adequate challenge in 'doing your best'.  Doing your best means whatever you put forth is good enough for you because that is your best.  Really good learning includes creating challenging tasks for kids.  What does that look like in coaching cross country skiing?  Some people have that figured out - you just have to look to the places where kids are successful, where they stick it out, where they are engaged as young athletes and where they are skiing skilfully and with fitness. 
These are the sort of conversations we need to be having with coaches in our own clubs and with coaches in neigbouring clubs.  If we are interested in advancing the skill and engagement of kids as young athletes, we need to be thinking about what we are doing as coaches and teachers to create challenging learning tasks that help kids exceed their potential.  We need to aim higher as coaches - to helping kids become more than their best.  We need to have those conversations with each other about what that might look like and what our role is as coaches.
These are type of conversations I love to have.  Grab me next time you see me and lets chat.
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Motivation - an alternative to a carrot and stick...

Rewards - what works with adolecent athletes?

How important is success to young athletes?  When it comes motivating young athletes, how much does being on the podium really motivate them to continue on and pursue life as an athlete of their own passion and volition?  How many times have we seen young athletes with incredible talent and ability decide being an athlete is not really what works for them?  How is long term success linked to early success?  All great questions...
Some of my recent reading and watching have made me reconsider long held beliefs about the value of extrinsic motivators.  I've come to rethink why, when, how, and for whom we provide rewards.  As an Educator, Coach, Consultant, Facilitator and Learner, I 've begun to question the appropriate balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  The culture we create in our classrooms and during our practices is affected by the motivation system we set up.  We can think carefully about what we're doing or not - I prefer to think carefully.
Dan Pink's Ted Talks presentation tells us that in case after case of business studies, environments that provide autonomy, mastery, and purpose outperform carrot and stick businesses by a huge margin.  According to Pink, its a question of compliance vs engagement  Autonomy refers to the urge to direct our own lives.  Mastery refers to the desire to get better and better at something that matters.  Purpose refers to the idea that we do something in the service of something larger than ourselves.
Dan Pink, speaking to the Puzzle of Motivation - Ted Talks Oxford
Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. Can we apply these ideas to our classroom or our practices? Ya, of course. Truly engaged athletes have ownership of their training program. They want input into what is happening with them. As adoloscents, are athletes ready to direct their own training program? probably not, but adolescents are very ready to make choices for themselves - its how they wired. They want and need increasing amounts of control over their lives - particularly from their family. As coaches can we provide them with autonomy - yes, we can. Autonomy means giving responsibility for doing the work and recognizing the effort that is shown. It means providing them with opportunities for self direction. Are adolescent athletes ready for mastery at 12 or 13 years of age? How do we give young athletes the opportunity to develop the desire to get better and better at something? Maybe by providing them a clear picture of what mastery looks like. Maybe by providing performance benchmarks for them to strive to achieve. How do create a space where kids get the idea that they are doing something that is in service of something larger than ourselves? Good question. In an individual sport where success is measured as individuals, maybe we can focus our energy on team outcomes, team culture, social engagement.
Motivation is central to long term success.  As Dan Pink points out, environments where autonomy, mastery, and purpose are supported, performance is greatly enhanced.  Can we do this in our coaching environments - oh ya.  We can. 
Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ideas on Creating Success - an Imagine Chicago example...and some thoughts from Margaret Lawrence

Positive Change gets you there faster...

A few years ago, I had the chance to sit in on a session with Bliss Browne.  Bliss is a remarkable woman from Chicago.  Her work contributed to transforming a large urban concrete jungle into one of the greenest cities in North America - green roofs, solar energy, improved public transit, etc.  Although her work wasn't focused on athlete development in cross country skiing, the lessons she learned and shared are valuable and very transferable to any situation where you aim to transform the landscape - figuratively or literally.  I recently have become reacquainted with Bliss' work in Chicago and the processes she used to accomplish amazing things when the odds were against the work she thought was important.  I want to share some of that learning with you - because I think that it is very relevant to youth athlete development and the world that we live in.  Here are some of the things I have learned.

The best way to bring about change is to cultivate hope, to build capacity, to unleash collective appreciation, and focus on positive change.  Bliss' work is really built on the notion that human beings move in the direction of what we ask them about.  When groups focus on exalted human values and achievements, peak experiences, best practices, worthy accomplishments what is found is that these things tend to flourish.  Instead when a deficit based analysis is undertaken, what is found is that motivation is undermined and there is a deference to expert heirarchies.  These are simple ideas and make cognitive and emotional sense.  Most people like to be positive.  Positivity engages people.

