Level Yo-Yo: How it’s prevented. 

You’ve come for another ski holiday and been conservative in deciding which Level to put your child in to. They get their legs back and move up in to the level they completed last year. The next day, though they get moved back down, then moved back up. Then another day, another instructor, they moved back down. I have often referred to this phenomena as ‘Level yo-yo’. Children get moved up then down, then up then down.

Needless to say this a very frustrating scenario for everyone involved, you, the parents, us, the instructors and most importantly, the kids. So, why can’t we, the instructors, get it right for your child to have fun and learn in the level they’re supposed to be in?

There are several reasons why students oscillate between levels, and how to prevent it.

At the start of either the season or holiday, make sure you are conservative when determining their level. Even though they may have finished last year at Level X, depending on how much they have grown and how active they are, they will have some muscle that hasn’t skied yet. It is better to be placed in a lower group to ‘get their legs back’ than to start in the level they finished at and be on terrain or at speeds that would encourage bad habits and move them back to a lower group. This almost always negatively affects confidence, morale and motivation.

If they have grown, it is also likely that they have new equipment (even if its new for them, second hand) and could take some getting used to. New, stiffer boots, longer and/or stiffer ski’s can all affect their skiing at the start. When buying new boots avoid getting them too big on the assumption they will grow into them. This can be quite dangerous, as an ill fitting boot can have more leverage with which to break a leg. As long as they are the right size, rentals or second hand are fine. Orthopedic foot beds are also a good idea if they have unique and specific feet.

When dropping them off at lessons, be as accurate as you can with their ability. There is a big difference between having a physical ability to get down vs. accurate technical skill. For example, does your child ‘Death wedge’ down steep runs or do they turn their skis while in balance? What we as instructors look for to determine their level is efficient speed control through turning. Making sure they are turning with their legs rather than their shoulders and whole body. Ask yourself, What turns first, the ski’s and legs or shoulders and hips? If in doubt, check the resorts website for a level chart or videos to help you determine which level they should start at.

Their emotional state or well-being also affects learning and the retention of information quite significantly. At the start of the holiday there may a lot of excitement to get back out on to the slopes and a lot of energy expended as a result. Everyone was up early to make sure they had a substantial breakfast, cooperation between siblings to help get out on time with all their ski gear. Which results in an excellent first day back on snow and the lesson was great! There is a mild celebration and everyone has a late night. Which results in everyone being tired and sluggish the next day, waking up late, not having enough breakfast, siblings squabbling, rushing out the door, forgetting some innocuous (or important) piece of equipment, getting to the lesson after begging to be let in and missing the first part. Most of what was learnt the day before is forgotten, giving the instructor of that day the arduous task of saying, ‘Maybe you’ll have more fun in the lower group.’ Yes, I have been that instructor. And, No, it is not fun.

While your child may be able to do something with one instructor, then can’t quite do it on their own. One teacher will see it, move them up, then it’s lost with other instructors. A student not only needs autonomy of skills to stay in the level, but to maintain the effort that they have put in previously to get to the next level. This could have been the result of the relationship between student, instructor and the other students in the group. Encouragement between students often affects performance.

Alternatively, an instructor may try to make the student (or themselves) feel good by giving more ticks on the progression card than the student can do. This could indicate that more training is required to bring all instructors to the same expectations of skills. Sometimes students can recognise that they are getting more ticks than they deserve. This practice undermines the integrity of what we do. Children generally understand when they earn their ticks before moving up. I have known some kids to request an instructor because, ‘when we get ticks from you, we’ve earned them and your not going to take them away.’

Another common assertion is that the child has been down a Blue run from top to bottom with the significant detail that the child was skiing between the parents legs omitted. This has the potential of being highly dangerous at worst and a waste of the rest of the classes time (and the other parents money) at best.

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” (Bruce Lee)

I have had some parents ask me, ‘The last instructor promised they’d be moving up today. Why haven’t they?’ Good question. What the last instructor should have said was, ‘Given your child’s rate of improvement in today’s snow and weather conditions along with their mood, energy levels, performance arousal/anxiety levels (Stoke level) and learning environment* (if they stay with me). IF all these things remain the same tomorrow (next lesson), then there stands a high probability that they may be ready to move up.’ However, very rarely do all these factors remain exactly the same and they will most likely need more mileage and practice at the level they’re in. Appropriate speed and appropriate terrain can help to enforce positive technical outcomes, as well as being more enjoyable for everyone.

It also depends on the group and if they are ready to go to the terrain of the next level, too. In each level there is a spectrum of ability, ‘entry level’ can be quite different to ‘strong’. For example, if a student is a strong 3B then their skis are mostly parallel on green and easy blue terrain. However, if they are entry level 3B, then there would still be a wedge at the start of the turn on the same terrain. So, on the face of it, it may look like some of the kids in the same group are of different levels, some may have just come in to the class, while some are on the cusp of graduating.

As you can see there are a multitude of reasons your child may be moved up and down between levels. While we do everything we can to prevent it from happening, conservative and accurate determination of level at the start, get good rest, keep energy levels up and consistent effort from your child will help to ensure once they have moved up, they will stay up.

‘Let’s go Skiing!’

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