Coaching Ski Racing

“A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.”

John wooden


“Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching?”

– Anonymous Coach


The job of a sports coach is primarily to help athletes increase their level of performance, and assist teams in competing to a higher standard. However, a sports coach is often much more than that. How often do you hear a person talking about the lifelong impact a certain coach has had on them, not just in making them better athletes, but improving their life? Coaching can be just as rewarding in the amateur realm as they are at professional level. Whatever level you want to coach, you will need a certain set of skills to be effective as a mentor.

Getting Through

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Theodore Roosevelt


It's a very simple and basic concept. Good coaching is all about communicating that caring to your Athletes. Athletes who feel respected by and cared for by their coach will be more motivated to run through walls for that individual. Conversely, those athletes who feel that their coach doesn't really care about them, will not have their heart in what they do whenever they play. Think of the opposing coaching styles of interactive character building of John Wooden versus the abrasive coaching style of Bob Knight.

How do you show your athletes that you really care about them? You take the time to notice when they show up for practice. You get in the habit of regularly catching them doing things right and then you point it out to them and the whole team. You job is to build an athletes self-esteem, not to tear it down. You treat them with dignity and respect. You make sure that your actions and words say the same things. In other words, you walk the talk. You treat them as individuals and not just athletes who have to perform for you. You are honest with them. You are fair and don't play favorites. You are a straight shooter and don't play mind games.

Don't worry that your athletes will go get soft on you if you behave this way. Too many coaches are under the delusion that in order to build mental and physical toughness you have to be hard on your Racers. You will consistently produce much more aggressive, motivated and higher performing athletes when your actions and interactions with your athletes consistently demonstrate that you truly care about them.


Athletes Under Pressure

Today, kids are under a type of pressure that has never existed before. Everything they do is monitored electronically. What they do wrong is magnified and put online for world to see. Parents can also add to the pressure to perform. I have seen that the coaches that run a tough love “only winners win” mentally are becoming more locked out by athletes. “Athletes don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If winners win then the inverse must also be true, losers lose. This is a trap can stop young athletes in their tracks. We, as coaches, must change the mindset from winning and losing too progress and growth. Look for and celebrate the effort. Athletes can come in all different shapes, sizes, attitudes and moods, but every one of the athletes you are dealing with has made the effort to be there. Even if you are sure that the parent has used a carrot or stick to get them there, they are still there and should get the same level of commitment and coaching as every other kid.

Born After 1999

The kids are different these days. They really are if they were born after 1999. These kids are growing up with a smart phone and that means that their brains have been hardwired for input every 30 seconds. It’s not their fault and to be fair we would be wired the same way if we had grown up with smart phones. So here is the rub, it is likely you and your athletes’ brains are wired differently, and your job is to communicate with them. There is one of you and usually 10 or more of them. The point is that it is up to you to get on their level.


I have watched many coaches get upset when their athletes’ attention is focused elsewhere (smartphones). They can't help it and they can’t understand the problem. So you have to get on their level. Always have a plan and keep things moving to keep their attention. Waiting in line to run a drill they don’t understand will not only bore me them, it will create bad habits that are hard to undo and will ultimately be detrimental to their skill set and confidence.


Kids are exposed to 200 hundred times more information today than just 20 years ago. Research has shown that teenagers today get interrupted every 3:27 by their devices (usually smart phones), on average. Coaches need to help the athletes and create a focused environment. We suggest that you allow them the ability to check their phones on the lift, but when the skis hit the snow the phones go off.

Coach the Effort Not the Results

This one simple lesson can change the course of your athlete’s current performance and their future. Results cannot be controlled; however, effort can be. By taking responsibility for their effort, and being recognized for it, your athletes are learning to think more collaboratively, more creatively, and ironically will end up creating better results.


Smartphones as Tools

Smartphones are a tricky proposition. Used correctly they can be an important tool. Group information can be texted. Videos can be reviewed with programs like Coach’s Eye. Speed, G forces, angulation and transition time can be recorded with programs like the Rossignol PIQ. Used incorrectly and without rules leads to distracted athletes and unfocused practices. Snapchat, Instagram and a dozen other programs are trying to get the athlete's attention and focus. Remember that this is how they are wired.

Review Your Descriptions

Words are important. There are so many examples where we tell our athletes to do something, but it’s not actually specific or accurate. And yet it becomes rote. It becomes another thing we say all the time, not getting any result so we say it more. We say it louder and with more intensity. When actually, we need to step back and think, “What do I actually want them to do?” and then say that. We need to think about words that are explicit and have an associated action. It doesn’t have to be a speech. It just has to have meaning. If you aren’t reaching your athletes, it’s not because there is something wrong with them—there might be something wrong with how you are communicating your ideas. 


Try mixing up the age groups for free skiing. Younger racers should ski with older racers so that they can see better technique. Young racers learn a lot more from better role models. Older racers learn better when they teach. Praise the effort of all racers, at all levels—this also builds better team cohesion and camaraderie—a major motivating factor for showing up for practice.

Inspire a Growth Mindset.

Talent is hard work in disguise. A growth mindset is a belief system that you can improve through work.


