Q&A with former OST racer and his coach

Q&A with Declan McCormack, former OST racer, now on the CAST Development Team and his former coach Cam McKenzie, current Men’s OST Head Coach

Q1:     Briefly describe your pathway to the Ontario Ski Team.

Growing up in the Osler Bluff racing program, the Ontario ski team often trained at our club. I remember looking up to them, knowing that it was the highest level of ski racing in Ontario. Even though I went to an academy in the States after U16 I knew it was a necessary step in my career.


Q2:     What made you decide to take the route through the States and join an Academy?

Going to a high school full-time, and being an elite athlete in a sport that takes you all over the country is a challenge. I did two years at North Toronto Collegiate Institute, in grade 9 & 10, and missed 40-50 days a year. I had a few friends from home who were in the States at ski racing academies and I had heard nothing but great things. I went for a visit with my dad (Christopher), and Trevor and Blake Hutcheson, and we all left knowing that it was the right move.


Q3:     How did the OST program compare to the Academy?

The academic part is obviously the biggest difference. At GMVS I still had a semi-normal high school experience, playing varsity soccer and lacrosse, and being part of extracurricular activities, such as the musical theatre program. Being on the OST last year was a full-time ski team involvement….which was exactly what I needed post-grad.


Q4:     Tell us a bit about your experience at World Juniors last February in Davos, Switzerland

I flew to Switzerland a week prior to the races in Davos, and had a training block with Liam Wallace and coach Theddy Brandli. We had three days of slalom training at Lenzerheide with the Finnish and Swiss teams. Following that, we had two days of GS training – the first in Obersaxen and the second at Davos. It’s was a dream to be training in some farmer’s meadow in Switzerland in the winter. I wish everyone could experience it. The races were really well put together. It was a very eye-opening experience, being able to tag along with the Devo team boys from last season. Everything in preparation was so meticulous.

Q5:     At what point did you know for sure CAST was your true goal?                                        

Racing U14. For me, ski racing was special because of the people in the racing community surrounding me. I’d probably skied with the same group for about 7 years at Osler before we headed separate ways for FIS. And GMVS has many alumni on various national teams, so that definitely put things into perspective, knowing that it was a goal I could accomplish.


Q6:     Tell us about the try-out process to make the CAST Development Team?

Basically, every time you push out of the start gate, you have eyes on you. I almost feel like the last two years have been part of the process. Alpine Canada did host a training camp at Panorama Mountain Resort for us last April. We had five days of training with their coaches and staff.


Q7:     Now that you are with CAST what is your weekly schedule like? Also, who are your trainers, coaches?

So far, we have trained in Whistler for a week, and we’ve been in Calgary all July for our fitness program. We’re in the gym two times a day, four days a week, and on Wednesday’s we’re outside for a field session, plus testing. Our head coach is Peter Rybarik, and his assistant/serviceman is Gavin McNutt. Our strength coach is Nate Morris at CSI Calgary.


Q8:     What do you like about CAST so far?

Everyone has been so welcoming and kind. I also really like how it’s almost as if we are one big team.


Q9:     What do you dislike about CAST so far?

Everything’s been so great. The only thing would be the inconvenience of not being closer to home.


Q10:   What advice do you have for the group of U14, U16 OCUP racers just starting out on this journey?

Ski racing is an unbelievable sport that has an amazing community surrounding it. My former coach at GMVS would say that even on a bad day, we are very privileged and lucky to be able to ski race. Every step has challenges, and opportunities to improve, and if you love it, keep at it!

Cam McKenzie, OST Men’s Head Coach

Q1: You only worked with Declan for one year, tell us in a nutshell what this was like?

Declan joined the team after finishing his high school education with Green Mountain Valley School. He came to us as a naturally gifted athlete (not just talented skier) with a substantial ski IQ and passion for the sport. The energy and commitment was always there, you just had to reign in and re-direct his focus from time-to-time. While he saw it as an honour to join the Ontario Ski Team, it was clear he had greater aspirations in the sport and was focused on qualifying for the National Team. His skill and success in SL was evident. We had to work to develop Declan as more complete skier, capable of skiing four events. It took some work and a lot of discussion but Declan made significant gains as a four-event skier.

Q2: For athletes like this do you push to find their passion in the sport, or do you let it come naturally from the athlete?

With Declan, the passion and dedication to the sport were evident from the first time I met him. You can witness his energy and body language change just talking about ski racing. It was never a matter of having to draw that passion out of him; it was a matter of developing a plan to help Declan achieve his goals and then letting Declan do the work. At this level of sport, and with Declan’s lofty goals, an athlete needs to be intrinsically motivated. You have to have a passion for what you are doing to overcome the stresses and adversity that this sport can throw at you. A coach can help bring out and direct this motivation, but it needs to come from within the athlete initially.


Q3: You attended the spring CAST Dev. Camp with Declan. Tell us a bit about this process and how he did?

ACA’s Devo Camp in April was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience for Declan. It was four intensive days for training in Panorama with ACA staff and athletes from the Devo team through to the World Cup group. The ACA staff get to see the athletes compete and train throughout the season; they have an idea about their technical skill. This is their opportunity to test the athletes’ character and ability to train, learn, and overcome. Workloads and intensity were high (nearly 1200 SL gates day) and it is easy for an athlete to experience performance anxiety. It was a steep learning curve for Declan, almost a trial by fire, but he maintained composure and executed well each and every day. He left the camp completely spent after a long season but with a sense of accomplishment.


Q4: Over the course of the season with Declan did you encounter any stumbling blocks? If so, how did you overcome these?

Declan is still a young and developing athlete in a difficult sport; it was guaranteed that we would hit some stumbling blocks. Luckily, Declan is a generally positive and energetic person who deals well with adversity. Depending on the situation we faced, it was usually a matter of returning to simple technical focuses, maintain a larger perspective on developing as a complete athlete, and, sometimes, pushing Declan to step outside his comfort zone. Declan often had the skillset to overcome, he just needed guidance to focus, simplify, and realize the answers for himself.


Q5: Describe a coach’s role as motivator. How do you plan on motivating players and getting them to buy in to their role on the team each year?

Motivation was usually easy with Declan. He knew what he wanted and was ready to do the work to achieve. I think it mostly came down to developing a level of trust. I could trust him to be prepared and engaged and he could trust I would support him and make decisions in the best interest of his development. Ultimately, there was a confidence in each other’s passion, effort, and ability.


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