In her work in Chicago, Bliss and her community (the Imagine Chicago initiative) had a vision that Chicago could be the most desireable urban centre in America to live; that Chicago could be the greenest city.  The approach used focused on deliberately asking positive questions around affirmative topics to ignite constructive dialogue and inspired action.  She focused on having her community envision positive images of the future grounded in the best of the past leading to deep and sustaining change.  In so much of our work in ski clubs across north america, this is the work that set out to do - to build a place that has enduring appeal to youth, where youth embrace fitness and hard work, where adolescents and children start to dream about how good they can become as an athlete.  Imagine Chicago's approach can be used to build ski communities.

I have recently undertaken to lead a discussion with coaches and club leadership from across southern Alberta about where we have come from, what we envision for our region, and how we can get there.  I have decided this is important enough for me to do, because of many discussions with coaches in my own club and across the region about how we can strengthen our region's ski community.  The fact is that if you look back on the last twenty years, skiers from southern Alberta have been among the top performers in Canada and the world.  Canmore Nordic Ski Club has more olympic cross country ski medalists than any other club in Canada. Our region has had a disproportionate percentage of skiers on national teams and world championship and world junior championship teams than almost any region in Canada.  The work I have put on my plate isnt about fixing something that is broken. The work is about strengthening and building on the incredible success of our region as a place where young people aspire to and accomplish incredible things.  This is important work because the world is a changed place from 5, 10, or 20 years ago.  There are different leaders, different coaches, different clubs, different support structures, different events, different priorities - all of which contribute to a huge need to constantly re-engage our community about what where we have come from, what we envision, and how we will get there.

My own work as a coach, phys ed teacher, university instructor, leadership facilitator, summer camp director and child and youth care counsellor has focused for the past 20-25 years of youth and children.  I have been the dude in the trenches and on the front line.  There are many, many of us out there.  People who care about our own children deeply, but who also care about the larger community.  What a region we would have if instead of having two large successful clubs who attend and organize events regularly, we could instead have a dozen clubs, two dozen clubs, each of whom have a shared vision about what is possible and their role in creating an environment where southern Alberta continues to be a place where kids dream and accomplish amazing things with their lives.  That is the goal.

Here is what I plan to do with an upcoming meeting in Calgary where club coaches and leadership have been invited to take part in a discussion about creating a new event series for youth in our region that moves away from the superclub model and instead to broad based participation.
- choosing the positive as the focus of inquiry
- inquiring into the success stories
- locating themes from those stories and selecting topics for further inquiry
- creating shared images of a preferred future
- finding innovative ways to create that future

It is important to recognize the source of this work - David Cooperrider of Case Werstern Reserve University and ideas shared by Bliss Browne and the common sense of our local leadership in the greater Calgary area. 

The work of creating a new event series isn't rocket science, and its not earth moving, and it certainly is just a small piece of the bigger structure required to create a space where kids can become their best as adults.  This all reminds of an excerpt from a speech titled My Final Hour, by Margaret Lawrence, Canadian author, to the Trent University Philosophy Society.  I'll share it here because I think it is a powerful reminder to embrace the opportunites we have as individuals and communities to make the world a better place.  Here is the excerpt from Lawrence's speech from March 29, 1983.

"So, if this were indeed my final hour, these would be my words to you.  I would not claim to pass on any secret of life, for there is none, or any wisdom except the passionate plea of caring.  In your dedication to your own life's work, whatever it may be, live as though you had forever, for no amount of careful devoted doing is too great in carryng out that work which you have set your hands.  Cultivate in your work and your life the art of patience, and come to terms with your inevitable human limitations, while striving also to extend the boundaries of your understanding, your knowledge, and your compassion.  These words are easily said:  they are not easily lived.  Learn from those that are older than you are; learn from your contemporaries; and never cease to learn from children.  Try to feel, in your own heart's core, the reality of others.  This is the most painful thing in the world, probably, and the most necessary.  In times of personal adversity, know that you are not alone.  Know that although in the eternal scheme of things you are small, you are also unique and irreplaceable as are all of your fellow humans everywhere in the world.  Know that above all, your commitment is to life itself. Your own work and friendships and loves will come to an end, because one day you will die, and whatever happens after that, it will not be on this earth.  But life and work and friendship and love will go on in others, your inheritors."

The work of engaging communities, whether in sport, education, work, or residence is incredibly important work.  In the case of Chicago, its an incredible example of the unlikely becoming the reality.  This might be the same in your setting.  Good luck with your important work...


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Characteristics of an Elite Racer - Implications for Adolescent Cross Country Skiers

Helping kids get there fast...

It takes time really to become an elite racer - certainly not something that comes to a kid at 12 or 13 years of age.  To be a top performer in cross country ski racing, an athlete needs to be ready to work at it for 10 or 12 or 20 years - a long time.  There has been lots written about the physiological and lifestyle characteristics of an elite racer.  Heikki Rusko's 'Cross Country Skiing' (Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Mass. 2003) is a good example.  Elite cross country ski racers have some things in common.

High Aerobic Power - elite athletes can take in, transport, and use Oxygen (measured in L/min) at a higher capacity than non elite athletes.  They also have lower resting heart rates and higher stroke volume than athletes who have trained less.  Top performing cross country skiers have increased activity of oxidative enzymes in their muscles and a greater volume of capillaries in their muscles to bring blood to their muscles.

Capacity to train for long periods - successful ski racers train alot - 800 hrs/year is common - 2-3 hours/day for 10 or more years.

High Muscular Power - top performers are able to move large loads at a high speed - cross country skiing is predominantly a power-endurance sport.

High Muscular Endurance - top ski racers are able to perform repeated muscular contractions - over and over again for up to a couple of hours in duration (50km race)

Good Balance and Body Awareness - elite athletes are able to stay on top of their skis under demanding conditions - they are able to control their positions during various speeds, terrain, course and climatic conditions.

Good Muscular Control - top racers have developed autonomous generalized motor programs that help them to efficiently control movement - the neural pathways from brain to muscle and back are highly developed - this takes alot of time to develop.  Well developed neural pathways decrease the time lapse between presentation of a stimulus (an icy downhill corner) and the body's response to that stimulus (maybe lower centre of gravity).  Cross country skiers who have been at it awhile also are very agile - they have an ability to change direction of the body or body parts rapidly.

Reasonable Flexibility - to maximize power generation from extension or flexion of a limb, athletes must have reasonable flexibility so as to have as large a range of motion as possible.

Lifestyle Characteristics - Training is only one half of the preparation needed to ensure good performance in a race - top performers also have outside interests that provide another avenue for the athlete to focus on and in which to feel successful.

Personal Characteristics - elite racers often have an ability to pay attention to details - e.g. losing 1cm per stride over 5km amounts to a loss of 5m.  Its important to have an ability to concentrate as well - to focus on one objective - covering the course as efficiently as possible in the shortest amount of time.  Racers who have been successful have often developed an ability to concentrate completely on factors that he can influence and disregard others that are beyond his control. Being tough minded is important - having a strong mental approach is essential for success.  Top racers are also often top learners/students - they have learned how to focus on their own learning.  These athletes are often also dedicated, disciplined, patient, and resilient - they are able to stay focused on goals and adapt to set backs.

Top athletes love the lifestyle of racing - people continue with things that they enjoy.

This is a big list - and alot of characteristics that come together to help an athlete become a top performer.  The big question for those of us coaching adolescents is what pieces of this puzzle are most important to focus on.  It is precisely a coach or a club's response to the 'what should be the priorities' question that create talent hotbeds.  

So where would I start on this list...

- I follow the recommendations of our club's head coach - in our club we focus on fun, adventure, fitness, and technique - this includes a 'not too much too soon' approach to racing, travelling, volume, etc.
- I follow the recommendations of the Sport Canada's long term athlete development model - for 12-13 year olds this includes aerobic capacity, strength development, speed development, and a big emphasis on team building and social focus.
- I work on being explicit about developing a passion for racing

Having an idea of what to do and where to go with your coaching is a huge part of transitioning adolescent athletes from skiing because their parents want them to and embracing the lifestyle of being a racer and being your best.  It all takes time - and so much of it depends on the culture that you create as a coach - what you think is important comes through - kids talk to each other about it and they talk to their parents about it - in the end, its important to be organized, to communicate well, to be enthusiastic, to be a warm and caring adult, and to create some fun.  

Summer is here!  In my club, Canmore Nordic, we are working with our young athletes a few days a week to build passion and enjoyment of a great sport - cross country skiing.



Friday, 14 June 2013

Rethinking the value of praise...

