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Season of David - Part XXIV
By:  David Zylberberg   (2003/10/07)


The following "The Season of David" article is part of a weekly series by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. Hopefully, it will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work,school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.

This week I thought I should discuss the nature of coaching and share some personal experiences. There is a lot that coaches can do to help people ski faster and a lot that they cannot do. The role and influence of a coach should change somewhat over time and be responsive to the maturation of the skier.

A coach=s role is basically to help someone ski faster. This takes on many roles from the planning of training, implementation of workouts, teaching of technique, correction of technique and help in preparation of equipment. All of these are very skilled tasks that can be very beneficial to performance. It seems that around here coaches are expected to be experts in every one of these fields, so that a weakness in one can impede great skill in another. I have great respect for coaches as people who put so much effort into helping others ski fast and with younger skiers to also instill an enjoyment of the outdoors and physical activity.

Coaches are integral in designing an effective training plan for younger skiers and working together on a plan for more experienced skiers. Another important benefit of coaching is having someone who can implement effective workouts that maximize the desired training benefits. They are the most effective method of learning proper technique and are generally responsible for the technical skills that skiers acquire. Good coaches are also great aids because they can balance conflicting opinions on many topics into a coherent whole so that skiers only need to worry about following their balanced program and learning the technique the coach has judged to be best. Coaches are also a useful person in teaching skiers how to train properly and passing along expertise on proper preparation.

Despite all of these skills and benefits, coaches cannot make skiers ski faster on their own. Skiing fast requires great motivation and desire that must come from the athlete. The coach can work with that desire and put it on the correct path to skiing fast but cannot supply the desire. Also, the physiological and technical adaptations that the training plan intends must be achieved by the athlete. The coach creates the program to meet these improvements and guides the athlete along the path but cannot actually make the adaptations. The athlete must still do the training properly and take care of the other things in life. Overall, coaches are very important towards skiing fast but cannot supply motivation or actually do the training.

The relationship between coach and athlete should change over the years. When dealing with younger skiers, the coach needs to make most of the training decisions and teach them why they are doing certain things. As skiers progress and mature, they gain insights into skiing fast and a better understanding of training. Thus, with senior skiers, the coach can work more as an advisor who suggests things since the athlete should have good understanding already. This also allows for two brains to examine things and should lead to more effective programs. They would still create effective workouts and should over suggestions for technique, though the skier should understand technique already and merely need to know their flaws. This relationship is more effective and can use the skiers knowledge as an advantage towards improvement. This evolution is gradual so that at every stage the athlete can assert more independence while still learning and experimenting with the coach.

I have been fortunate over the years to be coached by a number of skilled individuals who all instilled in me different elements of skiing fast. They all created some good and distinctive workouts that I have tried to implement over the years, but have been more useful in shaping my attitude towards the sport. I would like to give them credit at this time.

As a junior, I was coached by Dave Battison and was a member of the Laurentian Nordic Junior Racing Team. Dave was very big on the competitiveness of sport and instilled in me the mentality that to win I had to want it more than others and work harder than them. He did a good job of instilling the attitude that sport is decided based on who is willing to deal with more pain in order to achieve the goal. This is a very important thing to have learned and is a lesson that all competitive athletes should learn.

I then joined the Thunder Bay National Team Development Centre where I was coached by Jonne Kahkonen. He was very big on creating every workout such that it led to skiing faster. This is a really important lesson and if properly implemented leads to more effective training. It was here that I started thinking of ways to train more effectively without necessarily working harder. He also taught me a lot of useful things about periodising training throughout the year and using each workout to build the body up. I still use a lot of his workouts ideas when doing easy distance training since he had ways of maximizing speed and strength development while doing easy distance workouts.

While in Ottawa I have been coached by Pavol Skvaridlo, who has been assisted by John Langstone. These two men are very big on technique and basically taught me the fundamentals of technique. They have done a particularly good job on skate technique and have moulded me into the technical skater that I currently am. Pavol also makes very good workouts and does a good job with using the team size to create effective workouts. He has also emphasized the need to train a lot and the proper amounts of intensity, thereby greatly increasing the amount of intensity that I train in relation to my time in Thunder Bay. These lessons coupled with the basic lesson of maximizing the benefits from every workout have been essential in leading to the effective training and improvements that I have made. These skills are what I best learned from these coaches and what they emphasized. All of them were generally skilled in each aspect of coaching.

This year XC OTTAWA has hired a new coach, John Suuronen. I am still being coached by Pavol Skvaridlo but have been doing 2-3 workouts a week with XCOTTAWA and Mr. Suuronen. I have been impressed with his abilities as a coach and what he is doing with XCOTTAWA. He has created many effective workouts and a number of skiers have shown major improvements in technique and likely in fitness. He has also done a good job at creating programs (he does not create mine yet) that seem to gradually build up the skier through the year so that they should hopefully be at their best in March. He is a very good coach for senior skiers since he is more laid back than most and accepts that we are ready to exert some independence in training. While allowing this independence, he has made many useful suggestions and continues to make good workouts that accommodate the needs of a number of skiers. His attitude seems fairly balanced and there has not been an excessive amount of either distance or intensity. As long as workouts are done well and a reasonable amount of everything is done, skiers seem to be making improvements.

These are some insights I have had into coaching and the benefits I have received from the numerous coaches I have worked with.

Interesting Reading. . .
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