Monday, 1 April 2013

Wrapping up a season - ideas for working with adolescents

Finishing off your season...setting the stage for the next one

As we know, having a good finish is a huge piece of having a good ski race.  It can make a huge difference in the outcome.  You see it all the time - somewhere from inside a skier's psyche, they say to themselves 'I am not going to let you get to the finish line before me'.  Sometimes it results in a dramatic and exciting ending, one that everyone who's there says 'wow, that was impressive'.  I just returned yesterday from cross country ski nationals in Whistler.  There were many of these kinds of moments - strong finishes made a difference to many athletes.  For these athletes, nationals represented their culminating activity of their season - what they had worked towards and set their sights on.  For our athletes from Canmore, end of nationals meant end of the season.  A wrap up - some closure - the big show.  I am sure it was this way for everyone.  As a coach, its just as important to finish up your year well - to sprint for the finish line as if it was really important - especially with adolescents, who have a lot going on.  

For my group of adolescent skiers, here is what I did to wrap up the season.  Earlier in the season, I did a goal setting session with the group of 12-13 year olds I worked with.  We did this in October.  We had just had a couple of sessions on frozen thunder...just enough to get us thinking about skiing, why we were here, and what we wanted to get out of the year.  I am not sure that the kids I was working with were dialed in to thinking about goals, but I wanted them to start thinking about it and so pulled out some sticky notes and sharpies, and a couple of pieces of flip chart paper stuck to a wall.  I asked them to write down a performance goal and a process goal.  Performance goals could be anything related to their performance in a race.  Process goals could be anything that would help them get to their performance goal.  Surprisingly, my group was really into doing this - really thought about what they wanted to do, to learn, to experience, to improve on, to accomplish.  I asked them to go out on a limb and identify something that they really wanted to accomplish, even if they had some doubts about whether they could or not.

In the middle of the season, my group took a look at their goals and updated them.  Then towards the end of the season, I created a new chart on a piece of flip chart paper I'll call 'wrapping it up'.  On it I created three sections.  One was titled 'I have definitely accomplished this', another titled 'Almost there', and the third titled 'Still working on this one'.  I asked the athletes to move their sticky notes from the 'performance goals' and 'process goals' charts to the 'wrapping it up' chart.  Here kids could self determine their level of learning and improvement.  It was pretty cool to see what happened.  We then took a few minutes to recognize each athlete in their accomplishment of their performance goals and process goals.  I was pretty happy with how the exercise turned out.  I think the kids were as well - happy to be recognized in front of their peers for things they have accomplished.  Everyone getting an equal amount of recognition.  This is important in a sport like cross country skiing.  Our sport aims to create athletes who enjoy the lifestyle of ski racing and being their best.  But in a race type event, only the fastest get regular recognition from their peers.  As coaches of adolescents its critical we are intentional about ensuring that other types of recognition are available.  Otherwise, kids move on to other places where recognition is found.

In addition to these things we did our regular year end pizza party where individual recognition awards were presented.  We also do a year end club wrap up party where other types of recognition are provided.  Recognition is important - important to each kid - particularly at early adolescence where peers become much more important, and affiliating with a team is sought by many young skiers.  For young racers, what you do to recognize their effort in a meaningful way can get them back at the beginning of the next season.

Plan on a strong finish - one that has a dramatic ending - a finish that your group will talk up through to next season.  Effort is everything...particularly when you get to the end of something you have put large amounts of energy into achieving and creating.  Have a great ending and a super beginning.

Enjoy the rest of snow season.

Roy  :)

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