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

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