By Cindy Thomson, MEd.
Last June, as I was preparing the Whistler Water Ramps for another summer of jumping, I received an e-mail from the Chinese Ski Association, asking me if I would be interested in offering my services as a strength and conditioning coach to their World Cup aerial team. This likely happened because I was recommended by someone who the Chinese Ski Association trusted. Here in China it is all about connections or "Guanxi".
The Chinese aerial team was in need of expertise regarding injury prevention, strength and conditioning, and some fine-tuning of their high performance program. Despite consistently good World Cup results, the team had not reached the podium in a major event since the Nagano Olympic Winter Games in 1998. More importantly, seven Chinese athletes ruptured their anterior cruciate ligaments in as many months last year, two of whom were marquee athletes: Nannan Xu the first Chinese citizen to win a winter Olympic medal, and Xiaotao Ou, the first Chinese male to win a FIS World Cup.
I felt confident I could help them out, having studied sports in university and coached several alpine ski teams. I had just finished four years with the Canadian aerial team and in that period we had achieved some great results (two Olympic medals, five World Championship medals, a World Cup title and two Nations Cups), and we had a relatively low injury rate (two ACL ruptures in four years).
This was an opportunity not to be missed; the beginning of the real development of skiing in China. I promptly sent them my resume and after some negotiation and visa dramas, I arrived in Shenyang City (population 7.4 million), the training base for their national team.
So began my challenge. My initial program was to be quite specific in nature, but my contributions have been diverse. Training of athletes here is all about volume and little integration of the science of training, specifically motor learning, recovery and regeneration, psychology, injury prevention, nutrition and periodization of training.
The most difficult concepts for the coaches to apply are rest and recovery, and that basic skills are key for the development of complex skills. Which is totally understandable when one considers the culture here. "Work hard and do your best" is the national mantra, therefore high volume at the highest degree of difficulty makes sense. Unfortunately, aerials is one of a few sports where if you have some basic technical issues or an off day it can really hurt.
In September we implemented these concepts at a very successful four-week training camp in Park City, Utah as guests of the United States Ski Association. It was a great opportunity to train on the best water ramps in the world, beside the American, Canadian and Australian teams. We followed Park City with a four-week conditioning camp at the Shenyang Physical Education Institute, where the athletes learned a lot of Swiss ball exercises, Olympic lifting technique, plyometrics and mental skills.