to mark uk coaching week, GB snowsport’s lesley mckenna explores new coaching philosophies

If it was ever the case before, it certainly isn’t now. The cat’s out of the bag: great coaching is the secret ingredient behind sustainable sporting success.

Okay, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking there, but it’s a message that bears repeating. Particularly now, when there’s so much exciting, innovative thinking taking place around Britain’s high-performance sports environments. And even more so because it’s UK Coaching Week this week.

I’ve always been interested in the philosophies and the wider impacts of coaching in sport.

Some of that was fuelled by my own experiences as an athlete on the Olympic programme, but I think more of it probably comes from competing in (and now helping to deliver) a sport that sits at the sometimes-challenging intersection of ‘Olympic competitive’, ‘high-level, non-competitive’ and ‘cultural’. After all, how can you be a great coach (or a great ‘competitor’) if you aren’t at least conscious of some of the tensions and challenges at play?

For me, those questions occupy a lot of my thoughts on coaching in our sport. I’m fortunate to have been selected by UK Sport to be part of a cohort of professionals working across different sports in the UK focused on ‘World Class Coach Development’. The opportunity to ensure that GB Snowsport can be at the forefront of developing coaches who can create a competitive advantage for British athletes competing at the highest levels is truly exciting.

But that’s for the future. What about the here and now? I think there are a few key areas that are already helping to set our thinking on coaching apart, especially around some of our disciplines that have their roots outside of the competitive sporting landscape.

Firstly, a lot of the motivations that we can tap into through our coaching come from a place of intrinsic value. Understanding that we’re coaching the experience as well as the end result could seem counterintuitive, but ultimately the motivations for some athletes are going to be as much about the journey as the destination. Instead of denying that, we can elevate our game by making it a part of our focus.

Secondly, we can celebrate the communal aspect of our sports. It’s not a huge part of mainstream sporting narrative, but a lot of the time athletes really do enjoy seeing others succeed. We’re so used to a ‘winner takes all’ narrative that we can miss the fact that it can be genuinely empowering to see a teammate, and even a rival, achieve something exceptional. The truth is that’s a lot more common than the stories we often see sport tell, but great coaching can tap into that communal instinct and help unlock new levels of performance.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, we absolutely must take a holistic view. And that can mean exposing ourselves, in coaching and in performance, to some uncomfortable areas. It means fostering creativity and innovation in our practice, and giving value to different forms of progression. Of course, we have an end goal. We’re hiding from the reality of our sport and our funding if we try to pretend otherwise. But an end goal doesn’t have to mean an only goal. By accepting that all areas of progress and development – on and off the slopes – are contributing to the growth of a person, we can begin to see multifaceted growth within our athletes. And if that’s the end goal we’re seeking through coaching, than the whole process has meaningful value.

Of course, all of this is a journey.

We’re making real progress and I’m proud to be a part of the work that we’re doing in this space. During UK Coaching Week, it’s a good time to take stock of today, and dedicate some thought to tomorrow. About what great coaching looks like now, and what it might look like in years to come.

Lesley McKenna is Freestyle Snowboard Programme Manager for GB Snowsport, and a three-time Olympic snowboarder. UK Coaching Week is overseen by UK Coaching to celebrate Great Coaching in sport across the UK. Find out more at www.ukcoaching.org

In our latest article for Pride Month 2021, Sophie Morrison and Jayne Kavanagh, leads for our Olympic and Paralympic teams, explain why an inclusive culture is critical to achieving results on the snow.

As a National Governing Body, our job is deceptively simple. At its most elementary level, we simply have to ensure that we are doing everything we can to put our athletes in the best possible position to reach their potential. If we’ve done everything we can, we’ve given the athletes who proudly wear British colours on the slopes the best possible opportunity to compete and to win.

The devil, of course, is in the detail. And the critical detail in this case involves asking ourselves what we mean when we talk about doing “everything we can”.

