Another big change for me this season has been a major role reversal. After more than a decade of being coached almost daily by a whole heep of amazing coaches, each with their own plethora of valuable advice, the tables have turned. I, taking what I have learned from them, am now coaching, and reciprocating that advice back to other young skiers. The team I am coaching for is the Incline High School Highlanders. They are an absolutely amazing group. Let me fill in a little bit on just why I love coaching so much, and how it has changed things for me this ski season — for the better.
As a coach, you are many things. You are both a teacher and a learner, a leader and a follower, a preacher and a listener… I can see, in so many ways, how much I am doing for these kids everday. And let me tell you, that feels amazing. Coaching is not always an easy job — often times it is much more difficult than people anticipate — but, at least for me, it is beyond rewarding. I think one of the greatest benefits of coaching kids without a ton of experience (some of my kids are in only their first year of skiing) is that you see SUCH big improvements, and the kids get SO excited about the gains they are making. This is such an incredible thing to be a part of. I instantly felt so connected to the kids, the job I was doing and the progress they were making. I found myself hoping and wishing for them to do well in the races as though it was my own race. I go to sleep anxious, replaying over and over in my head whether I have everything packed up for the race and whether I have done everything right to prepare the team during the week. I get to the course and feel excited for the gun to go off. And when it does, I find myself frantically running around the course trying to catch every second of the action. And when I see the kids turning in amazing results and making huge strides each week, I feel like I am boiling over with genuine excitement and pride. I really am so, so proud of the kids, and truly proud of myself for the hard work and effort I have put in to getting them to this next level that they are reaching.
I think that one of the biggest reasons I/ my teaching have been so well-received by my team is simply because I can relate to them well. Because I have been taught SO much in my life, and am still being taught and still learning in so many ways all the time, I believe it is easier for me to put myself in their own shoes and understand their role as the receivers of the information. Throuhgout my ski career, I have struggled with many concepts in technique — which I am still working on — and I truly feel like this has benefited my abilities to coach. Because I have struggled with so many things and had to work so hard, and be taught so much and try so hard to process that teaching, I feel like I have a really good sense of how to convey something more easily and how to enable the kids to understand it. Likewise, I have a very real understanding in the event that they do NOT quite get what I am saying the first, or even the fifth time. Because I am still a skier myself, and still learning from others everyday, I feel like teaching is coming very naturally. Simply put, I try to explain things in the way that I have worked through them in order to understand them myself. So far, it seems to be working well.
Likewise, the kids themselves are a major part of my relative “success” as a coach. Meaning, really, that they have created and pushed to attain their own success. And in turn, this has made me better, and enabled me to make them better. As I mentioned, when you are coaching you are both a teacher and a learner, a leader and a follower. Coaching has been beneficial for me personally in so many ways. Definitely one of the biggest things is that we learn by teaching. Working on technique every single afternoon, even if it’s going back to the very basics, has been a constant reminder to me of what I need to be thinking about and exactly what I should be seeking to achieve everyday. Too often, we get caught up in our training plans, interval sessions, distance workout, etc. and forget to take a step back and simply think about what we are doing, and what we should be doing. Runing through drills daily with my kids and likewise explaining fundamentals, principles and theories of skiing to them totally reinfornces these things within my own mind, and hopefully in a way that they can be applied to my own skiing.
But even more than that, I feel like I learn from my kids themselves. They come out everyday with a smile on their face, excited and ready to start practice. Even on days when they know it will be ALL technique review and ALL the same drills they have already done time and time again, they show up ready and willing. They are focused and determined, and most of all excited to learn. Even on the interval days when I push them beyond limits they have ever reached, they keep their heads up and they push themselves even harder. But most of all, even heading into the races, when they started out the season knowing they were the underdogs and had very little experience, they went out with determination, pride and a competitive spirit that brought them to new heights. By this point in the season, they are far from the underdogs — becoming frontrunners even — yet the task never changes. They still head into the races with the same determined attitude and focus. They still go out there with their goal to leave it all on the course every time. Whether their goal be to win the JV race, as one of my girls has now achieved, or to place above last just once this season, as another girl told me she hoped for and achieved in only the first race, the sense of pride when it has been achieved is just as great. When these kids finish a race, and you can see that they have given 120 percent by the pain on their faces, they are absolutely beaming when they cross the line. And this is something that not only makes me proud as a coach, but which I find admirable as an athlete. The attitudes they have developed truly, in my mind, embody the spirit of skiing. In this way, I can certainly learn from them, and am doing so everyday.
