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Why You Should Tune into NNF’s Summer Speaker Series

Andy Newell is one of several athletes presenting in the four-part series. [Photo] Courtesy NNF

Any athlete or coach wants to improve their performance, whether it’s upping one’s mental game, learning new tactics to share with a team of aspiring champs or taking a different approach to strength training. The National Nordic Foundation’s (NNF) recently launched virtual Summer Speaker Series provides a chance to enhance your skills in any of these areas (and more) just by tuning in via Zoom. 

There, you’ll find top-of-their-field experts—Tschana Schiller, director of sport science for action and endurance sports at U.S. Ski and Snowboard; Team Aker Daehlie coach Hans Kristian Stadheim; and Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team Coach Andy Newell—diving into technique and training, in conversation with U.S. Cross Country Ski Team head coach Matt Whitcomb.

The four-part series, in fact, was conceived by Whitcomb, both as an opportunity to further NNF’s mission of U.S. athlete development—in this case, through education—and as a fundraiser (you can tune in at no cost, but online donations are very much encouraged.)

At a time of year when training for the next competition season begins, and many of our brains are “dry sponges, ready to take on new ideas,” says Whitcomb, the speaker series covers a few relevant topics in an approachable way. “There’s so much content out there,” he adds, “and it’s a matter of accessing it. I have the privilege of being able to call [experts] and find out an answer, but now we can access these great minds with these virtual platforms.”

Though the primary audience is coaches and athletes (including U.S. Ski Teamers), anyone can benefit from listening to these speakers, from citizen racers to parents of racers to cross country ski enthusiasts. Says Whitcomb, “We try to tailor the material so it can cover a broad range of coaches and try to make sure that each presenter covers the basics.”

In scheduling speakers, Whitcomb sought variety and balance, “so that it’s not all technique or all physiology,” he explains. “I figure out, what do I want to hear about and see if that would be appropriate for a broad scale.”  

U.S. runner Grant Fisher opened the four-part series. His goal this summer: Paris 2024. [Photo] Courtesy NNF

Presenters aren’t necessarily Nordic athletes or coaches either. On June 6, U.S distance runner Grant Fisher, who holds 5,000- and 10,000-meter American records and is headed to the Olympic trials, led off the series. Over the hour-long conversation, he spoke about the nuances of altitude training, leaving his former running team to work with his high school coach, eschewing recovery metrics and the effectiveness of shorter-duration, higher-frequency threshold training. On that last topic, Whitcomb notes that several U.S. Ski Team athletes who viewed the talk particularly appreciated Fisher’s take on intervals. “The speed is more representative of an actual [Nordic] race,” he says. “We’d never heard a running star explain it directly to us.”

Another point that resonated: Fisher said that before a race, “instead of dreading the pain, I look forward to it. I’m not afraid to go for it and potentially blow up.” Whitcomb considers it a key tactic. “There’s a lot of research out there that talks about how an optimistic mindset actually processes pain better,” he says. “Cross country skiers are known to be pretty gritty, and those skiers who have success are mentally tough.”

Each presentation is limited to the first 300 people who register. Here’s what to look forward to in the upcoming sessions (and remember to hit that donation button!):

June 19 (Wednesday), 2 p.m. EDT

Hans Kristian Stadheim, coach of Team Aker Daehlie 

Hans Kristian Stadheim will cover three gears. [Photo] Courtesy NNF

Whitcomb calls Stadheim “about the most enthusiastic coach I’ve ever met and a brilliant presenter.” The native Norwegian served as head performance coach for Great Britain’s ski team and in his current role with the private Team Aker Daehlie works with U.S. Ski Teamer Sophia Laukli. Stadheim will discuss innovations in V2, striding and double poling in a presentation that Whitcomb promises will be “one not to miss.”

June 28 (Friday), 7 p.m. EDT

Andy Newell, coach of the Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team

Andy Newell will help you prep for a successful race day. [Photo] Courtesy NNF

The four-time Olympian and three-time World Cup podium skier will talk about everything that goes into a race day, says Whitcomb, including how to visualize, the importance of a workup and organizing tactics. “He’s a very systematic guy,” Whitcomb notes. “He talked to the team before the sprint race in Minneapolis last winter.” Though tailored toward sprint, Newell’s advice would work for a distance event, too.

July 8 (Monday), 7 p.m. EDT

Tschana Schiller, strength coach for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team for the past 10 years (in addition to her title given earlier)

Tschana Schiller will demo strength training during her talk. [Photo] Courtesy NNF

“I don’t know if there is a better strength coach in the world,” says Whitcomb. “She’s phenomenal.” Schiller’s presentation will cover topics like how she periodizes a block of training, what rest looks like and the layout of a whole year’s training schedule (viewers will have access to her slides afterward). Then, she’ll hit the gym floor to demonstrate lifts, both classic and newer, with guidance on how best to coach athletes through this strength training.