Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Creating opportunity...opening doors for early adolescent skiers

ideas on enhancing the learning environment...
Opportunity is something that everyone gets a shot at - show up, smile, be nice, work hard - good things start coming your way. Its a key piece of success - and something as coaches we should be doing our best to create. We can all be passionate about something - we can all work hard - but I think its opportunity that's the key mover and shaker in the crowd.  People successful at anything haven't got there on their own - they've worked hard, loved what they did, showed some talent or ability - and a big piece of the puzzle is that they've been helped along the way by others who've wanted to help.  I've recently picked up Malcolm Gladwell's Outlier. If you've read it you'll know why I'm mentioning it.  It's full of aha moments - great little stories about achievement, success,  and the mix of ingredients that build accomplishment.  It certainly has got me thinking about my role as a coach of early adolescent skiers - looking ahead to next season (starts in 2 weeks - yikes!) at what I can create to provide opportunity to the kids I'll work with.
Advantage creates advantage.  If you'd look, studies would show that kids who start life with an advantage tend to carry that advantage throughout their lives.  Having awesome parents is important.  Living in the right community makes a difference (I dont know that too many top skiers come from Florida or Bermuda).  Your parents' level of education tends to predict yours.  Their income matters in that it provides opportunites for you to access experts, access experiences, access the types of people that will help you to get ahead.  That's not to say that a person coming from a family living in poverty or coming from a family that didnt value education highly cant succeed - in fact we know they can - its the American Dream - rags to riches - the whole American culture is built on the notion that anyone, anywhere through their own hard work can become successful. But the fact is, that no one gets to the top of any ladder without having a number of different ladder holders, carpenters, safety advisors, skill builders helping them out a whole lot. Gladwell points this out in Outliers quite well.  No one gets to the top without alot of help from others. I think back to my own modest success as an athlete - my biggest success (1988 Alberta College XC Ski Champion) happened because on the day of the race, a bunch of my top competition was at national biathlon championships, and the dude who had been beating me easily all year, fell and broke his wrist during the championship race - and so I won.  Lucky really - but a win is a win and I'll take it - it felt really great - as any success does when you've worked really hard to accomplish something.   The win wouldn't have been possible had I not worked hard at my fitness (I remember Lyle Wilson had given me a copy of the Alberta team training program and encouraged me to go for it - and i did), diligently sought technical help, went to lots of races, thought positively and had coaches and team mates who made it fun to be there.  When given the opportunity, successful athletes work as hard as they can to be their best.  The point is that sometimes being successful is the result of the opportunities that are presented to us.   Its our job as coaches to be those people that help to create the opportunities.  Easily said, but really what does 'opportunity' look like that will advance a young skiers ability?

Opportunity is about timing - the stars align, the sun shines through a break in the clouds just when you really need it, you have a really really good race when it counts.  This kind of thing happens all of the time in our sport - I saw it happen at junior/youth world biathlon trials in Canmore this past January - underdogs coming out on top and taking a trip to Austria for the world junior/youth championships because the stars aligned for them and they got their plane ticket.  But even there, so many other things were in place so that when it counted it appeared as though it was as a result of just an athlete's skill and ability.  Not to take anything away from athlete performances, but the reality is that parents, coaches, prov sport organizations, team mates all played a huge role in the outcome.

When we go about to create opportunities, we go about to align the stars - to give an opportunity for athletes to work as hard as they want - to learn as much as they can learn - to be who they want to be.  As coaches we do these things by doing more than we have to do - more than the bare minimum - often because we know that someone did that for us when it counted.  We plan special trips to big events far away, training camps, exchanges, special guest coaches, access to specialized settings.  We give thoughtful feedback, build relationships, put together training plans that will appropriately challenge young athletes to be their best.  You know these kind of coaches.  If you were lucky you had one or two when you were younger.  Regardless, you can be this type of coach. 

Have a great season!

Roy  :)

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  :)