Coaching is tough sometimes too, of course. It is not always fun. It is a whole lot of hard work, beyond what is conceived of or recognized. Sometimes I feel like I am working on coaching, in some way, almost all day long and into the night. Whether it is responding to email questions, having meetings, writing training plans, analyzing videos or preparing a waxing lesson, I am busy. Very, very busy. There are those times when I do think my skiing would benefit from having more time for myself this season: such as big training weeks when putzing around in the snow doing drills and easy skiing seems like it is just draining more of your energy when you know you have another training session later, or the times when you are up late preparing for the race when you know you should be maximizing sleep because it is two nights before YOUR race. But, all in all, it is well worth it. As I said before, there are many benefits that the job brings to my own skiing. And these, in combination with the personal rewards in terms of seeing the results of your efforts and the affect that those results have on the kids, far outweigh any possible disadvantages. I just have to remember this on the tough days 😉
One last thing I would like to say about coaching is that being a coach is something I truly believe every serious skier, or athlete of any kind for that matter, should take on at some point in their lives. For one, it really enables you to conceptualize and appreciate ALL the efforts that your own coaches put in for you over the years, and just how hard they worked and how much they invested to get you to the level that you are at today. There is so much more work beyond what any of us realize, or at least beyond what I ever really thought about growing up. And until you have stepped into that role yourself, I think it is difficult to truly appreciate that. I now see, for example, just how freaking STRESSFUL it is to be a coach at a classic race! I mean, for one just packing for one of these things and making sure you have EVERYTHING you could possibly need in terms of waxing is stressful enough. But then you get there and have to SCRAMBLE around all over the place, testing out wax, testing out more wax, then actually rounding up all of your kids, getting the wax on their skis while they are simultaneously freaking out because it is “only twenty minutes until I start!!! HURRY!!”, corking furiously as you, meanwhile, simultanesouly pray they will like it the first time so that you don’t have to do the same thing all over again amidst the panic of only FIVE minutes until race start. Then, frantically trying to run out on to the course and cheer on your girls at least once around the lap while you scramble to get the boys waxed up because they start only minutes after the girls finish. WHEW, is it a relief when it is all over. Now THAT is something I truly, TRULY appreciate of my coaches. THANK YOU, so much, for working so hard all these years to give me bomber kick wax for all my classic races. Not quite sure how you did it, frankly. Likewise, thank you for all of your efforts both in and outside of practice, because I know there were many. For all the late nights working on my training plan, all the extra meetings outside of practice when I had a question that seemed impossible to answer or was freaking out about who knows what, for the pep talks and preparation and the encouragement and constructive criticism. Thank you so much Jeff, Glenn, Ben, August and ALL the other coaches who have come into my life and enabled me to prgoress so much as a skier, athlete and person. I truly appreciate you. Finally, being a coach is an awesome way to give back to the sport. So, if you were ever a ski racer or serious athlete, get out there and do some coaching! Believe me, it will feel really great, you will learn a lot, and you will gain a new sense of pride and appreciation for your sport, yourself and those who have supported you.
By the way… while I am talking about my coaching experiences this year, I would like to take the chance to brag about my kids’ performance on Friday at the Mammoth classic races! They did AMAZING! Melanie was our top girl, winning the JV an taking fourth place OVERALL with the varsity girls! She also qualified for JOs in the Skogsloppet earlier this season — her FIRST season of skiing! Maddy was third place in JV, followed by Ashley in 11th place and Julie in 30th. Ryan again raced to a fourth place finish in the boys’ open race and Arjun placed 17th. They raced so hard and looked so strong, and I am SO proud. Way to team!!!