Thursday, February 1, 2018

When is ski coaching not effective?

Every season many of the well known ski clubs and ski teams come to Colorado to get early season training. If you are out skiing you can't miss it, the kids or athletes are huddled around a coach and often skiing one at a time, doing a series of weird looking exercises. 

One thing I have learned over the years of watching, lessons, coaching, and "You Tube videos" is that most exercises shown or used are not very well presented. They are rarely integrated back into the skiing for the student or athlete after the exercise practice has been completed. 

For exercise training blocks to be worthwhile and successful there has to be a beginning, middle and an integration phase.

First, the beginning, this is where the coach has to give "each student" the reason why, the motivation, for the exercise, and why it is worth doing and relevant for "them". A shot gun approach, same exercise for everyone, just to get the job done, is not very effective if you want a true learning focus for each athlete individually, to develop. 

The Middle: The coach then describes where in the arc and for what purpose the exercise is introduced. This should relate to a deficiency in a skier's technique, the exercise is to create a new awareness and experience in the student's skiing. I rarely see this being done properly, in USSA coaching programs or in regular lessons. I see lots of random exercises being done with no real outcome designed or appreciable results achieved.

For an Exercise training block to be successful, there has to be a strong relationship to the "quality of performance", feedback, and refinement, conveyed to the student, so the results from the exercise can be evaluated. I see exercises everywhere being done incorrectly without any coaching to mend the issues.

 There is no point in doing exercises if the same mistakes are created during the exercise as in regular skiing or gate training. The coach has to be able to spot, correct and refine the essence of the movement components for each exercise.

Once this is done, the most important part is the "integration phase", which is conveyed and reenforced after the exercise phase, which is; how does the student integrate the movements learned or applied from the exercise, back into your actual skiing movements. 

At exactly what point in the movement sequence for a series of arcs, is the movement from the exercise highlighted or emphasized?  And at what point in the arc should it brought into action? 

This is especially important when using a traverse or garland type exercise, because you really are not making connected turns. The student needs to know where in their turns do they use the exercise movement they learned? The coach has to carry this over for the student to regular skiing turns. A precise and accurate evaluation of movement of the specific body part that was the focus, most be accurately presented for each student.

For example, people are often confused "after the releasing begins", about when to start their counteracting movement for the new turn. There has to be a timing cue that they can recognize and use. (a good cue is when the new inside ski is tipped or touches the snow) This is what a highly skilled coach does, they create the understanding, the movement and the experience. I rarely see this being done outside PMTS coaching!

Another example is in the "angry mother" exercise. (below) Sure you can sense where your hips are with your hands holding the top of the pelvis, however you aren't holding your poles in the exercise.  After you go back to holding the poles the student needs to know what to do, relative to the "Angry Mother" exercise with their poles in hand.  

Knowing and using the torso and arms properly and guiding them through connected arcs, isn't a trivial skill or accomplishment.  Holding your poles doesn't give you the same response or feedback as hands on your hips. So you have to create other movements to support the exercise. And these movements or directives must be relatable to the exercise. 

Many very good skiers (some of us work on this in our own skiing) don't have very good pole use capability. So the coach isn't done after the exercise phase is over, that is the easy part. The exercise is only the beginning of the process of coaching and change, and will only be successful, if the coach knows exactly what he is or she is after for the skier!!! If the poles and arms are not supportive of the "angry mother" movements and awareness, then the exercise is defeated or not as effective. 

(above photo) This is a counter balancing focused exercise.

In other words, complete the circle for whatever movement you are teaching or trying to create for the student.

What I have outlined here is the mark of a highly skilled teacher. But it's not rocket science, it's just completing or closing the loop, to get results and movement changes that are measurable.

Knowing the quality of PMTS instruction and what goes into it always makes me hold back a laugh when a traditional ski instructor or coach tells me, "Oh yes, I use some of your stuff." This usually comes from the old bag of tricks approach. Traditional ski instructors love, "some of our stuff", because we have so many movement development exercises in our system, these exercises can add more tricks to their bag. Ski teaching should never be about pulling another trick out of your bag, ski teaching should be more like a puzzle, where you as the coach, have to select the right piece that fits into the right slot for each individual athlete.  

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