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Teaching: tactics/skills

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
What's your take on the right blend of tactical teaching (anything having to do with line--like the slow line fast) and teaching of skills?

Does the level of the student skew the proportions?

Does the condition of the snowpack change the proportions?

In your training, have you had what you consider enough on teaching tactics?
post #2 of 14
I introduce tactics early, in the first lesson, as the first options start to bud. In the midwest our conditions vary little, and our terrain a little more, but tactics still have relevance. When I have a client who is going west to the mountains I have a bunch of tactical line/task/drills I'll use to prep them for what they might encounter on a big ski mountain. I see skills as the ingreedients that can be blended into a variety of turn/line/shape options. I see tactics as using your options to solve any puzzle the run presents (terrain, snow cond), or any you choose to create just for fun (lets leap, slice, slash, slither). To some extent I present tactics to motivate the student to explore their options (braking turns, gliding turns) and to look for the adventure of adapting your skiing to be in harmony with the terrain (and to ski more safely).

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ January 09, 2002 08:43 AM: Message edited 1 time, by Arcmeister ]</font>
post #3 of 14
Great, great, GREAT topic, Nolo!

Tactics RULE technique. That is, in my opinion, why the "slow line fast" is such a critical concept! Instructors who try to teach the TECHNIQUE of skiing the slow line fast to students in the defensive mindset of wanting to control speed CANNOT SUCCEED. The movements that allow us to "go that way" are entirely different from--opposite, and contradictory to--the movements that allow us to "stop going this way."

The impact of this is that IF we can get students into the offensive "GO" mindset, their technique will "automatically" change to the right moves for good turns! Their SKILLS will not improve instantly, but the type of movements they do, regardless of their skill level, will transform qualitatively. They will do their best to "go that way"--which is exactly what Bode Miller, Picabo Street, and Hermann Maier do!

And since they are now practicing the "right stuff," their skills and proficiency at "good technique" will improve naturally.

I stood at the bottom of Keystone's steep blue "Starfire" run many years ago, watching skiers descend the last, steepest pitch. At the bottom of the pitch, the trail levels out, and after 50 yards or so, skiers make a 180 degree turn into the maze of the Santiago lift to ride back up. I watched a classic "glue-footed back-seat tail-pusher" come straight down the pitch, in control, with extreme twisting, skidding movements. Before I had time to gag, he reached the bottom. Of course, now that the "run" was over, he relaxed, and his stance opened naturally as he glided across the flats. Then--SURPRISE!--he pulled his tips apart in big "offensive" stepping movements to make that 180 degree turn into the lift maze.

So--why were his movements so completely different when he was "turning" down the hill from when he was "turning" into the lift maze? The only explanation was that his INTENT--his TACTICS--were also 180 degrees apart. Down the hill, his intent was clearly to CONTROL SPEED. Indeed, I suspect that for this particular skier, he worked particularly hard to make sure he did NOT turn--did not veer from that fall line. He wasn't "turning" at all--he was BRAKING.

Then, when it came time to TURN into the maze, his intent was obviously no longer to control speed, but to GO another direction. And his movements--his technique--reflected the change in tactics. His stance widened appropriately (necessarily!) and he moved FORWARD, out of the "back seat" and into the turn. He completely stopped pushing his tails out and made vigorous movements of his tips IN to the turn. ALL the technical changes I would have liked to have seen HAPPENED!

And a big light bulb flashed on for me. If I could get skiers to change their tactics in ANY situation, would this not also reflect in their movements?

Since then, I often spend time with skiers exploring tactics--with the "hidden" (sometimes) agenda of helping them find a technical breakthrough. There are lots of exercises and focuses that can't help but put skiers into the "offensive" tactical mindset that is the precursor to all "good turns" (and that contradicts the intent that produces "good braking").

Completing turns uphill, past a horizontal traverse, requires offensive "tips in" technique. You simply can NOT go uphill by pushing your tails downhill! Having students follow my tracks puts them in the mode of controlling line rather than speed. Running gates forces us to "go that way" rather than only to "stop going this way." Lateral movements, GO-ing back and forth from one side of a cat track to the other, puts usin "go" mode. Having students chase me as I skate around on the flats.... And there are many other tactical drills too, where only "offensive" technique works, and "defensive" technique feels wrong.

All of these drills require only an explanation of WHAT to do--not HOW to do it. Again, the technique--the "how"--changes automatically with the right tactical focus. The proficiency with any technique improves with practice. But the right tactics do get skiers practicing--and improving at--the right techniques.

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #4 of 14
While I agree with Bob teaching tactics enormously helps the student gain and become a better skier I would also have to say so does a laying good foundation at the beginning. I work with my students to lay a good solid foundation, particularly balance and their ability to turn and feel their feet/skis, and then I venture off on to what I call terrain tactics teaching. We will wonder hither and yon finding fun things to do and all the while learning sometimes more than we realize. (Now I am looking forward to my Level 8-9 kids this Sunday. They will try anything!) The foundation is laid and now the real learning, self-learning with coaching I might add, begins. So yes the type of student has a role as well as the terrain as well as the conditions/terrain. If it is a night and I know many of you do not get to have the same wonderful evenings we experience, where the rain is misty and your jacket has a nice coating of blue crystal ice, it may be time to regress to “skills” rather than venture to far onto those glassy hills. As I sit here thinking just a little farther don’t we really role it all together where tactics and skills blend and the outcome is a heck of a lot of fun for the student and the coach!

