Cross Country Development Coach, U.S. Ski & Snowboard
It is my opinion that the single biggest impact on cross country ski development is the fact that our young athletes truly believe they can excel in cross country skiing. This belief has raised the expectations on what is possible for an American XC skier. They are setting loftier goals and backing that up with hard work.
Secondly, there has been a transformational culture shift in US cross country skiing. This is no longer a solitary and independent activity but instead a team sport that leaves no skier on the bench. Everyone can be on the ski trail training, competing, and contributing to the team’s success. The fact that we can do this sport all our lifetime is only icing on the cake.
A positive emotional connection to sport is what keeps athletes in the sport. Therefore a positive team culture, skillful coaches, and an encouraging ski community that provides motivating opportunities are all critical to retain and progress our athletes. Our skiers want to be challenged, but they also want the guidance and encouragement to effectively progress in the sport. They want to see their hard work moving them in the right direction. We have a duty as coaches and a ski community to provide them with the opportunities and skilled coaching that will allow them to excel. It is no coincidence that the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) has grown with our cross country success. Providing top caliber camp opportunities costs money to do it right. NNF has helped contribute to all regional and national development summer camps to keep camp costs attainable for the athletes.
Our juniors are training more than in the past. The reasons for this are multi-faceted but I believe having more opportunities at the local, regional, and national level has a great deal to do with that. It is a lot easier to train routinely in a group setting than to muster the motivation to push yourself out the door every day. We have more year-round programs and more skilled professional coaching. We have been collecting training volume data from the Regional Elite Group juniors for seven years. It was only in the last three years where we have witnessed a significant shift towards more training. Certainly, we have some juniors training more than 650 hours, but this evaluation is evaluating the mean or average hours of this group that averages approximately 100 athletes over the four Regional Elite Group camps.
2013 = Average Regional Elite Group athlete annual training hours = 418 hours
2017 = Average Regional Elite Group athlete annual training hours = 470 hours
2019 = Average Regional Elite Group athlete annual training hours = 476 hours (Note 87 athletes of the total 99 athletes provided their training hours. Highest percentage recorded to-date)
Our Cross Country National Development summer camp pathway is now ten years old. The last major project addition was the National Under-16 camp (formerly known as the J2 camp) which was first started in 2010 by Rick Kapala, Janice Sibilia, Ali Sehert (Deines), and Josh Smullin with the support of the U.S. Ski Team. These coaches believed that there was a need to better engage and build social team bonds at a younger age. Their inclination has proven to be accurate when evaluating the three main measures of athletic development success – growth, retention, and athletic performance. There were 19 girls and 18 boys at the first National U16 camp in Houghton, MI. In 2019, there were 28 girls and 32 boys. The selection criteria has not changed significantly over the ten years, however the number of athletes accepting their nomination to these opportunities continues to increase.
The stability of our National Development Pathway has allowed us to collect data to see not only growth and retention in our camps, but also the fact that our juniors are more physically fit and more deliberate in their training. The camp training plans for every level of our national and regional elite camps are more robust in volume and ski specificity than in the past. The stability of our system has allowed us to witness areas of strength and opportunities in our individual athletes. One topic we are focusing more attention on is evaluating the performance data we gather in our national and regional camps. One question we want to provide guidance on is, “What is an adequate amount of strength, fitness, training volume, etc?” Each training attribute has its diminishing return. More doesn’t always mean better. We want to continue to evaluate and share this data with our coaches and athletes. This will help us evolve our camps and provide motivation to our coaches and athletes as the areas they can focus their attention on at specific ages to remain “on track” for long term athletic success.
An example is looking at the two tests we implement at the National U16 camp:
“Athletes that later make the USST and National Training Group Team athletes have significantly faster uphill run test results.”
“On average, athletes that later make the USST and NTG have uphill run percent back results that are 9 percentage points lower than all boys and girls. These differences were significant at the 99% confidence level and much more significant than the differences in the strength test results.”
On average, athletes that later make the US Ski Team or were at some point named to a National Training Group have strength test results that are 21 points higher than all athletes in the historical data set; men on the US Ski Team or in an NTG have strength test results that are 24 points higher than all men. Both of these differences were significant at the 99% confidence level. -Data assessed by Lily Koffman – U.S. Ski & Snowboard High Performance Fellow
We will continue to seek information to share with the cross country community, so our athletes are focusing on the right things in the summer, so they can excel in winter months. We need to keep in mind that motivation and cultivating an emotional connection to the sport is paramount. Skills and statistics help us better direct our energy, but they don’t grow the motivation to get us out the door to train. We need to provide our young athletes an opportunity to come together at these camps and complement the great programming they are getting at home. Thanks to the National Nordic Foundation and to the entire Cross Country Ski community for backing these camps to grow a strong Cross Country Team culture and further grow their identities as American cross country skiers.
Top: junior athletes at NTG Camp this summer. Bottom: Gus Schumacher shows off his NNF pride. Photos by Bryan Fish.
The NNF's mission is to support athletic excellence in developing nordic athletes in the United States.
“To the NNF: The assistance has been an absolute necessity for me and the increased level of support played a role in the performance levels that U.S. skiers produced last year.”- Holly Brooks