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How important are communication skills?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I've been to camps, taken group lessons and private lessons. On every occasion I came prepared to work and learn but my instruction was frequently a mixed bag from a tour of the mountain to some very specific "Stop doing THIS and start doing THAT". (I find the second approach much more helpful) Many instructors were mostly "follow me and do what I do". Some said "we're here to have fun". They all seemed to have good skiing skills but some not so good observational, analytical, teaching & communicating skills. I enjoy this Teaching Forum but most of the conversation about instruction seems to revolve around the skiing ability of the teacher and not their teaching ability.

My question is how does a student find a real TEACHER who can see what the student needs to do to improve and communicate what needs to change and not just a DEMONSTRATOR who basically says "ski like I ski"?

post #2 of 13


May 20, 2011


Hi Steve:


Attend an epic ski academy event.  I've attended three in the past 5 years, twice with Bob Barnes and once with his sister of a different mother Robin Barnes.  All three times I've gained a lot, either individual specific or group wide coaching and advice.  My skiing improved all three times, albeit in small steps, which I attribute to my own learning style and physical attributes (but not effort).  I missed out on the December 2010 Epic Stowe Tune-up because of a torn calf muscle which happened while tuning up for the Tune-up eek.gificon13.gif.  Best coaching I've ever received from two of the best PSIA coaches.


Another method is to ask a lot of questions about ski coaches at your favorite ski area and certain names will pop up more frequently.  Introduce yourself to a few and talk with them, about your aims and goals.  Your present skill level etc.  I had a great lesson with a coach at Killington this year who I discovered here on the Epic Ski Forum by doing a search on "Killington instructors".  Most intense lesson I've ever had.  The guy was no nonsense and hard nosed.  Did not coddle me.  Focused and professional.  A breath of fresh air.  I think that I would benefit by taking sequence of lessons with him.  Hope this helps.


Think snow,



post #3 of 13

People learn in different ways.  Simply put, find a coach who is the same type of learner as you, & he will probably "naturally" teach that way.  Of course, a "good" instructor is able to shift his teaching style/focus to fit the students needs.  In this case you can help a lot by communicating & describing your preferences up front.


Personally, I tend to learn best by seeing, doing & feeling (kinistetic).  I tend to get impatient with long drawn out explanations.  Give me a quick overview, a particular focus, a GREAT demonstration & let me jump in behind you & try to emulate.  Take me to the best terrain & snow conditions to effect the change.  Once I have had some meaningful practice, let me try to adapt to different situations.  I need to anchor any positive changes through focused practice & then find a trigger to help me reproduce the sensation/movement later on. 


Understanding what type of learner you are, & then finding a teacher who you can convey that to will streamline your success.  Express your desires to the supervisor making the instructor assignments & they should be able to make a good match. 


Sounds like Charlie P has found that connection a few times.



post #4 of 13
Originally Posted by steveturner View Post

My question is how does a student find a real TEACHER who can see what the student needs to do to improve and communicate what needs to change and not just a DEMONSTRATOR who basically says "ski like I ski"?



This is a great question! 


There are lots of ways a student can find a real teacher

- Get a recommendation from someone you trust

- Explain that's what you want to the teacher that is assigned to you

- Keep trying different products until you happen upon a great teacher (ick)

- Watch instructors teaching other people (*)

- Request the highest level certified instructor or (preferably) staff trainer available

- A combination of the above

(*) Great teachers will be moving their students a lot. It will be difficult to overhear them "teaching". The ones that are easy overhear teaching are probably standing and talking too much.


A great lesson will have the following elements:






In the introduction the instructor will listen to what you want from the lesson and observe your skiing to determine what you need. The demonstration may include what movements you are currently making and should over emphasize the movements the instructor wants you to make. Practice can take many different forms. Feedback should be a mix of positive feedback (e.g. that's better) and negative feedback (e.g. don't do that) and be specific (i.e. why) (e.g. that's higher edge angles vs "that's better"). In the summary, the instruction should review the goals for the lesson, the material that was covered, what worked well and/or not so well and where to go next. A shorter version of this is "Here's what I see, here's what I want to see, here's how we're going to do it".