Is 'good job' really doing the work we think it is...
I recently read an article called '5 reasons to stop saying good job' by Alfie Kohn (originally published in Parents magazine in May 2000).  It got me thinking about what a common staple 'good job' is in the vernacular of the typical coach working with young cross country skiers.  There are many good reasons that 'good job' seems to do the work of encouraging young skiers to do the work of learning to be a good cross country skier.  Everyone needs some encouragement - and isn't 'good job' some recognition of the effort it takes to learn something new?  After reading Kohn's article (you can google it and find it quite easily), I'm not so sure.  Here is a summary of the article and my interpretation of the content.
Simple praise creates dependence of the young skier on the coach.  Instead of kids developing their own sense of accomplishment, they end up relying on the coach/adult to provide them with the reinforcement.  'Good job' can work in the short term because alot of children have a huge need for the approval of the adults who spend time with them.  Further, simple praise can end up being a way to have children comply with the wishes of the adult - Kohn calls this 'sugar coated control'.  What we really should be doing is asking kids how they feel they've done instead of telling them.  It is so easy to fall into the cycle of simple praise as a coach of young athletes as it makes kids feel good (at least in the moment) and increases their interest in complying with your instructions and expectations.  You put enough energy into this type of praise and you get some immediate return on investment with kids.  The question that we should ask ourselves is - what's it doing to the kid?
'Good job' can create praise junkies - kids who need the ongoing stimulation and reinforcement that comes from you as a coach.  In a sport like cross country skiing, young skiers need to develop independent thinking skills.  Included in this skill set is the ability to do some self assessment - 'how did that go?' and 'what went well?' and 'what didn't go so well?' are all things young skiers need to develop some independence on if they are going to stick with being a ski racer.  Cross country racing requires us to have and use the skills of positive self talk and emotional/mental focus.  Does 'good job' end up creating kids who rely on the evaluation of their coach? instead of learning to form their own judgements?  Kohn would say that 'good job' doesn't reassure kids at all, instead, it makes kids feel less secure in themselves.  How much dependence do we want to create as coaches with the adolescent and young racers we work with?  Something to think about for sure.
As coaches, we should recognize the important role we play in the lives of the young athletes we work with.  The typical early adolescent athlete is so ready to listen and do whatever a coach expects of them.  There exists a trusting and nurturing relationship between a coach and children this age.  In addition parents trust us with the most precious thing in their lives - their kids.  Many parents expect that we will do the right thing to help them grow into independent, healthy, positive young people.  Kohn says that when we 'good job' a young person, we really are passing a judgement on them and that no one really likes being judged.  Maybe that is why we find that 'good job' has limited shelf life - works well in the beginning, but after awhile, doesn't pack the same punch.  Really, does 'good job' tell a child how to feel? Should we as coaches instead be encouraging young athletes to take delight themselves in their effort and accomplishment.
Kohn points out in the article that research shows that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest.  We need to ask ourselves does praise motivate kids, or does it motivate kids to get more praise?   Sometimes what seems to happen is that kids are motivated to get more praise, but it seems that this is often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.  Are we overpraising kids?  a good question to ask yourself as a coach.
Reducing achievement is the final point the Kohn makes in the article.  Praise it seems, can undermine the independence, pleasure, interest, and commitment that young athletes feel towards skiing.  Can it also interfere with how good a job they actually do in performing the skills they are being praised for doing?  Can their movitation decrease if they are over praised?  Good coaches have their own answers to these questions.  Ask a highly successful athlete who their most influential coaches were, and they likely might tell you that it was a person who didn't give them alot of praise.  Does it matter if the child is 6 years of age, or 9 years of age, or 12 years of age?  well, ya, it probably makes a huge difference in terms of the type and amount of praise given.  Kohn would probably say that praise creates some pressure to 'keep up the good work' and this ultimately reduces creativity and effort as the young learner starts thinking instead about how to keep the praise coming from the coach.
A big question we need to ask is 'are we praising a child because we need to say it, or because the young athlete needs to hear it?'  Is it our need more than theirs?  Are we offering praise, acknowledgement, and approval for jumping through a hoop we have set before a young skier? A good question to ask yourself.  Maybe its time we started thinking about what the alternatives are to 'good job' and other forms of simple praise.  Perhaps there is something more constructive and valuable that a young skier needs to hear from us regularly.  Maybe there is something else that would help kids to explore and develop the needed skills and good values that come along with being a successful athlete.
In 'Five reasons to stop saying 'good job', Kohn says that what we should be doing is offering to young skiers (learners) unconditional support, and love with no strings attached.  This Kohn says is the opposite of praise.  We need to be thinking as coaches about what we do and how we do it when it comes how we interact with the early adolescent skiers we work with.  As coaches, we can think about asking kids how that went, and validating that what they say is true to them, instead of convincing them otherwise.  Somedays it really does suck to be in a learning place - what we can be doing as coaches during this tough time is show some compassion, understanding, and validation.  We can help kids to frame their experience because really, young people have alot going for them, but one thing they often lack is perspective.   We can offer perspective you the young skiers we work with.  We can help to build a culture in our clubs that helps kids to become independent thinkers who can recognize their own good effort.  We can create positive spaces by creating expectations and reinforcing the personal growth of the young people with. 
This is a good conversation and one I am sure we all thought about at some point.  I encourage you continue the conversation in your own clubs or with me when I see you next.  Happy trails dude!