What is increasingly obvious to us as leads for our performance programmes, and to coaches and to sports around the world, is that great performances don’t come from simply being at a technical optimum. Or, to reframe the position slightly, an athlete’s technical optimum is only within their reach when their wider needs are being catered for. An unhappy skier, or a distracted snowboarder, or an uncomfortable athlete of any type is facing unnecessary barriers from the moment they set foot on snow.

So as a sport we need to think more deeply, about the ways we can put our athletes at ease and the culture we have a responsibility to create to allow for peak performance. This Pride Month, athletes, coaches and administrators in a whole host of sports have spoken out about the need to acknowledge, celebrate and respect LGBTQ+ communities. A number of our own athletes have done so in recent years, notably Gus Kenworthy and Makayla Gerken-Schofield, and in doing so they have helped to embody the sort of culture that our sport should be known for. Inclusive, considerate, respectful and open. Those are values that we try to ensure we’re putting into play every day, whether in our Head Office environment, at training camps, in competition, or when representing our nation overseas.

And it’s those same values that we want to ensure all our Programme Managers and everyone working on getting our athletes out on the snow is working to support, day-in, day-out.

Gus Kenworthy, Freeski World Cup Squad member

Not every athlete, coach or administrator will feel comfortable telling their story, just as not everybody will need the same type of support. The point is that by creating that culture, we help to develop an environment where each person can know they will be accepted and respected for who they are – every one as an individual, and every one as a valued member of the snowsport community.

We know we aren’t perfect in this respect. We will make mistakes, we’ll miss areas that we could be more open about, we’ll slip up. What we cannot accept is the idea that we don’t seek to continuously improve in this work. We wouldn’t allow it of our athletes on the snow, and we won’t allow it of ourselves as a sport.

As Team Managers for our World Class programmes across all our Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, we want to see us succeed in every discipline, at every level, and in every way. It’s painful when we don’t. So, if we know that one of the ingredients that will help us to achieve that success is to build and champion a culture of respect, openness and acknowledgement, we will not hesitate to champion it throughout snowsport.

At the beginning of Pride Month, we restated our commitment to LGBTQ+ people in our sport. We want to make it absolutely clear that any athlete, or coach, or team member, or fan is welcome in snowsport. And we do so not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because in valuing the team – our whole One Team – as individuals, and respecting them in their whole selves, we give ourselves the best opportunity to be the world class performers we know we can be.

Throughout June, we will be marking Pride Month with content and articles that introduce our work and commitments around LGBTQ+ equality, diversity and inclusion. Find out more at https://gbsnowsport.com/pride-month-2021-our-commitment-to-lgbtq-communities/

More than 25% of LGBTQ+ people within the snowsport community have personally experienced or seen discrimination in a snowsport setting, initial findings from diversity and inclusion research commissioned by GB Snowsport, Snowsport England, Snowsport Scotland and Snowsport Wales have revealed. Further results, drawn from a previously-announced research initiative focused on strengthening understanding of diversity and inclusion in snowsport, show that 30% of people nationally see snowsport as demonstrating high levels of LGBTQ+ diversity.

The findings, which are the first analysis made from wider research into diversity and inclusion in snowsport, offer some encouragement around LGBTQ+ representation in the sport while sounding a clear note of caution that work is required to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities.

Among GB Snowsport audiences, around 15% of research respondents noted recent efforts to increase representation and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in snowsport suggesting higher levels of visibility can have a meaningful impact on perceptions within and outside of the sport.

The research outcomes will inform wider work by GB Snowsport and the Home Nations Governing Bodies in efforts to boost representation, diversity and inclusion across the British snowsport scene and to ensure that snowsport is as vibrant and welcoming a body of sports as possible in the coming years.

Commenting on the findings, gb snowsport chief executive, vicky gosling, said:

“While it’s right that we celebrate successes we’ve seen around LGBTQ+ representation in our sports, it’s vital that we also reflect on the fact that too many people from LGBTQ+ communities have seen or experienced discrimination in snowsport settings.

“We will be doing everything we can to ensure our teams and our culture are as open, welcome and supportive as possible, and we will be working with counterparts throughout snowsport to consider the lessons we may need to learn and the steps we will need to take together.”

supporting our athletes

The experiences of GB Snowsport athletes who have spoken in recent years about being out members of the LGBTQ+ community have strengthened our resolve to ensure we take seriously our responsibility to LGBTQ+ people throughout our sports.