What you bring to the lesson can impact instructor performance. With the greatest teachers, all you have to do is be yourself. The greatest teachers will determine your needs and adapt their teaching style. Be patient. The greatest teachers can teach you a lesson without you recognizing that you are being taught. Be impatient. You can help "mere mortal" teachers by asking teachers for pieces of the lesson that they are not delivering. Be flexible. Weems has a great learning concept that one can learn anything from even the worst teachers. You can help improve the performance of an instructor by reacting, reinforcing, contributing, communicating, etc. How often do you focus on what you are communicating to your coach during a lesson?


You don't need the greatest teachers to get what you've asked for (a real teacher). I've skied with several PSIA demo team coaches and members. I've skied with several of the pros here on Epic. I've worked closely with dozens of level 3 certified instructors over the years. When you get past a certain level of teaching ability, "real teaching" is simply what we do as a bare minimum. What we're really aiming for is delivering a "WOW" experience. We can give you the names and places of some great teachers or you can tell us where you want to go next and we should be able to give you recommendations for "real teachers" working at that area. With help from Epic, finding a real teacher should not be hard at all.

post #5 of 13

Communication is a skill set and not always a big part of a school's teaching curriculum. Yes there is a published teaching module but it has a strong focus on teaching styles as presentation styles, not on interpersonal relationship building skills and developing better communication skills. IMO, those skills come under the heading of rapport and rapport clinics are pretty rare if you can find them at all. Sometimes a school looks for staff that own those skills but even then there is no guarantee that you will find a coach that you will automatically bond with without some effort. That's because it's a two way process. If both people are actively trying to build rapport, it's more likely to occur faster. If one person is hesitant to build that meaningful rapport, the process breaks down very quickly. Before that gets taken out of context let me offer the following ideas. 


I wrote about this a while back and got a lot of flack by those that assumed I was blaming the student for not learning. What I was trying to communicate was that just like when you meet someone in another setting, your willingness to create a relationship with that person often is a limiting factor. Ever go to a store and run into a sales person who acted like they were doing you a favor just to speak with you? The stereotypical DMV clerk who doesn't even look up as they process your license application is a great example of this mindset. How about the opposite of this, would it be fair to say people aren't alway nice to those poor DMV folks. While this is an extreme example, lets look at a ski coach / student relationship for a minute. Both people need to approach that relationship open to meeting someone new and willing to collectively work on creating a team learning environment. So in a nutshell I'm saying it takes some effort from both people to create a productive learning environment.


I have a great conceptual model that I saw a while back and it is called "Making Tens". The basic concept is that we honestly assess our communication skills and assign them a number between one and ten. Both as a coach and as a student! If you are a "five", finding a "five" on the other side of the equation would result in a sum of ten points and a strong possibility of a successful lesson occuring. But what if you're a "three"? You would need to find a "seven" to produce that same results. So where would you fit on that communication scale? As a coach, we are responsible for continuing to improve all of our skills and communication skills are certainly part of that. Do our student's expect us to be great communicators? Yup. Should they? Yup. That doesn't mean the coach can be expected to be a ten though. IMO very few folks are actually that charismatic as communicators. In fact, I know a few examiners who were great skiers but not great communicators.



My final point here is that the thread topic question is "how important are communication skills" but it's followed up with the question, "how does a student find a real TEACHER who can see what the student needs to do to improve and communicate what needs to change and not just a DEMONSTRATOR who basically says "ski like I ski"?  Those are two diferent topics.


Communication skills are very important and it's an area where most schools could certainly make improvements in their training programs. At least in my opinion.


As far as Finding the best coach for you, well that isn't alway easy and sometimes that means you end up struggling to communicate effectively with each other. That leads to a less than productive learning partnership. Communicating your needs and coaching preferences to the lesson desk makes it less likely you will end up in that situation but to be honest sometimes even then it still may occur. If it does, most schools will do their best to hook you up with a different coach and maybe offer you another lesson. But you must communicate that to them before they can offer you any solutions. Again that requires two way communication.

