By Torbjorn Karlsen, with contributions by John Aalberg and Cory Smith
Thanks to everyone who contributed to 'The Current State Of US XC Skiing' discussion. It’s great to see that we can have a nationwide forum like this. Maybe we can make this an annual event: a season wrap-up here on Fasterskier.com by the USSA staff, the regional head coaches, and the most successful club coaches. It would help to improve communication and make sure everyone is on the same page.
It was especially informative and eye-opening to hear comments from full-time athletes and coaches. These are the people who think about training and performance every day all year. They are putting in 1-2 daily workouts, designing training programs, waxing skis, taking lactate samples and video footage, living out of a suitcase, and driving vans across the country, all in an effort to ski faster or help someone else ski faster.
We thank the US Ski Team coaches and everyone else who invested the time to send us their thoughts. Each of the articles in this series has been read by over 2,000 people (and counting). Thanks to the efforts of those who did the writing, a lot more people now have a better understanding of the challenges US cross country skiing is facing, (the size of the country, limited funding, history and so on) and also of the ways that we can meet these challenges in the future.
Going forward, it is important to remember, as pointed out by many, is that we have a lot in place in order to turn things around. We have some great race series (thanks to Luke’s vision and good race organizers) and skiers can make money by skiing fast. We have lots of skiers, dedicated coaches, and some very good programs. There is a lot of expertise, activity, energy, skiers and work going on within our sport in all the skiing regions. NENSA in New England is probably the furthest ahead, with an organizational structure and funding in place that almost matches (or more) that of the National USSA Cross-Country office in Park City. The APU program in Alaska has the ingredients in place to succeed, but seems to need more support from local coaches. The pieces of a great skiing nation are in place, however it needs to be organized, structured, coordinated and managed better at a National level. We all know that team-work gives better results than working alone. So, how can this be achieved in a large country as the US?
Here is our attempt to wrap-up some of the suggestions (not in any particular order):
1. We need the USSA coaching staff to focus on the top 5-10 skiers in the country, as they currently do because of financial and logistical reasons. The skiers that are ready for Europe need World Cup experience, fine-tuned coaching, and guidance. They need camps and racing over and above what the average clubs or regions can give them. However don’t forget the regional/or club coaches that helped develop the skiers to be ready for Europe. They know a lot about these skiers, strength, weakness and backgrounds. A young skier’s first trip to Europe might not be successful, and the local support system will be very important when that happens.
2. Coaches’ education and data collection. We need, as Sverre Caldwell said, â€œsomeone to tell us what to do!â€ A well-run Coaches Club is the one of the strongest parts of the Norwegian coaching system, and one of the weakest parts of US cross country skiing. The main ingredients in the Norwegian coaches education system are : Training theory (endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, recovery, planning, age considerations, peaking and so on), technique training (how to analyze and communicate technique problems and feedback), equipment, basic physiology, and psychology. It has been pointed out several times in the discussion that we have very many educated coaches. The problem is that all the knowledge is not summarized and put into a system. The coaches in our educational system need to know what Bauer, Wadsworth, Kemppel, and Freeman (for example) did for training. We also need to have data from when we were not successful. We need to discuss total hours, total hours of hard training, lactates, number of hard sessions per week, type of intervals, reps and sets used is strength and speed training and so on in a way that coaches and skiers can benefit from this. Making an educational system available to the coaches makes the coaching better at all levels.
3. XCNDS/Regional concept: I truly believe that the XCNDS is the right move. I do however find it somewhat nostalgic, and a bit ironic, that almost twenty years ago as a USSA assistant coach I had concluded the very same thing Trond Flagstad said: â€œI believe the solution lies out in the Regionsâ€. To make long story short, the regional concept with four regional head coaches was implemented in 1987 (West, Mid West, Alaska and East), and abandoned in 1989 two years later. It was however not abandoned due to lack of results, but lack of understanding of progress. I’m bringing this up because we need to learn from mistakes like this. Four women and two men had a total of nine top 30 results in the World Championship that year (Lahti, Finland). This was progress, especially for the women, and remember that these skiers were racing against a field where it’s very likely that at least 50% of the competition was doped! This progress was overlooked since we didn’t medal and the end result was â€œno more regional teams/concept.â€
We need to stick with the regional concept. The model should not change every time there is a coaching change at USSA. I think that 80-90% of what we come up with for plans and structure today will be correct, lets adjust and fine-tune the other 10-20% over time until every region are consistently producing high-level results. An XCNDS coordinator, as Schultz suggested, might be needed to get THIS going and to keep all the regions in the loop. Funding for a regional development program should come from USSA, but even without funding, there are ways to make the XCNDS work. One possible way to make sure that the regional model is continued even in times of lean funding and coaching turnover is to make it the responsibility of the USSA Cross Country Committee, rather than the USSA staff, as John Aalberg suggested. (See John Aalberg's comments: http://www.fasterskier.com/racing.php?id=2251 ).
This discussion showed that we, as a ski community, have a lot of resources and knowledge at our disposal in this country. What we need now are lines of communication to share those resources and to make sure everyone is on the same page. We at FasterSkier.com are happy to have opened up at least one line of communication. This series of articles may be ending, but coaches and athletes are always welcome to use this website as a forum for sharing their insight and opinions. We welcome all submissions of information and opinions as we try to do our part to strengthen the US ski community.