Coaching Association of Canada

Applying Transferable Skills in a New Environment

The Canadian Para Alpine Ski Team teambuilding event took place at Karting Thetford, in Thetford Mines, QC. The open-minded group of 14 was guided through a day on the racetrack with Canadian Ski Coaches Federation (CSCF) Technical Director Pierre Ruel, and CSCF Mentor and Porsche Club of America racecar driver Matt Distefano.

The day was about learning, experimenting and applying what our athletes knew about on-snow racing to the racetrack. It’s amazing the gaps you can fill and the basics that can be reinforced when applying existing skills to a new environment.

  1. It’s important in this type of exercise not to prompt the athletes before presenting them with their new challenge. Giving them the opportunity to apply their skills and the time for some self-reflection produces the best results. The athletes first hit the racetrack with no instruction and ripped around for 20 minutes. After the first session came a short debrief about their experience and what they wanted to improve upon.
  2. Athletes will reach a point where they are comfortable with a new task and will self-identify areas of improvement relative to others by applying their own skills and knowledge to it. After a few laps in the second round, Pierre flew by everyone. Athletes followed him and noticed he was driving a different line than they were. They initially hadn’t thought about racing that way, but ultimately experienced big gains after hitting the same line.
  3. Once athletes have the chance to discover something on their own, observe others, and apply their knowledge in order to solve a problem, it is important to frame the experience in theory and provide them with a subsequent opportunity to execute. The athletes had all improved their lap times. They realized that they were problem-solving and applying the techniques of others to be more efficient. They all gained confidence, but they still needed more knowledge. At this point, some simple ski racing terms and techniques, including line and acceleration, were described, providing them with tools to further improve their lap times.
  4. The importance of consciously taking note of external cues to make decisions on the track cannot be forgotten. Athletes see the same venues, the same turns, and the same cues in their daily training environment and they sometimes take them for granted. They forget to assess a new course or field of play. The next time they hit the track, they raced it backwards. All the external cues were different and the previously fine-tuned timing was off. They eventually applied the skills they learned, and were successful in maintaining their pace relative to the fastest driver, Pierre. Before the last round and final race, the athletes did an exercise where Pierre revealed some of the cues, and they walked the track to set out pylons as external cues to help with timing.

Allowing athletes to experiment on their own without much instruction provides them with a great launch point. Encouraging observation, and framing that experience in theory expands the knowledge base and enables an athlete to solve problems on their own and increase performance. The conscious identification and evaluation of external cues for timing, line, and direction cannot be overlooked either. It takes time to develop consistency in execution, so practice over and over again, not until you do it right, but until you can no longer do it wrong.

David White
World Cup Coach
Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team