Edited by justanotherskipro - 5/25/11 at 12:12pm
post #6 of 13

When you get down to it, communication skills are mostly about how well a person listens to you--or rather, how well you feel that you've been heard.

post #7 of 13

icon14.gif What Nolo said.


Years ago I read on the screen saver of a new factory Supervisor from one of our Leadership Development Programs, that was having a difficult time being understood (workers didn't understand what he wanted and he didn't understand how to build a circuit), on a line that built complicated circuits literally under a microscope and mistakes were incredibly expensive;


"Communication isn't so much what's said, but what's heard."  Don't know if he coined it or someone else.


Ten years later I still try to keep that at the forefront of my conversations.  Anyone can says words; even the correct words to explain something.  The trick is making sure the person listening, really understands those words.  If they don't, use different words.  We have lots of them.


In skiing, we have the advantage of using other forms of communication too like demos.  The down side of demos in new skiers is they don't know how to do MA so it is difficult for them to see what we are communicating once you get passed the basics.


Go read the Crudology posts and then ask again if communication skills are important or not.  rolleyes.gif





post #8 of 13

So what is communication? Is it the words we use that convey our message and meaning? Here at Epic it is but as many here can see, in so many threads the words actually get in the way of communicating and expressing ideas, or debating conflicting opinions. Anyways, enough about train wrecks and why they occur. We're all passionate about the sport and we don't always agree with what we read. Nor should we.

However, out on the hill and in every face to face conversation those same words amount to about 7% of what is being communicated. How we say things is another piece of effective communication but just about half of what we communicate is non verbal. Which is why the saying "actions speak louder than words" is such a powerful idea. It also is why it's hard to lump a coach's communication skills and finding the appropriate coach for a particular student into one topic.


Steve Turner isn't unique in his quest to find a teacher who he feels comfortable collaborating with as he explores a new learning experience. We all seek that but I wonder how many folks understand how important commonality is in that process?

The short version of this involves the idea of working with folks we KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST. If we know a coach because of their reputation but find we don't like their personality, we may trust their opinions but given the choice we would probably still choose to work with another coach. Why? Well I would say it's because we will feel more comfortable with a coach who we like, or to be honest, who is more like us. That's how powerful and ingrained commonality is in our relationships. It could be we grew up in the same part of the country / world, or something as simple as common habits like how we / they stand, how we / they use our hands as we speak, if we / they are huggy, touchy people and that makes us feel more at home, or does that contact make us uncomfortable? TSA jokes aside none of us like our personal space to be invaded, especially without prior consent.  As a coach we need to figure out who we are working with and how to best act around this person. So IMO a coaches ability to speak is important but less so than their ability to be a social chameleon. Although even that is no guarantee of good rapport with a student. The student also has to be open to the idea of developing a working relationship with the new coach. Being that open to working with a new coach and working on change might not be very easy for a student but without that investment that lesson will go nowhere.  

Edited by justanotherskipro - 5/31/11 at 11:39am
post #9 of 13
Originally Posted by steveturner View Post

My question is how does a student find a real TEACHER who can see what the student needs to do to improve and communicate what needs to change and not just a DEMONSTRATOR who basically says "ski like I ski"?

Getting a personal recommendation is a good idea.


I think communication skills are solely in the domain of the instructor and a great instructor should be able to morph into the type of communicator the student needs to improve.


post #10 of 13
Originally Posted by skiatansky View Post


I think communication skills are solely in the domain of the instructor and a great instructor should be able to morph into the type of communicator the student needs to improve.


I think once the lesson starts this is closer to being correct but I still don't think it's solely.  Mainly because of the amount of kids instructors teach - some just aren't ready to listen.  Even with adults, some aren't listening.


Prior to the lesson starting, the student has the responsibility of communicating to the SSD or Supervisor what they are looking for.  Stating you're an level 4 skier and want a lesson doesn't get you much more than someone capable of doing a level 4 lesson, which would be anyone on staff.


