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Higher, faster, stronger — with more pretending

What happened when the national ski-cross team took an improv class with Whistler's LB Productions



Olympians do improv.

At least, Canada's ski-cross team does — its athletes and coaches were in Whistler last week for several days of team building and a dryland camp, which had them working out in summer conditions.

"They had competed in an enduro race that day and in dryland camp for about three days. It was really full on," says the team's sports psychologist Dr. Karen MacNeil.

MacNeil wanted to take the athletes temporarily away from the action but still build their cohesiveness and confidence, so she decided to add a little drama.

For this she called LB Productions, which teaches acting, stand-up and performance.

"It is right in line with what we do," says LB Productions' executive director Anita Burleson in an email.

"Whether it is with young kids or adults, we use improv and theatre to build confidence and foster creativity.

"Study any champion and you will see that's what they do. Excellence comes from deep within a person, needs to be discovered, trained and nurtured whether it be sport, theatre or any other discipline. But before you can excel you have to believe it is possible. Improv trains you to trust your instincts and to not limit yourself to what others are doing."

LB Productions' acting instructor Louise Robinson met the athletes in Lost Lake Park on Saturday, Aug. 6.

"It was so good. They really loved it and were getting into it," Robinson says.

Her pupils for the day were new and seasoned Team Canada ski-cross members Brady Leman, Chris Del Bosco, Kevin Drury, Dave Duncan, Marielle Thompson, Kelsey Serwa, Ian Deans, Kris Mahler and Britt Phelan.

The team's head coach Stanley Hayer was also there, along with six other coaches.

The team did not know about the "mystery activity" and were eating pizza when she arrived. There was some surprise.

"Some of them were a bit 'Oh my gosh!' They train in their sport all the time, they're not trained to be in a park, being characters and being silly. It's not what they are used to doing. But it wasn't difficult to get them up and doing things," Robinson says.

The athletes got into the drama games, including creating an improvised skit based on going through random drug testing.

Their coaches also had a go, creating a skit about trying to find an athlete when they're late at the start of a competition.

Another skit had them going through a ski run and getting injured. Robinson said they had to figure out how to deal with the situation.

"They had a really good group dynamic. Halfway through I asked everyone how they were doing and they said 'My cheeks hurt from laughing too much!'" Robinson says.

"Every so often I would tell what the activity was bringing out — being able to act on the spot, for example, or focus, or stepping out of your comfort zone, which was the biggest thing for them."

MacNeil says she believes the ski-cross team gained a lot, building the psychological resilience and confidence needed to compete at the international level.

"They are competing on the world stage and we want to borrow skills from other industries, so we're borrowing from the arts in terms of performance and performing on demand," says MacNeil, who also took part.

"It helps their ability to stay focused on performance, performing on demand, their ability to stay focused, composed and poised and managing distractions. It took one or two sessions for them to warm into it, but once they did, they engaged.

"We all laughed, it was a good team-building exercise. It pushed some people outside of their comfort zone and they developed some interesting skills around challenging the mind."

And MacNeil has a lot of praise for their teacher.

"Louise was a fantastic facilitator — she had us engaged with the crowd and set it up in terms of picking some activities that pushed us a little bit," she says.

"The whole thing is about getting people to execute (actions) on the spot. So I would totally recommend it."

MacNeil adds:

"I think it was a success and something we would considering doing again in the future."

For more information on LB Productions, visit www.lbpentertainment.com.