TrainingDeveloping the Cross-Country National Development System

FasterSkier FasterSkierApril 22, 2005

Editor's Note:This article continues our discussion of the current state of US skiing and where we are headed in the future. To read the others, see the right-hand column of this page. This article is the US Ski Team's proposed Cross Country National Development System. This has been presented to the Cross Country Committee, and will be discussed at the conference in May in Park City.

Why, What, How and When

WHY:

Our general level of performance at the Junior World Championships demonstrates
that our best junior skiers are ill prepared at the junior level to compete
successfully among their peers internationally.

Our general performance at the World Championships shows that very few skiers
have from their junior to their senior years come close to making up this
early deficit.

At the same time the few skiers who at the junior level did show they were
at least fairly well prepared (top 15 at jr. worlds) have not risen to the
same level at the U23 level or at the OPA or World Cup level.

This demonstrates that there are inadequacies at all levels of skiing in
the U.S. and that even the skiers with talent and proper youth development,
are not well enough prepared or supported at the OPA or A team level.

We have seen however that the U.S. Ski Team can develop skiers. The
top three skiers on the USSA list at this time are products of the U.S. Ski
Team development program put in place 1999. For financial reasons we
had to cut the development team to support these ex-Development team skiers
who are now on the World Cup Team and who are now placing among the top 15
in the world.

No single entity within the USSA is at this time capable of supporting every
level of skiing, and some as they are now are not capable of adequately taking
care of even one level.

To create a comprehensive system of development each level must be integrated
with the next, each program must be integrated with the others, and all must
be integrated toward and committed to a shared goal.

Hence the creation of the XCNDS — the Cross-Country National Development
System. This is a proven system used by the U.S. Alpine program and
it is the only type of system that will work for short or long term success
in cross-country skiing.

WHAT:

The XCNDS is the educational and development strategy of the U.S. Ski Team.
It is built around four (4) vital strategies regarding athlete and coach development.

  1. Clear Path Advancement
  2. Content of camps and projects
  3. Racer management
  4. Development and Education

The mandate of the Cross-Country National Development System is to provide
improved athlete management strategies for those emerging athletes in transition
from the local Club to the United States Ski Team.

The Cross-Country National Development System is a model program for cross-country
advancement and development in the United States. The system will evolve into
a well-coordinated effort of USSA, Regions, Divisions and States along with
cross-country Clubs, Academies and Universities to effectively utilize athlete
development resources.

The system is not specific to ages, but rather is engineered to compliment
the fitness and skill development of athletes at all stages and ages of development.

CRITICAL SUCCESS COMPONENTS

Development: A plan of conditioning, preparation and competition projects
engineered to compliment opportunities for identified athletes. Essential
to the success of a development system is the continuity of one environment
to the next and a methodical progression to help the athlete achieve precision
of skill at each stage of the athlete pipeline.

Calendar: Design and engineer competition calendars focused on the preparation
of the athlete with an emphasis on periodized planning of athletes preparation
(training/recovering, technical skills, competing, etc).

Education: The ultimate effectiveness of any program or system is a function
of how well all of the players; athletes, coaches and staff understand the
strategies for accomplishing the goals of the program. Education of all of
the participants is a critical component of the Cross-Country National Development
System.

Selection systems: Athletes and coaches must understand the selection criteria
for “National” teams, major “International” events, and
XCNDS camps. This criteria will drive planning and focus for club athletes
who are “in the hunt” for the cross-county OPA cup and eventually
the World Cup. The criteria for all teams must carry a common thread of elite
performance standard for which all USST athletes are accountable. Objective
selection criteria must be the foundation of selection systems. A limited
amount of discretion should be used for selection.

Goals of the Cross-Country National Development System

  • To fulfill the vision and mission of the USSA by consistently
    developing the most successful ski racing athletes in the world.
  • To develop skiers with the potential to win individual
    discipline and overall World Cup titles and Olympic and World Championship
    medals.
  • Win at Every Level.

Objectives of the National Development System

  • Identify the best athletes at each level of the pipeline
    and bring these athletes together for training and competition opportunities.
  • Create programs of the highest quality which compliment
    and supplement home programs. Utilize the best coaches available to operate
    the Development Projects.
  • Engineer opportunities for top developing athletes to
    “ski up” with OPA Cup Team and World Cup team athletes as appropriate
    and possible.
  • Develop world-class training as the foundation for athletic
    success.

HOW:

Initiatives to implement the National Development System

  • Create partnerships for the National Development System
    Operations (staffing and projects) that require joint funding by USSA along
    with the Regions; this will insure 100% buy-in from all parties.
  • Create a U.S. Ski Team OPA cup team including one full-time
    coach, one part-time service person, 6 athletes and a budget adequate to
    training and competing at the OPA cup level.
  • Provide appropriate competency based training and competition
    opportunities.
  • Integrate all cross-country athlete development into
    one national system.