Saying you're a level 4 and you're working on bringing your skis parallel and can do this almost always on green but not so much on blues, and saying that you keep trying hockey stops but always seem to spin around instead of stopping - will get you and your instructor aligned on what you need/want to work on.


Showing up for a lesson and saying "I want a lesson" (unless you're a never ever) us like dropping your car off for repair and not telling them what made you bring it in.


I think it was in the Karate Kid that they made a pact - I promise to teach and you promise to learn (paraphrased).


I do agree the instructor has a responsibility to morph into the type of communicator the student needs, but you shouldn't have to get half way through the lesson to know what that is.  Granted, many folks don't know what type of learner they are so instructors are going to have to figure that out on the fly.


Just some early morning ramblings while the coffee is brewing.





post #11 of 13

I have seen a 14 year old apprentice instructor who was better at communicating with a range of clients than a slew of seasoned level 3s. No class, no clinic got him to that level of mastery. His communication ability was a side-effect of caring about his students. 


The fact is, unless the communication comes from the heart, it's just a bunch of words bouncing around the student without being taken in. 


The student decides what will get past his or her ears. I loved it when my guru would say, "I am happy to share what I know and believe about skiing, and you have every right to take it or leave it. Either way is fine with me." This was to a group of ski instructors, who were completely baffled by that statement. Did he just say he didn't care if his words fell on deaf ears?


Then he said, "Do you like to ski fast?" We all said, "Hell yeah!" So he took off on a cat and mouse chase, and though we were going so fast it was a bit scary, and he had a couple of decades on us, he was so much better than us we could never catch him. He confided, "I like to start by getting my students just a little bit scared. It makes them want to pay attention to what I have to teach them." 


He was the best communicator I have ever skied with. No one immediately "got it." It took some time to peel back the lesson and reveal its meaning. See, my guru expected his students to work at it. Never would he ever give you the answer. The man had "cognitive dissonance" down to an art. 


He learned to communicate from working with horses. He told me that's where a person can gain tremendous understanding and skill at the art of communicating. He said to me, "If you can learn to communicate outside your species, then relating with your own kind will seem like child's play." 


That's when I bought my horse. 

Edited by nolo - 6/1/11 at 7:28am
post #12 of 13

To all who say it's all up to the teacher, O.K. teach me something but wait until I put you on my ignore list. You can write all summer and not teach me a thing until I take you off that list and open up those two way communication channels.

post #13 of 13
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
 He said to me, "If you can learn to communicate outside your species, then relating with your own kind will seem like child's play." 



My sister runs Dog Agility tournaments. There are times when the dog makes a mistake and the owner is trying to correct the problem and you can see the dog going "What?, What?". What's even better is when the owner makes a mistake and the dog "calls it". After you've seen enough of those, you can start to tell the personality of the dog. Some of the dog responses I've seen include:

"Hey - I'm working here!"

"Come on - keep up"

"Your bad. Got it? Let's do the next one, OK?"


My favorite outside your species moment at one of those tournaments was when an old German Shepherd was on a high walk 6 feet off the ground. The poor bugger missed a step with her front paw (wasn't even close), put weight on air and did a barrel roll off the walk. I could see the "Whaa?" in her eyes as she started to fall. She made eye contact with me 90 degrees through the 360 degree roll and then I saw the "uh oh - I'm F'd" look (I probably had the same look in my eyes). That dog knew she made a mistake, knew she was going to get hurt and knew that she did not know what to do next. By the time she got inverted you could see that she was completely disoriented/gone. She hit feet first, but crashed. Then the old girl got up and soldiered on through the course.


The eyes don't lie. When I am doing my occasional "stupidvisor" duty (i.e. you have to be stupid to volunteer for this duty) and I'm sorting students, some of the looks I get when I am asking about ability are just priceless. For a lot of students, just having them look at the intermediate slopes is all I need to do to determine their level. The looks range from "pffft", to "ah, ... ok", to "no way", to "no way in hell".


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