Back to the Beach

Remaining focused on Winter, and being ski fit, while living and working on the beach means the next 8 months are going to be challenging. I’ve never been a fan of other people’s publicizing of training regimens, unless you are a personal trainer and especially not my own. For me training is an intrinsic, personal and relatively private activity. In this instance though, I am doing it to hold myself to account. I have often said what my off-season goals are and the response has been, ‘Yeah sure, that’s what you said last time. I’ll believe it when I see it…’ Well, as Bullwinkle said, ‘This time for sure!’

The ultimate goals I have is to pass the NZSIA Trainers Cert exam and the ski element of the NZSIA Telemark Level 3. These are the best part of a year away.

How do I break these overarching end goals in to smaller, more manageable parts that are relevant for both, Summer here and now, and Winter in the future? For both disciplines, maintaining technically accurate mechanics at speed and in variable terrain requires exceptional lower body strength, core stability, and plyometric control. They also require cardiovascular stamina and aerobic fitness at altitude.

There are various outdoor pursuits which can help with Winter that can be done in the Northern Illawarra area. Trail and beach running, swimming in the ocean pools, cycling on the bike paths and strength training at the local gym.

Trail Running in the area has a few facets. First, there is a local, non-competitive, timed 5 km run every Saturday morning. This run is relatively flat along the bike path next to the ocean and will serve to gauge my progress generally. Then there is Beach running, while flat will add some variety with an increased ‘collision time’ (time during which the foot sinks in to the sand, mimicing snow) and will give a thorough work out of the legs. There are also various trails up and along the Illawarra Escarpment for terrain diversity. I aim to run a Half-Marathon in May 2018 in 1 hr 15 mins.

Along the coast there are 8 Ocean Rock Pools and 2 Olympic swimming pools using ocean water. My swimming has never been the best, however, there are a couple of goals I would like to achieve here. First, is to swim 10 laps in the Olympic pools, in 10 minutes. For me, this is quite ambitious, but not unachievable. The second, is to swim 10 laps in all 10 pools. I have attempted this before and got as far as 2 pools and that is as far as it has got.

I have timed the ride between home and work as a sprint and cycled the bike paths with the family. As far as cycling goes this will be used as a form of cross-training and I will time the commute 3 times a week.

Strength conditioning and core stability are best trained in the gym, while plyometrics will be trained at the local sports fields. Even though skiing is very leg-centric, it is important to train the whole body. My upper body is particularly weak and this needs to be rectified. I can barely do 1 chin-up so to aim for 10 by May, as a start, is realistic. As for other base line, starting points, I need an initial assessment before setting further targets.

So there it is, a Summer of training and setting some ambitious yet achievable goals to get involved with over summer and autumn. I prefer to train outside and in a variety of sports. The area we spend summer is lends itself to training and it would be prudent of me to take the opportunity while we are here. As well as spending time with those I need to spend time with!

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Playing Sport for Children

Sport has long been considered part of a country’s psyche, with its respective national sport, state, province, region or county with respective teams and each town with it’s club. Professional or amateur, there is something about sport that brings people, and the community, together.

Sport has a broad meaning that includes all sorts of physical activities. It can be outdoor or indoor and organised/competitive or casual sports. Soccer, Rugby, Basketball, Netball are examples of competitive sports. Other pursuits such as Dancing, Ballet, Jazz Ballet, Martial Arts, Gymnastics, Swimming, Running, Horse riding can be competitive, social or a mixture of both. Outdoor adventure pursuits such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, canyoning, abseiling, surfing, kite surfing, wind surfing also count as sport, as long as there is frequent participation. Although not necessarily sport, as such, Physical Play is not to be under estimated for it’s benefits, either. Skateboarding, roller blading/skating, rip sticking, though not in a team/organised setting have their benefits, as opposed to video games and chess which are sedentary. They mainly exercise the mind or hand eye coordination and reflexes.

We engage in the most play, or sport, during the times of our lives when the educational demands are the highest. Play has been defined as ‘voluntary, has no obvious survival value or is apparently purposeless, is pleasurable or fun, creates a diminished sense of time and self consciousness and is improvisational.’ (Hargrove, T 2011). Being voluntary and fun are important for children to maintain motivation for participation in sport, as a distinction from participating to win. And ‘a diminished sense of time’ basically means that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, which has been known to distress some children because they don’t want the fun, or game, to stop!

