The training regime and race routines for Alpine ski racers offer many lessons for those who are in the teaching or training professions. To be a legendary skier or a trainer/instructor takes more than just skill.

NEVER HURRY AN INSPECTION

For Slalom (SL) and Giant Slalom (GS) ski racers there are no practice runs, yet they never ski a course ‘blind’: they always have a ‘course inspection’ prior to racing the course.

Why? Every course is different: terrain, snow, gate placement. All these aspects impact HOW you are going to ski the course.

So, before the race, the racers (side) ‘slip’ the course to examine each gate and plan their strategy on how to ski the course:  how early do they initiate a turn, when do they tuck, etc.  This article regarding the 2010 Vancouver Olympics echos the importance of a course inspection.

This is similar to good practices many trainers have. When developing or customizing content for a particular audience in a particular industry, most trainers plan ahead and many will do a ‘walk through’ to see if the new content, exercises and technology ‘works’.

When I was getting certified as an instructor, our practice was to teach in front of your peers before you were allowed to teach live in front of a class. At first, I thought these dry runs were a ‘piece of cake’; until Alan backed me into a corner and got very aggressive. (All I could think of was, “Why is he doing this to me? Did he wake up on the wrong side of the bed? What did I do to him???”) As we were dealing with some culture change, Alan thought I was ready to experience a difficult class, so he ‘threw’ at me some of the best objections, complaints, unreasonableness that he had ever witnessed. (That was one of the longest hours of my life!)

I was more critical of my performance than he was. In fact, I came out unscathed. In the end, teaching a difficult ‘practice’ class gave me the confidence to get through a real ‘live’ difficult class.

SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO RESET

Recently, the result of the inspection of a GS ski race was a full re-set of the course (and re-inspection). The GS course was NOT set to specification (i.e. standard). The gates were too close together for a GS Race: instead they were set like a SL Race.

Why the big deal? Well, all the athletes trained on GS courses (set to specification) using their longer GS skis. So, had the race taken place it would have been unfair to the participants and it would have been dangerous because the racers were on longer skis on a course set for shorter skis. It would have been like sailing a LARGE sailboat through a course meant for smaller sailboats: turning would be difficult AND it could get dangerous.

Now, there was some reluctance from some of the racers and coaches who just wanted to ‘get on with it’. But the course was reset and re-inspected. The race took longer than originally anticipated, but everyone had fun AND there were no injuries.

If you’ve ever witnessed an instructor spiraling out of control, you will know exactly what I mean and WHY it is important.

While you are instructing or training, remember that story. If something is going wrong or not set up properly, don’t be afraid to abort what you were doing and take a ‘time out’ to reset your training plan, materials and technology.

Sure, it takes guts to do a full ‘re-set’, but sometimes it is the right decision. If something isn’t working, or was improperly set up, you’ll win more admiration by doing a full reset, taking a break and going to Plan B.

LOOK AHEAD

Even novice ski racers are always taught to look two gates ahead  (vs looking at their skis). The rationale is NOT to focus on snow that is underneath your skis, but to look ahead. This way you are more prepared for what is coming and you can concentrate on initiating your turn early so you get a ‘good line’ through the course. (For those of you who are not skiers, or don’t follow ski racing, turning late will result in the racer dumping speed, potentially being thrown into deep ruts or missing the next gate. Turning late is a very unpleasant and hair raising adventure, speaking from my novice experience in an adult ‘fun’ Race league.)

Isn’t that similar in some ways to the rule for driving a car on ice? You are supposed to look in the direction you want to go NOT in the direction you are going (i.e. into a ditch).

The same is true for teaching/training. You shouldn’t get so absorbed in the moment that you are off track for your next segment. You want a smooth class. Thinking ahead will help you set up your transitions between thoughts or topics.

RESULTS

At the end of the day, remember what was important:

  • Having a smooth and efficient class requires some upfront inspection of the circumstance and walk through of material and technology,
  • Avoiding the point of no return may take some nerve: don’t be afraid to take a ‘timeout’  for a a full reset,
  • Staying on track demands executing with the knowledge of your overall plan: aim to position yourself where you have to be for the next segment.

Think about skiing… And enjoy the snow while it lasts… Until next time…

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Photo image included with permission from Gord Palin.

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