Ski racing is driven by passionate people. We see it everywhere around us. Athletes are driven by lofty goals. Coaches mentor excellence. Our events, clubs and Boards steered by dedicated volunteers, officials, parents and sponsors.
The focus of passion is not unique to ski racing of course. But the life-long engagement of our sport certainly lends a different dimension for participants, which if harnessed effectively can give our sport an extra boost.
Our product is people. We measure ourselves by the performance of our athletes.
Organizations should spend a significant amount of time working on the roadmap to athletic success. From the vision, which defines the overall direction in the broadest sense; to the Strategic Plan, an essential leadership tool for defining where the sport is going and how resources will be allocated; to the goals that flow from this strategy to provide measurable targets.
This is time well spent. It is important for the organizations that shape sport to find the time to bring together management and volunteers. To educate, listen, learn, debate and disseminate.
But we also need to ask one important question: “what is our culture“?
Culture is defined as “values and behaviours that “contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization“*. Sport is governed by relationships between people, to lift performance and celebrate achievement of people. We interact continuously, working tenaciously towards common goals to support our athletes.
Ski racing is famously unique in the sports world because it is tough. It requires enormous effort. We deliver a competition arena on the side of a mountain, often in sub-zero temperatures and inclement weather. It spans the globe. It is one of the most international of winter sports and is truly competitive: think of this – more athletes have a legitimate shot at a medal in the World Championships or Olympics than any other winter sport. This is not unpredictability. It is the breadth of good programming in many countries, the broad scope of participation and width of access on many continents.
So it makes the task of being successful that much tougher. Which is just fine. One universal aspect of ski racing culture is we do not shy away from a challenge.
But it does make building programs from the grassroots up very tricky. In part, because we do not spend enough time thinking about the culture we desire: those values and behaviours.
At the most fundamental level, ski racing provides the foundation for a life-long skill. We produce good skiers who will enjoy the winter and recreational opportunities for a lifetime. No argument there. What an incredible asset.
But do ski club Boards, which are largely made up of parents of kids in the program, spend time defining what is the vision of the program and by extension, how this vision will be delivered? What is the ‘soul’ of your community? Is it providing a program to enable any athlete with the drive and talent the pathway to aspire to become an Olympic medalist?
To the parent-volunteer overseeing a program for U10 or U12 athletes, this might seem like a distant goal. But it is so fundamental. The journey from these early stages to the FIS level is lighting fast. Only 5-6 years! So defining the core elements of the club are, in fact, crucial. Is the program optional or compulsory? How many days? What quality of coaches do you hire?
It is easy to overlook that ski racing is an international sport. The local program offered at the nearest mountain or ski resort may seem distant from the iconic venues. But what motivates youngsters from their earliest days on snow are dreams of racing in Kitzbuhel, Beaver Creek, Cortina, Lake Louise or Val d’Isere; the World Championships or the Olympics. To have the skill base to make these dreams feasible – or in other words – to make them a reality, requires providing the fundamentals to these young athletes that will enable them to reach for the stars.
Dreaming large is not limited to young athletes. Coaches, parents and ski club administrators should have lofty goals. And when we see athletes rise to an international challenge, this pride in community shines through when the TV analyst opens the commentary about an athlete about to launch into an Olympic run with recognition to the home club. These few words can have profound impact on a new generation whose eyes are glued to watch a member of their community take on the world.
This is why we do it. To share our knowledge and dedication to positively impact on many athletes while cheering on the few who do rise to higher challenges to represent us all.
Every young ski racer loves to acquire skills. They have a highly refined sense of where they stand with their peers and are keenly aware of their performance standards. Commitment is not reserved for those who lead. Motivation is most often inspired by good leadership.
All this makes up what defines our culture as a sport. The product, is a steady progression of talented athletes from our clubs and regions to the international spotlight. The benefit, are hundreds of athletes from each club who have acquired a life-long skill and the love of skiing to personally enjoy and also to share as coaches, leaders or parents.
It always comes back to culture. Those shared values and behaviours. And the response our club, our region or our system makes to the bright-eyed 6-year old who states with fierce passion that they intend to be the best ski racer in the world.
Are we ready to work relentlessly to make it happen?