Sunday, 3 March 2013

Breaking through the cult of the individual...ideas on building a ski community

More is better...especially when it comes to working together to advance competitive skiing


I'm really stoked - I've just come off of a really incredible weekend.  Almost 150 kids born 1999-2002 - all of them excited about ski racing.  Its amazing what happens when you remove some of the walls between ski clubs - when what you do is consciously think about building something bigger than your own ski club.  Its easy really to do otherwise - to put your head down and just focus on advancing your own athletes' agendas - to get wrapped up in just your own priorities.  Now and then something comes along that erases the boxes that we wrap our priorities in - something good - something that lets you celebrate the success of kids no matter where they're from or what club they affiliate with.

This past weekend was incredible - the 2013 Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships - an event with growing momentum - for many good reasons.  One of these reasons, I think, is that what we have really focused on, is building a provincial ski community for adolescent athletes and their coaches - we have been intentional about building something bigger than just a couple of ski races.  We envision an event where coaches and athletes build relationships that go beyond the regular 'hi, how's it going?'  It is work that many coaches and athletes are ready for.  Something that grows over time - a feeling that you're part of something bigger and that the contribution you offer extends beyond narrow self interest - a place where you're not just interested or concerned with the performance of your own athletes.

2013 Alberta Youth Champs was full of many incredible moments - for me, having been around a while, its great to see kids who have made steady improvement year after year.  At this year's event, particularly astounding to me was the performance of a group of 5 or 6 boys from St. Albert.  Astounding because I remember 3 or 4 years ago when they first showed up at some provincial level events - they did as almost every novice racer does - did their best, but finished in the middle to the back of the pack.  Each year, as they've grown, these boys have improved - this past weekend 5 or 6 of them were in the top 10 in their age group - amazing.

I had a great conversation with a friend the other morning at the camp we stayed at during youth champs - she was a high level racer in her day skiing at the Univ of New Mexico, and is doing the amazing and important work of coaching novice adolescents in a start up club in a small community that is just beginning to build a tradition and program of athlete development.  Her athletes were kids who have made huge improvements from last year to this year's youth champs - she brought the 3rd largest team to the event - we talked about the challenges of working with kids who really want to do well, but are just getting started, and dealing with the disappointment of not making the top 10 in their age group (Alberta Youth Championships present medals to the top 10 in each single year age group).  We shared ideas around the important conversations with kids to help them process their experience.  Her club's athletes won 1 medal out of the 160 that were awarded for performance.  This was a breakthrough for her club - in fact it was only the second medal ever won by an athlete from her club at a provincial level race.  Amazing, and something to be celebrated.

These are the sorts of coaches and clubs who leaders from successful clubs need to reach out to - to support their work - not with the intention of creating a relationship where the fastest/most successful athletes from these small clubs move on over to the bigger, already successful clubs - but rather to support a hard working coach who is trying her best to create something amazing for kids.  The cult of the individual is often what can get in the way of offering this kind of support.  Some folks are just too busy or focused on their own athletes' progress to notice - in fact, there are likely clubs out there that could care less about the health of any other club except their own, who could care less about athlete development except for what is best for their own athletes.  The self interest of focusing on 'what's best for me' can take over - the emphasis on elitism serves the narrow interest of a family trying to advance their own child's career or serves the narrow interest of a coach needing to secure enough elite athletes to work with, but does nothing to build a broader, successful ski community.

I think we have an obligation to help others who aren't in as fortunate a situation as we might be - when we have built something successful, we should be sharing the secret to that success with others, not hoarding it secretly to ourselves.  The fact is that the ski community knows in a broad sense, who is always there to help them, who's always there ready to share knowledge and experience - they know who the builders are.  I know a bunch of them myself.

In the end, you do need to be able to focus on your own athletes - its our job as a coach - we can't be taking care of everyone else's athletes in addition to ours.  But, that's not really what I`m getting at here - what I am saying is that supporting developing clubs and coaches is the responsibility of the ski community and serves the broader interest of high level skiing.  Provincial sport organizations are set up to do this work - yet, as with everything, relationship is a key component of collaboration.  This weekend I was so proud of the good work of our large and somewhat successful club in Canmore working side by side with a small, yet ambitious start up club in Bragg Creek - helping each other out - working together to the host the Alberta Youth Champs - with no agenda other than to create an experience for children that has enduring impact - an experience aimed at building a strong ski community.  This is important work - the building of friendships and relationships - between coaches and kids from clubs all over Alberta, Saskatchewan, and NWT.  It was an incredible weekend!  One where kids start to dream of what it might be like to be a ski racer - for coaches to realize there are friends out there - it was a weekend where we collaborated on advancing competitive cross country skiing in Canada.  Bravo!

