Skiing as a Target Sport

Recent coaching conversations with an International Level Archer reminded me of this article I wrote a few years ago and prompted me to share it again.

Skiing is a balance sport, yet general observations on the slopes indicate that the vast majority of skiers are not able to balance effectively. I would suggest that most recreational skiers have little perception of what effective balance actually is nor how to achieve it.

And an irony is that it is not just recreational skiers who would benefit from improved balance, many qualified instructors could also balance much more accurately.

When we direct our balance through quite specific target points in our feet and skis, we benefit from a much stronger connection through our body and equipment to the forces we are playing with.

For most skiers these target and balance points are unknown. Even with the help of a skilful instructors' guidance and coaching, these targets can remain elusive. Balance, although a simple and natural activity, is very complex to teach when skiing.

Instructors often rely upon improving posture in attempts to develop balance. How many times have you heard skiers being directed to ‘hold their hands further forwards’, as if this would help them become better balanced.

It is only when skiers can tune in to their feet and bodies, it is only when they have something tangible to feel, that they are able to start tuning in to more accurate and more beneficial movement patterns.

How can we develop these natural balancing skills for our clients without interfering with their natural ability? How can we tune clients in to valuable balance targets, without allowing their conscious minds to intervene and create blockages?

We all know that balance can never be a conscious activity, yet why are many instructors left directing clients to a conscious process or addressing postural issues rather than actually focusing on helping them acquire better balance?

High-level research in target sports has changed the perceptions of aiming to hit targets and this research has relevance for skiing. Traditional thinking of holding the sight steady on the bulls- eye before firing has been proven not to work. In fact, research has now shown that while experts are shooting there is no cognitive activity present; instead, experts rely on a more fluid approach.

It is not possible to remain still, there is a degree of natural movement, or ‘sway’, that needs to be incorporated into their aim. Rather than ‘fixing’ on a target, skilled shots look for a picture. Alistair Whittingham, an international Archery coach, puts it: ‘They have experience, they are relaxed and trusting their skill and they are looking for a picture. They are not processing everything that is happening, they are waiting for an image, and when that image happens they will execute’. Performance Archery TV, Episode 3 (Aiming Part 1) and Episode 6 (Aiming Part 2), YouTube.

Elite level archers know that trying to shoot using cognitive thinking does not work. For skiers, we also know that trying to balance on a cognitive level does not work either.

Alistair Whittingham goes on to highlight that skiers make reactions faster than it is possible to send messages through the body’s system and uses this observation to back up his conclusion that skilled athletes use experience to perform.

Experience helps us balance. High- level skiers will appreciate that when the snow reacts as we expect we can balance accurately, and that when we encounter unexpected changes to the snow and our equipment’s reaction is not as predicted, even highly skilled skiers will lose balance. Our experience helps us balance.

For us to balance effectively, we have to be relaxed and trusting in our ability and experience. In which case, how can we accelerate the gaining of experience and how can we improve the quality and value of this experience?

The BASI Network has been involved in the development and trialling of the SkiA Sweetspot Trainer. This has given us great opportunities to use the prototypes with clients and we have seen some fantastic results.

The Sweetspot Trainer is a simple device that fits to the sole of your ski boot. By aligning the centre boot sole mark on your ski boots with the centre line of the Sweetspot Trainer you and your clients can be directed quickly and easily to your balance points.

The feedback when using the trainers is so direct and intrinsic, natural adjustments are made that override any preconceived ideas of skiing balance and movements. The subconscious is rewired to what needs to happen to prevent toppling over.

It has been quite amazing to watch skiers with an habitual, unbalanced style coming off the slopes, stepping onto the Sweetspot Trainer and changing almost instantly. They quickly realise that their perception was wrong and they are, obviously, unbalanced. The solution is equally clear and, in most cases, found naturally. In the other cases, a very small amount of coaching leads to effective balance, which subsequently leads to smooth, effective and harmonious skiing movements.

Short periods off-snow, on a firm and non-slip surface, are very effective, with individuals or small groups. Feedback is instant and it is simple to set up Self-Check or Reciprocal episodes before taking the redesigned movement patterns back onto the skis.

As in all aspects of ski teaching, it is then up to the instructor to select terrain and tasks to ensure maximum development is retained.

Naturally, the challenge of remaining in balance while dealing with motion, gradient and varying snow textures and surfaces is something that we need to deal with once we take clients back onto the snow, but, as a tool to highlight skiing balance targets and how our movements and body management affect our aiming and ability to hit these targets, the Sweetspot Trainer is a valuable tool.

The Sweetspot Manual provides guidance through a progression that is surprisingly complete, starting with ‘Centred Balance’, before moving

through ‘Movement in Balance’ and onto ‘Rotation Movements’ and ‘Edging Movements’. All core skiing movements are covered.

We are still at the early stages of getting the most out of our SkiA Sweetspot Trainers and I recommend that you have a go and try them out with your clients as well.