Mid-Season Deep Thoughts 2020

Submitted by AOA High-Performance Program, Kip Harrington

Hello ski friends, and welcome to ‘Mid-Season Deep Thoughts, 2020 edition‘. There is a growing vision for ski racing in Ontario, which includes a detailed High-Performance Plan. Before I get to that I would like to talk about my good friend, former athlete and colleague, Johnny Davidson.

Son of Murray and Debbie Davidson, Johnny grew up in Ottawa. He started racing at Camp Fortune Ski Club, then went on the NCO team, the Ontario Team, then the University of Vermont NCAA team. I think there may have been a year off to live and race in Europe at some point. Then Johnny coached the UVM NCAA team while earning his MBA before joining me to coach the Canadian Men’s World Cup Technical Team and Development Team. An unforeseen twist and opportunity led Johnny to coach in Norway, where in a few short years, with a ton of hard work and success he worked his way up to the Norwegian Men’s World Cup Team. Pretty cool right? Johnny’s success is a great indicator of his passion and hard work (and it doesn’t hurt that he is one of the nicer people you will meet). He now works with some of the best skiers in the world. By that, I mean one of Johnny’s racers (age 20) started 34 at Kitzbuhel and won the first run before finishing 4th.

It was Johnny’s birthday a couple of weeks ago so I sent a message with good wishes and we got to talking. I congratulated him on his success and asked what he was working on with his racers. He said: “We are focused on doing the basics to a high standard consistently.” Now, isn’t that interesting? Skiers, among the very best in the world, focused on the basics. He also said that the Norwegian development system is strong.

I started thinking about Norway. Their population is about 5.5 million, or about 1 million less than the GTA. Ski racing is not Norway’s premier sport, that goes to Nordic skiing. Their alpine ski racing population is probably smaller than Ontario’s, and it is limited to a few regions. Yet, they consistently win at every level – World Junior Championships, Europa Cup, World Cup, World Championships, Olympic Games. How do they do that?

There is a PowerPoint presentation called “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” that outlines the “Attacking Viking” approach and culture. Not to spoil a good read but it makes bold statements like:

  • The Greatest Secret in Sport: Hard work = Good Results”.
  • We will train more with greater variability and with Better Quality.” 
  • “We use our physical conditioning programs to nurture and develop a culture of discipline and hard work.” 
  • “Dare to forge your own path.” 
  • “What was good enough yesterday is not good enough today.” 
  • “Alpine Ski Racing is a Team Sport.” 
  • “You are not good until you make others good.” 
  • “Take ownership of the team’s well-being and performance.” 
  • “Grit: We never give up. There are no excuses.” 
  • “Each Individual establishes the foundation for the next generation to do an even better job.”

Powerful stuff. And it is clearly working. Norway is consistently among the top alpine ski racing nations in the world. So, this is where we get to the main deep thought of 2020. Why don’t we in Ontario try to be the best in the world? I mean, we are a province, not a nation so it is beyond our scope but why wouldn’t we set out to prepare our athletes to be the best in the world? It might seem lofty but we have great athletes and coaches, and clubs and support. What is stopping us?

Looking at the Norwegian strategy document it seems lofty, but when you break it down, the words or ideas that stand out are pretty straightforward… hard work, training, physical fitness, discipline, teamwork, cooperation, innovation, ownership, pride, legacy, and culture. Easier said than done, but this is not a complex strategy. And we know from Johnny D that on hill their focus is on the basics. So again, why would Ontario not be able to do the same?

Over the last few years, Alpine Ontario has been developing a strategy for developing athletes, that has involved outreach with as many clubs and coaches as possible. And, more recently we have moved that forward to start building a more detailed High-Performance Plan, with guidance from the community, and experts in the field. It will lay out a multi-year road map. Spoiler alert, it will include many of the same basic ingredients and principles as the Norwegian culture document.

Now, for any parents reading this, we understand that developing world champions is not the primary reason (or even second or third reason) you put your kids in ski racing. We know that. But we also firmly believe that providing the best possible athletic preparation will enhance their overall experience. It will make them better skiers, more physically fit, more disciplined, more successful, better skiers for life and all-around better prepared for life.

One of the biggest concerns that parents have with supporting their kids in pursuing ski racing at a high level is the impact on academics. There is no doubt it requires hard work and discipline. But in most cases, the experience seems to push athletes to be better prepared academically, not worse. As an example, 5 of the 6 athletes on the current Ontario Ski Team have applied this year to Universities like Harvard, Boston College, McGill, University of New Hampshire, Middlebury. Several plan to continue racing while at school, or defer and continue racing full time. The point is, our racers aren’t just managing athletics and academics. They are thriving at both.

I have no hesitation stating that the goal of our High-Performance Programs is to develop World Cup and Olympic ski racers. But the broader vision is that all of our racers should truly understand and thrive in the sport. And whether they race until they are 16-18-20 or 35, if they work hard and really want it, they can compete with anyone in the world. We will need to aim higher, try harder, and above all work together. We need a strong system. So, we have our work cut out. But who doesn’t like a challenge?

“Ski Fast and Have Fun.”

Thanks for reading

Thanks so much.

Kip