Saturday, 2 August 2014

Club Development - Supporting Ski Clubs in Broadening their Focus beyond Instruction

I've been thinking lots lately about how to best support ski clubs in engaging in racing.  If we look at a broad cross section of clubs in Alberta, and probably Canada, we will find that a vast majority are small clubs that do the work of 'instruction'.  For these clubs there isn't a direct or apparent connection between the work that they do to 'introduce kids to a lifelong, healthy, active, family activity' and an 'athlete development pathway'.  The fact is that maybe every club doesn't need to focused on technical skill development or introduction to racing experiences.  Often though, I have found, these small clubs don't participate in introduction to competition experiences because they are not aware of what is possible, or the leadership doesn't feel confident to lead children in this type of experience.

Is getting more clubs engaged with competitive skiing even important?  Sure it is.  Hugely important.  Important because competitive sport can be a real confidence builder for kids where the life lessons of resilience, effort, and improvement can be learned.  Its important because without exposure to age appropriate competitive ski experiences, large groups of kids might go without the opportunity to discover something that fuels their passion.

What kind of support is needed to smaller clubs who are just getting going with their club development?  I have found doing this work myself, that a huge part of engaging families with trying out competition is having conversations with parents.  Creating understandings of a pathway that kids can take as they grow older, creates important understandings about key developmental experiences and the benefits that derive from them.  In big well established clubs as well as small developing clubs, the conversation is essentially the same.  Its about creating a picture in the minds and hearts of parents and kids about what is possible.  Its about creating some priorities for your club about the races that you will attend each season.  Its about taking part and hosting events where your club kids get a chance to see they are part of something bigger, something worthwhile, something that adds a new dimension to cross country skiing.  This perspective takes nurturing.  In big clubs whose athletes win medals at nationals, and in small clubs who have never participated in a ski race, it requires leadership to nurture and support this aspect of cross country skiing.  This year, a goal of mine is to facilitate these types of conversations about the athlete development pathway is in our province with athletes and parents.  It is pretty unlikely that involvement will grow without this type of support.

Supporting club coaches in their own development is a vital piece of engaging clubs in ski racing.  Very few clubs have access to professional, full time coaching and expertise.  It is the job of the provincial sport organization to support coaches in developing the skills and confidence needed to move their club in the direction of racing.  Facilitating mentoring, guiding, and sharing experiences between newer coaches and seasoned coaches.

We need more clubs who see themselves as places where any young skier can become the next national or international champion.  Helping clubs get there is important work.  It is the work of the provincial sport organization and it is the work of seasoned coaches across the province.  I encourage you to jump aboard and contribute.

Canmore, AB

1 comment:

  1. Hey Roy,
    Here in Oregon we have built a close to 500 skier High School XC ski racing program over the last 12 years or so. While there are many contributions that have helped this growth one of the important ones has been the clubs creating a pool of seasonal rental equipment for racers to use. For many households the cost of buying equipment for kids that have NO skiing and certainly no XC skiing background is very high and risky. Seasonal rentals the first year often is followed by boot purchases the next and some, maybe 10%, have all the gear by year 4.

    For most of our skiers community, learning a new sport and friends are the main reason they ski. With 1/2 our skiers living 90 minutes away or further from snow we are truly an introduction to XC Skiing program. In the 5 years I've coached at this school I don't think a skier yet has put 60 snow days in over the 4 years they are on a team.

    There are many other challenges to growing our sport but it sure is fun.

    Tom Opsal North Eugene High XC Ski Coach