In the 2018/19 winter we tested a different format for both our House events and the Nancy Greene Ski League event we host each year attended by neighboring clubs. The event on-hill did not change much and looked like a regular race day on the hill. The change was in our decision not to present any ranked results to conclude the events, and instead we called up every team to the stage together to all receive “Racer” ribbons as a team.
Contrary to what it might seem, this choice was made with an ultimate goal to increase the competitiveness of performance athletes fostered by our program. The logic of taking away awards for being competitive at a young age with an ultimate goal of fostering more high performance athletes later flows like this:
It has been a long time since youth sport in general has talked the talk about the importance of focusing on fun and enjoyment with young athletes; fostering team and self pride, the joy of sport, and just having fun while building the skills needed to excel both in a chosen sport and athleticism in general. However, no matter how much talk is talked to the athletes and parents that having fun learning and doing the sport is the most important aspect of what they’re doing, each game ends with a winner and each race or event ends with one or a few people getting the big prize. From this pattern, it doesn’t take long for kids to deduce that winning is what it’s really all about and that if they are not winning it’s less fun and they are less likely to feel the burning desire to continue participating and progressing in the sport. This is still rewarding the result and not what sports experts everywhere agree is the most important part of developing an athlete which is the process of time and hard work.
By changing the format of our awards ceremony to award each athlete for being there and putting in the effort to do their best it is our goal to reward the process. Not only by changing the awards ceremony, but in conjunction with consistent messaging from coaches everyday with goal setting and athlete motivation, and with messaging from parents that re-affirms that joy and skill building are the important objectives, our desired outcome is that more athletes have more fun while training and while participating in events ---> more athletes stick with ski racing longer because the better you get at it the more fun it is-----> More athletes have a chance to reach a high level of performance because they are motivated intrinsically to be the best racers they can be. We believe that even athletes who are traditionally successful in the normal results based competition at a young age will not lose motivation but rather shift their focus to their own excellence and refinement; the better you get, the more fun it is.
Obviously at a certain point somebody’s got to win. This philosophy guides our events and goal setting targeted at Nancy Greene level athletes (4-11). At the age of 10, athletes enter U12 which is a transitory phase towards more competitive Zone Events, and by U14 athletes are competing in Zone and Provincial events with results forming only a part of their goal setting.
Not until U16 and FIS level racing do the results achieved by a racer have an effect on their potential future in the sport. If you’d like to know more about the pathway and goals for athletes at different stages of development check out Alpine Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development Model.(https://ltad.alpinecanada.org/
We hope that by prioritizing skill development and joy of the sport for our Nancy Greene athletes, we can not only make our team accessible to a wide variety of athletes at a young age and encourage everybody to have as much fun as possible, but also that we will build a better foundation (for individual athletes and as a club) on which high performance athletes can be built.