Friday, 12 December 2014

Some additional thoughts around selection to Alberta Ski Team 2015-16

Dec 12, 2014

Greetings Coaches

It is my intent as AST Director 2014-16 to communicate clearly and often.  I do this for a few reasons.  First, I think more information is better.  Its frustrating when important information doesn't get into the hands of the people that need it in a timely manner.  Its also frustrating when people who have expert opinion and general membership do not feel consulted before important decisions are made.  It can also be frustrating to not know clearly how a set of criteria will be interpreted.

The fact is, that no selection criteria are ever perfect or will always capture the intended athletes.  In the case of the AST, the criteria are explicitly meant to capture the fastest skiers in Alberta.   It is why in my first year in my role, I consulted with coaches from across the province, from big clubs and little clubs, from well established clubs and clubs just gettin going.  My sense is, people appreciated being asked and listened to about important matters related to the AST.  I followed up those personal interviews, most of which took 45 - 75 minutes of time each, with a survey whose intent was to validate what I had heard in the personal interviews.  The results of that survey are found on this blog.  What surprised me was the consistency and strength of the responses.  I listened, I heard, I validated and then took that information forward to the Technical Committee to inform the creation of the AST selection criteria. 

Then, the selection criteria were drafted and distributed for comments from the ski community.  The feedback was listened to, weighed carefully, and was then used to inform revisions.  A second round of feedback was solicited, afterwhich, the criteria were approved by the Technical Committee of CCA and then the CCA Board of Directors.  The criteria were then published as final on the CCA website.  The selection criteria were then presented in person to coaches present at the Dec 5 Alberta Cup Team Capts meeting.  And because all Alberta coaches were not there,  I put together an interpretation document on the AST Director's blog, in response to some of the questions that came up both since the document was published and at the coaches meeting.

Feedback from the vast majority of coaches has been extremely positive.  There was a question at the Dec 5 team capts meeting about how the discretionary positions would be filled.  The approved criteria state the discretionary positions will be selected based off of performance.  That is pretty vague and so at both the coaches meeting and on the blog, some communication was shared to address that vagueness.

Transparency is extremely important to myself.  Fairness is also extremely important.  Objective criteria that does not include subjective judgements of ability are preferred.  In our discussions as a technical committee, discussion centred on how we could make the 'discretionary' positions less subjective and more objective.  The purpose of the discretionary positions is to ensure that if some of the best athletes in the province have failed to meet the other criteria, that the discretionary criteria would be used to capture those skiers.  Objectivity is the goal - to move away from a group of people deciding something based on their best hunch.  CPL points become an objective and valid measure for an athlete's ability relative to same age peers.  It is how AST has been selected for the past number of years.  The discretionary criteria are meant to capture athletes who have demonstrated ability and high performance based on CPL points, but who for whatever reason, were not able to make it to enough Alberta Cup races to qualify by that criteria.  It is my belief that the criteria shouldnt penalize our fastest skiers for looking for options that give them the best possibility of advancing their performance.  The fact is that many coaches in Alberta during consultation were hesitant about moving away from CPL as the selection criteria precisely for these reasons. An example from the first AB Cup weekend was CWG selection.  Junior boys and girls needed to race out of their category to qualify for CWG on the saturday race.  This means those junior boys and girls did not earn 'in category' AB Cup points.

I realize that there is never a perfect solution to selection criteria.  The attempt made by the Tech Committee was to build in a net to capture some of those athletes who decided to compete at a level that best advanced their ski performance - e.g. CWG trials.

I have heard from coaches around the province that criteria needs to be objective, based on performance, not the subjective opinion of the technical committee members.  To be objective, the discretionary positions need to be assigned using an objective standard like CPL points which are a valid measure of relative performance.  This to me is transparent and objective decision making.

The fact is that the Technical Committee might make decisions about selection for the discretionary positions in some other way.  As far as CCA policy goes, I will for sure not be on the female selection committee because I have two daughters who compete in cross country skiing.  It is yet to be determined if I will be selected to sit on the male AST selection committee.