Regional Staffing

Responsibility for delivery has to be supervised and managed locally. The
Regional Directors must become athletic directors for their Regions with responsibility
for development, calendar, education and selection (the critical success components),
as well as planning and financial management.

We must implement a support staff for each of the Regional Directors to operate
the athletic program in their Region. The support staff is made up of Coaches
and Managers who are focused on development, competition and education.

Regional Coach Focus

  • Guiding principles, philosophy and theme of the cross-country
    National Development System.
  • Establish projects that provide common experiences for
    our top coaches and athletes.
  • Develop trust by empowering our best club coaches to take leadership positions
    in the design and implementation of National Projects.
  • Provide more coordinated and consistent educational experiences for all
    of our coaches so that we “get on the same page”.
  • Develop partnerships based on the best interests of the best athletes.
  • Identify and develop resource facilities, resource people and resource
    materials.

Projects and Content: We must research and evaluate our needs in order to
plan and design annual national projects. These projects must compliment
existing local opportunities and will therefore be endorsed by all regions.

The cross-country National Development System must focus its projects on
developing fitness and teaching skills that are essential to elite athlete
performance. Perfection of fitness and racing skills at one level before advancing
to the next level will be the theme throughout the cross-country National
Development System.

Principles of Athlete Development in the sport of cross-country ski racing

  • The process of development spans the entire life of the
    athlete.
  • Competition is a measure of the effectiveness of the
    training program.
  • Development of fitness is the primary element of performance.
  • Fitness is utilized by perfecting technique, psychological
    skills, racing tactics.
  • Effective training is planned and based on a system.
  • Optimal training programs are based on the principles
    of periodization.
  • Progressions are generic to specific, easy to hard.
  • Training and recovery periods during the competition
    season are essential.
  • Athletic behavior is goal directed.
  • Athletes educated in all aspects of their programs can
    interact in a knowledgeable, contributing fashion, as full, responsible
    partners.

Funding: USSA, in cooperation with the Regions, must agree to a partnership
approach for funding the Cross-Country National Development System. The USSA
must carry the primary responsibility for funding the staff and the projects,
but each of the Regions must contribute to both salary and projects. This
“joint funding” approach will insure a continued “partnership”
and “buy in” in the cross-country National Development System for
all of the entities.

While the athletes at regional and local levels will continue to self-fund
to a major degree. The XCNDS must strive to reduce athlete expenses as much
as possible.

WHEN:

Creating the XCNDS must take place following a step-by-step progression.
The creation of the XCNDS must be committed to at every level of the USSA
and U.S. Ski Team before it will be committed to at the regional or local
level.

This process must begin now
We are at a crux moment in the history of skiing in the U.S. We are
perched in position to win a medal — the first in over 20 years —
at the Olympics. But our perch is precarious, as the teamÕs financial
resources are insufficient to address both high-end performance and development.

Meanwhile development strategies within USSA are under immense scrutiny from
the top levels of the USSA, and the community support built since 2002 is
eroding and with it our best chance at creating a U.S. Ski Team/Regionally
integrated XCNDS.

Step one:

Build from the Top and Bottom. We will begin work at the top level
and at the bottom level because the infrastructure is in place to implement
both top and bottom level programs and these programs are integral in accomplishing
short, medium and long-term goals.

From the Top:

  1. Support and solidify an absolute elite level the U.S. Ski Team World Cup
    team to insure accomplishment of goals at the 2006 games.
  2. Protect and enhance the Cross Country Development team, which provides
    an essential development step for top athletes capable of winning medals
    at the 2010 Olympics, and is necessary in supporting the mission of winning
    medals at the 2006 Olympics.
  3. Furthermore shoring up the Development Team brings in the level of staffing
    necessary to begin creating the complete XCNDS. The development staff
    provides a top link between the community and the U.S. Ski Team by acting
    as the XCNDS director. The development coach, U.S. Ski Team assistant
    coach and the nordic director work together with the regional leaders to
    create the XCNDS. This fulfills a medium term goal — developing
    our relationship with the regions. Our relationship with the regions
    will enable our long-term goal — creating a comprehensive XCNDS.

From the Bottom:

  1. Expand Regional Elite Group camps to include development of relationships
    with Regional and local leaders.
  2. Recruit regional leaders. Buy-in at the regional level will require
    that each regional leader has ownership in the XCNDS and it will require
    sincere commitment from the U.S. Ski Team. This commitment will be
    reflected in the operation of the U.S. Ski Team development team and in
    the financial support of the initial stages of creating the XCNDS.
  3. Incorporation of regional leaders. In the next years, the goal will
    be to incorporate regional leaders into the USSA management structure at
    some level. This will begin the true integration at the bottom end between
    the U.S. Ski Team and the Regions until, like the Alpine NDS, the Regional
    Leaders are completely integrated with the U.S. Ski Team.


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