Mar 02, 2014
The Community Training Group
Cross country skiers, like all humans, are social by nature. We all can (and do) partake in our favorite winter sport alone. But there is typically a bit more satisfaction and enjoyment in the mix when we can ski or get in shape for skiing with other people.
This social phenomena is also age-independent. Most adults understand that children and teens are far more likely to stay involved and interested in cross country skiing when they are part of groups. But adults are less likely to realize that they can dramatically improve their own motivation, satisfaction and enjoyment levels by introducing a group element to the ski year.
Whereas a great deal of annual energy, money, time and other resources are invested nationwide on increasingly well-designed youth and teen programs -- a scant fraction of that amount of investment is aimed at adult programs with the same level of care and attention that we put into the kids.
Some will argue that this imbalance is to the good because kids are the future of the sport. Certainly I don't disagree that youth and teens are worth every bit of investment. But I do contend that we don't have to shortchange the kids in order to provide healthy, well-designed, and long-term programming for adults. Further, in my 12+ years as national director of American Cross Country Skiers (the U.S. masters cross country ski association), I have discovered that the overall health of not only competitive cross country skiing, but cross country skiing as a whole, is greatly impacted by well-organized adult skiing programs.
Community training groups are one of most effective and simplest ways adult skiers can find a strong social dimension in their skiing experience.
A cross country ski training group is simply a collection of skiers that meet regularly to work out, whether in a dryland or on-snow setting. The greatest benefits, in the eyes of most skiers, is the added motivation and fun of the group setting (almost identical to the motivation with youth and teens) as well as the opportunity to pool resources to hire or simply motivate someone or some entity to provide coaching or leadership of the group.
In the U.S. today we can see literally dozens of examples of effective training group designs. Organizers include such entities as local ski clubs, ski resorts, retailers, private trainers, colleges, park and rec. associations and health clubs. The structure ranges from a loose-knit group of skiers getting together once a week to a very formal coach-athlete design that meets multiple times every week. Cost also varies widely, with some groups entirely free and other programs costing hundreds of dollars.
Having advised or created dozens of such groups nationwide over the years, I've discovered a few keys to creating a successful community training group.
1.) You can make this happen. Strong training groups happen because skiers like you make them happen.
Do not worry about your perceived lack of qualifications to get this off the ground. Local skiers with little to no coaching or ski administration backgrounds often play a pivotal role in the design of the nation's best training groups. This proves that training groups are more about the social dynamic of being with other skiers than it is about having the "holy highness of the V-1" as your group coach.
2.) Design your group to logically fit the needs of the local demographic.
Let's say you know three local skiers who want coaching at the hand-holding level of a personal trainer and have the resources to pay for such a program. You also know seven other skiers who just want to get together once a week for a long roller-ski or ski in the fall and winter months with no desire to pay for any type of ski program.
In this situation the best training group is an ad hoc, free, once-a-week social group with the option for a pro coach to build a fee-based program around the few skiers looking for higher levels of help. The pro coach sees growth potential, a few skiers can get the level of attention they want, you keep a big group viable at least once a week, but you aren't forcing people to pay for something they don't want. Everyone wins.
3.) Look for a logical umbrella entity with which you can partner.
Almost anything semi-organized these days needs insurance, land use permission and certainly if fees are involved there has to be some kind of structure to handle the cash. By far the easiest road for a training group to follow is to base the group within an existing structure so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel with all the red tape. Local ski clubs and resorts are often the best places to start, but for dryland months or evening workouts in the fall and winter it may prove better to have an entity with indoor facilities closer to where people live.
You should also be aware of the politics behind any partner entity. This is rarely an issue with youth and teens so it can catch many group organizers off guard. For example, if you have a couple ski shops in your town and you partner with one shop to provide leadership for a training group, don't be surprised if the other shop is less than thrilled with the situation. A compromise would be to have a local ski club be the group leader and both shops alternate "sponsoring" coaches. Being aware ahead of time can avoid negative issues when all we want to do is stay fit and go skiing.
4.) Have a good time.
Emphasize fun and fitness as your program goals. Even if you are leading a group of hardcore athletes, if training as a group isn’t fun, people won’t come back and they won’t talk other friends into joining. With a wide interest range, even folks that do not race will be motivated by a high-end program if it is fun and they see the fitness benefits.
Whether it's pizza and beverages after a mid-week workout, "tailgate" parties after local ski races, creating teams for relays or any one of hundreds of other fun elements, your training group will always benefit from keeping a smile on people's faces.
American Cross Country Skiers (AXCS) has a large amount of free educational information on the topic of adult training groups, both posted online at xcskiworld.com and available upon request to members of the association.