I facilitate lots of coaching workshops for coaches with all levels of experience. For me, its such a rich learning environment. The folks who take part in my workshops bring broad and varied experiences and perspectives - sometimes former national team athletes or coaches and sometimes parents who are just learning to ski themselves. As part of the NCCP Community Coach training, we are asked to discuss, reflect, and think about introducing kids to competition. What's surprising to me really, given the varied background of coaches in my workshops, is the almost universal support for competition in some form.
One of things we get talking about is 'what should competition look like for children'. Invariably, someone brings up the very good point that ski competitions don't have enough in them to engage alot of kids. Why is it that track meets or swim meets or gymnastics meets or speedskating meets for children can include multiple opportunities and disciplines for children to compete in a day but cross country ski races only include one 3-5 minute event for kids in a day? The discussion around the table is robust and refreshing.
Why is it that children's events include only one event? Workshops participants come up with lots of ideas to address this question - kids events are often an after thought for race organizers - the really important races are the ones for the juniors and U23 athletes. Its too much work for volunteers... There isnt enough time in the day... Kids will be too tired to do more than one race... Coaches won't have enough time to prepare skis for multiple events... Who will do the timing... Why not just maintain the status quo...
Folks, I am big believer in the value of competition for children as a positive force in shaping identity and passion for being your best. This starts with engaging children in ways that go beyond what we currently do for kids. Come on folks, we can do better than ask parents to drive for 1 or 2 or more hours in a car with their children to compete in a 3-5 minute event. Children are capable of doing more than one event.
My vision for children's ski competition (we can all have our own visions) is to change the face of competition for children involved with cross country skiing. To broaden the scope of what a ski competition looks like. To do something bigger than a scaled down version of an adult race. To broaden the base of participation in races by creating something where there are more opportunities for success and participation and self identification of children as ski racers.
I remember listening to Istvan Balyi speak at the Coaches Association of Canada's Sport Leadership Conference in 2008 in Calgary. Balyi is one of the architects of the Long Term Athlete Development Plan in Canada. His message in this session was that when we dont have the luxury of large numbers of participants in a a sport, we need to be strategic about how and what we do with children's sport competitions. Its not good enough to do a scaled down version of an adult race.
I am thrilled that in Southern Alberta this season, our clubs are engaging in a new event series that aims to change the way children experience a ski competition. You can read some more about this series at http://builtforspeedeventseries.blogspot.ca/
Good luck with your efforts in creating engaging ski competitions for children this winter. I would love to hear about some of the innovative ways your club or region are changing the shape of children's cross country ski competitions.