Nathalie Eklund Announces Retirement

Nathalie Eklund, nine-year member of the Swedish alpine national team has decided to end her alpine skiing career after a season involving three World Cup starts and a comeback from her second knee injury.

“I have had a dialogue with myself for a while on completing my career,” she said. “But one morning I woke up and felt I was done. I have struggled in a long uphill battle with two knee injuries close to each other, but I’ve also managed to get back both times and gave me the opportunity to make this decision myself and have no injuries forcing me to do that.”

Eklund has been on the national team since 2009 and has 54 World Cup starts, 7 Europa Cup podiums, 4 Swedish Championship medals, a silver in the team event from the World Championships in Schladming 2013, and an individual sixth-place finish in Are at the 2012 World Cup slalom.

“It’s been a good fortune to live the life I’ve lived,” she shared. “It’s not the performance itself, but the ones I’ve experienced and the people I’ve had around me and got to know along the way that I’ll remember most. Now I’ll collect my mind and renovate our house before I decide what the next step will be.”

Nathalie has been in the national team since 2009, and Chief Executive Officer Lars Melin says this about the decision:

“Nathalie has been an extreme competitor and achieved amazing results in the World Cup,” said Swedish Ski Federation CEO Lars Melin. “It has been a privilege to follow her closely. She has an experience and a personality that has been an asset for everyone in the team. I congratulate Nathalie with her civil career in the future and hope to meet her in any piste in the future.”

“It’s a tough decision to end something that’s been so much of my life, but even harder it is to try to thank everyone enough,” she added. “You feel incredibly grateful to all those who have always been there and supported, pepped and believed in me even while I have doubted.”

Release courtesy of the Swedish Ski Federation.

Sweden’s Blomqvist Announces Retirement

Lisa Blomqvist of the Swedish national team has decided to put her skis on the shelf and finish her alpine racing career.

“Alpine has been the funnest thing I know for as long as I can remember and when I look back on my career and my path towards the top it has always been worth it,” Blomqvist said. “But since a while, I’ve discovered other things that are even more fun nowadays, and I want to explore.”

Blomqvist has been part of the national team since 2010 and has, among other things, a World Junior Championship silver medal in combined from 2014, a victory in the European Cup, nine starts in the World Cup, and Swedish Championship medals in all disciplines, of which two are gold. Her career has been lined with many injuries, which Blomqvist always felt strong motivation to fight back from, but now she has decided to not ski at the ultimate elite level and instead focus on her studies at the Umea Medical Center on Sweden’s East coast.

“I am proud of what I accomplished and also that I am now taking this decision,” she said. “It feels quite right and I am taking on a whole new challenge filled with motivation. What I miss most is the community in the national team and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. I have learned a lot about myself and it brought me many of the friendships and experiences in my life. Somewhere, there’s a dream scenario about getting back in national team clothes, but maybe as a national physician.”

“Lisa has always been a ski racer beyond the usual, but, unfortunately, injuries have been in the way of a career among the world’s top elite racers,” said Lars Melin, Head Women’s Coach of the Swedish team. “She has always been a goal-conscious and hard-working athlete who will succeed with everything she’s taking care of in the future. Really funny that she has the ambition to return to the ski federation in another role, I look forward to that day.”

Release courtesy of the Swedish Ski Federation.

The Fall Matters, Make it Count

It’s hard to believe that summer, what I consider Phase I of the ski racing prep period, is over. Hopefully, the summer was devoted to building the foundation for your success next winter. In all likelihood, your efforts focused on two areas. First, you engaged in an intensive physical conditioning program. The reality of ski racing in the second decade of the 21st century is that it has become a sport of power. As a consequence, your summer conditioning program was likely aimed at increasing your functional strength.

Second, if the opportunity arose, you also spent time on snow. Summer on-snow training usually begins with a fundamentals camp in which you break down your skiing to its most basic technical and tactical components. Another reality of ski racing is that consistently fast skiing isn’t possible without solid technique and tactics. If you had a second on-snow camp this summer, it was probably dedicated to transferring those fundamentals to gates.

I also hope you used Phase I of the prep period to train your mind and lay the mental foundation for your success this coming winter. Mental training, as you’ve probably heard me say many times, should be treated just like your conditioning and on-snow training; it should be comprehensive, structured, and consistent.

