Nordic Ski Instructor

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Teaching skiing

Teaching: [ role | ethics | styles | alternatives | terminology | preparations | lessons ]

Preparations before the lesson

There are a number of considerations to be taken into account prior to any lesson, and they ultimately affect how you, as the instructor, will go about teaching a lesson (if indeed that is the task at hand, which it might not be...).

It is not a simple matter of providing solutions to the problems outlined below, as every Instructor will have a different approach. Your personality, and your interaction with the group (and with individuals within the group) are so complex as to warrant a manual on group dynamics alone.

As this manual is aimed at those already familiar with some of these factors, this section is intended merely to highlight many of the variables encountered, to stimulate the reader to be more conscious of her/his role and responsibility as an instructor.

Group considerations

Factors to think of here include some of the following:

  • Consider the size of the group. An ideal number seems to be from 6 to 8 people, but there are a few instances of when even 6 can be a handful. How would a lesson be affected by a very large group (10+), and how would it alter your approach, not to mention their approach? Will the size remain constant during your contact with them? Why is this a factor?
  • What of the number of groups related to your group, or in other words, if you are one of a number of instructors working with more than one group. Who has ultimate responsibility for all of the related groups? How will your role be affected by this factor? Will having to organise your lesson(s) around being part of a large group broken into manageable sub-groups limit possibilities, or will it enhance them? Are you to be totally responsible for your group, or is there to be a surrogate controller, instructor, or leader? This is often the case with school/community groups and the teachers/organisers who are there to 'assist' you.
  • The overall ability of the group, and the range between best and worst (and potential for individual and group improvement through the lesson) is worth contemplating. Have you a flexible lesson plan that will allow for this? Is it possible to cater for wildly different abilities within one group? How do you cope with that one person who is either far-advanced, or way behind the rest of the group? Students' health, medical and fitness records come into their own here.
  • Evaluate the age of individuals within the group, and the range between oldest and youngest member. How do you cater for a mixed age group? Is your age in relation to the group a point to consider? Will the group consider it? Does your responsibility alter if with unsupervised children?
  • Take stock of (if you can) the motivation of the group as a whole, and that of individuals within the group. Why are they there? Have they been coerced into coming? Family groups often have one or two members who would rather be somewhere else. Have they paid money? What if they had not?
  • Their group and individual objectives within the period during which you are responsible for them could be reviewed. What do they wish to achieve? Are they realistic? Have you actually asked them to find out their goals? What are your strategies for coping with conflicting aims within the group?
  • Is the group a group, or a collection of individuals who have never seen each other before? Why is this an important factor? Can you bring them together to enhance their experience? Is it always an advantage for your students to know each other (loving couples spring to mind here) beforehand? Can you, prior to the lesson, relocate these students elsewhere?

Time and geographical considerations

All of these sections are related to each other and must be considered together - this section more so than most. The time factor invariably determines how much you will be able to achieve with the group. A group lesson may be anything from a ludicrous two minutes quick tip to an equally ludicrous whole morning or afternoon. One would hope that the plan of attack would be to provide learning opportunities throughout the contact period with the group, but segmented into digestible portions, or lessons, with plenty of breaks and rest-periods in-between!

Evaluate the different approaches you may have to adopt for the above-mentioned examples. How much control do you have over the time allowed for lessons? Not only that, but what time will you start, and finish? Is a morning lesson different from an afternoon lesson? Will the group behave/perform differently? Is it the start of the winter, with short days/cold days/inexperienced students/high motivation, or towards the end of winter, when different factors come into play? How can you allow for these things?

Geography, and the weather, need careful consideration. A skilled instructor will choose terrain that is most suitable for the needs and ability of the group as a whole, and in some instances that may even mean choosing an area totally devoid of snow! How would you teach a lesson on grass - and what would you teach? What about on ice? What about in deep snow? This is a rare problem in Australia, but there are times here when a lesson has to be restructured due to snow that is too deep for students - and the instructor.

The type of snow underfoot is crucial to safe and enjoyable ski skill development, and should not be ignored, or barely evaluated. Are you giving your students the best opportunity to learn? How can you plan ahead to achieve this? If the conditions are not entirely suitable for following your normal progressions from one technique to the other, perhaps students will benefit from a more pragmatic approach. Experiment to find the most appropriate lesson for the expected snow conditions, even if it does not always follow accepted practice. An instructor does not always need to start by teaching diagonal striding (although it helps).

Expected and potential weather developments should always be assessed to ensure that things will run smoothly. Look ahead and examine your lesson plan in relation to these factors. Will it maximise the students' potential? An awareness of how students perform in conditions that you may well take for granted is to be encouraged. One instructor's fine day may well be a raging blizzard for the newcomer to Nordic skiing. Likewise with the snow, and the local topography. A gradual slope on firm snow with a natural run-out at the bottom may well be interpreted by the fearful student as a precipice on sheet ice leading to a deep gully.

By trying to empathise with your students, even prior to the lesson beginning, this will rarely occur - or at the very least you will appreciate the perceived dangers, as well as the real. Safety, enjoyment, and learning all follow on from each other. Neglect the first precept and you are jeopardising the other two.

Equipment considerations

A quick glance at the student's ski equipment should be enough to tell you what may or may not be possible in terms of skill acquisition. For safety reasons, and for the student's piece of mind, ensure that the equipment is suitable for the lesson - or change the lesson plan. If the snow conditions are such that metal-edged skis are the best alternative, ensure that everyone in the group has them if possible. Some techniques (skating, for one) are infinitely easier to master with appropriate equipment, and strategies must be developed to cope with unsuitable equipment. Your equipment should be appraised in the same light (this topic is debated elsewhere in this manual).

Any lesson plan that involves an element of touring must also allow for this factor. Naturally, the instructor must carry equipment to cope with the myriad of hazards away from home-base, and the student must also have skis that won't fall off every five minutes, or delaminate in the course of moving from one pole marker to the next. Although your ski equipment is ship-shape and ready for the rigours of a day's outing, don't make the same assumptions about the student's equipment.

One may consider clothing and provisions at the same time, even if staying close to home. Look for potential disasters waiting to happen (jeans, lack of eyewear, no gloves, no jacket, etc) and decide on an appropriate course of action before you begin your lesson or tour - and take a well-stocked daysac!

Other considerations

An overall ability to assess all of the factors that may influence a students motivations and aims will greatly enhance your competence as an instructor. This becomes second-nature after a good deal of exposure, but is difficult to itemise.

Personal preparation is a factor to consider. Have you eaten recently, had plenty of water, and rest? An instructor skidding to a stop before a waiting class 30 seconds before lesson time, perspiring heavily and out of breath, is hardly inspiring and/or reassuring to students. Make sure that you are fit and healthy, and well-prepared both emotionally and physically for the task ahead.

One could pause and consider so many factors to ensure that all students will have a happy and successful lesson, but the human element will always put the proverbial spanner in the works. An instructor's, and student's, key to success is the ability to be flexible, and to develop a certain empathy with the entire group (and also a sixth sense!).

Teaching: [ role | ethics | styles | alternatives | terminology | preparations | lessons ]

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