In cross country skiing in Canada, what is completely normal is to have the highest educated and most experienced coaches working with the athletes farthest away from the place where they might have the most impact. Not trying to be a jerk here, but I've noticed over time that this is the reality. On the other hand, when we look at sport research around windows of trainability, what jumps out is the fact that the period of time when coaches have the most impact on motor skill development and flexibility is in the pre peak height velocity time frame - usually in the range of ages 9-14.
We know why this happens. Parents are willing to pay for expert coaching when their children are in high school or beyond, but the same willingness to pay does not exist when it comes to paying for coaches who work with younger ages. It doesn't happen this way in every club. Some clubs in Alberta are able to earn upwards of $90K every 18 months from volunteering at a casino for two days. This doesn't happen outside of the major cities in Alberta, but it does happen and it does create some real inequity in opportunity for younger kids to benefit from expert coaching at younger ages. The clubs in Calgary and Edmonton are not blame for their good fortune, it is the way the provincial government has casino revenue organized. But I do believe it makes a difference and puts clubs on uneven footing, especially smaller clubs from small towns dotted across the southern region of Alberta.
The bigger issue I think around coach expertise in working with pre peak height velocity athletes is that little opportunity is provided for many of these coaches to mentor with a seasoned experienced high level coach. The learning happens for coaches of adolescents usually through some good hearted soul who is willing to share expertise. The fact is that career coaches are few and far between in the ranks of those coaching adolescent cross country skiers.
What can be done about this? First, provincial sport organizations (PSO) should be working towards recognition initiatives for coaches of younger athletes - why is it that the only coaching work worthy of provincial recognition is that which happens with junior or U23 athletes? Secondly, it might help if PSO's provided some more mentorship experiences for developing coaches - this has happened in the past, and it would be nice to see again - what an incredible experience it would be for a developing coach to tag along on a Team Alberta trip to Canada Winter Games. Thirdly, experienced, lead coaches in clubs could be providing more opportunities to developing coaches to learn the work of advanced waxing, high level coaching - sadly it is the reality that in some clubs, these opportunities just aren't provided to those who coach younger athletes.
Important work happens during the pre-adolescent and adolescent years as cross country ski racers. The important work of transitioning kids from 'my parents signed me up for this' to 'i love this stuff'. The important work of technical skill development during a window of time when kids' bodies are ready to learn and refine cross country ski motor skills.
Outside of the big centers in Alberta, where almost all clubs do not have former world jr championships athletes coaching their adolescent athletes, coaches of younger athletes need support, mentorship, training, recognition, feedback, and encouragement. Whose job is this? It is the job of the highly trained head coaches to do this. I know this occurs in many places, but my feeling is it needs to happen more if we want to help young athletes become the next generation of national team stars.
Its snowing in Canmore today. I'm grabbing my skis and heading out to the trail.