With September having just arrived, you have entered Phase II of the prep period for the ensuing race season that is equally as important as your summer efforts to your achieving your ski racing goals. With skiing as little as six weeks away in Colorado and Europe (and many programs arriving in South America each day) and the race season, for everyone but the World Cuppers, only about less than ten weeks away, you will be shifting your efforts and focus in your conditioning from strength to agility and your on-snow training from the ABCs to just going fast.

So, what do you need to build on this fall to ensure that you are ready to “send it” this winter?

Physical Training

Your physical training should place a greater emphasis on quality over quantity (though you certainly need to maintain a good degree of volume). This involves getting the most out of your conditioning efforts that will result in your being the most fitness version of you there has ever been. This shift also reduces the chances of burnout or injury at a time when you need to be healthy and rested.

You can increase the quality of your physical training and, at the same time, further develop your mental skills by understanding that mental training starts in the gym. This involves thinking about what enables you to ski your best in on-snow training and applying those same skills and habits to your conditioning:

  1. Confidence: Make positive statements about your ability to achieve your training goal for that set (e.g., “I am going to do 10 reps.”)
  2. Commitment: Dedicate yourself to giving your fullest effort every rep and to finishing the set strong
  3. Intensity: Match your physical intensity to your exercise. If you’re doing power squats, you want to actively increase your intensity before you step under the bar. If you are doing yoga, you want to actively relax your body
  4. Focus: Narrow your attention onto whatever will help you fully execute the exercise. The focus could be technical (e.g., hips forward) or mental (e.g., explode)
  5. Breathing: Match your breathing to your exercise. If you are doing power training, your breathing should be more intense. If you are doing flexibility training, it should be calmer and slower

Mental Training

Phase II of the prep period is essential to your continuing to strengthen your mind as you approach the winter. The most powerful mental tool you can use to build your “ski racing building” is mental imagery. By now, you’re probably sick of me bringing this up all the time, but I will say it again: If you’re not using mental imagery as a consistent part of your mental training program and overall training regimen, you’re not going to be the best ski racer you can best this coming winter.

The fall is an ideal time to make a real commitment to mental imagery because it allows you to get a ton of miles on snow and in gates (in your mind) before you actually get back on snow and back into gate training. You can more deeply ingrain technically sound and fast skiing with mental imagery, so, when the snow flies, it will be as if you’ve been skiing all fall and you can continue your skiing development from your first day on snow.

To help you develop an off-snow mental imagery program, you can download my Prime Ski Racing Race Imagery Program.

Here’s what you should do with mental imagery:

  1. Choose one or two technical (e.g., wider stance), tactical (e.g., going deep at the top of the turn), mental (e.g., relaxing at the start), or performance (e.g., fast skiing) areas you want to focus on in your imagery
  2. Create a ladder of training and race scenarios, from training courses on your home hill to low-level races to your most important races of the season
  3. Set aside a specific time each day three times a week
  4. In each imagery session, get comfortable, close your eyes, take five deep breaths, and then guide yourself through two training or race runs incorporating your imagery goals (see #1 above) into your imagined skiing (I have downloadable mp3 audio recordings for training, 2-run events, and 1-run events that can guide you through these scenarios)
  5. Stay committed and consistent with your imagery throughout the fall.

On-snow Training

If you’re fortunate enough to ski this fall, your on-snow training will also narrow in focus. As the winter approaches, you should shift your emphasis in your skiing in the following ways:

  1. Big technical and tactical changes to small adjustments and fine tuning
  2. Focusing on details to focusing on your overall skiing
  3. Experimenting with your equipment to dialing it in
  4. Trying out different ways of being physically and mentally before training runs to establishing a consistent training routine that you can translate into a race routine
  5. Solid technical and tactical skiing to consistently fast skiing

Get Ready in the Fall for the Winter Grind

The long winter of training and racing is incredibly taxing physically and mentally. Another important goal for the fall is to prepare yourself to stay healthy and rested from your first turns of the season until your last. The habits you establish in the fall will, hopefully, carry you through the winter with strength and stamina.