To find out more about the first-hand experiences of GB Snowsport athletes, read more below:

Following the outcome of the FIS Presidential elections today, GB Snowsport Chair, Rory Tapner, issued the following statement:

I, and the whole of GB Snowsport, would like to extend my congratulations to Johan Eliasch on his successful campaign for the FIS Presidency. GB Snowsport was proud to support Johan’s nomination on the basis of his outstanding manifesto and exciting vision for the future of snowsport; I am confident that he will prove an outstanding leader for our sport. 

As a former Board member of the British Paralympic Association and an Advisory Board member of the British Olympic Association, Johan has an exceptional understanding of British sport and we look forward to working closely with him in our continued efforts to grow Great Britain’s standing in snowsport internationally. 

In welcoming Johan’s election, I would also place on record our thanks and good wishes to the outgoing President, Gian-Franco Kasper. I have greatly enjoyed our interactions during his leadership of the Federation and thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of the global snowsports community. 

I would also extend my congratulations to the other Presidential nominees, Mats Arjes, Urs Lehmann and Sarah Lewis for presenting their own important proposals to the FIS Presidency campaign. Each has shown themselves to be a dedicated champion for snowsports and will continue to make important contributions to our sport in the years to come. 

We all look forward to working closely with Johan and with the whole of FIS on the key issues facing our sport, including its continued growth, the impacts of climate change, and its adaptation to 21st century consumer behaviours. 

This Pride month, we’re reaffirming our commitment to supporting lgbtq+ people throughout our sports

This Pride Month, GB Snowsport are proud to reaffirm our commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ people throughout each of the disciplines that we oversee.

We believe our sports are stronger and our culture enhanced by creating an environment in which our athletes, coaches, technical staff, administration, fans and partners are able to compete, work and support knowing they will be respected, heard and celebrated. As Pride Month 2021 begins, we are determined that we must live up to our responsibilities and support the rights of our sports’ LGBTQ+ communities.

To ensure our rhetoric is backed by action, we will be using this Pride Month to highlight some of our existing work around LGBTQ+ equality, as well as pointing to areas of future focus:

  • We will be sharing a range of LGBTQ+ focused resources with athletes, HQ and technical staff, including information on sport-based allyship, challenging abuse and being a supportive teammate, aimed at providing practical guidance to GB Snowsport team members around strengthening our culture
  • We will be publishing views from GB Snowsport colleagues on the ingredients that go into creating a positive and supportive team culture across all of our disciplines
  • We are committing to publishing data from our recent Diversity and Inclusion surveying that highlights successes and challenges in promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion at every level of snowsport in Britain
  • Alongside the Home Nations Snowsport Governing Bodies, we will be exploring how we can develop a more LGBTQ+ inclusive environment for current and future participants, fans and professionals within our sport

We recognise that there is more work to be done in supporting LGBTQ+ equality within our sports, and we are committed to ensuring that we take seriously the work required to ensure that GB Snowsport stands as a proud ally during Pride Month and at all times, now and in the future.

For more support and resources on lgbtq+ support and advocacy in sport, guides and information are available from:

By Yvonne McKenley-Hewitt, Nubian Ski Communications Manager

“Do Black people ski?” is a question that Nubian Ski Club is asked more often than we care to admit. However, after seeing a BBC Ski Sunday report discussing a lack of black people in skiing, we thought we would set the record straight.

Nubian Ski is a London based, black ski club and our aim is to encourage people of colour to participate in winter sports. The make-up of the group is mainly UK born skiers and boarders of African and Caribbean heritage, formed, in the initial stages through word-of-mouth. What bonds the group together is a love for outdoor adventure, a chance to make new friends, a travel bucket list and curiosity about skiing and snowboarding around the globe.

Formed in 2000, we are a non-profit organisation with members ranging from skiers and snowboarders who have never been on the slopes, to experts who have been skiing for over 30 years. Each year around a third of those travelling with us are complete beginners, a third are intermediates and a third are advanced.

