A Case for using different metrics in ski racing at younger ages
Ski racing has always been defined by who is fastest time on the clock. However, at younger ages it is becoming evident that this can be very counterproductive for the development of the key fundamentals that we are trying to build in younger racers. Younger Racers will often make decisions to try to get a better time on the clock that are detrimental to their long term development of technique, strategy and line which are critical for efficient and effective ski racing.
Skills quest was originally designed to build many of the fundamental skills the problem is, however, that there is no objective metric. This has led to confusion for coaches, clubs and athletes. During a recent state championship that incorporated Skills Quest, racers were confused as to the actual techniques and goals of the exercises. Many athletes were missing the “why” of the drill. How does it improve my skiing? For example many racers were skiing on their inside ski and picking up the outside ski while the drill was designed for the exact opposite movement. These athletes were penalized because they had seemingly never done the drill before. They simply did not understand the goals of the drill and the athletes did not have a chance to take in feedback, prune and cut improper technique and build a new pattern for successfully completing the drill.
Data Driving Performance
Imagine a competition where the results can give direct feedback to the areas and techniques that need to be improved upon. An objective scoring system that reflect a racers current skills, technique and tactics. A system that would allow them to build better fundamentals and have a numeric rating that they could work with and improve upon throughout a season. A system does that does not take away from competition, but adds focus to performing correctly.
“if you can't measure it, you can't improve it.” - peter drucker
The progression race would be set up as any traditional competition. Slalom or Giant Slalom. Gate distances and total number of gates would be set in accordance with current USSA regulations. The race/event would have three coaches selected to objectively judge the athletes run in place of timing. The coaches would be assigned to one of the following three categories; Turn, Line and Movement. Each coach would be given a clicker/counter that would be used to summarize each racers score based on predetermined, objective criteria for each turn. If a racer were to correctly execute the action that the coach was assigned to review the coach would click the counter and give them a plus 1 for that gate. if the athlete did not complete that correctly they would receive a zero. The result would then look something like 29 of 40 Gates. (29/40)
As an example, if the coach was assigned to Line, the execution of proper Line would be clearly described and defined to racers, parents and clubs. Videos and descriptions of elite athletes performing the maneuver correctly could be set up and sent to every Club and region. In the example below, racer A would have executed 32 out of 40 with the correct line. Afourth person would put the numbers into a spreadsheet that would give them a total score for the Run. at the end of the day there would still be a final score that would determine placing. But as opposed to the time clock, one mistake would not destroy an otherwise excellent performance. It would also give more clarity to athletes, coaches and parents as to the areas to improve upon. A competition like this, builds a true foundation based on data and provides a pathway for long-term results.
Here are some examples of what the three scoring criteria could be.
Turn: Initiation, Foundation, Completion, Commitment to the outside ski, Minimal snow spray.
Line: Skiing above the gate and releasing the turn with enough space for a transition.
Movement: Balance and movement, Upper body and lower body separation, Minimal rotation the torso.
Imagine having a video where a Nation Team Coach defines what proper movement is and how it will be scored. Then in the same video a top athlete would execute it on video for the athletes to emulate.
This type of progression system gives consistent and objective feedback to an athlete and they can track their progress throughout the season. Athletes would have a rating in the three fundamental categories of racing. If an athlete were to rate a 65 for example and then the next week they were able to improve to a 72. This could be charted and tracked to show progress or lack thereof throughout the season. It highlights weakness and would allow coaches to develop their training sessions to focus on specific areas.
Other major sports are changing the way they approach Youth Development. Hockey, lacrosse and soccer are all based on scoring more goals. These sports have started to use new metrics to develop skills in younger players. Progressive programs and coaches have started counting the number of smart passes that players make, for example, to determine how well they are playing. Anson Dorrance, UNC head women's soccer coach (22 NCAA National Titles) uses 28 different metrics in every practice to give athletes constant and consistent feedback. This creates a positive culture of competition rooted in a growth mindset. USA hockey has cut the hockey rink in half and started 3 on 3 games to promote more touches for younger players. Soccer clubs have started playing Futsal which has increased the number of touches a player has in a game 600%. It is time for ski racing to begin exploring new systems that will support and reward the development of key skills and fundamentals.