These habits you instill in Phase II of the prep period should include:

  1. Sufficient and consistent sleep (young people don’t get enough sleep these days)
  2. Healthy eating (food fuels or contaminates your body)
  3. Good study habits (stress in school will hurt your skiing)
  4. Making your ski racing a priority over other interests (don’t let poor choices hurt your skiing)
  5. Balanced use of technology (which threatens sleep and distracts you)
  6. Rest and recovery (allow your mind and body to rejuvenate after intense training blocks)
  7. Being happy (a happy racer is a fast racer)

What you do this fall will have a big impact on how you ski this winter. Using what I’ve just described above, as well as advice from your coaches and parents, take the fall to prepare yourself to be the best ski racer you can be this winter. So, when you get into the starting gate of your first race of the season, you are physical and mental ready to enter Phase III of your race season — it’s called “time to rock & roll!”

Want to get your mind in the best shape of your ski racing life? Learn more about my two online mental training courses designed just for ski racers: Prime Ski Racing 101: Train Your Mind like a Champion and, if you’ve already take PSR 101, Prime Ski Training 202: Total Preparation for Maximum Performance.

U.S. Ski Team’s Johnson Heartbroken With ACL Tear

Breezy Johnson was born to ski. And to ski fast. With a name like “Breezy,” she had no other choice, right? Ski racing is a no risk, no reward kind of sport – especially for downhillers, who have to be tough-as-nails physically and mentally in order to hurl themselves down a mountain at upwards of 80 miles-per-hour. Another season on the World Cup and all of the excitement it brings was on the horizon for Johnson.

Indeed, Johnson had a lot to look forward to, with her first Olympic bid under her belt and a host of solid results from the 2017-18 season. Of her 15 World Cup downhill and super-G starts, Johnson was in the points 10 times, top-15 five times, top-10 four times, and narrowly missed her first podium in Garmisch, Germany, finishing in fourth place. In PyeongChang, South Korea, she grabbed a solid 14th-place result in super-G and a seventh in the downhill. Incredible results for the first-time Olympian.

However, the 2018-19 season ended almost as soon as it had started, as Johnson is sad to announce that she has torn her right Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) at a recent training camp in El Colorado, Chile, training with the women’s speed team.

Johnson has been competing in the sport she loves so much for more than 15 years. Through it all, she has watched countless teammates, friends and fellow competitors suffer from knee injuries. With the risks inherent to downhill racing, she knew, at some point, it would likely happen to her as well.

“But knowing that it would come and that it did are two different things,” she reflected. “Anterior Cruciate Ligament: the three little words that so many ski racers have experienced, that there’s barely any of us left on the World Cup without scars on our knees. Last week, I, unfortunately, joined that vast majority.”

Johnson is undergoing further evaluation and has yet to determine when she will have surgery. Though she is going through all of the emotions elite level athletes do when they experience a heartbreaking injury, she knows she is young and strong and is positive about her rehab in the months to come. She is fully aware it will be challenging, but she’s up for the challenge.

“When I was younger, I thought an ACL tear was the worst thing that could happen to a ski racer. Now I know better,” Johnson said. “ACL tears are, relatively speaking, pretty lucky in our world. Perhaps that makes things better. I have less fear about the surgery and rehab to come. Yes, I know it will be difficult, painful, and aggravating, but I am no stranger to any of those things. However, that luck cuts me like a two-edged sword because I also look to the future and see myself waiting for 14 excruciating (and I say excruciating in a mental sense) months to once again throw myself down a World Cup course, and all of that for a little ACL tear, which makes it feel a bit like a curse from the universe.”

She’ll miss the people, the places, and the experiences – like the chance to celebrate teammate Lindsey Vonn’s potentially historic moment if she breaks the World Cup wins record (Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark holds the record with 86, while Vonn has 82 victories). She even hoped to join Vonn on a podium before the legend retires. However, what Johnson will miss most is racing.

“Perhaps I was born to be a racer because while I love skiing, racing is my true passion” Johnson said. “That feeling of flying down a course at 80 miles-per-hour, body and brain both working at full capacity to try to make you go even faster because, to me, that feeling is living. No, I will not miss an Olympics and World Championships come back around in this sport. But for me, the thought of spending 14 months without that true feeling of living, that feeling of racing, kills me a little bit inside. I would love to think that everything happens for a reason – that anything is possible – but my experience with this sport has dissuaded me from those illusions. So, while I am grateful that this injury isn’t worse, the next 14 months feel like they might be the hardest I have ever faced.”

Johnson is incredibly thankful to the community for the support and wants everyone to know – from sponsors to fans and beyond – that she will return. Stay tuned to Johnson’s Instagram for frequent updates as she experiences the highs and lows of returning to the mountain.

