Job Issues for Snowboard and Ski Racing Coaches
As kids develop and get more serious about their ski and snowboard racing, costs for equipment, coaching, race entry fees, lift tickets, travel, and lodging rise commensurately. Costs can range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 or more per athlete per season. Additionally, races out of the division or downhills, which require training days, mean kids miss school. It’s not uncommon for an outstanding J2 or J1 who is traveling to regional FIS races and JOs to miss anywhere from thirty to forty days of school from December through April. This can put a serious strain on parents’ budget and patience.
For these reasons, the ski coach may encounter “little league parent” syndrome in spades. Since almost all race programs have a volunteer board of directors composed of parents, the effective coach must walk a fine line between conforming to parents’ expectations of what the coach should do and using what the coach feels is the best coaching methodology. In addition, of course, the coach must conform to all the rules and regulations of the ski area and ski patrol.
Parents naturally want to ensure that their child does not ignore school for skiing. Many coaches spend time in summer helping negotiate contracts with schools and teachers that permit school absence for the athlete but stipulates what outside work is expected. While the pressure of ski racing and school work combined may seem extraordinarily challenging for most teenagers, it’s no coincidence that so many young ski racers also are at the top of their classes in terms of grades.
Often another of the coach’s responsibilities is to help reduce the cost of racing for his skiers and snowboarders by getting good deals on equipment. This can be a sore subject for dealers and ski reps, but it is a fact of life. If equipment procurement is handled reasonably through a local ski shop or a manufacturer’s race representative for the deserving elite athlete, this practice is usually not a problem. However, the novice coach will step on a lot of important toes if he gets carried away with this.
Working with Students
Coaching is incredibly influential on the development of the young athlete because contact is long-term and fairly intense. Unlike teaching through a snowboard or ski school where contact with students is only for a few hours a day or for perhaps a few weeks, the ski coach works with athletes over several years. One season can include as many as 100 days of interaction, from dry-land training in the fall to skiing in winter to race camps in summer.
For many experienced coaches their primary raison d’être is not so much to teach young athletes how to win ski races but to provide them with experiences that enhance their emotional and physical development into adulthood.
The extent and intensity of involvement between coaches and athletes also makes coaching one of the most physically and mentally demanding of all ski-related jobs.The professional coach wears many hats: administrator, equipment manager, athletic trainer, ski instructor, safety officer, chauffeur, educator, counselor, confidante, psychiatrist, ski mechanic, course setter, race chairman, role model, and friend. Because every athlete is unique, the skilled coach needs to know what mix of training volume, technical instruction, and motivation will bring out the skier’s best performance. Developing a competitive racer is an equal mix of teaching athletic skills and helping the athlete develop her confidence and self esteem.
To motivate athletes the ski or snowboard coach must be technically knowledgeable, personally empathetic, enthusiastic, and able to express himself clearly.
Just as every race course is different, so is the psychological playing field. Presented with an athlete performing below his capability, a coach sometimes needs to provide an arm around the shoulder and an encouraging “chin-up” talk. Sometimes the same racer may need a firm “get-with-the-program” reprimand in response to a half-hearted training run.
For athletes with talent who aspire to compete on the national or international level, the extent to which the coach has instilled a good work ethic and enhanced the athlete’s capacity to adapt to new situations is perhaps the most fundamental key to future success.