WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Where does the development of a strong ski program begin? According to U.S. Ski Team Development Coach Bryan Fish, it’s youth. More specifically, youth who enjoy what they’re doing.
“We have to have the numbers and the people that love the sport, before they’ll stick with it and actually perform at the highest of levels,” Fish said last week.
“My favorite thing about working with youth is, I know when I’m doing a good or bad job based on how quickly I lose them,” he added. “All this monotonous repetition at a young age is not the most positive thing. If we can keep them moving and keep them active, keep challenging them, that’s what brings them back and it also makes them better.”
With this in mind, this year Fish decided to hold a junior development camp on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 26, in West Yellowstone.
“What I’ve been doing a great deal [this year] is traveling around to different ski venues and looking at how we can we grow our sport,” he said. “And make sure that our athletes have the appropriate venues to get challenged on.”
Part of the Yellowstone Ski Festival, Fish’s camp took what he dubbed the “Constraint-Let Approach.” This approach included dividing the the 60-plus kids in attendance into three separate groups and incorporating various games, such as tag, lunge races, and “dryland” exercises.
“We had them over on the road doing some dryland: Skipping, jumping, jumping backwards, broad jump. All those activities are the foundation of cross-country skiing,” Fish explained. “It’s about coordination and linking the body together. If they can do that well, then they can double pole well, diagonal stride well and skate well.”
The smaller groups allowed Fish, and the coaches helping him, to provide more challenging activities for each group and keep the kids’ interested.
“What we’re doing is we’re changing the task and the environment so that the athletes have to adapt. They’re learning all these skill and agility courses, and activities, without actually thinking they’re learning technique. It’s a much more engaging and a much more athlete empowering way of learning skiing,” said Fish. “To be an artful coach is all about limited talking and more about action.”
One of four coaches on the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, Fish coaches at national-level camps in the summers and leads international racing trips in the winter. He’s also responsible for fostering coaching education in the development pipeline.
“I did Bryan’s level 100 technique clinic [Wednesday],” said Garrott Kuzzy, a 2010 Olympian, former athlete of Fish’s and most recently, Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS) nordic director. “Every time I do a clinic with Bryan I feel like I learn something new.”
Fish feels the art of coaching takes teamwork and communication. “We’re not trying to tell coaches what to do,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is create a general platform that all of us [nordic skiers] agree upon in our country [to] establish a foundation that we can build, grow and innovate.”
With more active empowered coaches and engaged youth, Fish believes nordic development in the U.S. will continue to grow.
“This is the first time I’ve been back in six years and I think the sport has really grown,” he said of his return to West Yellowstone. “We had to close the [coaches] clinic because it was over capacity. Same with [the junior clinic], there was a limit of 60 and I think there were a little more than 60 out here. But that’s a great problem to have.”
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.