Release courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Stuhec Returns in Weather-Plagued Final South American Speed Series

It was rough going this week in Chile for the final South American Cup (SAC) speed series of the season in El Colorado as weather forced the cancellation of all but four races. Originally scheduled to host alpine combined, downhill, and super-G races for men and women, only men’s and women’s super-Gs were held September 11 and 12.

Day one of super-G saw Slovenian star Ilka Stuhec make her first appearance in a starting gate since World Cup Finals in March of 2017 after suffering a knee injury last October. The 2017 World Championship downhill gold medalist handily won her debut by nearly three seconds over Switzerland’s Valentine Macheret in second and Italy’s Anna Hofer in third. Francesca Baruzzi Farriol of Argentina was the top continental finisher in ninth.

The first men’s race was taken by Germany’s Manuel Schmid, barely edging out Serbia’s Marko Vukicevic by a slim 0.11 seconds and Slovenia’s Miha Hrovat by 0.13 seconds for second and third, respectively. Chile’s Henrik Von Appen was the top continental finisher in fifth.

Women’s race number two went to Andorra as 17-year-old Cande Moreno Becerra took the win ahead of Macheret in second and Hofer in third who once again found themselves on the podium. Argentina’s Macarena Simari Birkner was the top continental finisher in sixth.

Slovenia took the final men’s race of the series with World Cup skier Klemen Kosi besting his teammate Hrovat by 0.10 seconds for the win. Von Appen fought his way to a third-place finish and top continental athlete honors, 0.90 seconds off the pace.

The SAC season wraps up in Cerro Castor, Argentina, September 17-20 with men’s and women’s slalom and giant slalom racing.

For complete results, click here.

Q&A With German Speed Skier Andreas Sander

The German speed team was on the rise last winter and its athletes all scored career best performances. One of its members didn’t have the best predispositions to become a ski racer but worked his way to the top: Andreas Sander. Our friends at FIS sat down with the German star to talk his unlikely start in the sport and what it takes to win the Hahnenkamm.

FIS: You grew up in Westfalen, a region that is not exactly known for its downhill courses. How would you describe your first experiences on snow?

AS: I learned how to ski in Austria as we spent a lot of time in Obergurgl with my family during winter holidays. I started when I was two-and-a-half years old. In the pictures from that time you can clearly see that I loved it from the very beginning.

Were your friends and your family also involved in ski racing?

Yes. Without my family I would never have had access to snow sports. My dad was a ski racer in Westfalen. In my home region, we had a few smaller hills and in good winters with lots of snow, we could even ski at home. My brother, who is six years older than me, was also ski racing and I really wanted to try it myself. We had our own gates with us during our skiing holidays. My dad was my first coach.

On your website you say that you wanted to become a Borussia Dortmund football player, but when you were 15 years old you decided to move to the German Alps in Berchtesgaden and then Oberstdorf. What made you chose alpine skiing? 

When I was a child, I played football, tennis, and I was skiing. I’m a very big fan of Borussia Dortmund, but I guess I didn’t have enough talent to build a career in that sport. I was way more talented in alpine skiing.

Can you describe us this turning point in your life? 

Leaving home to settle down 600 kilometers away from my parents was a very tough decision for me. But the ambition to become a ski racer was very strong, so I decided to move to the Alps. I really wanted to find out how far I could go in that sport.

Even though he now flies down snow-covered mountains for a living, Sander’s first dream was to be a professional soccer player. Image Credit: GEPA Pictures/Andreas Pranter

Would you do anything differently when you look back? 

For sure not. I don’t regret any of the decisions I took in my life. I certainly didn’t do everything the right way, but I learned a lot and I am happy that I trusted myself to make that step when I was younger.

In 2008 you claimed the Junior World Championship title in super-g. What did this title mean to you? 

The title came as a surprise to me, even if I was in good shape at that time. To be the best in the world once in your life, even if it’s on the junior level, means everything to me. The moving, all the hard work I had put down, everything was worth it. It was also a big motivation for the future. It drove me to keep working to make the breakthrough on the World Cup tour.

Your beginnings on the World Cup were immediately followed by your first points in Val Gardena in 2010, but then it took a while to claim your first top-10 result. Can you tell us about those transition years? 