For Humans, being a sociable animal, this is a benefit on a large scale, but what are the benefits of children playing sport? While this is not an exhaustive list I have managed to narrow it down to four major areas where sports benefit children’s development: Physical Coordination, Socialisation, Academic Improvement and Personal Development. (Oh, and may also benefit their skiing & riding, too!)

Sport and physical play are important for creating and developing body awareness. Most children in lessons will know, generally, what the different parts of their body are called. However, this doesn’t mean that they know how to tell that part what to do. The classic example is when a student is learning how to stop for the first time. They have been taught that making a wedge (aka slice of pizza or slice of anything circular or any thing that resembles a triangle) will make them stop. Then once sliding, they put their hands together and nothing happens with their feet and skis. This demonstrates a good cognitive understanding of what it is they need to do, however, their arms and hands have been used with more dexterous activities and receive the message first. The development of physical and motor systems start from the head and work their way down and is referred to as ‘Cephalocaudal development’. (McInerney & McInerney, 1998) Since it is a new neural pathway being forged to their legs it takes a little more effort to make it happen. From experience, this happens in both adults and, more so in children.

When teaching skiing, there is a noticeable difference between athletic, or physical, and sedentary kids. Children who are active in a lot of sports, or highly active in one, generally pick up snow sports quicker as they have more active neural pathways, resulting in improved coordination. ‘A child whose brain has more neural pathways will be able to learn more easily.’ (Johnston & Ramon, 2011) The best time for these pathways to be developed is between 3-6yrs.

Skiing involves the use of muscles that don’t get used in everyday life. And being a sliding/balancing sport, requires the use of the smaller stabiliser muscles in both the lower and upper body to maintain balance. The muscles used in a variety of activities such as skateboarding, roller blading/skating, rip sticking greatly improve a child’s (and adults) ability to develop balancing skills and then reappropriate these skills to skiing. Working in Canada, it’s interesting to see how quickly kids pick up skiing if they play ice hockey, or at least ice skate. There is a dramatic and noticeable difference between those that do, and those that don’t.

Developing these muscles, along with on mountain skiing experience, allows us to apply and adapt what is known as Perceptual Motor Skills. Perceptual motor skills could be described as the difference between learning to read and learning to write.(Johnston & Ramon, 2011) It’s one thing to know how a letter looks, what a letter or word is. It is another to be able to write the letter, or word, and coordinate what it looks like, or sounds like, to the movement pattern of the muscles in the hand and fore-arm.

Perceptual-motor skills also apply in other sports that involve the timing of catching, hitting, kicking or throwing a ball. These help to create and develop spatial awareness which is important when skiing in a variety of situations. When skiing in a class line, younger children have a tendency of crashing into each other, either while skiing or when stopping. Sometimes it is amusing to watch, although with older kids can be quite scary. The timing and coordinating of a pole plant or the gauging of jumps, ie. where the take off and landing are in relation to each other, which then determines what speed is needed.

Perceptual-motor skills means that we are able to see the terrain or conditions and adapt, and anticipate our movements accordingly. How we ski in the bumps is going to be different to how we ski on the groomed. And like wise, how we ski in powder is going to be different to how we ski on firm, almost impenetrable snow. Perceptual-motor skills are closely related to Proprioception.

While being physically aware of others around them is important, so is knowing how to socially interact with those around them. Playing team sport has the benefit of allowing the interaction and development of positive and valuable relationships with others their age, as well as other adults, coaches, trainers and parents of other team members.

As a child gets older a sense of ‘us’ is developed, being able to share and take turns. Seeing where a child is in its’ social development is demonstrated in many ways. The two more distinct ways are separation from their parents and the importance of where they are in the ski school snake. The former is evident in the younger ages (3-6), while the latter is more evident in the 6-8 yr old age range.

Playing team sports exposes children to the highs and lows of life through winning and losing. Being humble in the win and gracious in defeat, a sense of sportsmanship and egalitarianism can be instilled by being part of a team. Interacting and communicating with other team members can result in a successful team. Once children have seen that positive interaction can lead to positive results, the desire to cooperate with each other is heightened. The sense of belonging to a group and being able to contribute to the team’s success can improve their self-esteem and self-worth. In this process leadership skills can also be developed.

The relationships and teamwork involved with playing sports has other benefits. Solving problems and either defending or attacking on the field develops the mind through strategic thinking. Practising plays to get past or through the opponents defences, and then to be able to create variations to counter what’s in front of them allows them to learn how to think on their feet under perceived pressure. Instances of thinking strategically in skiing include navigating through the trees, race gates, or congested runs. Determining one’s own speed, the speed of others, the spacing between trees, gates and people all contribute to the child’s ability to think on their feet. Trying to think how the opposition, or others, thinks also helps develop empathy.

