Note: Stay tuned for an interview with new Canadian National Team Coach Ivan Babikov. In the meantime, here’s the perspective from Cross Country Canada High Performance Director Tom Holland.
On Friday, Cross Country Canada (CCC) announced that longtime World Cup racer Ivan Babikov would be retiring to join its coaching staff. The decision was the culmination of a long search process following the departure of Justin Wadsworth, the head coach for the previous six years.
“I don’t think it’s so easy to find a head coach in North America and we’ve looked in Europe, too,” CCC High Performance Director Tom Holland told FasterSkier earlier this month. “You start out with a big look, and it’s been our preference to develop Canadians, but we also had a problem getting people that can really travel enough … we have some really good people, but they tend to get married and have families.”
Seeking a new head coach, CCC will have Louis Bouchard – the head of the Pierre Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) in Quebec, personal coach of Alex Harvey, and a World Cup co-coach with Wadsworth – helm the team.
“I would call him more of a lead coach than a head coach because he also operates the center in Quebec and has other duties like looking after the whole program,” Holland said. “We are going to have a team, and it means maybe I have to do more in terms of holding the pieces together and those kind of things, but that’s the model going forward. We want to have a coaching team — a Canadian coaching team — and a head coach certainly in place for 2018.”
Chris Jeffries, the high-performance director at the Alberta World Cup Academy, will be leading the women’s team, while Joel Jacques will move from lead ski technician to a team manager role.
With the hiring of Babikov, the duties of staff members have been redistributed and jobs redefined. FasterSkier caught Holland again on Tuesday for a chat about the new organizational structure.
FasterSkier: What are the job titles for Louis Bouchard and Ivan Babikov, and how are the positions distributed between your staff roster?
Tom Holland: The main coaches on the World Cup are going to be Louis Bouchard and Ivan. Louis has been around, so he will have the lead role leading to PyeongChang [the 2018 Olympics]. I’ll also be involved in making sure that team is working together.
Those other people mentioned there, they have specific roles to training and other things but not lead roles on the World Cup.
FS: So does Louis having the lead mean he will be writing all the training plans, for instance?
TH: No, he writes the training plan for Alex [Harvey]. The training plans for Canmore will be written by Ivan and the physiologists. Ivan is new, so we are giving him support systems here. He has the physiologist, he has myself, he’s going to have some mentor coaches. We have a plan. We’re not just throwing him out there. He’s going to be well-supported.
FS: The training year has already started, so what was the plan for these first two months?
TH: There are very specific individual plans for the athletes, which are already in place. With Ivan coming in the idea isn’t to create a new plan or something really different. He has been in our system and his job is to execute the plans and modify them as needed as we move through the season.
FS: So in Canmore on the men’s side, he would be working with Devon Kershaw, Jess Cockney, Lenny Valjas, and Graeme Killick?
FS: What about Emily Nishikawa [the only woman named to the World Cup team]?
TH: Our women’s team, well, most of the women are based in Canmore and coached by Chris Jeffries. Chris works with the same physiologist, so there’s some continuity there. It’s not everybody going in a different direction. We have two women on our national ski team who [aren’t in Canmore]. One is in Quebec with Louis and one is in Thunder Bay. So they get their plans from whatever center they are associated with.
FS: Was this the organizational structure that you guys had in mind when you were looking to fill the position?
TH: When you lose a head coach, you look at all the options. There are many paths you can go down. The most important thing is to have a team of coaches who work together, as opposed to bringing in someone who doesn’t fit. Ivan is starting out. He’s pretty green, but the most important thing is that he does have a coaching education and he’s very passionate about it. He’s had a couple of months doing a little bit of work with the guys.
I think the biggest thing is that he can get up and go, because he has ten years of experience on the World Cup. So he has a good relationship with these guys and he’s going to be able to look the athlete in the eye and debrief after races and give them everything they need. I’m convinced that he will be a hardworking coach just like he was as an athlete.
FS: His reputation certainly precedes him.
TH: If anything, we’ll have to slow him down. It’s already very interesting. He’s really, I wouldn’t say intense, but totally committed. To go back to what I was saying, it’s really about the team of coaches. If you don’t have that chemistry it creates all sorts of problems. But I think we’ve got that and we have the buildout past 2018, which I think it very important.
FS: Devon Kershaw is now part of Team Telemark in Norway, so how does that affect his work with the Canadian team?
TH: He has a number of athlete support systems there. But his training plan doesn’t come from that team. It comes from Canmore. But he needs– at his level he needs training partners, so it’s a good fit. He’s coming to all our training camps, and he’s great at communicating so we know how he’s doing. He’s in Quebec now and he’ll be at all three training camps that we have. He’s skiing for Canada next winter.
FS: Good luck integrating your new staff member.
TH: Thanks. We’re pretty excited about this. It’s just nice to move on. It takes a while and it’s going now.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.