Building Better Ski Racers
“If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.” Peter Drucker
Ski racing has always been defined by who is fastest on the clock. However, at younger ages it is becoming evident that this is counterproductive for the development of the key fundamentals that we are trying to build in younger racers. Young racers will often make decisions to try to get a better time on the clock. These decisions are usually detrimental to their long term development of technique, strategy and line. Racers will chose a straighter line at this gate. They pinch the line a little more. They lose the patience to let the line come to them. In ski racing, these small, poor decisions usually compound into significant errors just a few gates later. It is the same effect as struggling in quicksand. The more you struggle, the more stuck you get. In ski racing, the more an athlete makes aggressive decisions to shave tenths off their time, the more detrimental effect it has on their overall run. Racing the clock for short term gains for precious tenths of a second will often impede the basics that are critical for efficient and effective ski racing that are critical for the long term.
So the question becomes how do we create a youth system that measures and rewards the development of better skills, tactics and decision making.
Data Driving Performance - The Progression Racing System
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 reflects 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 racing system that does not take away from competition, but adds focus to performing skills correctly.
The Progression Event/Race would be set up as any traditional competition. Panel Slalom would be the ideal discipline for the younger ages. Gate distances and total number of gates would be set in accordance with current USSA regulations (15/25). 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 racer’s 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 execute the action correctly they would receive a zero. The result would then look something like 16 of 20 Gates (16/20).
Judging 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. Example the criteria might be defined as ‘ the direction of the athlete at the gate line.’
Scoring example: In the example below, Racer A would have executed 16 out of 20 with the correct line. A fourth person would put the numbers into a spreadsheet that would give them a total score for the Run. At the end of the Run and Event there would still be a final score that would determine placing...it just isn’t based on the clock. A scoring system like this would still be competitive, 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 focus and skill areas to improve upon. A competition like this, builds a foundation of skills 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 created a system "ADM" to deliver more efficient skill development and to produce higher skilled players. USA Hockey changed the way hockey was played at the youngest ages. 3 on 3 games are played across rink allowing 3 games to be played at the same time. This promotes more touches and more ice time for younger players. Athlete retention rates have skyrocketed to 95.9% for U12’s under the new program. USA soccer also has begun to change. Soccer clubs have started playing Futsal. Futsal is played 5 on 5 in a small confined space. Futsal has increased the number of touches a player has in a game by 600%. The reduced field size promotes quicker decision making and more ball control. It is time for ski racing to begin exploring new systems that will support and reward the development of key skills and fundamentals.