Studies have shown that those that participate in sport are less likely to suffer from depression. Physical stimulation of the brain increases endorphins released in the brain, maintaining an equilibrium of neural chemistry, which in turn helps to have an increased attention span. (Bilich)

Playing sport, and skiing/snowboarding, assist with a young persons Personal Development. Helping to develop an intrinsic sense of self-awareness. For example, they may be disappointed in their personal performance, even though the team won. This intrinsic sense of self-awareness can then transpose between sport and academia. Setting goals, practice and perseverance are relevant in more than one facet of life. Achieving set goals contributes to a more positive self-image and builds confidence. This is particularly true for young women, as playing sport increases their chances of graduating college by a staggering 41 percent. (Hadfeild, 2007)

In a ski lesson, an instructor was heard to say to his student, ‘Do you know why we fall over?’ ‘It’s so we can learn to pick ourselves up, again.’ A lot of the time a child only needs moral support to get up…..after you’ve walked half-way back up the run to help them. The skill of emotional self-regulation is developed and honed in the theatre of sport. This is one of the reasons that parents put their children in to ski lessons, as they either don’t have the patience or they find themselves always physically helping their child, rather than emotionally encouraging them.

Some of life’s little lessons are learnt through sport and play. And not necessarily high consequence lessons, either, but rather lessons that aid the personal development of the child. Exploring and learning things for themselves, through trial and error. The more experience they have of cause and effect, the more likely it is that they are developing an awareness of themselves and their surroundings.

Skiing is a versatile sport that you can compete in various disciplines, train to improve technique, go on week-ends by yourself or on holidays with family or friends. Skiing is a sport that can represent so much, to so many. There are not many, if there are, sports like it. For those that live near a ski resort, skiing can be structured weekly training/lessons or recreational fun, for those that go skiing on holiday it would more likely be recreational fun and exploration.

The benefits of sport improved Physical Coordination, Socialisation, Academic Improvement and Personal Development are enhanced significantly through the Theatre of Sport and can afford a more holistic development of the child. Skiing also lends itself to the positive development of children and the participation of other sports lend itself to the development of their skiing.

References & Further Reading

Devenish, C. 2016. ‘The Benefits of Playing Sport for Children’ nzsia.org Viewed on 11/07/16 https://www.nzsia.org/2016/07/the-benefits-of-playing-sport-for-children/

Hargrove, T, 2011. ‘The Importance of Play for Motor Learning’ Bettermovement.org Viewed 22/11/14 http://www.bettermovement.org/2011/the-importance-of-play-for-motor-learning/ 

McInerney, D.M & V. 1998. ‘Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning’ Prentice Hall.

Johnstone, J.A. and Ramon, M. 2011, ‘Helping children develop to their full potential through perceptual-motor experiences’, Humankinetics.com. Viewed 22/11/14 http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/helping-children-develop-to-their-full-potential-through-perceptual-motor-experiences

Hadfeild, J. 2007. ‘BYU study: Girls + high school sports = college graduation’ news.byu.edu Viewed 15/03/2015 http://news.byu.edu/archive07-Jul-GirlsSports.aspx

Bilich, K.A. ’10 Benefits of Physical Activity’, Parents.com. Viewed 22/11/14 http://www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/10-benefits-of-physical-activity/

 

Ski to Sea Change

A huge life-change has led to my first taste of summer since 2008. For someone who thrives on winter, has worked back-to-back ski seasons for eight years, and has largely been responsible for only myself, this change has taken some adjusting. Rest assured though, it’s been fulfilling: the catalyst bringing me to home territory, south of Sydney in the Illawarra region of Australia, was the arrival of my daughter.

Emira* was born last August, in the middle of the New Zealand ski season. Like many newborns, she had a few minor issues at the start, but after a couple of weeks managed to settle into a routine of sorts. Since then, Emira has had swim lessons (the youngest in the swim school!), participated in local library reading groups, been cruising the area in our bike-trailer, as well as pretty much melting the heart of everyone who meets her. The last 6 months have been an adventure that has changed my perspective and priorities! I am sure many of you can relate.