When you score points in your first World Cup race, you get the feeling that it’s not that complicated. But when you have to confirm that good start with another good result, you realize that it’s extremely difficult to break through. Thinking back, I would say that I didn’t train enough in details and that I wasn’t disciplined enough. Only when I brought more structure in my whole training did I start to get better. And year after year, I became more professional and more successful.

You suffered a severe knee injury in 2012. How did this affect your skiing?

Since the injury, I have become more attentive to what is happening in my body. I realized that my body has to be better prepared for ski racing. Unfortunately, it took some time after the injury until I could trust my skiing skills again. But since the injury I’m even more specific and efficient in my training.

What did it take to become constant on the highest level?

First of all, it took time! In summer 2014 we got a new staff and I felt like there was more trust in the team. Our new coaches were able to persuade us that we can belong to the top 15 in our sport. With a lot of team work, we managed to become more constant in the training and step-by-step we were able advance in the World Cup standings.

You are now established among the best speed skiers of the World, and the 2017/18 season was the best one in your career so far. You finished all six super-G races this season, four of them in the top 10. Can you explain this improvement? 

In the last four years I made a lot of changes. Nothing revolutionary, but many details in several areas were optimised. So there isn’t one specific thing that changed, but it’s the amount of small changes that brought continuity to my training and my results.

You were also able to equal you career-best result with a sixth-place finish in Kitzbuehel. What was special on that day? 

It was a very special day. Not only for me, but for Thomas Dressen, our team, and for Germany. I was able to lay down my best performance in my career and Thomas could win the race. It was incredible to hear the German hymn at the prize giving ceremony and to see that a German can win the Kitzbuehel downhill.

Your childhood dream was to have your own gondola at the Hahnenkamm cable car in Kitzbuehel. Why do you like that place, that course, and that race so much? 

Having my own gondola was more of a dream than a goal. I would never have thought that I could be so close to a podium on the World Cup and even less in Kitzbuehel. When I was a kid, we skied sections of the Streif with my parents and I was fascinated by the steepness of the course. From then on, I followed this race with a particular attention. This is where the dream comes from. Of course, I will work hard in the next years to get closer and closer to fulfilling that dream.

Your teammate Thomas Dressen earned his gondola last season. Do you feel that your cabin is coming closer as well? 

Yes, I think so. It shows that we are on the right way with our team and it gives a lot of motivation. However, I’m not thinking about a particular ranking at the moment, but I’m trying to improve my preparation in order to be stronger and faster this winter. And then we’ll see race after race.

Sander hopes to build on the momentum of last season and find the podium this year. Image Credit: GEPA Pictures/Andreas Pranter

What do you think is the key to winning on the Streif? 

Especially in Kitzbuehel, it’s the perfect mix between courage and tactics. It helps when you have a few years of experience on that course, even if Thomas proved the opposite. And in the end, it also takes a little bit of luck.

“Winter athletes are made in the summer” is a common saying in ski racing. What do you focus on in the summer?

After each season I determine goals that I want to reach. Those objectives come in different areas like fitness, skiing technique and tactics, and equipment. Until July I had a lot of dryland training. In August and September I focus on the skiing. In fall, I try to combine both in order to be ready for the new season.

Do you enjoy gym workouts or is it a painful time for you?

Yes and no. After a short break after the season I usually enjoy the dryland training, but I have to admit that I’m not sad when it’s finally time to go back on the snow.

How do you diversify your training?

In addition to the intense strength units in the gym, I love to be outdoors and free my head from the winter stress. At the beginning of summer, endurance is the main focus, so road bike excursions and hiking in the mountains is perfect to stay motivated.

Release courtesy of FIS.

Austria’s Brunner Returns to Snow

The past competition season ended very badly for Austria’s Stephanie Brunner. At the Austrian Championships on March 20, the 24-year-old withdrew a cruciate ligament and meniscal tear in her left knee during the downhill event. After almost six months of intensive therapy and strenuous training sessions in the Olympic Center “Campus Sport Tirol Innsbruck”, the native of Tux, Austria, has now fought back.

Austrian Ski Federation (OSV) doctor Christian Fink is very satisfied with the progress of the last few months and could easily give a green light to the first on-snow sessions.

“The knee is in a very good condition,” said Dr. Fink. “The rehabilitation phase went according to plan and the strength tests were very positive. Stephanie also trained very consistently and worked hard on her comeback.”

