Trust can lead to success

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To believe every option has been explored takes extraordinary focus. It also includes an all-important ingredient of teamwork: trust.

For nearly a decade I enjoyed a close relationship with one member of our team who was largely invisible. Hans Ramelmueller was the man responsible for the tools of the trade—our skis. This was a relationship built on trust. Implicitly I relied on Hans, to make the right choice.

His job was the skis; mine was to race. Trust is a two-way street. While I invested my trust in his ability, he, in turn, expected each of the athletes he worked with to provide honest feedback on his work, give the best of their abilities at all times and to hone their skill in preparation for the race. This was the magic of our relationship. We strove to be our best, knowing the outcome was in the hands of our mutual effort.

Ski racing is incredibly complex, bringing together an athlete, equipment, the mountain and the weather. Relationships between the athlete, coach, physio, trainer and administrator need to function smoothly.

Factor in the development of each Canadian athlete from their Nancy Greene Ski League roots to the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, a span of some 15 to 20 years across many coaches, programs and hundreds of races. Then include the reality of Canada—pulling together our very best from across our immense piece of geography. Add in sponsor development, fundraising, educating coaches, organizing events, and training offi cials and volunteers. Canadian ski racing is a major business enterprise engaging hundreds of coaches, thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts who support the sport.

Making all this mesh to produce champions comes back to the basic common denominators: focus, excellence—and trust. Building trust has been a crucial factor within the Canadian Alpine Ski Team under the leadership of Alpine Canada Chief Athletics Officer Max Gartner. His sensitivity to athlete relations and effort to communicate has established a performance environment. Equally important is securing the best head coaches—Burkhard Schaffer (men) and Hughes Ansermoz (women)—and investing in them the trust to run their programs.

The introduction of the head-coach model in 2003-04 has certainly been a key contributor to the growing breadth of performance of Canadian athletes across all ski racing disciplines. With each team led by a head coach (instead of the previous model of discipline coaches), athletes benefi t from co-ordinated training and support to discipline coaches. The head coach is able to stand back and take a broader look at the program as a whole, while also fi ne-tuning the need of the individual athlete.

Deeper in the Alpine Canada system, National Technical Director Mark Sharp has been working to bring similar leadership qualities to build the Canadian athlete development program. One of the initial steps was introducing the MARS J1 Canadian Championship for 15- to 16-year-olds. Last winter, Mark led an evaluation of Canada’s best in a K2 Prospect Camp which evaluated athletic and ski technical skills of our best 13- to 14- year-olds, followed by the introduction of a “skill event” at the MARS Canadian Juvenile Championship and a revamped Team Canada to Whistler Cup that included 30 athletes who got to wear Canada’s colours in North America’s only international children’s competition.

The objective of these efforts is to build the foundation for an athlete development stream that will run from age 11 to the Olympic team. The philosophy is to bring together the best with the best, giving both athlete and coach crucial experience to take back to their home program to nurture and promote a broader environment of excellence.

Bridging excellence at the elite level throughout the Canadian ski racing system is an ambitious task. To ensure the knowledge base building within the Performance Enhancement Teams (PET) that encompass the coaches, trainers, sport science and research experts, physios and physicians who work closely with the Canadian teams does not remain captured at the elite level, Alpine Canada will offer a unique coaching seminar in spring 2006. High-performance coaches from across the country will have a chance to work alongside Canadian team coaches and our PET experts to learn how Canada’s best are preparing for the battle in the arena of Olympic and World Cup competition.

Turning these initiatives into reality rests on the same core principle World Cup competitors must place in those who work to make their dream a reality. It takes trust. Trust has produced tangible results at the elite level. In the past three years Canada has moved from 12th to 7th in the World Cup Nations Cup. More individual Canadian skiers have captured World Cup points than ever in the past. The 2004-05 season saw the highest-ever World Cup point total for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team.

But this is no time to look back. There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure Canada is among the world leaders in ski racing. Extending the experience and philosophies throughout the Canadian ski racing system is the only way to ensure we give every aspiring athlete a chance to realize his or her dreams. And trust is the bedrock that can deliver sustained success. In the start gate of a World Cup, an athlete must be focused, consumed by a desire to win. This is no place to be second-guessing.

Ken Read
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