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Bulli Beach Cafe

Currently I am working in a beach-side cafe as a chef and continuing training for the ski season in New Zealand. Having worked in kitchens before embarking on my career in the ski industry, this was a relatively easy change to make. It has been good to have skills to fall back on to provide a consistent and relatively stable income. The big advantage? A beach café is dependent on season and weather, allowing me to return to Coronet Peak for the southern winter!

Ghost-commuter

Looking North from Sandon Point on the commute home.

Cycling along the coastal bike path between Thirroul and Bulli, provides a scenic ride to and from work. And the Northern Illawarra in general lends itself well to training and maintaining a respectable fitness level. As well as the undulating bike paths there are bush tracks that ascend the escarpment – great for high intensity running – and ocean-side rock pools to provide more variety for swimming. Rather than staring at a black line in a chlorinated pool, it can be more interesting to swim in salt water with fish and other marine creatures!

Coledale looking North

Coledale looking North

It is strange to have a summer after 15 winters, however, it has been fun and rewarding. My partner and I are embracing the changes, and this year are planning to introduce Emira to her first proper snowy winter – in Queenstown for the 2016 season!

*For Privacy reasons, I have used a pseudonym

6 Tips for the Start of your Ski Holiday….or Season.

I remember, as a child going on ski holidays, the anticipation of exploring the mountain, thinking that I could just pick up where I left off the year before. I had memories of hurtling down the hill as fast as a could, trying to keep up with my older siblings, or racing them to the bottom. But when we actually got to the skiing bit, my legs seemed like they hadn’t remembered anything from the year before and my coordination was lacking. What was going on?

It was highly frustrating. Of a 5 day holiday, the first 2 days were spent trying to get my legs back. By the middle of the holiday I was back to where I was on the last day of the previous holiday. And then it was the last couple of days that it felt like I actually made any progress. Even though this was the case when I was a recreational skier, these days I’ll have approximately 6-8 weeks off snow between seasons, instead of 358 days between ski holidays and I still take it easy at the start of the season, about 2 weeks, to get my legs back and warm into it.

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Keen on Green to get your legs back

Here are some tips for preventing injuries at the start of your holiday (or season).

1. Start Mellow. If you were skiing Blue runs last year, go to the Green runs. If you were skiing Blacks, go back to Blue. Keeping the terrain easy will help you to focus on what you are doing, rather than where you are going. Skiing with-in your comfort zone also boosts confidence.

2. Start Slow. Yes, you remember beating buddy down the hill last year and you were bought a drink because of it, however that was last year. Going too fast, too soon gives you less response time to avoid objects or people. Also, the faster you go and the more sudden the movement in a way you didn’t intend, poses the risk of tearing a muscle or ligament, amongst other injuries. Slow down, take it easy you have all week (or however long you’re on holiday for). It’s not a race to the Patrol Hut!

3. Keep hydrated. Your muscles will need it. Firstly, they haven’t been used in the same way since last year and you are, more than likely, going to be at a higher altitude than you normally are (unless you are skiing at le Massif, Quebec, at relative sea-level). The combination of lower air pressure and lower humidity means that moisture evaporates from the skin and lungs faster than at lower altitudes. And, it’s been reported that, for some reason, many people do not feel as thirsty in higher altitudes as they should. All great reasons to drink water frequently.

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Skiing at le Massif, Quebec

4. Keep your energy levels up by eating a substantial meal the night before and breakfast each day. Again, the combination of being at altitude, which may slightly increase your metabolism, and physical exercise, in the form of skiing are 2 great reasons to eat without guilt. You need energy to make good judgements and decisions, and to stay alert.

5. Dynamic stretching before, during and after your days skiing. This is really good for keeping warm as well as stretching the main muscles used for skiing. Swinging your legs back and forth, diagonally, and with the arch forward, like kicking a soccer ball, helps to stretch the hip flexor, gluteus, adductor’s & abductors.

6. And remember to call it a day. A lot of injuries are caused by fatigue at the end of the day. And try to avoid the ‘One last run’ syndrome. Your last run should be the one you just did.

If you are thinking of a lesson, I recommend going in the afternoon of your first day. This will ensure that you have enough of your legs back to get the most value. Then for the rest of the time having a lesson in the morning so that you have the afternoon to spend as you wish. Although having said this, a lot of resorts have priced the afternoon cheaper than the morning for this reason. Check the pricing and see what works best for you.

These tips are not a guarantee that you definitely won’t get injured, however, it will be more likely that you will go the distance. Taking it easy at the start of each season has paid dividends for me later on, and I hope it does for you.

What are some of your early holiday warm-up rituals?