By Justin Easter
When we look at a successful cross country skier, particularly a racer, we tend to credit any success (at least in part) to the coach. But a parent likely had a much stronger impact, and played a critical role in their child’s involvement in the sport.
As a parent, your role will change as your child grows, gains more experience and becomes more heavily involved in Nordic skiing.
In the early years you may have suggested participation in the first place. Perhaps you were attracted by the healthy aspects of the sport and the potential for lifelong enjoyment. Or maybe you wanted to expose your child to a healthy, supportive community.
There is also the reward of improvement. This is present in nearly every sport, particularly individual sports, but it should not be overlooked. There are so many areas where improvement can be noticed in cross country skiing that it takes on a very unique dynamic, but also sets the stage for potentially destructive setbacks.
A parent plays an enormous role in ensuring that these setbacks are not terminally destructive to a child’s participation in skiing. Essentially, feedback needs to reflect performance and effort.
If a setback comes from a factor outside of an athlete’s control, parents need to focus their attention on the skier’s effort. For instance, if the weather changes quickly throughout the course of a race, and the athlete’s skis slow down enough to impact the result, a parent’s focus must turn to the attitude and effort of the athlete. Reassure your child that he or she tried as hard as they could, and be sure that they know the factors that affected the result were outside of their control.
If a skier’s effort was the cause for a poor result, it is important to teach them to align their expectations appropriately, and teach them that moderate effort will yield moderate results. It is difficult, but imperative, to not allow your (parental) emotions or frustrations to impair this learning opportunity. But this is, after all, your athlete’s race and your athlete’s result.
Michael Kanters, writing in the December 2002, issue of Parks and Recreation magazine, discusses one style of parenting that addresses these situations.
Preschool and elementary school age children who are raised using an authoritative parenting style fare better than their peers raised with other parenting styles on nearly every indicator of psychological health studied. Authoritative parents are warm and involved but firm and consistent in establishing and enforcing guidelines, limits and developmentally appropriate expectations.
Authoritative parenting works because it does three things: nurturance and parent involvement creates an environment more receptive to parental influence; a balance of support and structure facilitates the development of self-regulatory skills in the child; and the verbal give-and-take characteristic of parent-child exchanges fosters cognitive and social competence in the child.
Parental involvement, or an active interest in a skier’s activity, does not necessarily mean “to coach.” It means to have an understanding of what is going on during a skier’s participation at all levels, such as training, waxing and racing. This involvement is important, because without that nurturing and understanding, it becomes impossible to support your skier through both successes and setbacks.
Authoritative parenting may provide one of the single most valuable gifts a parent can give a developing skier: self-regulatory skills. Cross country skiing is an intensely individual sport. Having the ability to self-regulate on the day of a race will have an incredible effect on a skier. When do I warm up? What time is my start? When do I go to the wax bench to get a touch-up before the race? These are just a few questions that will need answers on race day. Parents (and coaches) who have provided skiers with the tools to effectively answer these questions have done them a huge favor.
The final element of authoritative parenting, as outlined by Kanters, is the creation of social and cognitive skills. Social skills, from a coach’s perspective, make finding answers to the race-day questions much easier. Simply put, creating an environment at home where verbal interaction is concise and thoughtful will make your child’s transition to interacting with others (coaches, teammates, race officials, etc.) seamless.
You are your young skier’s best source of information and support as to how the world works. He or she needs to feel at ease when approaching you with questions or concerns about their athletic (and overall) development. It is important that you take an active interest in their sport so that your feedback can be genuine and informed. Your expectations need to be that your child enjoys the experience and appreciates the opportunities that skiing can provide.
Perhaps what is most important is that you fully embrace the notion that you are not your young skier’s coach, because being their parent is far more involved. A coach is there to help develop and hone the skills necessary to find reward in skiing. But a parent’s job is to develop and hone the skills necessary to find reward and joy in all that life has to offer.
Justin Easter is an alumnus of he Factory Team. He recently assumed the role of executive directory for Rocky Mountain Nordic.