Monday, 16 December 2013

Changing the Face of Ski Racing for Children

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 

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.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

2014 Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships

Get Ready for some Super Fun Ski Action in Bragg Creek
Feb 28-Mar 2, 2014

Visit our Alberta Youth Championships website for a report about the 2014 event held in Canmore/Bragg Creek.  

Here is the blog post originally posted in Dec 2013.

Every once in awhile, things come together in a magical way - where kids have fun, where adults have a great time, where kids get turned on to racing, where the weather cooperates, and everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.  Alberta youth Championships has been that kind of event for the past couple of years.  We've worked hard to build excitement and some tradition around the event - to brand it as the biggest provincial event for the four year age group of 2000-2003 in Alberta.  And its worked.  Thanks to the great work of coaches in clubs across Alberta, NWT and Saskatchewan in championing this event and the importance of it as a developmental tool, AYC really has grown to be the largest event of its kind in Alberta.  

What we envisioned for this event was that it would offer some unique qualities that werent available in any other ski race in Alberta.  An event where kids represented their clubs (much like the feeling at Nationals), where kids stayed at a camp, where food services were included, where coaches could mingle, chat and build relationships, where kids could experience a number of events where lots and lots of them received recognition for their efforts - we handed out 164 medals in the 2013 AYC and a club champion banner for the top performing club.  That combination has been a winning combination for this event and something that you wont find at any other ski event in Alberta.  We see this event growing over time - once the word gets out about a good thing, people like to share it.

Our early registration deadline, Dec 15 is fast approaching and what follows is a letter I have sent out to club contacts from across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and NWT.  We would love to see you at the 2014 AYC in Bragg Creek.  Please feel free to send this information around to anyone you like.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Greetings club coaches from across Alberta, NWT and Sask,

the organizing committee for the 2014 Alberta Youth Championships are pleased to invite you to participate in the what is the largest provincial event for midget and minimidget age skiers in Alberta.  This event is open to all interested skiers born in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 from all clubs.  Please feel free to share out this communication with any and all ski club members and others who are not on this list.  Please also distribute this as you like to any and all of your club members who would have interest.  this event is cohosted by XC Bragg Creek Ski Club and Canmore Nordic Ski Club.  The event has had two very successful years in 2012 and 2013 and we anticipate another incredible weekend in Bragg Creek.

a quick reminder that the early registration deadline for the Alberta Youth Championships is December 15.  Afterwhich it will still be possible to register just at a higher cost.  We are really hoping to have folks register early so that we have a good idea of how many people will be in attendance as the camp we are staying at wants a rental deposit three months in advance of the event.

a few details that I have had some questions about

1.  special diets - most special diets can be accommodated by the camp chef.  If your child has a special diet, i would encourage you to contact the camp chef, Matthew Prosser at 403-686-6325 and ask him if he can accommodate the special diet that your child might need - Please go ahead and compile a list of special diets for your club and send them to by monday feb 24, 2014.
2. there will be a friday evening snack of fruit, a hot and cold breakfast on saturday and sunday morning, bag lunches on saturday and sunday, and a banquet on saturday evening.

1. transportation from your home community to and from Bragg Creek is your responsibility.
2. ground transportation during the event is the responsibility of each ski club to organize.  no ground transportation to and from the event site is organized by the event organizers.  this is similar to how transportation works at nationals.

1. there are a number of race events as part of the Alberta Youth Championships in Bragg Creek:
- an interval start skate race on saturday morning - year of birth boy and girl categories for each of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
- a 4 person skate relay (official and unofficial teams) on saturday afternoon - official teams are two boys, two girls, two minimidgets, two midgets all from the same ski club; unofficial teams are any combination
- a 3 person coach relay - from the same club
- wave start classic race on sunday morning - year of birth boy and girl categories for each of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

eligible athletes
- athletes must be born in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 to participate.  Athletes born in 2004 or 2005 or younger are not permitted to participate

- clubs will be assigned bunkrooms in one of the lodges at Kamp Kiwanis located at intersection of highways 8&22, 12 km north of Bragg Creek.  the number of bunkrooms assigned will correspond with the number of kids registered from each club.
- showers are available for everyone.  some showers are located in ensuite bathrooms, others are located in bathrooms down the hall from bunkrooms or in neighbouring cabins.
- bunkrooms sleep between 4 and 14 people.
- number of adults at youth champs from each club.  Please plan to bring at least one male and one female adult from each club.  The ratio of adults to kids from your club should be about 1 adult for every 8 children.  e.g. if you have 32 kids from your club attending, please have 4 adults register as coaches/chaperones.  
- coaches and chaperones must register as well on zone 4.  the cost for chaperones does not increase on dec 15.  it remains the same until the event registration closing date on feb 23.  this way clubs can register the appropriate number of adults to match their child registration numbers from their club.
- bedding - every adult and child staying at Kamp Kiwanis must bring their own bedding, pillow, toiletries, towel.
- bunk beds are camp style, vinyl covered mattresses.
- we will not have room for extra adults and younger or older siblings - cochrane is the closest town (20km north) that has a number of hotels.