When it comes to tactics I never heard it mentioned in all the clinics and exams I have taken except in a bump clinic. We actually train skills based teaching and let experience develop tactics based coaching with skill blends worked in. Don’t we?

Great question Mss. N


Remember skiing is not talking and talking is not teaching! Therefore I believe we should talk less; ski more, and our students will learn more.
post #5 of 14
You are right on with your skiing/talking/teaching footnote.

In a clinic I ran years ago a question came up about the value of explanations vs. demos. On a whim (at the time) I put finger to my lips for everyone to be silent. I would do a static and/or moving demo of a desired movement, with some exaggeration, pointing or hand on assistance, label it with a thumbs up. Then point to eyes, point to movement, point to group so everone would watch everbody else and we would give it a go ski. Then I'd give positive reinforcement with thumbs up and a smile. Or modify and adjust by contrasting a demo of the thumbs down, head shaking, not-desired movement/outcome, re-show the desired move, smiling, to adjust focus and we'd go ski again. Try-it, fix-it. The attention and focus of the group (large 15+ instructors) was awsome! We went on for 45 min with out a word spoken (except to answer a curious observer about my teaching a group of deaf mutes). The groups accellerated learning curve from the attention being paid to simply what they saw more than answered the question about better results comming from explanations or good images.

I'm off to spring it on a clinic group tonight. :
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 

Your note about intent is outstanding. I work with 20 level 8-8.5 skiers whose weaknesses are almost exclusively tactical. The coach that Gonzo and I share (I don't see him much any more, but he has given me many gifts, such as the following) taught me a great deal about skidding, carving, and the circle (what you call the slow line) and how these are not techniques as much as tactics. His idea is that some people want to do a slow line slow, and teachers can give them the skidded circle as their premier tactic. The racers want to go fast: the carved arc is their deal. In a generous chute, I cut the middle out of the circle, but the turn has a beginning and ending arc, skarved. In a narrow chute, it's a hop turn without air, peeling potatoes to the landing.

It has everything to do with intent.

Thanks for the great input, everyone.

Oh, something that might help in teaching tactics: After Action Review. After skiing a tough section, stop and debrief what happened, what they intended to happen, what they feel accounted for the difference, and what they intend to do next time. Courtesy U.S. Army.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ January 10, 2002 07:38 PM: Message edited 1 time, by nolobolono ]</font>
post #7 of 14
Wow. Great Stuff guys!!!

When I think of some of the directions teaching has taken in my short tenure as an instructor (11 years), I'm suprised by the number of "tactics" or even "exercises" that somehow became "ways to ski". It's funny how the CHARACTERISTICS of good skiing get interpreted by different folks when they are teaching/explaining a TASK to students. What SKILL focus is at hand? Does the EXERCISE properly convey what the instructor is trying to teach? Does the instructor properly explain the difference between an EXERCISE, a TACTIC, and a SKILL? What are the PRINCIPLES of skiing? Is a given problem in someone's skiing something that can be attacked directly? or is it a result of something else? Is it really a problem? or could the movement pattern be a useful TACTIC in another situation?

Yeah, gobbledygook mostly, but the first thing I think about when I pose all these questions (note the CAPITALIZED words) is the tendency of some advanced skiers (in our classes)to show a slight wedge at turn initiation. Is that bad skiing? or is it just not appropriate for the particular execise we are teaching?

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the converging step is still an Exam Maneuver in a few regions in the US. Racers live by it on occasion. Are we to Unteach such a valuable TACTIC? Maybe a little understanding on our part of how useful a TACTIC can be will allow us to show students (and each other) that skiing isn't about "the line" or "Early Hook-up" or "edge release". It's about putting together a package of movement (stance, tip, turn, flex/extend)that allows a skier to make physical and mental decisions in a variety of situations.

I've gone on a tangent here, so I'll get back to exercises that became ways to ski:

We say: "Upper body faces downhill."
Truth: Sometimes yes, sometimes true to the direction of travel. It depends.

We say: "Turn shape = Speed Control"
Truth: Lots of different things = speed control. Can we not skid w/o turning?

We say: "Wedge entry is indicative of a sequential initiation."
Truth: Yeah, sometimes. But what else am I to do when I'm late in the gates or in trouble on the steeps. Sorry Fella, but I'm gonna step and write that turn off as an appropriate tactic!! No it wasn't the cleanest thing to do but I still have all my teeth.

We say: "Shift your weight to the outside foot."
Truth: What do I do with the other one? Activating the inside leg can make all the difference to a student. If Centrifugal Force sends us to the outside anyway, why bother with it?

