Recently I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. Robert Reid of the Norwegian Alpine Ski Team. Dr. Reid had previously worked with the US Ski Team and presented ‘A Day Without Training is a Day Without Meaning’.
If you followed the Olympics this year you’ll have noticed the success Norway had with skiing in North Korea. And a big part of this has to do with Norway’s Long Term Athlete Development model. While Canada is considered a leader in this area there are still lessons to be learned by countries such as Norway. Below are some of my takeaways from this presentation.
Isolation Leads To Stagnation – Dr. Reid emphasized the need for integration of different teams and practitioners. There is a synergy that comes from training as a team. Personally I know my own training, and competition, was better with others than alone. When someone is a specialist this is at the expense of being the best at lots of things. For example, the best dietitian in the world probably doesn’t have a lot of tips to share with a sprinter on their mechanics. We need to work in groups, share, learn and get better together.
Numbers Are Less Important Than Principles – In skiing you can measure how many gates someone did, how many ski days they had or even how many pairs of skis they own. What is more important is the big picture principles that last forever. Do no harm. Eat quality nutrition. Get enough sleep. Give your best effort. When you focus too much on the numbers you narrow it down too much and may exclude those that could become something great but haven’t put up the numbers at a young age yet.
Don’t Shut Down Or Exclude Wild Ideas – Sometimes we know who geniuses are because they tried something different than the conventional approach. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on this, Outliers. What are somethings that are never being done? Would it be safe to try? What can we learn from the outliers? Too often new or different ideas get dismissed immediately. Dr. Reid called this the Wild West and there might be a time and place to go there.
The Model Is A Pyramid – A high pyramid needs a broad base. The height of the pyramid is limited by the broadness of the base. The base can be thought of as general training. It is getting good at all the basics such as movement, range of motion, body control, aerobic system development etc. This is the opposite of what athletes may want to start with. They want to do plyometrics, learn Olympic lifting and improve their speed. As they age and progress through a season the training can become more specialized. With respect to alpine skiing, the base is widest at the U16 level.
Turn Crisis Into Opportunity – Dr. Reid used the example of an injury to show how a crisis can turn into an opportunity. Typically a skier’s schedule is so tightly packed it’s hard to fit anything else in. Maybe the athlete needs more recovery? More strength? More something that there isn’t time to do even though it’s needed. With an injury the schedule opens up. Now there is the opportunity to do more conditioning. The athlete will be be able to train hard than when they’re healthy. And the time away from the regular routine helps the athlete realize the value of the different components of the process.
Towards the end of the presentation Dr. Reid offered some of the challenges in the alpine ski community. You’ll notice these challenges aren’t unique to the ski community and you could substitute a variety of sports and the points would still apply.
Focus On Long Term Performance – Sometimes there is too much emphasis on short term performance and not enough on LTAD. When a question comes up regarding training it should be phrased in terms of what is the long term goal? And does this decision or action satisfy that long term goal? For example, if an athlete does two runs on a race day could they still train after the races are done? They shouldn’t be overly fatigued. There would be an opportunity to train on unique terrain if there was travel involved getting to the race. Instead of approaching every race as the end-all-be-all instead ask yourself if this will help you get to the next level and continue the development.
Society Of Becoming More Sedentary – We commute everywhere. We don’t have to leave home to get information. We sit on the drive. We sit at work & school. And then for entertainment we sit back for some Netflix. If it wasn’t enough that we don’t move as much it has part to do with the example young athletes witness. If the athlete knows their parents to be active, the young athlete is more likely to be, and stay, active as well.
Switching Philosophies With The Wind – Once you decide on a plan, stick with it. This assumes of course that the plan was well thought out and evidenced-based. And that the plan isn’t written in stone and minor tweaks and adjustments can be made when necessary. This may be more familiar if you can picture the chronic dieter in your life. They are always trying something new whether it be low carb, low carb, gluten-free, intermittent fasting or some other nutritional approach. They jump from plan to plan and always seem to be trying something new.
Focus More on Culture Than Strategy – Dr. Reid’s quote on this was that culture eats strategy for breakfast. The best plan doesn’t matter at all if it doesn’t consider the individual. If you can’t figure out what drives the athlete it can be a struggle to get results. An example of this was the Norwegian Ski Team renaming their pre-season testing as the Ironman competition. The athletes now look forward to this one day event. It sets standards to be on the team (it used to be 400 and is now 500 points). The team has been putting up higher totals each year since the program was implemented and athletes approach this ‘testing’ as a competition and challenge rather than as a requirement they don’t enjoy.
It’s great to connect with sports performance professionals that bring a wealth of information and experience. And as often the case these individuals are successful because they are constantly searching for a better way and are open to sharing ideas. I know I can do a better job of programming and coaching our athletes as a result of this presentation.