With the first easy turns on September 9 at the Hintertux Glacier, Brunner has reached her first partial goal, to be back on the slopes by mid-September.

“It was a really cool feeling to finally be back on my skis and feel the ‘white gold,’” she said. “It felt like I had never been away. It was an important step in the right direction and you can build on that now.”

In the next few days, with the help of group coach Stefan Schwab, technical teams will be on this program for the time being before they go into gate training.

“The first turns have looked really good, as if nothing had ever happened,” Schwab said. “Nevertheless, we do not need to rush things and go slowly. Depending on how it develops, we then follow the next steps.”

Release courtesy of OSV.

SAC Speed Racing in Chile Attracts World Cup Stars

The South American Cup (SAC) is well underway in with downhill and super-G racing for both men and women taking place last week in La Parva, Chile.  Although the fields were small, with fewer than 50 men and 20 women participating in the week of races, the level of competition was high as several European national teams were on hand to provide pace and scoring opportunities for the younger racers in the field.

Downhill was first on the schedule with the men and women competing in two races each. For the women, Russia’s Aleksandra Prokopyeva was victorious in the first race, besting second-place finisher, Australia’s Greta Small, by 1.05 seconds. Argentina’s Macarena Simari Birkner was the fastest racer from the continent in third place, 1.75 seconds back.

It was deja-vu for Prokopyeva and Small in race number two as the duo once again captured the top two spots. Andorra’s Cande Moreno Becerra found herself in third place, 1.66 seconds off of Prokopyeva’s pace. Simari Birkner was the top continental athlete in fourth.

The men’s side saw German World Cup racer Dominik Schwaiger take top honors in race number one, barely edging out Frenchman Blaise Giezendanner and Serbia’s Marko Vukicevic by 0.08 seconds in a tie for second place. Chile’s Henrik Von Appen was the top continental finisher in 13th place.

Downhill number two went to Slovenia’s Klemen Kosi as he bester second-place finisher Schwaiger by 0.21 seconds for the win. Another German, Josef Ferstl, rounded out the podium in third, 0.35 seconds back. Von Appen was once again the top continental finisher in 21st place.

Super-G racing kicked off the next day with Prokopyeva once again showing her speed and capturing her third win in a row, besting Simari Birkner by over a second in the process. France’s Julie Perrier finished in third for her first podium of the series.

Prokopyeva made it a clean sweep with a perfect four wins, taking the second women’s super-G by 0.62 seconds over Andorra’s Carmina Pallas. Argentina’s Francesca Baruzzi Farriol was third, 1.10 second shy of the win.

It was a good first men’s race for the German team as they captured the top two spots on the podium with Andreas Sander and 2018 Hahnenkamm downhill winner Thomas Dressen going one-two in super-G. France’s Johan Clarey finished in third, 0.93 seconds back, and Chile’s Sven Von Appen was the top continental finisher in 19th place.

The final race of the series went to France as Clarey was able to top the field by almost a full second over his compatriot Brice Roger in second. Slovenia’s Kosi made it back on the podium in third place. Chile’s Henrik Von Appen cracked the top 10 in 10th as the top continental finisher.

SAC racing continues in El Colorado, Chile, this week with more speed racing.

For complete results, click here.

Gar Trayner Joins U.S. Ski & Snowboard as New Sport Education Director

U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the Olympic National Governing Body of ski and snowboard sports in the United States, has announced Gar Trayner has joined the organization as Sport Education Director.

“We could not be happier to welcome Gar to U.S. Ski & Snowboard and into a role that is critically important for our organization,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Chief of Sport, Luke Bodensteiner. “Gar has extensive experience across a number of our sports, not only in the USA where he joins us from Killington Mountain School (KMS) but also around the world.”

Trayner has been working with U.S. Ski & Snowboard for the last three years, assisting with the delivery of level 100, 200, and 300 Alpine Coaching Courses, and he has been acting as Chair of the Alpine Coaches Education Working Group, developing new content and structure for the education system. With this experience, Trayner will hit the ground running in his new role starting September 13.

“On top of all that knowledge and experience, Gar is a 2002 Salt Lake City Olympian and will be a visionary leader for a program that we plan to substantially expand as we collaborate more and more with our clubs to develop our next generation of champions,” Bodensteiner added.

“It was with a heavy heart that I depart from Killington Mountain School, a truly exceptional community and school with incredible people who all embraced me like family,” noted Trayner. “I believe that the opportunities and experiences I had at KMS have set me up perfectly for the role of Director of Sport Education at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. I am very excited for this new role and challenge, and I am eager to get started, meet the team, and build on the great work that has been going on in the department for the years preceding my arrival.”

A member of the British National Alpine Ski Team for seven years, Trayner had a long and successful ski-racing career. Following his athletic career, he ran his own global sports specific travel business for many years, while coaching the Scottish National Ski Team. He was also Head Coach of the British Children’s National Ski Team for three years and served as the British Ski Cross Head Coach for British Ski and Snowboard for four years. Additionally, he has served on many athletic and sports governing bodies’ board of directors, and selection panels, as well as playing an instrumental role in the development of new federations.

At KMS, Trayner held the position of Athletic Director, where among many of his responsibilities he also served as Chief of Course for the women’s FIS Ski World Cup at Killington Resort. While at KMS, he led the innovation and transformation into 21st-century athletics, acted as an Executive Team member, helping to create a strategic future for the KMS academy, as well as oversaw athletic fundraising initiatives and venue development projects.

To his new role at U.S. Ski & Snowboard, Trayner brings a wealth of experience and understanding of athletes’ and coaches’ needs and requirements, and sports management in the national and international corporate sports world. He is passionate about developing young athletes and creating environments that promote athletic and lifestyle development to facilitate excellence. Gar and his wife Megan (Hughes) Trayner, herself a U.S. Ski & Snowboard alumna, live in Vermont with their two daughters, Aurora and Tessa, and son Cairn. They will be relocating to Park City, Utah, home of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Release courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Help Your Young Athletes Feel Safe

I recently completed the online course and certification for SafeSport, a nonprofit whose mission is to end all forms of abuse in sport and ensure that all athletes feel safe and supported. I found the course to be of considerable value with the many hats I wear in sports:

  • Highly educational as a parent and volunteer in several sports
  • Illuminating as a professional whose values align with SafeSport
  • Affirming as a long-time critic of the toxic youth sports culture that has emerged in recent decades
  • Scary as a human being who finds any form of abuse to be inexplicable and beyond unacceptable

As evidenced by the scandals involving USA Gymnastics and Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, the era of our sports culture tolerating and enabling all forms of abuse is facing a reckoning. Along with this “Come to Jesus” moment, we have seen the attacks on athletes’ mental and physical health and well being and the lifelong scars that abuse leaves on its victims. We can only hope that these extreme forms of abuse of athletes will become a sad memory and a constant reminder to stay vigilant to such misconduct in the future.

Additionally, I had actually thought that “old school” coaching, that employs tactics to punish, embarrass, humiliate, guilt, and shame athletes as tools to improve sports performance was a thing of the past as well. Yet, less severe forms of misconduct and abuse are still evident every day wherever youth sports are played. As an example, I was recently contacted by an attorney who was representing (pro bono) a group of parents whose teenaged daughters played for an elite soccer team that was alleging emotional abuse by several coaches expressed as “tough” coaching. The days of coaches yelling, insulting, intimidating, demeaning, and demoralizing their young charges aren’t over. Neither is the face-mask grabbing, shoving, two more laps, and no water strategies for making athletes supposedly tough and successful.

What I find remarkable is that any coach, much less a coach who is also a parent, would think that such behavior is not only acceptable, but also effective. Sadly, there are too many stories of high-profile athletes who, though finding success, suffered from the harsh (literal and metaphorical) hand of their parents or coaches. These types of parents and coaches include Roy Jones Sr., Mike Agassi, Jim Pierce, Marv Marinovich, Bobby Knight, Billy Martin, and Woody Hayes.

Sadly, the on-the-field successes of the athletes raised and coached by those who used the “make ‘em tough” approach to athlete development leads some parents and coaches to believe that this same approach will make their own kids great. And, admittedly, it can work with some athletes. But the cost of such treatment in terms of mental health, relationships, and long-term performance, success, and well-being are harsh.

Athletes Who Feel Unsafe

At the heart of the mistreatment of athletes is that it causes them to feel unsafe. How any parent or coach could believe that a persistent state of feeling in danger could possibly enhance performance is beyond me. There’s no doubt that a little fear can be motivating in the short run (like mustering the nerve to attack a steep, icy pitch), but ongoing threat will take its toll at many levels of performance and functioning.

Physical or emotional abuse from parents or coaches trigger in athletes their primitive survival instinct and the accompanying fight-or-flight-or-freeze reaction. In some cases, athletes fight and become successful, but more often than not, they flee (by not trying or quitting) or freeze (by choking in competition).

Feeling unsafe causes physiological changes that interfere with optimal performance. A racing heart, excessive adrenaline, muscle tension and bracing, short and choppy breathing, and loss of coordination all are physical responses that aren’t conducive to high performance.

When athletes feel unsafe, psychological changes that are harmful to sports performance also occur. Motivation declines because, when in “threat mode,” the primary drive is for athletes to protect themselves and avoid the threat. Confidence plummets because feelings of danger convey the message to athletes that they aren’t capable of overcoming the challenges they face. Focus is nearly impossible to sustain because athletes’ concentration is constantly being pulled away from how they can perform their best and onto the threat itself, namely, the coach, the parent, or the consequences of failure.

When athletes feel threatened, their emotions turn against them as well. In some cases, they get angry which can elevate performance in some situations when aggressiveness and reckless abandon are required. However, undirected anger can lead to a loss of physical and emotional control, technical mistakes, tactical errors, penalties, and the desire to harm opponents. In other cases, athletes respond to feeling unsafe with fear, frustration, sadness, anxiety, and despair. These emotions, in turn, increase the volume on the feelings of embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, and shame they feel for disappointing their parents and coaches and letting down their teammates, friends, and family.

The accumulated weight of athletes feeling unsafe in their sports performance is obvious and painful. Imagine athletes donning 50-pound weight vests just before they walk onto the field of play. How will they feel? Heavy and weighed down. How will they perform? Poorly, to be sure. Well, when athletes feel unsafe, parents and coaches are forcing them to put on a figurative weight vest that has an even greater negative impact. They are very unlikely to perform their best. They don’t enjoy themselves. They feel terrible. And they will very likely lose interest in continuing to participate in sport.

By the way, parents and coaches don’t have to overtly mistreat their athletes by, for example, yelling, shaming, or hitting them, to cause them to feel unsafe. Athletes can feel unsafe when parents place unreasonable expectations on them or coaches constantly talk about “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The threat of unfulfilled expectations and disappointing their coaches puts athletes in a persistent position of feeling unsafe.

Athletes Who Feel Safe

In some ways, the notion of athletes who feel safe lies at the foundation of helping them to perform their best and achieve their sports goals (not to mention developing into healthy and well-adjusted people). Athletes may be incredibly fit, technically capable, and tactically sound, but without feeling safe, it’s unlikely they will perform up to their abilities for the reasons I described above.

The benefits of athletes feeling safe are immense within their sports experience. Physically, they feel relaxed and comfortable. They’ve got good muscle activity, respiration, and blood flow. In sum, their bodies are prepared to perform the best they can.

Psychologically, these athletes are motivated, confident, and focused. Because they feel safe to start, they are willing to throw themselves into their sport with confidence, commitment, and courage and without fear, doubt, or worry.

Emotionally, athletes who feel safe experience determination, hope, excitement, joy, pride, inspiration, and satisfaction in their sports lives. These “feel safe” athletes can take appropriate risks, perform as well as they can, enjoy their sports experience fully, and, most importantly, gain the wonderful life lessons and life tools that sports can provide them.

And what athletes who feel safe gain outside of sports is even more dramatic as they develop as people. They have the opportunity to become confident, self-reliant, resilient, and happy adults.

Recommendations

  • Every parent, coach, or volunteer involved in sports should take the SafeSport course. It only costs $20 and will increase your awareness, deepen your understanding, and be a real eye opener for what it means for athletes to feel unsafe and safe.
  • Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, as a parent and/or coach, in what ways you might make your child or athlete, respectively, feel unsafe.
  • Consider practical ways you can help athletes feel safe.
  • If you see a parent, coach, or other person causing athletes to feel unsafe, report them!

To learn more about how to raise successful, happy, and value-driven young athletes and people, read my Parenting blog. Want to be the best sport parent you can be? Check out my Prime Sport Parenting 505: Raise Successful and Happy Athletes online course.

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