Vail Daily column: Starting on the path to the Olympics
March 31, 2014
In Olympic years in particular, it is not uncommon to field questions from parents on just how and when to get their child started in snow sports and competition. First and foremost, this path ideally begins when the child is very young. Just like our school system begins at age 5 or 6 to maximize what a child can achieve academically, so do Ski & Snowboard Club Vail's training programs begin in these important formative years with our Future Stars program.
These 6- to 9-year-old "Future Stars" are skiing with poles, loading and unloading the lift without help, comfortably skiing all the terrain on Golden Peak and very quickly, all of Vail Mountain. The kids are exposed to all of the skiing disciplines of racing, moguls, pipe and park with specific offerings in snowboard and Nordic. Introduction to competition is through the free Steadman Clinic Vail Cup.
Among all sports, introduction to "sliding" sports such as skiing and skating is among the earliest of all. Becoming comfortable with the equipment required for skiing or snowboarding, as well as, the sensation of gliding is critical for lifelong enjoyment, as well as fulfilling potential for those that pursue a competition pathway. The sport fundamentals learned through an early start and strengthened through the stress provided by competition create a base of skills that stand out in any ski group and that promote lifelong enjoyment and family activity.
Often times, parents will introduce skiing to their children just after they have learned to walk by teaching them to walk on their skis and then sliding down a small slope in the backyard. When ready, taking the first family trip to the mountain to slide down the hill is an exhilarating experience beginning a joy and adventure filled family experience. Falling is fun, speed is exhilarating and kids experience freedom and self-determination for the first time.
LEARNING THE RIGHT SKILLS
Very soon afterwards "professional" instruction and coaching can help ensure that the proper skills are being learned in a fun and experiential way. A parent and coach of two of the most successful ski racers of all time once told me that he tried to provide his children with so much time on snow that skiing would be as natural for them as walking.
Although it is not impossible, for example, to start a competitive part-time alpine training and competition program at age 11 with SSCV's YSL group who compete in the Youth Ski League series, it is much more difficult for YSL athletes to catch up with those Alpine racers who started years earlier. This gap becomes even wider as U12 athletes begin to commit to a full-time five-day-a-week on-snow training from early November through the end of March as fifth- or sixth-graders at SSCV's academic partners Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy or Vail Mountain School.
It is no coincidence that the club's U14 alpine racers (ages 12-13) emerged as the dominant force at the Rocky Central U14 Junior Championships at Winter Park this season, taking the Overall Team Award among ski clubs from the Rocky Mountain and Central regions of the U.S. and an unprecedented 25 out of a possible 36 "top three" in this 12 race championship series. Nor is it a coincidence that SSCV U12 alpine racers (ages 10-11) took home the First Place Team Trophy for 2014 during a weekend of races held at Powderhorn Mountain Resort at the Rocky Mountain Division U12 Championships winning 14 out of 24 top three finishes for single run giant slalom and slalom races.
This success can be attributed to the path so many of these SSCV U12 and U14 competitors have taken, starting very early with the type of progression outlined above.
Parents are sometimes concerned with "burn out" and delay entry into sport programs to "keep it fun." Worries of burn-out don't delay when our children start school or cause us to reduce the rigor or expectations to keep it fun.
Just the opposite is true. Children respond to challenges and enjoy the rewards of learning. When the kids are feeling progress and having fun, they don't burn out. Responses to a recent mid-season survey of SSCV athletes determined that 92 percent of the kids were "having fun" and 97 percent were "progressing." Isn't that what life is all about?