7 Philosophical Priorities For Successful XC Clubs and Training Groups
By XC Oregon Coach/AXCS National Director J.D. Downing
No matter where you go in the world or what the activity is, organizational philosophy is the number one parameter in determining whether programs prosper or stagnate. You can have all the money and hungry-to-learn skiers in the world...but if your priorities are out of whack, ultimately you will not have the kind of long-term success that a club or program will have that has it's philosophical house in order.
In the mid-90's I came up with the following "golden seven" priorities for success with XC clubs and training groups. These priorities are largely age-independent so they can be guidelines for masters groups just as easily as junior clubs.
1.) Maximizing Individual Potential -- Although it has been debated for years (particularly with regard to youth and teen sports) careful research into successful programs shows that you can indeed strike a positive balance between participation and competition.
All too often program leaders and coaches needlessly feel compelled to choose one or the other of these priorities. I say needlessly because the very nature of XC skiing places absolutely no limitations on programs with regard to choosing who plays and who sits on the bench. With everyone eligible to play, it then makes sense to focus on a goal of maximizing the potential of every single participant up to the level of commitment they choose to make.
For example, if someone wants to dedicate a large portion of their life to skiing fast -- a good program can help them. If someone simply wants to learn how to ski as well as they can -- the same program should be able to help them. Likewise for everyone and anyone in between!
Although this appears to be a relatively simple point, it is certainly not consistently followed.
2.) Maximizing Potential Is The Most Enjoyable Road -- Hand in hand with the concept that participation and competition can be complementary is the often-scorned concept that maxmizing potential will be the most enjoyable route for most individuals.
Look at it this way...even if Joey and Lisa never want to take part in a single ski race, they would be very strange people indeed if they said they enjoyed skiing inefficiently. Thus, your program should have a fundamental objective to teach Joey and Lisa to ski as well as they possibly can while they are in your program. In doing so you will inevitably often use precisely the same types of tools, techniques, and program designs as you would for athletes that someday want to win at the highest competitive levels. The end result is a maximization of potential in order to achieve an individual's goal--in Joey and Lisa's case, the goal being to ski more efficiently!
3.) World-Class Development is a Home Town Affair -- Actually achieving full development of individual potential requires that you philosophically accept that the road to any size goal begins at home.
The basic techniques, training plans, program direction, etc. that will take that once-in-a-lifetime, genetically-gifted youngster many years later to a gold medal are exactly the same as the techniques, training plans, and program direction that will develop individual potential in any skier (of any age) you have in your program. Differences merely lie in how far an individual wants to follow through on the road to the top and how far they can follow through given factors such as raw genetic composition, personal logistics, income, etc..
4.) The Best Ski Educators Don't Always Have The Best Credentials -- As is the case in other athletic activities as well as pursuits such as music, art, science, writing, etc., it is actually fairly rare to see the "star" performer match their results in the education sphere. Exceptions can always be found, but by and large, the very best ski educators won't usually have a pedigree of elite hardware along for the ride.
It is easy to get dazzled by "race credentials", but what you'll ultimately find if you stick around the sport long enough is that a great teacher or program leader doesn't have to have a single personal race win to their credit in order to be truly great. The priority must be on the full package of skills and intangibles.
5.) Focus On Progressive, Healthy, Balanced Development -- This is a tricky priority to measure. What one program contends is a perfectly healthy developmental model, another program is going to consider the fast-track to frying athletes (any age, any ability).
The only way to objectively measure what truly is progressive, healthy, and balanced is to take a big-picture, long-term look at any aspect of development. When we succomb to the lure of short-term prizes over long-term goals -- we have undeniably abandoned our prime philosophical directive to maximize individual potential.
6.) Generational Balance and Community Interaction -- This tragic missing link in much of US society simply cannot be omitted from successful XC development programs. Programs that try to exist in a vaccum are doomed to exclusion and eventual demise--even within otherwise strong XC communities. It is simply not enough to have a great kids program or a great masters program or a great H.S. or college team (if available). A truly developed and integrated community will have all of these components working with and giving to each other to produce a greater sum. If you have a significant part of your XC community operating exclusively outside your ski club...you have a fundamental problem!
7.) Fun With All-Of-The-Above -- There is no question that any aspect of XC skiing must be fun if any individual is going to participate over a long period of time--at any age. The choice lies in whether or not a program exists merely to whoop-it-up at all costs any which way you can...or...that the program has enjoyable and fullfilling elements built into planned, long-term, progressive goals.
For more free or low-cost information about starting community XC clubs and training groups for adult (master) skiers contact AXCS: axcs at xcskiworld dot com.