Tomorrow fifteen of the top junior nordic athletes from around the country will amass in Park City for an intensive ten days of physical and educational training with the U.S. Ski Team.
25 athletes were named to this National Training Group (NTG) by the USST based on racing results from last season’s Junior National, U.S. National, U23 and World Junior Championships.
The goal of the camp, say USST Coaches Chris Grover and Matt Whitcomb, is to not only expose these young athletes to the latest education from USST coaches and athletes, but to bring them together so they can learn from each other.
“Most of [the NTG athletes] are never together at the same time in the same place for training opportunities,” explains Grover.
The objective of the camp is just to create another opportunity for the athletes, says Whitcomb, “it’s certainly not a tryout for anything.”
Whitcomb adds, “They can come knock heads with the best juniors and U23 athletes in the country, train with some different coaches in Park City and work at the Center of Excellence, and then go back home motivated – maybe a little beat up – and a bit more educated, hopefully, and able to interject a little energy into their clubs.”
This camp will be the first of its kind, a trial run of another piece of the “Athlete Development Pipeline” which the USST would like to see fully connected and operational. Grover outlines the USST vision for this pipeline in a mission statement he wrote as the new head coach for the USST. Already taking place along the pipeline are camps for Regional Elite Groups (REG) and National Elite Groups (NEG: top selected athletes from the REG). The NTG will be different in that it will be comprised of younger, junior age athletes, along with their coaches.
As Grover explains it, these NTG athletes are at a critical stage of their development and at this camp they will be able to see where they stack up compared to their peers. In this way they can pinpoint weaknesses and then learn what it takes to close the gaps in their training. Not only will they be able to compare themselves to other top juniors in the nation, but also to the nation’s top athletes: National Team members Andy Newell and Liz Stephen, who will be training in Park City at this time, will meet with the group for certain workouts and also for several educational sessions. Newell will be present not only to talk about sprint training and racing, but also to compete in a rollerski sprint race at Soldier Hollow. Grover says that having Newell and Stephens train with the athletes “is going to be a very illustrative tool” for gauging these junior’s development.
The USST wanted the camp to be run early in the summer so that the athletes could identify their weaknesses and then, as Grover explained, “start out the season thinking about how to tackle these issues.”
Another element of the NTG camp – an athlete’s club or team coach – is a key piece of the pipeline that the USST hopes to promote. Each athlete’s coach is invited to come to the camp: as long as the coaches and their athletes can make their own way to Park City they will have housing and ground transportation provided for the duration of the camp. Whitcomb says the addition of club coaches creates one of the better educational opportunities in the country. The USST coaches will get together with the club coaches in the evening to draw out the specifics of the next day’s workouts, and this will be an opportunity to also discuss their individual philosophies and opinions. Whitcomb says it is not a one-way stream of education from the USST, and that he personally gains a huge amount of knowledge by talking and working with different coaches who bring a wide variety of experiences to the table.
Grover points out that by attending as a third party, coaches can not only view the individual strengths and weaknesses of their individual athletes, but can hopefully take back new ideas and training tools for their whole team. Unfortunately, Grover explained, for this particular camp there will only be a small number of outside coaches attending since many were already committed to their team or club schedules. The USST hopes the success of this camp will garner the interest of more coaches for future camps and that these NTG camps will become as much of an education for coaches and their clubs as for the individual athletes.
All four USST coaches will be present at the NTG camp: Whitcomb and Grover will be joined by Pete Vordenberg and Brian Fish. Whitcomb and Vordenberg will be present the entire camp, while Grover and Fish will each be present at subsequent halves.
Training will only be one aspect of the camp, but it will be intensive. An uphill running time trial and rollerski skate sprint race will be just two hard workouts in a number of intensity, speed, and specific strength sessions. There will often be two training sessions a day, and this will be followed by evening educational sessions. One of the educational sessions will be a discussion on sprint racing and training by Andy Newell, several will be given by USST staff such as physiologist Randy Hill, and several will be given by the USST coaches.
Grover thinks the camp will be a success if the athletes are able to “go home to their communities afterward charged up with some ideas about some things that will really help them improve their skiing.”
After all, enthusiasm and knowledge spreads. Especially if there is a pipeline – whose gaps are being filled via new programs such as the NTG – which will help the US ski community work together toward success.
Coming soon: USST press release with list of NTG athletes. Check back for the link.