Unskilled Coaches Are Hurting XC
The following is a translated and summarized interview by Anne Marit Dahl with Norwegian researcher Jan Helgerud originally appearing in Norway's Adresseavisen. Translation/summary by Inge Scheve.
The opinions and comments contained in this piece are entirely those of the author/interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the position of the AXCS, xcskiworld.com, sponsors, advertisers or members.
Unskilled cross-country ski coaches are hurting the development in the sport in according to Norwegian researcher Jan Helgerud.
Helgerud and fellow researcher Jan Hoff argue that Oddvar Braa and other cross-country legends can share what worked for them, but that they typically can't explain scientifically why it worked.
"I think the next generation of cross-country coaches will be individuals who have exercise science backgrounds," says Helgerud who notes that unskilled coaches tend to be very conservative.
"As researchers, we know the effects of the different training styles and methods, and we can document this scientifically," Hoff adds. "We can answer why the various methods work."
Hard to change
As to the ongoing debate about whether cross-country skiers generally train too much intervals and too little endurance, Helgerud comments: "We have documented that intensity is more important than distance to increase the oxygen uptake. But I believe that when former racers refer to distance, they are talking about a different type of endurance than the experts who are referring to distance as long efforts at a conversation pace with efforts up to 85 percent of capacity."
Helgesen explains: "I think they were training at higher intensities than what we are talking about as endurance efforts. There is no doubt that the former top racers did a lot of the right things. Just consider Oddvar Braa: he is an excellent example that hard efforts can lead to success. But I believe that coaches need to have exercise science backgrounds in order to process and incorporate new trends in training methods, which have proven hard to change."
Need to clarify terms
Hoff argues that one weakness with unskilled coaches - former racers who moved on to coaching - is that they lack the skills to explain the relationship between causes and effects.
"They are important bearers of tradition, but they must be able to choose the most effective training methods," Hoff says, noting that those with an educational background have solid facts to back up their choices. They understand the causes and effects, and they know how the body responds to training, he adds.
"Once we have clarified the terms, I believe the differences in opinions between those with exercise science backgrounds and those who come from a racing past will even out. But all fields have their jargon, and far from everyone can construct this language," Helgesen concludes.