2019 AST Coach Journal: Leslie Firstbrook

So oddly enough it’s already March… and for myself and (I’d imagine) many of our athletes, I am starting to wonder where the last 4 months have gone? When I look back to what we’ve achieved as the AST its pretty remarkable, really. It’s been first and foremost, a steady stream of races since the end of November, with some massive highs and plunging lows. It’s been dreadfully cold for what feels like months, and can’t warm up fast enough! We’ve come together as a team and had some remarkable days together that may never be repeated. For instance, Ash, Claire and I had 2 of the best powder days of my entire existence down in Jackson. Where we had almost 3 ft of snow in 2 days. Seriously, unexplainable. Less than a week later I watched the sunset over Vancouver/ Pacific Ocean from the top of Grouse Mountain during a night training session. Only to be followed up by a Sunrise the very next morning. I asked a local, ‘how often do you get this?’ his response, ‘ohhhh like never’. It’s these moments that for me, I look back and say, ‘This is honestly the best. I can’t imagine a better way to live.’

As a coach, and if you know me personally, you know that I am a big believer in making the most of every opportunity and experience. I’m often the one to push an athlete farther than they think they are capable and in the next breath suggesting we go axe throwing ‘cause it looks like a neat experience’ HA! – it’s all about balance. I think it’s so easy for us in the ‘ski world’ to get wrapped up in results and scoring this, penalty that, but the athletes and humans we’re shaping is the most important part.

Don’t get me wrong now, I dedicate my whole life to right and left turns, blue and red gates, and lord knows I take it pretty seriously. But I think we all need reminders of why we’re here. I try to really find a balance between zooming in and zooming out on how I coach. Zoom in might refer to the specifics of a turn, alignment on a boot, or the success of a particular training session. Zoom out and you might see a season, ups and downs, tears of joy and those of devastation. Zoom out even more and we see a ski career as a whole. Career highs, injuries, memorable trips and unforgettable teammates – again, it’s all about balance.

Currently, I’m sitting in a motel room in Stowe Vermont having a good ‘ol think about the season so far. We are entering what is arguably the biggest push of our season on half full tanks of gas. We are beginning close to 5 weeks straight of racing/traveling for our athletes and coaches. Where there will evidently be more highs and lows, success and failure, tears of joy and those of devastation. The biggest challenge for us as coaches in the next few weeks is to ‘read the play’. Know when to push and know when to let off. In one sense, you want to push athletes all the time, but sometimes all they need is a good cry and hug. – it’s all about balance

So before I zoom back in for tomorrow’s NorAm, I recently had a chat with an athlete trying to process their enjoyment for the sport. We concluded together, that to race well (for the most part), an athlete needs to be in a state of happiness. However, happiness is usually determined by racing well. It is a classic, chicken or the egg scenario.

I’m very much looking forward to the next few weeks. Our schedule is as follows: we reunite as a team in Mont Edouard – northern Quebec for National Champs. Following this is an Eastern spring series, a plane ride, then western spring series, and finally a Nakiska series. I’m looking forward to seeing evidence of our athlete’s progress this season both on and off snow. There will likely be a great deal of learning and growth in a variety of formats. As coaches we support our athletes through the ups and downs, the happy and sad tears. We often feel it all with them. We just need to remind ourselves that…

 ….this is good. This is balance.