waxing information
- high flouro glide waxes are not permitted at the Alberta Youth Championships.  We believe that the focus of this event should be on good skiing and not on who has the expertise or ability to pay for expensive high flouro glide waxes.  We also think that simplifying waxing will give coaches more time to focus on the important work of helping young skiers have a positive experience with racing.
- an indoor wax space is available at kamp kiwanis - the hobby hut has plenty of plug ins and you can drive your vehicle up to the door.
- there is no electricity at the race site - west bragg creek ski trails - so if you plan to wax at west bragg, you need to bring your own generator.

race site information

- West Bragg Creek Ski Trails are the official trails for the 2014 Alberta Youth Championships.  These trails are located at the end of Township Road 232, 8km west of the hamlet of Bragg Creek.  The trails are north facing, hold snow very well, and are well maintained by both Kananaskis Country and a local volunteer group, the Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBTCA).  GBTCA is our official race trail groomers - they do an excellent job preparing for this event - it is the biggest event of the year at West Bragg Trails.  West Bragg Trails are located at 1450m - a similar elevation to Canmore Nordic Centre and over 300m higher than downtown Calgary. The site recieves abundant snow and with the excellent grooming, the site is skiable on great trails 90% of the winter season.
- West Bragg Trails were designed and built in the early 1980s by the trail designer as other K Country trail systems.  They are narrow old school trails that are very hilly.  The Stairway to Heaven climb is well known by kids who have skied at west bragg in the past.

arrival and departure times

please plan to arrive around 6pm on friday evening.  we will move out of Kamp Kiwanis on Sunday morning before the race events.  Bags can be left on the deck to pick up after the sunday races or can be loaded into vehicles on sunday morning after breakfast.  Over the past couple of years we have been able to do sunday awards on site at west bragg and be driving home by 1pm.


- medals to 10th place in each single year, single gender category
- medals to 3rd place in the official relay (only the fasted team from each club is eligible for medals)
- medals to 1st place in the unofficial relay
- hip hip hoorays for the winners of the coach relay
- club aggregate banner awarded on sunday - formula for determining aggregate champions found in race notice
- race notice is located at  

- early registration - $125 - until Dec 15 -  
- registration deadline - Feb 23, 9pm - $175
- coach and chaperone registration deadline- Feb 23, 9pm - $80
- please note there is one event price that includes accommodation, food services and events.  If you choose not to stay at Kamp kiwanis and join us for meals that is entirely your choice but there will be no reduced registration price if you choose not to stay on site.  We are purposely organizing a camp style event to promote relationship building amongst kids and coaches and clubs from across the province.  We would like every child who is participating in the events to stay on site at Kamp Kiwanis, but if you choose not to, there will not be a reduced fee for registration.

Roy Strum, Chief of Event, 2014 AYC 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Putting Racing into Perspective - a critical skill for adolescents

what is really important to kids...

This past week I participated in a ski club exchange with kids from our club in Canmore and kids from Chelsea and Gatineau, QC.  It was a fantastic week - one of those experiences that will stick with kids - the right mix of adventure, fun, new experience, and community building.  Its something that 12 and 13 year olds in our club eagerly look forward to as they grow.  We've done a few of these exchanges with Chelsea as well Whitehorse.  Always incredible experiences. 

Usually as part of these experiences we throw in a race event as part of the exchange program.  This past weekend all of the Chelsea kids and Canmore kids raced in the season opening Alberta Cup races in Canmore.  As part of the lead up to the races we did a race prep session.  I led this session and am pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Pleased because I think most of the kids were engaged with the session.  Here is what I did:

I did a question response activity.  I put sticky notes and pens on each table, enough for every kid.  The sentences I asked kids to complete were:  Success is....    When I am doing my best effort, my body feels like...   Pride in my effort looks like...

I chose these questions purposefully.  First, I wanted kids to think about success in a broader scope than finish position. In a sport like cross country ski racing, you need to do this.  Only one person wins the gold medal, everyone else doesn't - certainly we can be a bit more creative about success than finish position.  Secondly I wanted kids to think about best effort and what their body signals and sensations would be telling them if they were doing their best effort.  Sometimes its our bodies that let us that we are really trying our best.  Thirdly, I wanted kids to know that someone was watching them and that what was going on in their heads shows on their face.  I created some expectations that I wanted them to do their best and that I wanted them to feel pride in their effort.  So what does pride look like when you wear it. 

The adolescents I worked with in this session were for the most part very engaged in answering these questions and came up with surprising and authentic responses.  Kids this age think about this stuff and sometimes, well ok, maybe always, need some help framing what a race is all about. What is success?  What does pride look like? these are important questions that help to frame a race for kids.

I share this out because I think its important to voice the power of our roles as coaches and the importance of reinventing the work you do with kids every year.  Great teachers and great coaches do that work - they reinvent their role, their processes, and their learning activities to meet the needs of each new group of kids they work with.  Its what I strive to do - reinvent myself regularly; keep myself current, and always find an edge to the work where I am using my skill set to help kids develop a love of being active, a love of cross country skiing, and a love of being an athlete.  I encourage you to find your own edge and to go for it!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB