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Can I still be a great coach?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

This post is going to be a little long and meandering. Feel free to just skip to the bolded question below. I just wanted to write some of this stuff out and get it off my chest, and thought it could provide a little background information on me to set up my main question. But it's probably not necessary to read all this fluff.


Meandering Background


First, let me start with a brief overview of my history as a ski racer. I started ski racing when I was eight years old and quickly fell in love with the sport. In my area (Alberta, Canada) at this time, ski racing programs split into two different streams at age 11, a provincial series and a regional series. Due to a number of reasons and constraints that I won't get into here, I entered the regional series.

At their core, the two series have different goals. While the provincial series is competitive and aimed to prepare young racers for the even more competitive, higher levels of competition they will face later on in life if they stick with the sport, the regional series is aimed at providing a friendlier, less competitive environment. An unfortunate side effect or consequence of this is that the regional series tends to have a large number of underwhelming coaches and far poorer training opportunities on very limited terrain. There are still many great things about the regional series, but athletes in the regional series tend to improve far less than their provincial counterparts and tend to be plagued by bad technical habits.

Now, to bring this wandering back to me. I raced in the regional series for seven years, and while I had a couple of season with very good coaching, I had many more seasons with, for lack of a better term, underwhelming coaches. I think that most of my progress in these years came from the occasional weekend camp I managed to sneak in with the provincial kids. But while I became one of the best skiers in the regional series, in the big scheme of things, I still wasn't a particularly good racer. After I graduated from high school, I seized an opportunity to take a year off before going to university and race FIS for a season. I was 18, still a junior. I dedicated the year to ski racing, and spent most of the time I wasn't skiing or training working a manual labor job to help my parents pay for the considerable expenses ski racing tends to rack up.

I have a hard time putting into words just how much I learned that season with my awesome coach. My eyes were opened to a whole other level of ski racing, I learned that I had major misconceptions about the fundamentals of good skiing, and did tons of work to unlearn my terrible habits and correct my movement patterns. In races, I had an awful lot of crashes, straddles, blow-outs, and massive mistakes, and I think the best I managed to score in SL and GS was about 130 points (and I never finished a speed race). A lot of my struggles to put in solid top-to-bottom runs came from my ongoing battle to unlearn my bad technique and fundamentally reshape the core of my skiing mixed with some mental games. The bottom line is, I was still learning and improving, but still definitely wasn't a great racer and still hadn't finished reshaping my technique.

But just as I was on the cusp of a major technique breakthrough, my season ended in the middle of February when I crashed hard in some GS training and got a very serious concussion. I'll gloss over the details, but I've had a real roller coaster of ups and downs in my recovery, and I'm sitting here 11 months later, doing better, but still dealing with major issues and symptoms from the concussion and not able to go out and do much of anything. I can't know for sure how much longer it will be before I'm fully recovered, but I'm still trying to get things together and do some life-planning and figuring-out.

My neurologist says it's pretty much impossible for him to make a good prediction about when I'll be able to start getting out and doing stuff again (the science and understanding of concussions just isn't there yet), but he figures it's more likely than not that I'll be at least good enough to start doing things again next winter. But even once I'm totally symptom-free, he doesn't want me doing any moderate to high risk activities until I've been totally symptom free for a full year, because I'll still have a highly elevated concussion risk until then. Timeline-wise, that means I won't be doing any skiing more intense than sideslipping and putzing around on groomers at all next season, and there's a reasonable chance I won't be able to get back to "real" skiing for even longer than that. I'm already just a couple months shy of being 20. So for better or for worse, I think my racing career is over, and I don't think I'll be able to get back into gates and improve my technique further.

But I've accepted that, and the way I really want to stay involved with the sport long-term is through coaching. However, I'm not particularly fond of or good with small children, and ultimately, I'd like to coach somewhat higher-level skiers (like U16 or up). I know just how much it sucks to have a poor coach and how impeding bad habits can be, and I really want to become a great coach. And I've noticed that a most job postings for coaches for higher-level coaches list much higher-level racing experience than I ever had as a requirement. So this (finally) brings me to my question.


I wasn't a particularly great racer, and while I think I now understand the fundamentals of good skiing, I definitely have not mastered them, and I really don't have much for super-competitive racing experience. Is it still possible for me to be a great coach?

post #2 of 15

Yes.  Many WC coaches were not even Europa Cup or Nor Am racers themselves.  The only thing that matters for a great coach is the results of your athletes...what you did in your "hay day" is irrelevant.  That is not to say, those who have raced Europa Cup or WC have an advantage of having had "been there", and all the insight and crediability that brings...but it is by no means mandatory.

post #3 of 15
sure...as long as you are able to identify good techique/tactics, and relay it to your athletes...why not?? i second skidudes answer as well BTW....ya never know, you'll at least get to run gates from time to time wink.gif)

post #4 of 15

yes, provided you do have the fundamentals and can apply them to help your athletes improve. For me a key aspect in a coach is being able to quickly analyze from watching an individual athlete what the key issues to address are to let him/her improve and how that individual can best implement the changes.

BUT, be realistic.  without a track record you are going to have to start at lower echelons and demonstrate your approach delivers. Athletes at U16 level already have a lot of experience and you will need to show how you can improve them further.   It may be that you are content to stay at this level but progressing further will be driven by your (athletes) success

post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thank you, everyone, for the words of encouragement.  I had no idea that there are a bunch of top-level coaches that didn't originally race at that level.  I know I have a lot of hard work and even more learning ahead of me as I start low and try to move up the ranks, but it's incredibly reassuring to hear that I won't necessarily be limited by my prior racing experience. 


Now, my brain just has to hurry up and heal so I can get out there and actually do stuff instead of just sitting around and fretting.... =P

post #6 of 15

Go for it! Skidude knows what he's talking about. Take the CSCF training courses/exams. The more you learn about coaching, the better a coach you'll be. I'd also recommend taking the CSIA levels 1-3 at a minimum, as these courses will give you a strong understanding of the biomechanics of skiing, and improve your versatility as a coach/teacher. 

post #7 of 15

I think being a good coach is within reach of most people. I don't have any racing background and not even a strong or long skiing background and I think I make a decent developing coach, for certain age groups and levels. 


Also, as demonstrated by me in another sport (enduro) where I started from zero about 4 years ago, learned it all myself and coached my kid into winning 3 of 4 provincial races last season. And believe me, enduro is as technical if not more so than skiing. The dirt bike has about 6 controls you have to master in combination with the body while the skis have none, I think (at least the ones I use, heh). The enduro races are as diverse as slalom between the trees at high speeds for 5 hours and a full on 20 minute motocross race with 40 foot jumps etc.


You will have to get your skiing up to par though, so you can demo. If not there yet, use the better kids to demo. A strong technical understanding is a must. Choose your teachers carefully. Given your condition, it won't be overnight and maybe not at the highest levels. Certainly start with the smaller age groups until you get a hang of it. And learn a lot yourself. Skiing is not all in one book or one coach, but many.


You can argue, what's a good coach, what's a great coach. I don't really want to go there :)


Having said that, there will be those  that will tell you no and you better get used to that. 


This is a recent example, on a different ski forum: http://www.pmts.org/pmtsforum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3864 where I was told the same, I have made some arguments along the lines above and ended up bullied and with the worst social experience of my life (not just online)... called stupid, ignorant and told to "f off" and give up coaching and in the end permanently banned from that forum.


So, again: choose your teachers carefully, but go for it. Whatever you dream of, just start it!


Good luck,


post #8 of 15

If I read this correctly, you're about 20? Perfect. You can absolutely do this. My suggestion would be to try to get as much hands-on "apprentice" type experience as possible. I would seek out the best two-three programs near you, and see if you can engage the program director {or whatever title they use for the person that all of the coaches report to} in a face to face conversation, and see if you can volunteer your time, and lend a hand in whatever way makes sense to them. It may well be weekends, and as a result it may be younger kids. Still, do it. If you're honest with them about your relative lack of experience, and make up for it with enthusiasm, hard work, the ability to follow direction, etc., you should be fine. Every program that I know of needs more hands. You'll start out doing the really boring work....essentially the stuff nobody else wants to do. Lugging around bundles of gates, setting up timing, shoveling, course maintenance, putting up and taking down B netting. But you can also be like a sponge, observing and helping. If you're a "gate bitch" following a coach with a bundle of gates as he sets, use that opportunity to watch, and learn and ask questions. If you're standing course side, listen to what's being said. If it's framed up that you're willing to bust your hump to learn, and to be exposed to the craft, and you're a good person, you'll be taken under a wing or two. Volunteer for everything. Learn to video, etc. Everything.


My suggestion would also be to look into working on snow in the summer, either in BC, or at a place in the U.S. like Mt. Hood. Again, at first you may be trading work for a place to stay, food, and absolutely minimal pay. You may need to perform some other work. I'm more familiar with Mt. Hood than with a place like Whistler, but both are flooded with ski camps. Some run all summer, and they need cooks, drivers, maintenance guys, and also a ton of people to support the coaches. Look into it.


If you're headed back to University, think about a major like psychology {which might be interesting with a lot of neuroscience, given your concussion history}, and also think about a coaching major, or a lot of courses in that area. They will not be ski specific. Get the appropriate coaching licenses, and start the courses and certification in Canada. All of this will show that this is serious business for you.


You're not a 26 year old guy coming out of the National team system, or graduating from college as an NCAA All-American. Some new coaches are. A lot more are not. My kids' both raced at VERY high levels in the sport, and they had coaches from all backgrounds. Former WC skiers, and WC coaches. Coaches who never competed as children, could barely ski, and rose to be national team coaches, and people who just loved the sport, worked at it, and learned. I'll also say that the best coaches were not necessarily the best racers, back in their day. Some were. No direct correlation. 


You made the comment that you don't like little kids that much. Kids who are 10, 12, 14 and who are really into this sport can be a ton of fun to be around, and incredibly rewarding to work with, as they tend to listen and they tend to make big gains. It takes skill to actually tell them what to do to get the desired effect. For example, you can't just say "get out of the back seat", or "move your hips forward".....you need to explain how and why, and what will happen. If you're going to be in this for a long time, best to get experience with both genders, and all age groups. 


I would venture to say that the U-16 age group, in a bigger established club, might be the most demanding age group. Kids, and parents. There are generally big expectations for "great coaching".


I would be trying to get an opportunity to help and volunteer with the best program that you can. Don't worry about any of the details. If it's a weekend job, and you have time available in the week, look into other options to fill up your time. Try to work in a shop that handles race stuff, and become adept at tuning.....ideally with a Trione or similar machine. Start out doing anything. Maybe help coach a school team. Are there programs that train nights, mid week? Volunteer. 


That's my two cents. You have a very logical story. You love the sport, and were really getting into it at a higher level when you had what sadly might be a career ending injury. You want to be involved, and you want some exposure and an opportunity to learn. Long winded answer to the fact that you don't need to be an all-star to be a world-beater coach. I will say that the highly experienced racer, who is a bit older than you, and has been a student of the game all along, will be a better out of the box coach. He/she will also be reaching higher for a first job. That's why I'm pushing the volunteer and work hard route. You can absolutely get on a steep learning curve. And hopefully you'll love it, as there aren't many professions that pay less, given the hard work and skills needed. Nobody does it for the money!


Good luck!!

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 

I think I'm pretty lucky in that I'm still quite connected and on fantastic terms with the program director and many of the best coaches with my club.  Once my brain is better, I'll definitely have an in there to be able to tag along and help out in whatever manner I can and just try to soak up as much knowledge as possible.  In my year of FIS, I was already gate bitch-ing it up an awful lot, and I learned a ton about setting from that.  Throwing myself into things and trying to learn as much as possible about coaching, technique, and everything else possible sounds like a great way to get my foot in the door and really start to better myself and start etching away at the disadvantage I have going into things.  And I might not be able to run gates, but I'm pretty sure that I'll still be able to improve my own skiing as I keep learning more stuff.


I know and totally accept that I'm at a disadvantage starting out compared to those sub-50 point racers and provincial/national teamers and college racers.  But it is quite reassuring to hear that there are a lot of successful and really good coaches out there without top-level racing experience themselves.  


Somehow I hadn't thought of the possibility of taking courses in university that could help out with coaching, and that's a great idea!  I can totally see how appropriate courses in psychology, physics, and education could all help further understanding and create tools in your arsenal to teach your athletes with.  But I wasn't aware that universities actually offered courses specifically for coaching.


Regarding smaller children: I was thinking about this a bit more, and I think the primary reason that I'm not particularly great with kids is that over the past many years, I've spent essentially zero time with them and am actually a little afraid of them.  I'm sure spending some time with them will help correct that, and I'm sure that that's just another skill I'll have to learn.  Who knows, maybe with some experience I'll even start to really love kids and be good with them.  Mulling over and distilling the essential movements in ways that they can understand actually sounds like a kinda fun challenge.


It's actually funny you mention working at a shop and tuning, because last season, when I wasn't doing racing stuff or working my manual labour job, I was actually working at a local ski shop and ended up doing a bunch of the race tuning there, and pre-season helped (and learned how to in the process) our coaches do all the initial prep for all the new skis for all the K2s and us FIS kids.  I still definitely have more to learn here too, though, but I do think I have a fairly solid foundation.  Is a Trione some sort of special machine for edges and bevels and all that jazz?  


So, to kinda wrap this all up, I'm at a disadvantage, but with a lot of hard work doing whatever I can and soaking up knowledge and asking questions, that would give me a start on my journey to eventually becoming a great coach.  


Oh, actually, a question: I know I should be taking CSCF courses and getting certified that way (and I'm definitely planning on it), but what about CSIA?  How much do the two associations really work together and complement each other?  I'd assume that pretty much any learning would be useful and give you more tools to use and probably help with your understanding of skiing mechanics, but I'd love to hear some opinions on this topic too. 

post #10 of 15
Originally Posted by gogi-goji View Post
Oh, actually, a question: I know I should be taking CSCF courses and getting certified that way (and I'm definitely planning on it), but what about CSIA?  How much do the two associations really work together and complement each other?  I'd assume that pretty much any learning would be useful and give you more tools to use and probably help with your understanding of skiing mechanics, but I'd love to hear some opinions on this topic too. 


The two Orgs work very closely, and to advance, both Orgs requires you to have a certain amount of cert in the other as prerequisties.  So no thought on your part is required...CSCF will dicatate what CSIA courses you need and vice versa.


FYI - I know 4 Canadian WC coaches who never raced Europa or Nor-Ams personally, and 3 of them are CSIA 4, and one is CSIA 3.  So you need to do both, as they compliment each other.

post #11 of 15
Cscf level 1 sort of includes csia level 1. Cscf level 3 requires csia level 2. Having said that, i heard good things about the csia level 2 as a stepping stone or a complement to cscf level 2... When you get to cscf level 3 you'll already know more than i smile.gif

The cscf progression and all details are on their website.

Good luck
post #12 of 15
Originally Posted by razie View Post

Cscf level 1 sort of includes csia level 1.


I would respectfully disagree. CSIA 1, from my perspective, is comprised of fasttrack to parallel, basic assessment and development, and some ski improvement. The FTTP really doesn't fit into the CSCF entry level program. The focus of a coach is also different from, but complementary to, the focus of an instructor.  


Anecdotally, I found that our CSCF entry level evaluator, who was only a CSIA level 2, was not good at teaching. CSIA course conductors, on the other hand, tend to be phenomenal at teaching and structuring their lessons. I hope my next CSCF course conductor has their CSIA level 4 on top of their CSCF credentials. 


Razie, did you do the development level course? How was it? 

post #13 of 15
Originally Posted by Metaphor_ View Post

Razie, did you do the development level course? How was it? 
Awesome but harder than i expected, for me at least smile.gif it changed my skiing - quite a leap i would say, i learned tons about coaching and skiing but didnt pass my ski in gates - do gates as much as possible before that course. I would probably pass at end of season, but it takes a lot of work to get my skiing there.
post #14 of 15

On a not-related-to-skiing note, there are some coaches in the NFL who have barely played football AT ALL in their lives, let alone in the NFL.  Just something to think about.

post #15 of 15
Originally Posted by gogi-goji View Post

... I'm pretty sure that I'll still be able to improve my own skiing as I keep learning more stuff.



Is Phil Jackson a better basketball player then Micheal Jordon? Is Micheal Jackson a better team executive and coach then Phil Jackson? 


I have noticed over the years that the most successful coaches in any sport are not the stars, or even upper half talents. For the most part they are those that love their sport, and try to understand every phase of it as well as work hard to learn how to maximize their own talent. The true talents frequently become lousy coaches, IMHO, because not having had to LEARN as opposed to expressing their talent, they can get quite frustrated with those that can't just do it.


You're a bit young to be worried about age, racing may be a young persons sport, but great coaching calls for experience and perspective that only come with time on the snow. Keep following your dream, and those coaches who have gotten the best out of you.  Your capacity to learn, and drive to improve should get you as far as you wish.

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