We started the ski group after an ‘unhappy’ experience skiing in France, we decided to join the US based black ski group, National Brotherhood of Skiers, in Keystone, Colorado, USA. That year there were reported to be more than 9,000 African-American on the slopes, including Nubian Ski Club members.

In that first year Nubian Ski travelled with 40 members, in subsequent years we travelled with over 100 members seeking to experience the camaraderie and excitement of skiing and boarding. We travel with the NBS roughly every other year, as they do not always go to the resorts we want to visit.

There is a belief that skiing is just for the rich and privileged, however, that label does not fit us, or many of the other Black people we met on the slopes. Whilst we admit skiing is certainly not a cheap sport, members benefit from group discounts and paying for their holiday in instalments making it easier to manage the cost, as you might do with any other holiday.

To date, Nubian Ski has skied in Japan three times (Niseko and Hakuba Ski Resorts). For the most part we ski in Colorado (including Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Aspen, Snowmass) and Canada from Whistler in the west through resorts in Calgary and most recently, Tremblant in Eastern Canada). In recent years, we tacked on a ‘sunshine’ leg to the holiday and have been to Thailand, Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Dominican Republic after the ski leg of the journey. Going forward, in a post-COVID world, we are looking at European destinations, as they are nearer and less costly!

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nubian Ski organised events that brought non-skiing members together like picnics, parties and barbecues. During the pandemic, we zoom and are looking forward to a time we can meet up in safety.

An important part of our remit is to support local charities and our current charity of choice is Urban Synergy, which mentors and supports school children to achieve high levels of academic and personal success for themselves. It also holds role model seminars so that young people can see other people of colour doing roles that they had not considered possible for them to do before.

Prior to that, we supported Snow Camp, a charity that supports young people to achieve through personal development, vocational training and introducing them to the experience of skiing and boarding. We have also helped to raise funds and awareness for the charity ACLT.org which encourages donors from the African and Caribbean communities in particular.

Nubian Ski members support the charities wherever they can. One particular member, who is also an organiser for the group, is Roger Walton. An avid skier and former soldier, Roger started skiing in 1988. A Black British man of Caribbean heritage, he skied for the first time in Austria, and has since skied extensively in Europe, North America and Japan.

Roger joined Nubian Ski in 2002 skiing in Banff and Lake Louise in Canada and has been with the club ever since. His enthusiasm is such that he has only taken two breaks from skiing since he started; one was for health reasons in 2015, and the other was due to the birth of his daughter.

When asked about the narrative of there being no black skiers, he said, “I saw the BBC Ski Sunday report that said there were no black skiers. It’s wrong to assume that there are no black skiers, it’s more reasonable to say more black skiers should be highlighted and represented. Quite simply, I enjoy skiing and the Nubian Ski Club has made me see parts of the world I’ve never seen before.”

In 2005, Kurt Dallas went on his first ski trip with Nubian Ski at the age of 40. He had previously wanted to ski for a long time, and a change of circumstances in his life gave him the opportunity to do so.

He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the camaraderie that came with being amongst like-minded black people who enjoyed skiing. It gave him an ‘adrenaline rush’ and allowed him ‘to feel free with the wide-open space with snow’. It also allowed him to practice skiing as a sports discipline.

A medical diagnostic engineer, he has been on 11 ski trips with Nubian Ski and is the current President of Nubian Ski. His most memorable trip was in 2020, travelling to Tremblant in Canada and then the Dominican Republic.

When asked about the narrative of there being no black skiers, he said, “Nubian Ski has been going for 20 years. Lots of people who joined Nubian Ski also went with their white friends initially. They chose to join a black ski group as they felt the togetherness was better, and to avoid potential racism, which some of them have experienced.”

Nubian Ski Club is one of a handful of black European ski clubs that recognises the need for, acknowledges and encourages diversity within winter sports. Whilst the future of travel as a whole is uncertain, we do know that when it returns, clubs like Nubian Ski will continue to thrive once more. You just need to know where to find them.

