Are ski instruction, ski coaching and ski learning different?
Ski instruction is an element of the tourism industry. Training organisations train and qualify instructors for jobs in ski schools. Ski schools deliver a product, mostly for beginners or early participants, which is intended to either convert non skiers into folk competent enough to manage on their own, or provide a service of taking groups around the mountain. It involves “telling” people what to do, and demonstrating what it looks like.
Ski coaching is concerned with the individual performer, employing an ongoing process of profiling, goal setting, planning, performance development, evaluation in conjunction with the performer, and re-iterating that process with a long term goal of excellence and high level of skill. It requires and helps to develop high levels of understanding, self-awareness and autonomy. [ see my books - chapter 4 in “Ski In Control”: and chapter 1 in “Skiing From Greens To Reds and Beyond”, both available from Amazon Books]
A personal experience.
Many years ago a trainer in a professional association that trains ski instructors for the ski school industry, proclaimed in a loud voice on a ski bus that he didn't know the difference between ski instruction and ski coaching. This was in response to my having earlier said they were not the same. I wasn't on the bus, but was told that his view was that I couldn't ski, and didn't know anything anyway. Ho hum.
In recent years it has become increasingly common for ski schools to advertise that they offer ski “coaching”. Most do not. Let me be clear; some (a very small number) of ski schools do have teachers qualified as coaches on their staff.
However, mostly these advertisements are bogus, the teachers involved (whom you as a client will meet) are not qualified as coaches. They may be highly qualified as instructors – though most are not and many are essentially apprentices.
The question is – is there a difference and what difference might it make to a participant skier's development of skill?
I wish to stress that the following are not value judgements; there will be situations where either instructing or coaching may be the optimal process. That will be governed by what the goal is.
Some key differences between ski instruction and coaching
Ski instruction is an element of the profit-oriented ski school industry.
Coaching is not profit-oriented, though coaches deserve to be paid of course. Coaching is a sport based process, not holiday activity based. Coaching is a process applicable to any sport, it is not individual sport specific though specific knowledge of the nuances of a given sport will be required of the coach. (I could coach tennis but would have to clarify to the player that there is much I don't know about the specifics). Same would apply to ski racers – I am a skill development coach not a racing coach.
Ski instruction is primarily concerned with short term relationships – often no more than a week – and ski schools developed as an element of the tourism business. In many countries ski tourism is crucially important, reputedly delivering up to 14% of GDP in some instances.
Coaching is concerned with on-going relationships that may last for years and is at a remove from industry.
Ski instruction, as delivered by most ski schools, usually results in larger class groups than is typical for coaching.
Coaching cannot successfully be done with groups of more than five participants; preferably fewer. (This is only my opinion based on experience, and other coaches may find they can make it successful for either more or fewer). More than that and in the daily coaching sessions I find it is difficult to give sufficient attention to each individual. So my learning groups are always small. Ski schools cannot afford small groups, they bring in too little income relative to the (often low) pay they offer their instructors.
Ski instruction is primarily, though not exclusively, targeted at converting non-skiers into folk who can get about the resort on skis without too much catastrophe.
Coaching, skiing or not, is a process aimed at excellence in performance, rather than sufficing. In that sense it is elitist, though accessible to anyone who seeks it.
Other differences between ski instruction and ski coaching
Ski instruction requires that the instructor be always a better skier than the pupil. There are two inherent beliefs behind this – 1. that seeing 'perfect' performance by the instructor is a motivator for the onlooking pupils; and 2. that pupils learn best by watching an instructor do 'perfect' performances.
In addition, in ski resorts, it is necessary for pupils who are a little more advanced to have higher level instructors to take them into more difficult terrain.
Coaching is a process that does not accept either of those propositions. Firstly, as a coach it is not my function to be a better skier than my pupils; my job is to ensure they become the best they can be in the shortest time. This may involve their becoming better than me. [There is more on this on my blog at bobski.com – see the one about York Minster ] My goal as a coach has to be that of being a great teacher/facilitator, not (necessarily) a great skier. Roger Federer's tennis coach cannot play tennis as well as Federer. Tiger Wood's golf coach cannot play golf better than he.
Who should watch whom?
Secondly pupils do not learn by watching. They may obtain a very generalised non-specific impression of the activity by watching, but nothing more than that. What matters is what the pupil feels.
The ski instruction model says that it is the job of the pupil to watch the instructor.
Coaching firmly states that it is the job of the coach to watch the pupil. “Watching” requires a high level of analytical skill. It requires deep understanding of the processes involved. It is a specific activity in which it is unreasonable to expect a pupil to have skill.
The history of ski teaching is littered with misperceptions based on what the observer thought they saw. Many of these were then introduced to ski schools and what they taught. It is a matter of fact that most ski instructors simply regurgitate a set of steps they were told to regurgitate. If you did not, and offered something different you got dismissed – I know this for a fact because I was, by an instructor training organisation.
Watching seems easy, indeed it is; understanding what you are seeing is a different matter. [ see chapter 4 in my book Ski In Control available from Amazon] You may watch a classical pianist perform; it will not assist your learning in any way other perhaps than that is is better done sitting down
You can watch Tiger Woods play golf, or Federer play tennis until you are blue in the face; it will not help. Indeed it may depress you – as many a ski learner has found through being advised to watch an expert instructor – it can easily be a de-motivator. (“Oh my Lord, I'll never be able to do that!”)
Finally I would say that a key difference between ski school instruction and ski coaching is that the latter is specifically designed to move the pupil as much and as early as possible into a position of autonomy – of developing ways of taking their skiing future in their own hands and not being dependent on someone else. You could call it “growing up”.
Don't forget, You can buy my books safely on amazon.
You may also like to watch my free training videos whilst you're waiting for Covid-19 to die out so you can get back to Skiing.
Until next time
© Bob Trueman