We say: "Pole swing to develop your timing."
Truth: Tell you what. Next time your cooking some Mac + Cheese, do some jumping jacks to make the water boil faster. Timing is an INTERNAL thing, not an EXTERNAL thing.

Anyway. Just some food for thought. Can't say understand all (or any) of the true nuances of skiing, but I do have a few ideas that keep skiing interesting for me.

Bob. Fantastic observation about INTENT. I will be stealing that one if you don't mind!!!!

Gots to go,
post #8 of 14
Great post Spag! All your points are valid, but I particularly like this statement:

"We say: "Shift your weight to the outside foot."
Truth: What do I do with the other one? Activating the inside leg can make all the difference to a student. If Centrifugal Force sends us to the outside anyway, why bother with it?"

I remember when the activity of the inside leg began to be a big focus for many instructors (not that some hadn't focused on it for a long time already!). I remember hearing racer-types complain that "that's too complicated...skiing is simple--like walking--you stand on one foot, then the other...." My reply was "yes--it's simple--like walking--we stand on one foot, AND WE MOVE THE OTHER ONE!"

The outside ski may be where the action is, but the inside ski is where the ACTIVITY is!

Your point about weight transfer ("If Centrifugal Force sends us to the outside anyway, why bother with it?") is also excellent. It is a cart-horse thing, an easily confused cause-effect relationship. As World Cup racers clearly demonstrate, and anyone who has made a turn on the inside ski has experienced, it is NOT necessary to balance on the outside ski just to make a turn. Weight transfer, for the most part, RESULTS from a turn--as it does in a car--it does not CAUSE a turn.

Confusing this cause-effect relationship can result in some very frustrating errors! Because of the "g-forces" of a turn, weight shifts to the outside ski IN SPITE OF the body moving to the INSIDE. To "try" to make a weight transfer happen, sans the necessary forces (ie. at low speeds), causes movements in the opposite direction (toward the outside ski), that just aren't appropriate for a good turn. (But they certainly ARE appropriate for other tactical purposes--like braking.)

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #9 of 14
Reading this I realise that all ski instruction I've had has been purely about physical movements (skills) and never about tactics. Reading Bob is a revelation - I wish I had him as a teacher!
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>I remember when the activity of the inside leg began to be a big focus for many instructors (not that some hadn't focused on it for a long time already!). I remember hearing racer-types complain that "that's too complicated...skiing is simple--like walking--you stand on one foot, then the other...." My reply was "yes--it's simple--like walking--we stand on one foot, AND WE MOVE THE OTHER ONE!"<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Bob and others,

How do you describe the movement of the inside leg/foot/ski? I found that the "stand on one foot and move the other" created some problems: people were getting too much lead and actually hampering their ability to guide the inside ski and be effectively active with that ski.

I do like Bob's distinction between the "letting" and "making" something happen (that's going to happen anyway as a natural course of events). This is the difference between "thinking" through the turn and "feeling" the turn.

Thanks for the great ideas.
post #11 of 14
Fantastic thread nolo. For inside foot I try to keep it as simple as pull back the insided foot by flexing the ankle, tip to the little toe edge and guide the ski where you want it to go. The outside ski will follow along happily with your balance on it. Ride ski, guide ski.
Tactics for teaching good movement patterns passively is much better than teaching physical movements for most skiers. There are some good movement patterns that are not very natural and still need some explanation. Inside foot is one of them.
post #12 of 14
What a great topic! What Bob says about intent is right on, and I can't wait to use this concept in my next lesson. I was fooling around with shuffling exercises and making tele turns on my alpine skis the other day, some really interesting things start to happen to the inside leg. We really do get hung up on the idea of controlling weight transfer instead of just 'letting it happen' and focusing on where we want to go.
post #13 of 14
Ya make me proud, Spag! That squirrel cage has really been spinning while you wait for snow!
post #14 of 14
Yeah, Been doing a bit of researching, thinking, skiing, playing, clinicing, and generally just occupying myself with skiing in general. (Still aching for that Trainer's Accred. you know!) You're right. We have VERY little snow, but the two runs we DO have are in good shape, so I get out there a bit every day... nothing else to do.

In the absence of snow, I go out and play with different types of skiing. Carve on ice. Skid on ice. Snowboard. Snowblades. Tele. Skate on flats. Half pipe (yep, we got one) Go fast. Go slow. Ballet. Teach. Sit around. You know me. I even tried the "lunch tray" exercise with an actual lunch tray the other day!! Anyone out there who knows Milty or Dogger, tell them that it looks good when you do it in ski boots, but it's Flippin' tough as hell when you really do it!. (ha ha)

Anyway, my response to Robin sort of sums it up for me, I guess. Go out and PLAY with the full on extreme of a movement pattern. When it starts to work, go to the other end of the spectrum and work on that too. you never know when you might pull one of those moves out of your pocket. I've said it before and I'll reiterate here... Good skiing has nothing to do with being able to carve on ice or flash a bump run. The ability to make DECISIONS is what counts. Without it, you are just another smokin' hole looking for an address.

I'm going to finish my beer now. Robin, my best to the Family. Everyone else... this Bud's for you!!!


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