I was lucky enough to be involved with the GB Ski Cross Team since late 2007. Before Ski Cross (BSC) I was another cog in the alpine wheel working with entry-level FIS athletes, Uni Racers and trainee instructors. I love the sport of ski racing, I wanted to be an alpine racing coach but always felt that I wouldn’t get that chance in GB as according to lots of people in the sport, if you were a crap racer (As I most certainly was!) then you can’t coach. This attitude within ski racing in GB is one of its many problems, people won’t admit to thinking that but it’s there, trust me! Anyway, that is maybe for another blog. I, however, did my training as a coach in Canada. I was judged not on how I got down a hill as a spotty 17-year-old who had virtually no training time but on how I performed as a coach. This gave me the confidence to believe I could coach and I could make it my career.
Fast forward four years and I’ve now coached at World Cup, European Cup, set the course at the World Uni Games (the good one, not the bad one we found on that first inspection!) , commentated on my sport on live TV, built ski cross courses, gained a master’s degree in Sports Coaching, had the company of some of the finest minds in British sport and now I have a new job in performance sport.
Ok, so that was a bit of an ego massage so I’ll move on quickly. The point is, I took a gamble in a new sport, tried to do my best for it and the athletes if it wasn’t for ski cross then I wouldn’t be where I am now.
So on to the point of this blog. How does GB move forward in the sport of ski cross? How do we get British racers into the medal zone and how can we sustain that level of performance for the next generation of ski cross athletes?
I’ll break this down under some headings.
If you look at the numbers of active ski cross racers in GB you’d be right in thinking it seems very low. GB currently has 9 registered FIS racers in Ski Cross. This is very low compared to alpine racers in GB but if you consider the notion that every one of these alpine racers could also compete in ski cross then it’s not as low as you might think. Take into account all the kids who play on the ski cross tracks dotted around the alps and you widen the base further. Finally, we shouldn’t forget the 60 or so skiers who turned up at the Scottish Snowcross champs at Glenshee last March and actually we don’t just have 9 racers. If we take all the alpine racers then we are sitting on nearer 900. The challenge is getting them into the sport!
For the record, I’m a fan of alpine racing. I want GB to be up there; I want to see British racers rocking on the world cup but let’s be honest. It’s tough, really tough. I struggle to think of a tougher sport to crack for a Brit than alpine racing. Now, is ski cross easier? It’s far from easy, it’s getting harder with each season but my personal opinion is that it offers a greater chance of success for British ski racers than the traditional alpine disciplines.
One of the simplest ways to get expose more alpine racers into ski cross would be to get our home nation and gb junior teams to race some ski cross as well as alpine. Why not say to these racers “Ok, you made the team, you will have to race ski cross as well.” I can imagine this won’t go down well in some camps. Fine, give an opt out of parents are worried about it being dangerous. The benefits of this are simple. We can see who has the aptitude for ski cross early, it doesn’t cost much, it gets loads more athletes into the sport and coaches can see who would perhaps be better suited in ski cross and guide them in that direction early allowing more alpine resources to be focussed on those athletes who stand a chance of progressing in alpine.
Ski Cross camps would also work. Why not have an open trial? Get some fast guys to come and set some times and lets open it up and see who is out there. This isn’t a cheap option and would be best suited to the younger age groups but would allow the NGB to sell the sport to more athletes at a younger age. The most important part here is that it provides the start of a pathway in ski cross. Without this, there will continue to be a hit and miss approach! We could look to run ski cross races at alpine events. Simple fun courses for the mini’s, k1/k2 and why not run a FIS ski cross next around the alpine events? No doubt the calendar would need tweaked but it can be done. I hear of people complaining about skiers having too many races in a short space of time so we need to be careful with the scheduling but surely everyone can give a little to make this happen.
In short, if we can increase the competitive opportunities, we can increase the number of athletes and we can show that ski cross does offer a credible alternative to alpine racing.
This is where it gets tough. Part of the reason there is currently no pathway in place is down to a number of factors. One of which is a very small pool of ski cross coaches. In order to coach there needs to be athletes, in order for athletes there needs to be coaches. Catch 22. This is where it requires investment. The NGB needs to take a lead on this and employ a coach, they don’t have to be British! Sure, this isn’t cheap and the ££ need to be found for it but with this person in place there is a resource who can be used to help develop new coaches and build on the coach education in the sport. This step is vital. Without it, coaches will continue to operate on a self-employed basis and this doesn’t encourage sharing as why would you give up your knowledge to someone who might then take work away?
There is some research and models in place now for coach education in ski cross (that blog might come later) so it’s not the shot in the dark it was 4 years ago.
1. Employ a national team coach
2. Develop a coach education system
3. Work with alpine race coaches to help build ski cross elements into alpine programmes.
I’m aware this is getting quite long so thanks for staying with me! I’ll build on this later in the week where I will add some depth the talent ID, propose a ski cross pathway and discuss the resources needed to build the sport in GB.
I’m not saying all my suggestions are correct but I hope the open some discussion. Many of you might ask why some of these things aren’t already in place. The truth is much of this is work in progress, nothing new is being suggested but perhaps by raising some of these things to the surface the pace of progress can be increased.
I’d like to finish “part 1″ by offering my thanks to every single athlete I’ve worked with, without athletes we have nothing. It was athletes who blazed the trail in this sport and I was lucky enough to be part of that. I hope its athletes who continue to lead the development (with a bit of help) of this awesome sport!