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Creating Lifelong Skiers
It sounds simple, but it's not as easy as one might think. The right exposure at the right time and the engagement of families and the community are critical.
The the three most important factors are:
1. Gradual exposure to the skills, complexity, time/family commitments,
and expenses of the sport.
2. "Ski for Sport" programs during the skill development window of 9-13 years old.
With entry before 11 being optimal.
3. Staying in a competitive program through growth spurts and beyond.
The pathway for gradual exposure is Ski for Fun. Ski for Sport. Ski for Life.
The MYSL's "Ski for Fun" program is SkiSparks. It sparks a passion for cross-country skiing, engages families, and creates community. Cost and time commitment are low. Equipment investment is relatively small and low maintenance. But we also ask parents to volunteer. Our game-based curriculum can turn a parent-with-skis into a youth coach. Involving parents as volunteers (coaching or non-coaching) when the task are simple set up a club's volunteer base. SkiSparks meetings are not "lessons", they are club-based community events. When the family is involved, a child will likely continue skiing. And with lots of parents around, there's support for kids kids whose parents can't make the commitment.
"Ski for Sport" programs like the MYSL's Skiwerx, teach skiing as a sport and focus on training and racing skill development. Most other sports have this phase (think traveling soccer for 9-13 year olds), but skiing in the Midwest has lacked it. Skiers at this level ski for 12-14 weeks per winter, pay a higher program fee (for certified coaches), own or rent waxable classic and skating skis, and get to try racing.
If a child has been in a SkiSparks club, joining Skiwerx is a natural progression. The family knows their child enjoys skiing, they have been volunteering and enjoying the ski community, and they are willing to commit more time and money.
Why 9-13 is Important
The answer is physical, psychological, financial, educational and social. Children are skill sponges at this age. Most sports start specialized programming at ages 9-11. Because skills are so much easier to acquire in this window, kids have a more positive experience in the sport. Skiwerx members identify as ski racers. This is socially important as peers start to identify with other sports. And parents need to see a transparent and integrated structure so they feel comfortable and enthusiastic about dedicating more time, effort, and money. Programs start educating parents and skiers about the sport, its worldwide culture, appropriate events (racing formats and distances), memberships, waxing, facilities, governing bodies, etc. It's crucial to do this in Skiwerx, before things get more expensive and complicated in the junior years.
Staying on Track
The idea of Skiwerx is to introduce skills before a child's growth spurt. But it is critical that we keep that child skiing for at least 1-2 years after their growth spurt, too. For girls, that's at least 15, and for boys about 17. These years are focused on using the skills acquired during the skill development window to develop an aerobic and strength base. Consolidating skills and competence will give the skier the confidence they need to be healthy, active adults.
Want to Learn More?
MYSL Executive Director, Amy Cichanowski, can come and talk to your organization about how MYSL has been creating lifelong skiers and getting families outside in the winter. We love partnering with like-minded organizations that are working to get kids outside! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.