For more information about Nubian Ski, feel free to check their website, Twitter, Instagram, or email them at info@nubianski.com.

As the clock ticks down towards the Olympic and Paralympic winter Games in Beijing, GB Snowsport are proud to reaffirm our commitment to Clean Sport by backing UK Anti-Doping’s Clean Sport Week campaign.

With preparations for the 2021/22 season well underway and thoughts turning to representing the nation in Beijing next year, GB Snowsport technical and performance staff are working closely with athletes, support teams and coaches to ensure anti-doping protocols are understood and acted upon, and that education on the importance and benefits of competing clean is provided to all members of the GB Snowsport team.

In preparation for Clean Sport Week 2021, we have been working across the GB Snowsport community to ensure that our commitment to clean sport stands in close alignment with the new UK Anti-Doping Strategic Plan 2021-2025, which was launched earlier this month. We fully support the plan’s ‘Education First’ principles and its focus on providing appropriate education, which uses the right channels and is relevant and accessible to everybody involved in elite British snowsport.

We’re proud to put clean sport at the heart of our athlete support and dedicated to ensuring that anti-doping is a key pillar of our work supporting British athletes to excel on the world stage.

To find out more about UK Anti-Doping’s Clean Sport Week campaign visit https://www.ukad.org.uk/clean-sport-week-2021 and keep an eye out across our social media channels this week for more detail on how we’re making Clean Sport a key part of our preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2022.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to Sarah Cecil, GB Snowsport Sport Psychologist

How do any of us make sense of the pandemic? How can elite athletes process the emotions they’ve felt, and reflect on any new-found strengths that they might be able to utilise in the future? During Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s a good opportunity for us to reflect on those questions – and their relevance to people in all situations.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a complex task. In my role at GB Snowsport, I oversee the Mental Health Screening programme alongside the sport’s Chief Medical Officer, Mike Loosemore, as well as providing self-care advice alongside Kearnan Myall, the Performance Lifestyle Advisor. Over the past year, a lot of the work I’ve done has focused on helping staff and athletes with lockdown and all the challenges that come with it. Some of the lessons we’ve learned will have relevance for a long while to come.

Firstly: self-care is an especially important priority right now. Because we’ve lost some our normal ways of recharging, we have to be proactive and give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves. At work (or in high-performance situations) if we’re managers or coaches, we need to give permission for people to enact their own self-care strategies. It’s an unwritten rule, but it’s a vital one.

Secondly: let go of struggles and move forward. We’ve run education on basic psychology looking at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) and strength based psychology.  I work mainly from an ACT perspective, which addresses psychology from the standpoint of: “it’s not our thoughts that are the problem, it’s our struggle not to have them which causes the issues”. Naturally as humans we have all these unwanted thoughts and feelings which are uncomfortable, and a lot of people spend a lot of energy trying to get rid of them. By reframing that use of energy, we can encourage people to be willing to accept their uncomfortable thoughts and move forward focusing on their ’why’.

Thirdly: make sense of your experience and unpick your strengths. At GB Snowsport we’ve worked really hard to make it natural to talk about mental health. We want people – athletes, staff, anybody – to feel comfortable talking about their self-care priorities, how they’re going to do it, how they’re going to give themselves permission to do so. The combination of basic psychology and “unwritten rules” around the culture of mental health is a really powerful way of helping people to manage this really complex situation.

We don’t know, of course, how the lockdown easing is going to affect people’s mental health. The message we’re trying to drive home is that it’s okay not to know how you’re going to feel. The most important thing to do is to remember what’s important for you in your life, and remember not to wait until you feel happy or motivated before pursuing it. It’s better to just go and do it, and allow yourself to manage the emotions that come along with it.

One key piece to consider, as we move out of lockdown, is a small memorial to all the little things we’ve lost in the past year. It’s not necessarily the big things or the loss that gets acknowledged, but the little things that are easy to feel aren’t worthy. Of course, there have been big losses – and it’s easy to think: “how can I complain about my lack of summer holidays when someone else has lost a loved one?” but we have a right to manage our own losses, even if they seem small. It’s a concept called “disenfranchised grief”: grief that society doesn’t teach us how to grieve for. Giving ourselves space (and permission) to feel sad for the opportunities we missed out on helps us to cope with it and move forward.

