Coaching the Young’uns

Ollie BurrussJanuary 13, 20103

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.

BKL racers in an early season race
BKL racers in an early season race

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  • bkastning

    January 13, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    here’s my coach/son’s routine for keepin them motivated…ski a few km, build a kicker and jump off, ski another k, go off the kicker, etc. The biathlon opps were equally motivating for him as well. Bless those who motivate the youngest skiers among us. A more important coaching job does not exist.

  • OldManWinter

    January 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I agree on all counts, except for the jumping (I’ve seen too many bindings pull out of skis). That aside, it sounds like your son has it down…you have to keep it fun. I’ve been involved with BK-aged community programs, and it is always fun and very rewarding…a very satisfying experience to see the light bulb go on for so many of them at such a young age. And, as I’m sure your son has learned, some of them are very capable very early on. If you are past racing, burned out, or looking for a very different on-snow experience, I highly recommend it. Youth coaching is the best.

  • Martin Hall

    January 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Ollie—here is a year long idea—build a terrain course—best to build it in the summer when you can move the earth to build the bumps, corners (banking) , over an unders, and jumps—in a fairly confined area. You can do it in the winter if you have enough snow—that field behind the dorm has the beginnings of such a course. The hill in the far right corner is your connect between the lower and upper fields, and provides you a great quick down and a cool short climb. Tons of ways to use it and build it—and of course once you build it and it is well done the kids will play in it on their own.

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