An engaging discussion about high school skiing took place at the NENSA Eastern Coaches Conference in Dublin, NH earlier this fall. Kevin Lee and Kathy Maddock share their thoughts here about recruitment, support, and opportunities for high school skiers. We are incredibly fortunate in New England to have skill and passion across our coaching ranks, youth to elite, and especially grateful to Kevin and Kathy for taking the time to share their experience and wisdom in working with high school athletes here.
Kevin Lee has coached at Kearsarge Regional High School and Middle School for nearly 20 years. His teams have managed to win several state titles, and he has been named NH Coach of the Year twice. Skiers from Kearsarge have been well represented on the New Hampshire U16 and Eastern High School Championship teams. Some have moved on to ski for regional clubs and in college.
Kathy Maddock currently coaches the Dublin XC Ski Club, but prior to this she coached Amherst, New Hampshire’s Souhegan High School nordic team for nearly 20 years. During this time the Souhegan skiers were state champions and runners-up several times, and many of the team’s skiers qualified to compete for the New Hampshire U16 and Eastern High School Championship teams.
How do you optimize training when you only have eight weeks to develop your skiers?
Every year I have a mix of skiers who fall into three groups on my team- brand new to Nordic, experienced and focused on goals, and somewhere in the middle of that. Additionally, because one of my goals as a public school coach is to foster a love of the sport, I also have skiers who are on the team for the social aspect. This factors into training decisions. Each week we have a goal and that goal is different for the skiers. For the first week, much of what I’m doing is assessing the skill and fitness of the skiers. We also work very hard on creating a team culture where the older skiers mentor and spend time with the younger skiers. This is balanced with having them do their own workout first. Much of the training over the first few weeks is focused on developing good skiing habits, mixing in distance skiing and interval work for all the skiers with a view of using the whole season as building to March skiing. In NH, championships are in the first week of March, there are also the U16 and EHSC weekends in March, so peaking at the end of February/beginning of March is our target.
As for getting them to train in the off season, for the skiers who participate in endurance sports, they are already familiar with periodization and being active year-round. We start talking up camps and summer workouts in February, trying to capture skiers before they’ve booked up their summers.
When talking about high school programs, “training” is a somewhat relative term. When I coached a high school team kids came to the program at a wide range of fitness and ability levels. Given this, I had two major objectives regarding my athletes: get them moving, and maximizing their time on snow. If we could hit those goals, I knew we could have a good season.
To get kids moving I pushed my creative limits to come up with new and varied running (or walking!) routes, games, weight circuits, and drills, all with the goal of keeping kids continually moving during dryland and on-snow workouts. It didn’t really matter what they were doing, as long as they were somehow tapping into and developing their aerobic base. As the season progressed we added in intensity, occasionally in the form of a full-on, structured interval sessions, but more commonly as relay races, games, or goofy drills.
Regarding my second objective, I learned early in my coaching career that for most high school athletes the equation was simple: the more time they spent on snow the better they would ski and the faster they would race. Yes, I led technique drills and talked race prep, strategy, and the like, but I found that time on snow was ultimately the best predictor of success. Because we live in southern New Hampshire and have limited snow and skiing opportunities, getting kids on snow involved advance planning and communicating to athletes and parents that skiing practices would be more than the two-hour session in the gym or pool they were accustomed to with other sports. I published a calendar early in the season that blocked off numerous Saturdays and Sundays for day-long trips to nearby ski areas. While we did do drills and prescribed workouts, the most important thing was that athletes skied nearly two hours before lunch and about an hour after. With this type of volume increase (three hours might equal a week’s worth of after school practices!) kids got better and stronger. These trips also became some of the most revered elements of our season; our athletes developed shared memories, traditions, and iconic stories that were passed down from year to year.
How do you convince athletes and parents that it is valuable to compete in Eastern Cup races, even if the athlete doesn’t have a realistic chance of making JNs?
At our organizational/informational meeting in October I mention how we offer opportunities for kids to experience higher level skiing. We sell it as experiences that are challenging and fun. We know that they may not compete for podiums or even Junior Nationals, but it’s still valuable for them. Kids get to ski against some of the very best skiers in the east, but because we don’t necessarily have skiers who are at that level, they also get to be part of that scene. Skiing at Quarry Road, Craftsbury, Rikert, and Mount Van Hovenberg gives kids a chance to join the New England Nordic skiing world. They see how skiers prepare for races, they see how races are conducted, they see wax testing. Seeing all these aspects of Nordic skiing pays benefits for them as skiers. They are much less anxious at HS races and they also form stronger friendships with their teammates as well as other skiers from New Hampshire. That builds community.
I like to tell athletes who are contemplating trying an Eastern Cup race that they are going there to learn, not to win. I emphasize that they will likely have a lot of skiers in front of them, and that they may even finish last, but that they will be a better skier for having gone through this experience. I firmly believe that an athlete needs to compete at the next level of racing in order to do well at the level at which they are currently competing. Do you want to be top 10 at states? Go get your butt kicked at an Eastern Cup!
How do you recruit middle- and high school students for nordic racing if they haven’t already been part of BKL?
Our communities do not have a local BKL program. There are some surrounding us, Ford Sayre, Andover Outing Club, Concord BKL, Blackwater Nordic, but nothing for kids in our communities. As a result, we made the decision very early in our history to include middle school skiers in our program. Another factor was that we didn’t have enough girls for our HS team that first year and we recruited some MS skiers to fill out the squad. Other programs that we modeled ourselves after were the Bow and Lebanon high school teams. We also looked to Dublin XC, Gunstock Nordic, and Ford Sayre for inspiration. As for recruiting, we have done some gimmicky things like roller skiing at school, but the most successful recruiting is having our kids share their experiences and encouraging friends and acquaintances to give it a try.
I would echo Kevin’s thoughts on recruiting, that the most successful method is word of mouth. I explicitly ask returning athletes to talk with other kids about how great the nordic ski team is. The fall cross country running team is a particularly good venue for this recruitment technique. When a critical mass of Nordic skiers on the cross country team continually talk about how fun the ski team is, and repeatedly recount their fond memories, the runners are more inclined to give the ski team a try. And I have no qualms about recruiting runners for the winter as I believe that high school runners benefit from taking a break from only running and using skiing to cross train. As it turns out, our runners who ski raced in the winter typically posted spring track times that were as fast or faster than those of their friends who had raced winter track.
As we all know, nordic skiing is the best sport; just get the word out and it should sell itself!