I have had a lot of incredible coaches. Having switched regions a handful of times, attended camps in most parts of the country and generally sought advice from anyone who can give it, I am lucky to have trained under the eye of some of the best coaches the US has to offer.
As a junior, I idolized my coaches. They could do no wrong, they wrote my doctrine (my training plan) and were the oracles to all things skiing. I looked to them to tell me if I was tired, if I was sick, if I should do more, less, if I wasn’t doing anything. Most decisions, even minute ones, required the consultation of my coaches, and, most of the time, they obliged.
As I grew older, I gained a little more independence and understanding of myself. I can tell when I’m sick, and might even take time off without outside pressure. I know when I can handle more, but definitely need help deciding how much. While I think I know a little about training, I can neither wax a ski nor drive a van well to save my life, so, you know, still pretty dependent in that area.
It wasn’t until recently when I started doing a little coaching of my own that I could completely appreciate everything that my coaches have done for me, for what they are doing for me now. This past week, SMS hosted two camps, a BKL camp and a junior camp, where my teammates and I got to attend some sessions and impart some of our own wisdom on the youngsters.
Turns out, coaching is a many faceted job, including various combinations of the following skills:
It doesn’t matter what level of skier you are, rollerski crashes all sound the same. The deafening cacophony of pole tips scratching, ratchets failing and bolts scraping on the rocky pavement inspires images of band-aids, ointments, tears, stitches, pain killers and maybe a little alcohol (rubbing or hard, not that I’ve ever seen either used…) Every coach I’ve had knows how to use all of it and make you feel pretty good about yourself for going for it on skis.
Exercise is hard. Running/skiing/bounding/biking uphill is hard. Lifting heavy things is hard. Sooner or later, after a big week with long hours, or maybe a short week with low hours, or, really, at any time at all, a coach is going to have to take care of an emotionally stressed athlete. For me, it’s a bonding experience. I don’t feel that I’ve really connected with a coach until we’ve spent at least one afternoon with me crying in his or her office (insert montage of Annie crying in Spokane, Bend, Sun Valley, Middlebury, JO’s, World U23s, Stratton to which all of my current and former coaches can relate).
On the subject, this song goes out to Annie Hart:
Kids are kids are kids. They do stupid things, get into trouble, and that’s when parents decide that a nice, healthy exercise regimen is the ticket to success. Enter coach, the person who, without formal training, is now responsible for keeping the kid in line. Curfews, drug tests and maybe some interventions may become necessary, but, it’s all a part of the job.
“Yes, I’d like to book twenty rooms at the Ramada for the weekend of January 20th? Is breakfast included?”
You’re in the Alps with a ten passenger VW mini van filled with eleven teenagers. You must maneuver the 1.5 lane icy roads, beating google maps by 2 hours to make it to dinner on time, while keeping the U-18 in back from getting carsick and chundering EVERYWHERE. Oh yeah, the trailer of skis you’re towing just jackknifed itself. Good luck!
The van leaves at 7:15 on the dot, whether or not the kids are in it.
One of my favorite things to do in high school and college was to hang out in my coaches’ offices. 10-20-45 minutes before and after training, I would walk through the door frame, pull them away from whatever task they thought they might complete that be all “entertain me.”
To keep from getting lost in translation, a coach must keep an arsenal of synonyms prepared to be used a moment’s notice. How many different ways can you phrase “get your hips up?” What about “relax your shoulders?” Oh, oh, my personal favorite, “weight shift.”
Because we all know that the U-16 cooking group didn’t make grilled steak and spiced asparagus on their own.
To coach, you should also be able to ride a bike/drive a van while also videoing skiers and taking note of their ski technique. You should also have a good understanding of video and photo editing technology so that you can recreate the queue for your athlete’s viewing pleasure. Photos are a nice touch, and matching a soundtrack to the tempo of skiing in the technique video is always appreciated.
Two words: high school.
It’s harder than you think to get young kids’ attention. Nothing cools a tense, pre-race group down like an inappropriate joke about spandex and the JOs dance.
“Should I have a coke feed on my third lap? Or would Gatorade be better? Actually, I just want water. Wait, can you have all three for me and I can choose then? Maybe you can just chose for me.”
When it comes down to it, the best coaches I’ve ever had, whether or not they excelled at all of the above, were the ones that believed in their athletes, and devoted themselves to helping them reach their goals. They are analytical and critical, but supportive and motivating. They wake up at dawn to test skis in snow that will probably change before the race, but know that gathering that much more data could help make the difference at the line. They fuel themselves with pure caffeine, in and out of the wax trailer, to make those long drives, ski twice as long as their athletes and still have the emotional energy to stand by them after the race, whether or not it went well.
They will run next to you up your final hill, kneel down to you when you collapse in the snow and reach out to you for years to come. They are honest and loyal, and put you before your results. Most of all, they love what they are doing and want you to, too. That’s the best part.