Saturday, 24 January 2015

How do we build a bridge to 'not yet'...

Carol Dweck is a psychologist and author of the book - Mindsets - a look into working with children around creating conditions for successful learning.  She was featured on a recent ted talks that is well worth watching

Several themes arise in Dweck's talk that relate in every way to the work we do as coaches.

- Abilities can be developed.  Probably the single most important message we can deliver to youth in cross country skiing.  Abilities are not predetermined.  Abilities change over time.  My own personal experience shows this.  My own son who at 10 or 12 or 14 would regularly finish 20 or 22nd out of 25 kids in a race, now is on the junior national biathlon team and will compete at World Junior Championships in Belarus next month .   When somehow, and probably due to the good work of his coaches, he persisted with the belief that his abilities could be developed, he could achieve his goals to become a successful athlete.  He wasn't obsessed with his finish position in races.  He learned to not always have a need for constant validation.  I am proud of him, as any Dad would be.

How do we deliver the message of 'abilities can be developed' to the kids we work with?  We do this by being deliberate about telling them that abilities can be developed, anyone has the potential to be a successful athlete.  Dweck would say that it is about a 'mindset' where kids see a challenge and react with ' I love the challenge'.  A space where kids understand that their ability can be developed.

This type of mindset is fundamental to athletic success. It is the type of mindset that as coaches of adolescents we need to be developing in every athlete we work with.  Some of them will still decide to leave the sport at 13 or 14 because its not for them.  But we won't have them leaving because they are obsessed with getting on the podium every race or stressed out to perform according to finish position.

At 12 or 14, my son Matthew was the type of kid who not very many coaches would have predicted would develop into the athlete he is becoming.  There is no crystal ball that allows any coach to predict what an athlete will eventually become. But there are things that we can do each and every practice.  We can tell kids that they can develop their abilities. We can encourage them to dream big.  We can create a space where we champion more than the early developing kids or the kids whose parents have unlimited resources to buy them world cup level equipment at 10 or 12 years old.  We are kidding ourselves if we think we can level a playing field when working with youth.  But we can deliver the message each and every practice that 'you can develop your abilities' - and deliver that authentically to each and every child we work with.

Carol Dweck uses the phrase 'not yet' when referring to the type of feedback that is important to give kids to help them develop a growth mindset.  'You did well, but you're not there yet, keep working, you will get there'.  As a dad, its the type of message I have tried to deliver to my kids over time, and maybe its a small part of why they are all still engaged in cross country ski racing.  And maybe the most important deliverer of the 'not yet' message are parents.  But as a coach, it is super important as well because it is about the culture we create in our groups, in our clubs.  I encourage you to go for it.

Happy January!

Roy Strum
Canmore AB

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Ideas around Creating Kid Friendly Ski Competitions

I'm all for innovation.  Not just any change though.  Change that brings about increased engagement of youth, and increased skill development. 

A few years ago, I attended a session with Istvan Balyi.  Balyi is one of the authors of the Long Term Athlete Development plan in Canada.  It was the sort of session where lots of dots were connected for me all of which gave me lots to reflect on regarding children and introduction to competition.  How we introduce kids to competition matters in a sport that does not have mass participation.

I've been a teacher and coach for many years, mostly of children and early adolescents. Over that time, I've seen a few trends. Expertise in cross country ski coaching resides with those coaches who are working with the oldest athletes in the club.  There is huge attrition in participation right around 12 or 13 years old, and another big drop in participation around the end of high school.  I think there are things we can do to turn these trends around.

Innovation is certainly a buzzword in teaching and learning lately.  In my own school division we have several departments with Innovation in the title.  Its important to seek continuous improvement.  Not very many people will argue with that idea.  Innovation though takes a passionate commitment on behalf of leadership. Its not easy.  Despite the effort, I think its worth it if it increases engagement with our sport by youth.

I've had a busy winter so far leading coach development sessions in a variety of community around Alberta.  In every place I go people are doing great work.  Just last weekend I was in Edmonton, the week before in Camrose.  Here are a few exemplars of innovative competition formats for youth that come from the coaches of those clubs.

- aim to give kids an authentic opportunity to measure self improvement - in Edmonton, the coaches set up a couple of races on the same course.  Every youth got a time from both events.  Events were held on similar snow conditions.  Nothing special was done to prepare skis.  Kids got two times on the same course and could measure their improvement by seeing how much faster they skied.  This was meaningful to the youth involved.  It isnt easy to measure self improvement in a sport like cross country skiing where there are so many variables that influence an athlete's time in a race. Bravo Edmonton Nordic for this great work!

- create events that focus on a specific skill - in Camrose, the coaches set up three different timed events.  The first was a hill climb, the second was a course that timed a skier over the crest of a hill, and the third was on a downhill.  This format gave youth a chance to validate for themselves which section of course they performed well at.  Percent behind the fastest gives an idea of relative strength of a youth compared to peers.

- do more relays - biathlon really has this one nailed - they do so many more relays than cross country skiing - at least in Alberta.  What about incorporating a relay event into every weekend of racing - at least for youth.  What a nice way to focus on team instead of on individual at a time when youth are particularly vulnerable around developing perceptions of self around competency and the resultant decisions to continue to not with a sport.

I'd encourage you try some different things with your competition formats for youth.  Think outside of the 'scaled down version of adult formats' thinking.  Look to other sports that create multiple opportunities for success in a competition.  Youth need success.  As coaches, creating success, whatever that might be, should be one of our top priorities.

Happy skiing!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB