Hi Scotty here. I have been tasked with the pleasure of reporting back on the Croatian Team, I met with their Head coach Danijel Jurkovic, while in Ushuaia. Dan has been involved in as many Interski teams as me; I first met him at Coronet Peak in the earlier days of my career as a ski instructor where he taught for many seasons. It is always good to catch up with him as he has a very open mind and has a wealth of experience.
I didn’t get to go to the on snow workshop with these guy’s but the turnout was amazing, they had approximately 85 people interested in what they were presenting.
I asked Dan a series of questions and he has kindly returned with a very in depth set of answers. So I hope you have a good read through and that you can observe that there are a lot of similarities to the NZ system. All answers are written from Dan’s perspective.
What were the main objectives of the Croatian Team at Interski 2015:
- Hear and see what other nations are doing with their approach to teaching and coaching skiing. New ideas, different angles of looking at the things are always something that we are looking for.
- I agreed to take a role of the demo team coach with a clear intention to influence some changes to our progression and teaching approach (more about it later) and I wanted to challenge those ideas among the most educated and experienced pros in the business.
- As a small nation, that exports lots of instructors abroad, we would like the World to know that our instructors and coaches receive high quality training and that they are a workforce that anyone would be happy to use in snowsports instructing and coaching world.
Do you feel like you achieved what you wanted out of Interski?
- The general answer would be yes – absolutely.However, for our standards, the test of time is the important one. If the news that we’ve implemented in our programme continues to gain approval among the pros and students in the long run, that is confirmation of our success.
- On the not so positive side, I think that there were logistical constraints (long transfers and other logistical difficulties) which disabled us to be where we wanted when we wanted. As a result, we have been unable to cover some lectures and workshops, which is a real shame. Generally, the time could have been used better. In this day and age, all the lectures could have been recorded by the organiser and also broadcasted via Skype conference or a similar platform.
We have chosen to present our progression and the philosophy behind it because we have implemented a number of changes since last Interski. We wanted to share our ideas, but also to test them and get feedback from the most educated and experienced audience:
- Key changes in our progression and teaching concept since the last Interski in St Anton:
- Simplicity:Reduce amount of turning sub categories in the progression, making is simpler to understand for both instructor and student. Simplicity also refers to the number of elements the student is required to process at any time (more about it in Prioritising section).
- Logical: Every element applied and taught at a lower level, has to be functional on the higher levels of the progression.
- Natural and spontaneous approach: Whichever level can be reached without even verbalising a change should be reached without using verbal input and introduction. Right choice and use of terrain and speed plays a vital role here. Majority of students that can comfortably ski plough parallel will become parallel without introduction – just with a speed increase on an adequate terrain. Whenever possible, those natural progression options without much talking should be used. Only when the natural way does not work, the problematic movements can be addressed with different tasks and correctional exercises.
- Open structure: Avoiding templates and recipe-type approach. Application of each level is defined by conditions (slope and snow characteristics, ski type and radius) and personal capabilities (both physical and psychological). Therefore, we do not define the size of a snowplough during the snowplough turn – it will be larger if the slope is steeper than we would like it to be. It will be also larger if the student’s personal capabilities (both psychological and physical) are such that he/she likes to move slower. Same is with matching of the skis during the PP turn (plough – parallel). Matching will happen once the student is able to balance comfortably and fully on the outside ski – inside will start becoming parallel naturally. This is a big new requirement for the instructors, because they need to have knowledge and understanding of skiing in order to be able to use open structure. It is more difficult at the beginning, because it does not give them a safety net of a recipe book, but it does make them think about cause and consequence of each movement which makes them much better instructors in the long run.
- Biomechanical justification: Everythingintroduced in the progression has to have a biomechanical justification. For an example – focus on the ankle flexion – biomechanical justification: Humans control their motorics in the motor areas of our brain. Larger muscle groups have larger representation in brain controlling motor functions. It is not therefore surprising, that when we talk about flexion – extension, student applies a knee – hip – waist movement rather than ankle, because it is natural to have more awareness and better control of the knee – hip – waist than they do of the ankle (especially as ankle is put in something widely perceived like a cast, and therefore “cannot” move!). Therefore, a focus is directed to the area which is likely to be problematic. Also, once the flexion of the ankle is achieved, it is unlikely for knee and hip to be straight.
- Focus Prioritising: Continuing on the above example – focus priority needs to be on ankle (rather than knee and hip), but not because knee and hip should not move, but because their movement will be a natural consequence of ankle flexion. Further to that, prioritising of the focus is important because human have difficulty processing too many things at once, in emotionally saturated situations in particular (skiing has got plenty to offer – fear of speed, steep, height, non-achievement,…). When focusing on too many elements, nothing tends to work! Therefore, picking one (maximum two) elements to focus on is crucial because of human inability to process more. Further to that, one or two elements that we chose to focus on have to be high priority, i.e. elements that should be picked for focus should be those that will help many other things at the same time (subconsciously). For example, moving ones hands foreword does help one to find a centre of the ski, lifting the hips and moving hips forward also helps finding a centre of the ski, however finding a right spot of contact in ones ski boot, will most likely put everything above in the more or less the right place. Therefore, rather than addressing many things, we focus on one or two that may be in the core of the action. With that approach, skier is focusing on one or two things, but is actually improving many. When choosing focus our experience has shown that similar things are those that often go wrong. Therefore main priorities to focus on are those that are crucial for everything else to work: finding the centre of the ski (full footed stance in the boot with firmer contact at the ball with ankle flexion which will create a firm contact between shin and front of the ski boot).
- Reference points: Student, skier very quickly acquires the idea of what decent skiing looks However, this has a limited use in any skiing situation because one cannot seethemselves skiing while they are skiing. Therefore, we are always looking for internal reference (internal feedback) points which are usually quite neglected because of our visual input saturated lifestyles. Therefore, making students aware of and focused on contact points in the boots, muscle tension in certain body parts etc. gives them an opportunity to start using an immediate, accurate, learning mechanism and always accessible self-control tool.
- Progression based on the above explained philosophy: Lots of skiing on the appropriate terrain with single input feedback only as and when necessary!
- Snowplough turn – Addressing most important points about finding the centre of the ski. Encouraging student to become aware of a connection between sole of the foot (ball in particular) and the ski boot foot bed. Also finding a firm shin – boot contact based on the ankle flexion. The goal is finding the centre of the ski i(through many gliding exercises on flat) and establishing dynamic balance – i.e. skier is comfortable to move with a ski. Once that is achieved, snowplough is introduced. Turning is introduced by of steering with both legs and supported with establishing the balance on the outside ski. If possible to achieve natural weight shift, that would be preferred approach. However, if students are resistant to allow the weight to be drawn to the outside ski by centrifugal force, weight shift is addressed in the more formal way with supporting tasks and exercises which will encourage angulation which we define as contraction of lateral muscles between hip and lowest rib. Extension that starts from ankle allows achieving balance evenly spread between both skis at the entry into the turn. As soon as the weight starts to be established on the outside ski, flexion through the ankle (knee and hip) helps with achieving a balance on the outside ski and also increased contact between shin and the boot helps the direction of the ski in the final phase of the turn.
- Plough – parallel turn – Ideally, transition from the plough to plough parallel turn does not need to be addressed at all. Instructor would achieve this by choosing shallow terrain and increase the speed. As students start to feel more comfortable and confident with snowplough turn they will be ready to increase the speed, weight transfer onto the outside ski will become more and more defined and inside ski will naturally start becoming parallel. Only if this spontaneous way does not work, we would address issues which are on the way. Most often that would be 1. Finding the centre of the ski and 2. Allowing the weight transfer to happen.
- Basic parallel turn – Following natural, spontaneous way, instructor does not need introduce or verbalise parallel skiing. Right choice of the terrain and further increase of speed will result in weight transfer happening sooner and sooner in the turn. As a result, inside ski will start becoming parallel earlier and earlier. Majority of students will be able to achieve basic parallel with this approach. One area that may need to be specifically addressed is starting a new turn with a parallel ski stance: Focus on the releasing of the both edges at the end of the previous turn with finding the balls of the feet helps the ski tips to start being directed towards the fall line and also enables student to steer both skis simultaneously towards the fall line. There are still lots of controlled sliding; skier finds the edges towards the end of the turn. From this stage on, the main focus will be using ski edges sooner and sooner in the turn.
- Advanced parallel turn – Assuming that everything learned so far (ankle flexion, centre of the ski, weight transfer) is relatively well co-ordinated and functional, focus shifts towards lateral movements which will help skier use centrifugal/centripetal force to its best advantage. Another important new element is the pole plant (snow contact) which is defined as a helping tool in the transition and direction defined by 10 or 02 o’clock direction if ski tips are pointing at 12. By using lateral movements of lower legs and inclination of the whole body, skier is getting better and better grip and resistance on the outside ski. Angulation (contraction of the lateral muscles between hip and lowest rib) helps with maintaining dominant pressure on the outside ski. As a result, second part of the turn is becoming more and more carving like where skier maximises the potential of the ski.
- Advanced short turn – following spontaneous, natural progression, short turns also do not need to be introduced. Again, by choosing right terrain and speed, majority of the students will be able to perform shorter radius of the parallel turn. Further development will be similar like with advanced parallel where the main focus will be using the ski performance (edges, carving) sooner and sooner in the turn.
- Dynamic parallel long radius (GS) – Focus continues to be on the further increase of lateral movements, inclination and adequate angulation. Another focus is on the length and strength of the outside leg. Ankle flexion (which should be fully established by this stage) is defining angles along the outside leg, ensuring a high hip – long and strong outside leg which is able to withstand a growing pressure through the second part of the turn. Ankle flexion is as important on the inside leg, despite not being dominant as far as the weight and pressure is concerned. Transition between the turns, where engagement of the new outside ski happens as early as possible, becomes a next focus ensuring smooth and strong link between the dynamic turns.
- Dynamic parallel short radius (SL) – Similar as in GS, but in the narrower corridor and shorter time interval. Use of the adequate radius ski is helpful. However, even with a wider than ideal ski radius, skier is able to perform dynamic short turn, however he/she will need to adjust the entry phase by using a bit more rotary steering movement before skis are getting engaged at a bit later stage in the turn that it would be the case with a shorter radius ski.
I hope that this brief description of our progression gives you a clear enough picture of what we are getting at and trying to achieve. However, please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions or need any clarification.
Countries that we were interested in: All. It is incredible how often you get something special from the direction that you would not expect. This is why I am sad that the timings were so tight and often unachievable, so we did miss lots of things. I personally, like smaller associations, as those seem less politically hindered and are able to change and implement new ideas quicker. I also always watch southern hemisphere associations as those are exposed to the constant influence of everyone. Language can be a bit of an issue, but Argentina has often got great ideas and ways of looking at skiing.
I am a bit biased, but I like a lot what you do in NZSIA. It is obvious that you use your position of having your own private Interski every season and it does not last a week, but 4 months. It is great to see how you have integrated knowledge and experience from ski world in a coherent logical system. I genuinely think that the training concept that you use in building up instructors may be one of the best I know. I have lots of applicants that want to come and work for Snowslippers and whenever I see NZSIA qualification, I know that they are well rounded instructors with a right balance of understanding, people skills, actual teaching experience gained during the training. You really use your specific situation in your advantage and it shows in the best possible way. Therefore, I always like to hear what have you decided to change, adapt, etc.
Scotty’s summary: The Croatian teaching methodology and beliefs are very similar to ours within the NZSIA, we are also focused on the ankle joint as an important area of the body that is often not used to the students full advantage. They use what we call the “skiing approach” at every step of the progression, before they work on the movement focus area, we are sometimes very guilty of not using terrain and speed to our full advantage when introducing a new skill to our students, we have a great variety of terrain across the whole country with can aid in this development. I notice that new instructors often are too quick to get teaching the actual movement focus area and for that reason I think that we could do a better job of the education in this area of skill acquisition through the skiing approach.
Dan’s presentation skills are of the highest level, he kept the large group engaged during the workshop; the other nations had good discussion amongst themselves while the workshop was going on, and this to me is a great indicator as to how the workshop was progressing.
I believe that the Croatia team has grown from strength to strength over the time that I have known Dan; their ski performance achieved during the demonstration’s showed an accurate blend of their mechanics and speed down the hill, a lot of countries skied slowly and thus couldn’t generate ski performance or skied in a turn that allowed for synchronisation. They skied fast and with passion, they took it down the hill and this alone made for good watching. It is always a pleasure to watch how countries grow technically and tactically from interski years, some seem to stay stagnant but not these guy’s they are always actively striving to gain more knowledge and achievement within the snow sports industry. From my position as a senior trainer and demo team member if you get a chance to ski/talk with a Croatian trained instructor make the effort, they have a great feel of the industry and what it needs.
I hope that you enjoy this article and thanks again to all the members who made this possible, this was a trip of a lifetime, and I hope that you all see the benefit to the NZSIA in sending this team to Argentina, The internal growth experienced at interski for the NZSIA and SBINZ is so important for all our members. We get confirmation of our direction technically and professionally, we get to see where we stand against the other ski nations, and lastly but not least, build relationships with other countries and create hopefully more job opportunities for you guys overseas.
Cheers enjoy your summer or make some turns for me overseas.