“What you get by achieving your goal is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”

 Henry David Thoreau


Video Comparisons to Champions

Find an elite athlete that you would want your athletes to emulate. Break down the performances into smaller clips where the expert is performing the best example of what you are trying to teach and watch it over and over again. Remember Mirror Neurons. Coach your athletes to commit the sequence to memory and visualize it before they perform.


Coach on Their Level

Kids look up to adults. Some also fear or don’t know how to talk with adults. “A good tip I learned was to find ways to make yourself less of an adult sometimes to help relate to kids. I do this by getting on a knee to get eye to eye with them as opposed to looking down. It helps with reducing the intimidation factor sometimes.” Steve Anthos


Try phrases like, “you worked really hard,” instead of, “You did great.” In studies, math students who were praised for their effort tended to work 42% longer and voluntarily attempted harder problems compared to students who were praised for their intellect. As a coach, you can tap into this hidden reservoir of effort by correcting the problem not the effort. Always praise the effort of each athlete and look for a positive aspect to leave practice on.

Use Positive Language

The toughest part of coaching is managing the emotional nature of performing. Here are a few tips for handing the classic repertoire of issues athletes tend to face. They are designed to be encouraging but not false compliments. They should resonate with the athlete and help them reflect and correct in the way we have been exploring throughout the PRS program:

When They Struggle Despite Strong Effort

  • OK, so you didn’t do as well as you wanted to. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to learn.

  • What strategies are you using? How about trying some different ones?

  • You are not there yet. Or, when you think you can’t do it, remind yourself that you can’t do it yet.

  • I expect you to make some mistakes since we’re trying new things. If we examine what led to our mistakes, we can learn how to improve.

  • Mistakes are welcome here! Our brains grow if we learn from our mistakes.

  • You might be struggling now, but you are making progress. I can see your growth (in these places). (Note: Say this only if they're indeed making progress and be very specific about the changes you see so they know what to repeat).

  • You can learn to do it—it’s tough, but you can; let’s break it down into steps.

  • Let’s stop here and return tomorrow with a fresher brain. Fatigue and frustration are not your friend.

  • I admire your persistence and I appreciate your effort. It will pay off.


When They are Lacking Specific Skills Needed for Improvement

  • Let me add some new information to help you solve this.

  • Here are some strategies to figure this out.

  • Describe your process for completing your goal.

  • Let’s practice this so we can move it from our short-term to our long-term memory.

  • Give it a try—we can always fix mistakes once we see where you are having problems.

  • What parts were difficult for you? Let’s break it down and fix it up.

  • Let’s ask [another athlete] for advice—they may be able to explain it in a new way, suggest some ideas, or recommend some strategies.

  • Let’s write down a plan for practicing and improving.

When They are Making Progress

  • Hey, do you realize how much progress you’ve made?

  • That’s a tough problem/technique/line that you’ve been working on for a while. What strategies are you using? They are really working for you. I can see a difference in this work compared to your earlier work.

  • You have really grown with (be specific).

  • Hey! You were working on this for a while and you didn’t quit!

  • Your hard work is clearly evident in your progress.

  • Look at how much progress you’ve made so far! Do you remember how difficult this was when you first started?

When They Succeed with Strong Effort

  • I am so proud of the effort you put forth.

  • I am very proud of you for not giving up, and look what you have to show for it!

  • Congratulations—you really used great effort/focus/intensity etc.

  • I want you to remember for a moment how challenging this was when you began. Look at how far you have come!

  • All that hard work and effort paid off!

  • The next time you have a challenge like this, what will you do?

  • What choices did you make that you think contributed to your success?

  • It’s exciting to see the difference in your skiing now compared to your earlier work.

  • Doesn’t it feel good to master /own this? How does it feel to master / own this?

When They Succeed Easily Without Effort

  • It’s great that you have that down. Now we need to find something a little bit more challenging so you can grow. That’s what we all come to practice to do.

  • I don’t want you to be bored because you’re not challenging yourself.

  • We need to raise the bar for you now.

  • You’re ready for something more difficult.

  • What skill would you like to work on next?

  • What technique or tactic would you like to focus on next?

  • Can you help [another athlete] learn what you’ve learned? By helping others, we not only contribute to their success, but we also deepen our own understanding.

When They Don’t Put in Much Effort and Then Don’t Succeed

  • I understand that it may seem daunting at first. How can we break this down into smaller tasks so it’s not so overwhelming? (chunking)

  • What are your goals for this practice/week/year? How can you make a plan to achieve those goals? What effort will be required?

  • It looks like you’re not putting forth much effort. Is this the way you see it? If not, what is it that you are doing; how can I help you with some new strategies?

  • What are the barriers to your success? How can I help you overcome them?

  • Remember when you worked really hard for (be specific) and were successful? Maybe you could try those strategies again.

  • If improvement is your goal, it’s going to take effort and practice to get there. Our brains won’t grow if we don’t try hard things.

  • What choices are you making that contribute to this outcome? If you want a different outcome, maybe you need to make different choices.


Tip:  Not all positive feedback are lollipops and sugar.

“Good run but I think you have an even better one in you.”

“Your skiing is really solid but you are holding yourself back with the reach cross blocking.”

“I know you had a tough day today but you really show some grit fighting through it.”