I was not a Bill Koch League skier, so when I was first charged with supervising Craftsbury’s BKL program this spring, I was at a bit of a loss for ideas. My early-skiing experience lacked emphasis on fun that I always associate with BKL programs. Sure, I’d seen the occasional BKL practice at the Weston Ski Track, but I never paid much attention. In retrospect I wish I had. Now that I’ve been hanging around the small ones for a few months, I figure I’ve picked up a few things worth passing along.
Fun + Skiing = Fun Skiing
It’s hard to remember at times that for little kids, fun and skiing don’t often go hand-in-hand. Every BKL program has the kids who are really into skiing, the kids who joined because their friends were into it, and the kids whose parents forced them to come. Each group brings something unique to the table. In order to keep it fun for everyone, it’s important to mix the actual ski skills some kids may need with games that will keep the rest interested. Throwing out little challenges seems to work really well – at BKL age, kids are pretty competitive. Once this summer during a strength session I jokingly challenged one of my J4s to do a plank for 5 minutes. He came back the next practice saying he’d gone for 6 minutes in gym class. On snow I try things like one-ski downhill challenges, skiing uphill in the fewest skates possible, relay races, and Chinese downhills. We’ve got a couple fun downhills at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center and now that the snow cover is good, we’ve been having the kids race ’em every practice. Not only do they learn downhill skills by sending hills in groups, but, whether they realize it or not, they’ve got to ski the uphills in order to do it all again.
Divide and Conquer
Recently the Craftsbury BKL program has been dealing with one of those good problems: we’ve got a lot of BKL kids who show up for practice. We also are lucky enough to have a number of coaches (all the GRP athletes help out with BKL), so we can split the kids into manageable groups. Any BKL coach or parent knows that the more 9 to 12 year olds in a group, the harder they are to organize. Splitting kids into smaller groups, whether based on age, ability, or just randomly, makes coaching a practice much easier.
Keeping Things Fresh with Cross-Training
During the summer we often mix cross-training into our regular practice schedule. During the summer we’ll rollerski one day, scull the next, and do some hill bounding and strength another. Mini-triathlons are a great way keep kids in the racing mood during the off-season. Now that we can ski, cross-training is less of a focus, but we still try to add alternative training in when we can. We’re lucky enough to have a biathlon range at the Outdoor Center, so we can host biathlon practices. Kids love shooting guns almost as much as they love going off jumps and bombing downhills. If I could make one suggestion to any BKL program out there, it would be to take a field trip to the closest biathlon range and let the kids try shooting. Ski-orienteering is another unique challenge that the small ones love – if your ski area can host a ski-o course, give it a try. Make it into a fun team race.
The Trickle Down Effect
At Craftsbury we’ve got a pretty established progression within the program. The Catamounts, our younger-than-BKL skiers, prepares kids for BKL, after which they move into the racing-oriented junior program. The juniors do a lot of their training with the Green Racing Project and returning college kids. Each group feeds on those above it, drawing inspiration and enthusiasm out of the next big opportunity. Not all BKL programs are coached by athletes, so when possible inviting older juniors to BKL practice for a day can be a great way to expose your skiers to the next level of competition. On the flip side, playing with the young’uns can be a great way for junior and senior skiers to remember that at the end of the day, skiing is all about ripping downhills, hitting jumps, and throwing snowballs at your coaches.