Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reflections on Women's Days

As the ski season comes to a close, I've stepped back to examine what I learned from coaching in the Women's Days Program at Eldora Mountain Resort.

I had the unique opportunity to coach in three of the four sessions offered at Eldora this winter. In two of the three, I worked with the highest-level group of skiers (Ann Battelle worked with the highest group in the other session). I tried to spy on her group as much as possible. For one thing, it was to see Ann totally own a mogul run. I'm sure that Ann is an awesome coach: genuine, frank, dry humor, and the Terminator on skis. Being a four-time Olympian and earning multiple wins and podiums on the World Cup circuit, she definitely knows how to ski. Since Ann and I had groups that were very similar in skills, it was great to bounce ideas off of each other, and to hear about each group's progress. I was honored to be working alongside her.

Eldora has some rowdy terrain, and there are a lot of women who are skiing it or are getting ready to ski it. The transition from black to double-black is significant, and "over-terraining" can be very discouraging, and extremely dangerous. Understanding how to assess students, how to prepare students, how to manage/move students, and having contingencies are all critical to helping students move towards their terrain goals. I thrive on the challenge of balancing this risk management with our learning objectives. On top of that, the Women's program has a legacy to preserve - with high expectations of service and results. Teaching in expert terrain is a cool setting to test my ability to manage all of these items simultaneously.

The West Ridge and Devil's Thumb

Reflection 1:
Internal motivation is a prerequisite for learning in very intimidating settings.
This camp reinforced my understanding of my coaching and teaching style. My strengths appear to be in smaller ratios, where I can fine-tune education down to the individual. But in these medium-sized groups, there was enough cohesion and similar motivations, that I was able to keep the groups moving towards individual goals as effectively as our group goals. I consider myself more of a facilitator, more of a guide to help people understand their own motivations and approaches to sport. If motivation is not internal and intrinsic, the desire to learn and improve is shallow and short-lived. Having the opportunity to work with groups holding genuine enjoyment of the sport and it's challenges was very cool. The motivation for these women was internal, so I provided the assessment, the individualized progressions, and feedback. No need to provide motivation for these women. My main focus was to help them understand how to use their skis to give them freedom on the whole mountain. This was liberating for me, and it was very cool to work with women who were so excited about learning.

Reflection 2:
Having the participants decide when to "step it up" can be a very successful approach.
In these camps, I experimented with taking a very passive role in determining terrain. Through my skiing and climbing experiences, I've realized that there are certain ideal times for stepping out of the comfort zone. For most people, when it's time to push it, they will know.
In order to accomplish terrain goals, one would think that I need to push terrain, right? Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, if a particular area of the mountain is hard for us, it means that there are some deficient skills in that area. So we need to work on skills. Putting more time in on that terrain can help, but only in a manner like exposure therapy. For most sports, fundamental movement skills are best acquired when there is little mental clutter. Going easy on terrain for a few runs, or even most of the day allowed for these women to really "own" their new kinesthetic awareness and motor development. We'd rehearse certain drills on steeper and steeper runs. Then I'd surprise them with a "fun" run down an icy double-black or a "dust on crust" run in the glades. They'd do great - of course! They had a few new "tools in the toolbox" to promote confidence on difficult terrain.
But overall, when it came time to "ski the West Ridge" (the overwhelming terrain goal), I let them tell me when we were skiing it. After a few sessions, I knew that they were ready. I just wanted them to feel that they were well-prepared and know that I fully supported their decision to ski it or not. The individual ownership of this decision probably had a huge part in the successful outcome.

Reflection 3 (the big one):
Successful experiences are best measured by gains in self-efficacy, not by skills acquisition alone.
When debriefing students at different stages and at the completion of the camps, it became apparent to me that the smiles were biggest when speaking to increased confidence. This was really cool. Who really cares what skills are acquired if we are having more fun than we have ever had before? I really liked how skiing was turning into more of a playful experience on the snow, and how these students were embracing more of the challenges that skiing provides on black or double-black terrain. Many expressed that they felt like they belonged on most of the terrain we skied.

How we got there:
1. We learned how to manipulate our skis in new ways. We learned how to tip/untip, how to pivot, how to slice, how to rock, how to skid, how to spin. We learned how to play with our skis.
charged. But loving that motion of moving down the hill is what it's really all about, right?] Anything defensive is contrary to moving down the hill. We learned how to head down the hill confidently. We learned how to let our skis run in powder. We learned how to slip and pivot on STEEP ice. We learned how move our center of mass boldly and confidently over our skis and into our new turn. We learned about accurate directional movements.
3. When we put together playfulness and moving down the hill, we got confidence. Lots. We found a belief in our ability. Self-efficacy. This is a critical ingredient to move to the next step in all sports.

Using skiing as a vehicle to obtain self-efficacy is really cool. We don't have to be expert skiers to get it. Not at all. Expert or beginner, it is a powerful feeling to realize that we've successfully ventured into new terrain. During these camps, it was awesome to see these students find a new belief in themselves in the context of skiing.


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