Roy



 

7 comments:

  1. Great article Roy. It takes the efforts and enthusiasm of coaches as yourselves to prove that we (as a small club) are just as important in the bigger picture. I carry that same philosophy but unfortunately are at the opposite end, much like your struggling, yet seemingly now successful friend from the small club environ. Our largest issue at the moment is recruitment when we live in a major DH ski town. Any thoughts on that topic? All the best Troy

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    1. Hey Troy,

      I have admired your work for the past number of years - your work in building a vibrant ski club in Golden is worthy of lots of recognition. We have certainly had some conversations with our club in Canmore about working more closely with you on some sort of event - for lots of reasons including because of your central location to canmore, kimberley, revelstoke, salmon arm, and invermere. It also would be so awesome to be hosting a joint Alberta/BC cup race in Golden.

      I hear you when you share your challenges of living in a community focused on alpine skiing. There may be a few pockets of communities where cross country dominates over alpine, but i would bet most communities in Canada have a far larger proportion of residents who participate in alpine rather than cross country skiing - and for you in a small alpine town the challenge would be even greater than a big city like Calgary. When you are already giving all of your energy into building something great, it would be a challenge to also need to be creative in reaching kids and families. Good on you man! You are doing great work!

      I have found over the years, that events can do wonders to build positive energy in a community. I've seen this in Bragg Creek, where, prior to three years ago ski club didnt exist, and where their numbers of kids have grown hugely - up to 50 kids now in that small town of 1500 people. There were year's when i was in Calgary, that the largest club in the city only had over 100 kids in their instructional programs.

      Events give some profile to the sport in the community, they give the local paper something to write about, they give parents something to do. I know you have done great work in building the Dawn Mtn Classic in November and have a awesome loppet in February. I wonder what would happen in your town if you hosted a yearly AB/BC cup race. I know we would be there with a big team to support your efforts. I know you are so on the same page - what about having a conversation with track attack coaches from regional camps about doing a joint TA camp in Lake Louise each year in November? or a dryland camp with our T1/2 kids. I would be so into that conversation.

      Let's keep the conversation going dude!

      Roy

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  2. I very much agree with your thoughts in this article Roy. I also wanted to share part of our experience. My child received a metal for "sportsmanship" metal and thought it was "dumb, stupid, and just for loosers". I am SOOOO glad that he received this recognition because it opened up a whole area of conversation. Yes, people want to race their fastest, but that is only one aspect. The other attributes that were recognized are so important in life. We talked about what sportmanship is. What it is to help someone else. We are even happy that the Canadian National Team coach gave ski pole to the Norweigans (I think) and what a positive impact that had on the ski community. At a young age kids only see the "fast skiers" as successful, yet many of the other attributes are important in life too. We ended our conversation with a quote from Becky Scott, "It doesn't matter how successful or unsuccessful you've been on a particular day. What matters is that you tried your best and that you are a good person." In the end my son took his sportmanship metal and hung it on the wall.

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    1. thanks Glenda for your thoughts - you know, as adults we often struggle with how to recognize kids for their efforts, sometimes it just sucks that you're not as fast as you want to be. For me, token recognition is recognized for what it is by kids - which is a real problem when every one gets recognized just for showing up. I have found alot of kids need earned recognition even at 11 or 12 - maybe at 5-8 years old the 'recognize everyone for showing up' approach is important, but at 11--14 kids are dialed in and know what their getting and how authentic the recognition is.

      It sounds like you did a great job of processing with your son. Well done. Often kids need an adult to help them put their experience into perspective. Often the validation of an award still needs some 'talk time', particularly when it isnt attached to how fast you go. As parents, coaches and leaders in our sport, we need to recognize and validate that in many ways 'going fast' is really what this is all about, but that there are many other things that are also important - like giving yourself a break, and giving yourself some time to get there - it doesn't happen at the same rate for everyone.

      Its hard work to find the right recognition to meet the needs of diverse kids. Glad to hear your boy came around to his sportsmanship award.

      Roy

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  3. Roy,
    I thought I should share something with you that my son said on our way home from the Alberta Youth Championships yesterday that I think encapsulates exactly what this event is about.
    After being in the van for close to 5 hours my 11 year old, from out of the blue, says, “Do you ever feel happy, for no reason at all?”
    My wife and I both looked at each other with wide grins and say to him that he had a lot of reasons to be happy, especially because he had had some good race results. He said, “No, it’s not that. I just feel happy, for no real reason!”
    As adults we knew that he had completely embraced the whole experience. He was happy with his races, but more importantly he was completely and utterly fulfilled. The ski community had filled him up with those good-to-be-alive feelings and he was reveling in them.
    Thanks to you and your team, Roy, you have provided something very special to my son, and I am sure there were many other kids feeling the same way, on their long journey home.

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    1. Thanks Todd! thrilled to hear this!
      Roy

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  4. The Regina Ski Club sent 2 young athletes, with two rookie parents, and without a coach, because of a last minute family emergency. One of those two parents just sent me a link to your blog Roy with an enthusiastic comment about the weekend. The event really turned those 2 families onto racing, and provided them with a sense of being part of a larger community of skiers - so important to us in our tiny racing groups in Saskatchewan. I was told the support and encouragement from other teams and coaches was fantastic. The values and strategies you speak about in your blog certainly were enacted and certainly made a difference to those families. Thank you!

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