I appreciate the dialog amongst our ski clubs about the important issues that we face as a ski community interested in advancing competitive cross country skiing in our province.  I appreciate the feedback from coaches about the decisions that have been made and the decisions that are to be made.  As someone who has been a developmental coach for the past 15 years in Alberta, I want what CCA does to represent the priorities of our membership.  CCA initiatives have the potential to make a huge difference in the development of athletes in our province.  It is my goal in my role to optimize the benefit to every club in this province - not just the big ones with professional coaches.  If we really want to advance skiing in our province, then it is my belief that our efforts need to be focused on what works for small start up clubs and for large clubs with huge budgets in all regions of our province.  I think we are doing this, but there is room for lots of improvement. 

I encourage you to share your thoughts about these and other important ideas.  Questioning is welcome.  Ideas are appreciated. Polite and respectful dialog is awesome.

If you'd like to share your thoughts you can email me at  or give me a call at 403-862-1042 or respond on this blog.  I will publish your comments here for all to see.  I've decided to start a blog, because in my day job, because of its interactive nature it is a widely used web 2.0 tool used for sharing and learning.  If you feel like you've got some ideas that you'd like to make sure that i hear, please send them along.  If you feel there is a more objective way of selecting discretionary athletes for AST than CPL points, please share ideas.  Subjective decision making where a committee needs to decide on one athlete over another is I believe what most coaches do not want to see happen.



  1. Here are some thoughts from Glen Cowper of St Albert. - thank Glen for sharing your thoughts

    Thanks for the extensive notes Roy. I tried to post this to the forum but it didn't work ... so for everyone's reading pleasure, here is my rant of the week ...

    For me the debate over selection criteria is of minor interest. If you use CPL exclusively, you end up with the fastest skiers that went to the races with the fastest skiers in the country (inside or outside of Alberta). If you use Alberta Cup points exclusively, you filter for the fastest skiers that went to Alberta Cup races. If you blend the two measurements you end up with a set of athletes from both groups. The CPL approach may nudge people to go out of province more to chase higher points; however, in my experience I don't think you would find that the athletes going to compete out of province have, as their main goal, to chase the opportunity of qualifying for the AST. They take on these extra expenses and time to mostly enrich their competitive experience and to learn how to ski faster against skiers from across the country.

  2. Glen Cowpers thoughts continued -

    I have mentioned this before, but I really believe the fundamental gap here is the deep need to reframe the discussion around athlete development needs and desires at all levels. Our sport has been caught in the paradigm of trying to dial the right formula for the AST and ADT; and yet most of the discussion drifts toward criteria and selection processes. Long gone are he days where we have a "Standing Alberta Ski Team" that competes together and trains together on a regular basis (and I think that's probably okay to let go of). The athletes value getting together, to train and socialize with like-minded and similarly capable athletes from around the province (and country for that matter). The athletes value good quality technique development, good quality training, and an environment where they can feel confident they will be respected and have fun with other athletes. And the AST/ADT program has provided these opportunities to varying degrees over the years but the program has experienced inconsistent acceptance from selected nominees, largely from - I think - club alignment challenges. I have certainly heard that the two main motivators for athlete plans are "content of the program supports" and "recognition" and not often in that order. This is what drives decisions and goal setting. Understanding the selection criteria does not help make decisions; understanding the resulting benefits (recognition and services) of selection is what is needed. Not having some program and recognition certainty that is well aligned with the club programs is what has continuously created confusion, frustration and inconsistent acceptance of team nominations over the years.

    It is my opinion that until we peel the entire "content" and "club-alignment" onion, the debate will bounce back and forth on criteria year after year after year. The athletes are not interested in this and frankly I don't think most of us coaches are either. While I appreciate your efforts Roy, I really believe our sport is fiddling with minor details; while there are numerous signs that indicate we need to give ourselves a major overhaul. Let’s all set some ambitious goals as a collective community and then go after them in creative ways. For instance, in four years why not aim to have the best cross country ski team at the 2019 Canada Winter Games? Alberta will be the host ... lets also be the leader in 2019! We had 18 men and 16 women try out for the games this last weekend. Next time lets have 80 men and 80 women at the trials ... let's get bold and start talking about exciting things ... If we want to achieve targets like that, what should we do today? Tomorrow? Next Weekend? This winter? Next Spring and Summer? These are the things I'm interested in talking about ... I really don't care much about the next minor adjustment to the AST and ADT selection criteria ... it won't change the fact that if we don't get more kids out skiing and learning how to ski better and faster, we will come to 2019 and have - once again - 18 men and 16 women trying out for the Canada Winter Games. And, in the meantime, our province will have grown by over 350,000 people.