USST Is Not The Answer For Regions

FasterSkierApril 26, 2005

Thank you for this opportunity to express concerns regarding the development of skiing here in the U.S.

I have read many good opinions over the past few days and I would like to thank all of the individuals who have contributed several constructive ideas for change.

We all know one thing for sure and that is the NGB for skiing USSA has over the years not been able to establish consistent funding. The inconsistent funding has created all the inconsistency within the current system. In other words, when the USST has funding the plan became obvious that the USST leaders wanted to take responsibility for developing the best skiers, juniors and seniors. When the funding runs out then programs are cut, positions are eliminated and the plan suddenly changes.

What is needed is a plan for developing young talent and educating coaches that is independent of the USST. Currently we have excellent coaches at the helm of the USST. The USST coaching staff should not be concerned with the development of the young skiers, instead they should be ready to lead the athletes who make teams to the various international opportunities that are appropriate. What is needed is for the USSA to recognize what is available and evaluate where the various programs are successful or are failing.

GEOGRAPHY: The size of this country in itself is a challenge from Alaska to Maine. The size of our country creates challenges mostly economic and some cultural. Some regions have high school skiing, some do not, some areas have prep school programs and some do not. One would think a National inventory of who and what we have for resources would be in order. I say this because I believe if each Region could evaluate what they consider their strengths and weaknesses to be then each Regional area could create an inventory and creating an inventory is necessary to have so one knows what the priorities are for a positive change.

COLLEGES: Now here is a mystery to me. I have been fortunate enough to have support here at Northern Michigan University to do what we have needed to do to have National Champions, All Americans, Junior Olympic Champions, Olympians, etc. Last winter Lindsay Williams was 15th in the Women's 5km Freestyle event at the Junior World Championships. She was merely 10 seconds off of the podium and in doing so she beat all the skiers from Sweden, Finland, and all the Norwegians except for one. The NMU budget is small in comparison to some other college programs and large compared to others. The point is that over the past 16 years we have managed to put skiers on the podium at both the Senior Nationals and the NCAA's, and that's with U.S. born skiers. Other programs have also managed to do this as well, but we need more. The USST needs to continue to recognize and support these programs who are helping to develop U.S. Skiers and also to encourage the other colleges to do the same. To say that college and serious committment to skiing can not be successful is not true.

JUNIORS: I recently attended our CXC meeting. During this meeting many ideas were discussed, several strategies were developed and will need to be implemented to ensure that the CXC is successful in the future with respect to developing skiers and coaches. I was slightly surprised to learn that Wisconsin for example, has only one summer training group, WOW! Minnesota however has a few coaches running summer programs, but only in the Twin Cities area. My response to this is “What about the rest of the state of MN that boasts the largest participation in number of skiers?”. How are young athletes supposed to know how to train; how are young skiers supposed to know what the requirements are to become successful if out of the thousands of MN high school skiers only a small fraction has any knowledge of what it takes. The training and fitness standards are not all that difficult to understand for us so heavily involved with the sport, but for most Americans they do not have the knowledge simply because we are not a skiing society, we do not have a skiing culture. In Norway, you can ask any grandmother down the block what it takes to become a elite skier and she will know more than most high school coaches, most likely she will say “lots of years of training” and “you got to be a little nutty to want to train that much”, oh, and “you better be committed”.

The Regions need to accept responsibility for developing skiers and stop thinking the USST (budget strapped) is the answer.

Over the past few years I have personally watched with great frustration skiers go from podium finishes at U.S. Nationals to less than top 10 finishes at U.S. Nationals after departing from their Region to relocate to Park City. I am not at all blameing the USST Coaching Staff, instead I blame the lack of a unified system. Therefore, we need to learn from our mistakes and creatively look for better solutions.

With limited resources we all need to pull together, we all need to realize that the creation of a Olympic or World Cup Skier begins within the Region and the reasons of that development should be maintained. The motivation for all of us is to now dig in and establish a system has to be a priority. We need to look at our inventory, create a list of successful strategies and start relying on ourselves and our strengths within each unique Region. The identity of the athlete and from which region or program should be respected and recognized.

COACHES EDUCATION: We must have coaches education. Coaches Ed could be as simple as certification offered over the internet. How about the Regions accepting responsibility to educate their coaches, implement summer training programs and integrate the high school coaches into the overall plan. Camps are nice experiences, but not enough. Camps are opportunities for coaches and skiers to get together once in a while, but camps do not offer consistent day to day, week to week, month to month training. To become a more successful and fit Nation we desperately need summer junior programs. The coaches education needs to insure that the coaches who work with the youngest kids have knowledge of all the next steps for the developing skier. The coaches who work with the younger juniors are essentially our most important coaches and they all need to be some of our best coaches.

SENIORS: I believe the U.S. has such a unique culture compared to Europe and Scandinavia, why? Most of our developing skiers advance through college or at least will at one point in their lives attend college. Norway has 3 Universities, how may does the U.S. have? Most parents save for their kids college future and assist their children in attending college. This is not the case in most of Europe. In Europe you are forced to make decisions earlier in life and most if not all of the time you do not expect Mom and Dad to flip the bill until you are out of college and find a “real job”. Therefore, the point I am trying to make is this “U.S. Skiers grow up later”. The European World Cup Skiers were making decisions earlier in life and one big decision is if I plan to be a skier I better do it right and take it seriously. There are European athletes on the World Cup doing well who have families and at the same time have ventured into the business world. They seem to be able to do it, to be successful in sport, family and business.

I believe we have the talent here in the US, a lot of talent, but over the past 18 years of coaching I have witnessed one very big mistake that US seniors make. The mistake is this “Most US skiers think that to become successful in skiing that means all they have to do is train, rest, train and rest some more!” This is counterproductive. The message needs to be that a motivated and organized skier can live a normal life, pursue other career goals, family, etc. as long as you have a Nordic lifestyle, one that allows you to prioritize your time.

Therefore, I believe we need to develop the entire road map for success from young juniors to successful seniors. Regions need to be working in conjunction with USSA. USSA needs to recognize the differences within the Regions, the Clubs, the Colleges and have an understanding with respect to each Regions strengths and weaknesses, then collaborate with Regions to evolve positive change that enhances both our Region and our results.

Also, I believe that we are a can do nation and if we pull together we will be successful. I know the budget cut scenario first hand and I want to congratulate the USST staff for not giving up but rather looking for a solution that will create change for the better.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Sten Fjeldheim


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