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. ski racing tips : Coaching and Teaching Philosophy: what makes a good ski trainer - 26 December 2004 - 20:08

I seen it a hundred times. You have race coaches and you have ski instructors. Both are good in their respective camps, but for the best training experience, find an educator who is a believer of both camps.

Here is why: If the trainer is only schooled in one method, he will stay in his ideology and methodology camp and in turn only teach the tenets of that training.

I like to compare it to a religious scholar. If that scholar is only schooled in one religion, he will champion that cause with a vengeance. The same is true with ski teaching.

Traditionally the ski teachers lack skiing skills and race coaches lack teaching skills. This is not the rule, but is the case in 90% of all teaching situations.

The best educators have a background in both, and of course most will tell you they have the experience, but when cornered and asked to produce results, the truth soon comes out.

If you ask any ski instructor
very few will tell you they were junior racers, and most will tell you they started skiing in or after high school. They will however tell you they have a large number of years teaching... skiing blah, blah, blah. And in this way they appease your trepidation about their skills.

That is why ski schools are a joke in the way of actual skiing skill when seen from the viewpoint of ski racers and coaches. Don't believe me? Just ask any race coach if the ski school has good skiers! One resort in Tahoe will not let their instructors in uniform ski down the expert run by the lodge. The reasoning: they will make the ski school look bad. I've personally heard the ski school director say so himself! Most teachers rely on the fact that their students are below their skill level and will not find out their skill deficiency.

For the most part this works. I was watching OLN TV yesterday and saw a major resort instructor teaching some pointer in a 5 minute segment. The guy displayed marginal skills, but yet to the intermediate, he would be considered a great skier. The theory they live by: In the world of blind men, the one eyed man is king!

The ski school guy thinks if he tells you he is an expert, you will believe him. They do have one redeeming quality. They have more language developed entirely for the purpose of communicating skiing than the Eskimo has for the word snow. You might have heard it before, crossunder, counter rotation, centrifugal and centripetal force, centerline, mechanical priorities, ATS, ATM, blah, blah, blah... Now this language is important in the fact that it lets the instructors communicate between themselves and relay teaching concepts. One thing those guys are good at is clinicing. They will clinic during powder days, corn snow days, hell any day! Just look around next time you're on the mountain. If you can spot a group of instructors huddled on some corner of the run, they are clinicing and talking about skiing. Then when they are done, they head to the bar and talk about how well they talked about skiing... Oh Boy! Instructors are good at developing progressions. These teaching progressions are designed specifically to break down a movement pattern and compose teachable chunks of information that students can repeat and succeed at.

For example most lessons start with a verbal instruction of the task, then a quick static exercise (ie not moving, but try to duplicate the body position) then a slow speed demonstration with a practice session until the desired movement is achieved. The ski teacher is required to go through many hours of training each year, and over time, they can often make up for a lack of skiing skill by becoming a good teacher. Over the years, Ive had some damb good lessons from professional clinicers. No kidding!

The problem is that they often cannot demonstrate the upper levels of skiing and when they attempt, they fake it because of ego and end up halting the advancement of the student instead of helping them. A ski instructor will never admit he isn't an expert-- guaranteed!

Now for the race coach:

This guy was a junior racer, at least you hope so if your kid is in the local race program where he works. Generally this guy skis pretty well. He is able to demonstrate the techniques, but his skill set falters in his ability to describe and teach the desired skills. See he never liked clinicing. He likes to rip around the mountain and ski, but therein lies the problem. He never developed the clinicing skills!

If the student can learn by watching. Most any ski race coach can be successful. The problem comes when the student is either an auditory or kinesthetic learner. Race coaches are more proof is in the pudding guys. They ski very well, but as with most athletes, they are a little slow on the verbal skills. When a race coach meets a ski instructor, the instructor will inevitably start telling self agrandizing stories. While the race coach will say, "show me how good you are and quit running your mouth!"
This is the very nature of the diffences between the two camps.

Very seldom will you see race coaches breaking down movement patterns down into teachable chunks of information. Coaches will set a course and tell the athlete, "go get 'em"

Race Coaches are product orientated and often show the student the whole picture and expect the student to start doing it. I'm sorry, but you cannot show a junior racer a video of a world cup ski racer and ask him to reproduce the skill and movement patterns.

The Solution:

If a ski educator is a member of both organizations, PSIA and USSCA, that is half the battle. If that same person is in the highest levels of PSIA and a racer who has achieved a high level in ski racing, especially in recent seasons, then you can be assured that your coach has both the skill and training to make you a better skier. Now I'm talking about top results like Masters Regional or National Titles, local ski league champions if you live in a big ski resort area, or Freeskiing X Game type titles. These guys know how to win and can teach it.


Now be careful, every ski teacher and race coach I know is ego driven. So they will tell you they have achieved the equivalent to the experience you desire. I've seen it happen many times. One guy claimed to be a successful race coach and a former coach of a current US Ski Team Member, but the truth was he was a has-been coach who taught old technique. And when the current US Teamer was 8 this coach taught him. Does this make him responsible for the current skills of the US Teamer? Hell no The students who got suckered by this guy lost a whole season to bad coaching of 10 year old technique. Remember, race coaches must be current on technique.

I've seen many ski instructors try to cross over into coaching only to ruin the training of the kids in their group for the season. I don't think it's right to learn coaching at the expense of kids. Just think if your kid could have the best coach in the area right from the beginning! You think your kid would win? Hell yes! All the way to a Gold Olympic Medal!

I cringed one season while a ski teacher politically took over a ski resort's race department because his buddy was the general manager. In this case the guy knew nothing about racing. It didn't take long before the parents of the top racers and not to mention the top coaches figured it out and all left the program. How did he keep his job? Remember ski school instructors are great at talking the game, and as long as the board of directors believed his BS he was in! Programs need objective evaluations of parents and racers with an interview process.
One thing I hate to see is the kids getting hurt cause some wannbe has political ambitions. So many times I see coaches act as if their career is based on getting higher and better positions. One season I was in a DCL PSIA certification exam. Me and one other guy passed. The next season one of the guys who flunked out turned into a race coach. Hell this guy didn't even have the skills to be a ski instructor. Next thing you know this guys is brown nosing so hard he is promoted to Head FIS coach of the race program. Now to end my rant...

Here are the prerequisites for your coach:

1. He must be one of the fastest current coaches in his part of the country.

2. He must have both PSIA 3 and USSCA National certifications minimum.

3. He must be able to establish a relationship of fun with the student.

If all these functions are met, give yourself plenty of time to ski and learn, because you will achieve all your skiing objectives with the proper amount of time. 

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