As humans, we are very adaptable, and we are really psychologically flexible too. We shouldn’t try to predict how we’re going to feel, but we can focus on the values that motivate us. If the thought of something makes us anxious, that’s okay; you can take your anxiety along for the ride with you. That’s just as true of exiting lockdown as it is anything in life. For our athletes, it’s okay to bring your anxieties with you to the snow, and still ski or snowboard. They needn’t be mutually exclusive.

And that’s what it boils down to: you might be scared, but do it anyway. Acknowledge the fear, take a breath, and go ahead.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. For more information on this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

For more information on GB Snowsport’s work in mental health, visit https://gbsnowsport.com/mental-health/

Photo: GB Snowsport Nordic Athlete James Clugnet training in Norway by Arne Olav Wagenius

GB Snowsport chief executive, vicky gosling, reflects on the publication of uk sport’s new strategy

The publication of a new strategy for world class sport in Britain is always good cause for a few moments of self-reflection. Are we working towards the right plan? Does our strategy fit the bigger national picture? Do we have a role to play?

Those moments of self-reflection are, I think, helpful. In fact, they’re critical in a high-performance environment like ours. If you’re not interrogating your strategy and looking for new opportunities, you’re not going to be primed to spot the things that can take you to the next level.

UK Sport’s new strategy, which was formally published last week, was one of those moments for me. The plan we’ve set out for GB Snowsport is already paying dividends – our results last season were testament to that fact – but I wanted to be certain it’s fit for the future too. So, does our strategy fit the bigger national picture? Do we have a role to play?

The answer is yes. We absolutely have a role to play, and we’re ready to do our bit.

The three ambitions outlined in the new UK Sport strategy – to keep winning and winning well; to grow a thriving sporting system; and, to inspire positive change – are ambitions that we also aspire to.

Our athletes are the embodiment of the first.

Whether it’s Dave Ryding’s phenomenal podium finish at Abelboden in January and Charlie Guest’s storming season finale or Mia Brookes’ overall Europa Cup Bronze and Charlotte Bankes’ World Championship Gold, British snowsport athletes are breaking new ground every week, and they’re doing so in the right way. We have the single largest medal responsibility across any Olympic and Paralympic National Governing Body, summer or winter, and we are mindful of that in every step of our work. From competing clean to participating in a culture that values openness, mental wellbeing, and standing up for causes they are passionate about, the GB Snowsport team knows that winning well and winning with integrity are the hallmarks of great champions.

In the second, we are and will continue to be a model for sustainable sporting success.

From coaching and sport science to domestic and international partnerships, I am determined that GB Snowsport should be at the cutting-edge of British sport, and that the lessons we learn should be available to the rest of the country’s sporting infrastructure. After all, that’s what sits at the heart of our ‘One Team’ method, where each of our disciplines work together, shares coaching and training methodologies, and supports one another more than ever before. Of course, we care about building our own successes, but how much more powerful will they be if we can be a rising tide for other sports too?

The third – inspiring positive change – really gets to the heart of what I believe our sports can be.

We all know that sport, in all its forms, has the power to change lives. Today’s successes inspire tomorrow’s champions, of course, but the impact extends further than that. We are conscious that the maxim “if you can’t see it, you can’t believe it” rings true for our sports – and that extends beyond our successes on the snow. We have a wider responsibility that uses our world class performances as a springboard to inspire and captivate the nation in a whole array of areas. We can be a force for good in so many areas, both here in the UK and across the world. From social justice to responsible leadership and campaigning for change, we have both the responsibility and the power to leave a lasting impression on the world around us.

None of this would be possible, of course, without the support of UK Sport.

We consider ourselves fortunate to be backed so strongly and we’re determined to repay the faith shown in us by living up to the ideals set out in the new strategy. Our focus may be on Beijing and the season ahead, but we still have time to reflect – and those reflections show we’re moving forward on the right path.