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snowboard coaching

By Amy Fendley There is trouble in paradise, as Canadian snowboarders search for guidance and a hand to coach them. For years the Canadian snowboarding industry has been establishing and re-establishing itself in an attempt to become a reputable sport. But reputation is only part of the problem. The underlying problem is financial. Serious snowboard competitors are having to rely on money out of their own pockets to compete. That money may be enough to get them from point A to point B, but how does a young rider, competing internationally, cope without a coach? Maëlle Ricker, 20, is one of the best female snowboarders in the world. She is the 1999 ISF world champion in boardercross. She is also a case example of what can happen as a result of the absence of a coach. Ricker is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which she sustained during time trials for the snowboard cross event at the FIS World Cup Finals in Italy last month. Ricker and other Canadians were competing as members of the Canadian Snowboard Team, but were there without a coach. As the course got faster through the day there was no coach to let the Canadian competitors know about the changing conditions. It was a bad day for several other coachless racers as well, as there were three serious accidents during the warm-up runs — two of which required helicopter med-evac procedures. Ricker was sent home with a U.S. coach. "Beware of the ides of March. That should have been a warning, but with no coach to lay down the law, there were injuries," said Karl Ricker, Maëlle’s father. National team pro-boarder, Darren Chalmers, 28, says that without the U.S. Team, Canadian snowboarders wouldn’t have had any support at all. "It’s a little embarrassing," says Chalmers, who separated his shoulder at the same event. "But there is just no money for coaching or physio." In Ricker’s 1996/97 season, she placed fifth in the Nation’s Cup. She was a Team Canada Point Leader, along with Tara Tiegen and Ross Rebagliati, and won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. Last season she was fifth in the halfpipe at the Nagano Olympics. This season, Ricker had first place finishes in the FIS World Cup snowboard cross event at Blackcomb, the ISF Extreme Games in Colorado, the ISF World Championships boardercross and second in the halfpipe event in the ISF Van Triple Crown. Due to her injuries, Ricker will not be able to complete the rest of her season, which means she’ll miss the U.S. Open, the Canadian Championships, the Westbeach Classic, and the Kokanee BX finals. Bob Allison is a coach for the Blackcomb Snowboard team and is part of the Canadian national team selection committee. He is appalled at the situation Canadian snowboarders are finding themselves in and says that although there is sponsor money available, the whole coaching program in snowboarding has yet to be developed. "The Canadian Alliance of Snowboard instructors has only started working on coaching modules," said Allison. "We did have team coaches that went to the Olympics, but once the Olympics were over, they were done and were back into doing films and freeriding. At the provincial level, teams will go to an event, and if a coach doesn’t like a call they’ll deal with it. Individuals would be pretty hard-pressed to try to understand all those rules and regulations. "Without a coach there to watch out for the safety side of things, it can make for a difficult situation. A coach can come to bat for you. Without a coach it is left up to the competitors to make the decisions." Due to the free-spirited nature of snowboarding, especially in freestyle, Allison says there is a trend for the freestylers not to want coaches. But some 12 to 14 year-olds and their parents want the guidance of coaching. "Coaches look after stuff like booking hill space, setting the courses, and videoing," Allison says. "In snowboard racing there is a need for coaches, but freestyle is a bit different, there are parks there and a chance to just use the mountain." The Canadian Snowboard Federation is recognized by the Canadian Ski Association, Canadian Olympic Association and the FIS as the governing body for snowboarding in Canada, but Canada currently lacks a national snowboard coach. Some provincial snowboarding teams have coaches but in Canada it is generally the few organized clubs that have full-time snowboard coaches. Even Olympic champion Ross Rebagliati hired his own coach this year. "The Canadian National Team would like a coach, but it comes down to dollars and cents," said Allison. "There is money to be had out there, but we need the right combinations to get access to that money. Snowboarding is definitely a marketable property, but there are definitely a combination of problems at the higher end here." Allison feels the problem lies at the CSF end of things. "They’re really trying to reinvent the wheel, but they don’t have a person out there who understands sport development. They are shooting from the hip saying, ‘let’s be cool, let’s go out there and snowboard and get the money from whomever will give it to us.’ "It would probably be wise to establish some sort of program, borrowing strategies from skiing," he says. "But there is a real anti-skier attitude there. "I’ve talked to kids who say, ‘so what, I made the National Team, but I get no money anyway.’ The real competitive side of snowboarding is only a small group of people. "It would be a strain for them (the CSF) to take on the commitment and energy of finding coaches," said Allison. "It’s got to come under some other governing body for snowboarding." The problem, according to the CSF, is all financial. The CSF put together a coaching program last fall that is currently available at every ski resort across Canada, but is still struggling in search of funding in order for the program to run smoothly. "We worked diligently to make it happen," said Michael Wood, executive director of the CSF. "Coaches are an extremely important part of the sport, especially in competition when they’re calling ‘heads up, watch it’. But there needs to be funding." Wood says that a lack of coaches stems directly from a lack of funds. In an attempt to find more money, the CSF is in the midst of designing a new "package program" for sponsors. "We’d like to compare ourselves to Alpine Canada, in that we feel we are moving in the right direction," says Wood. "But we only have two main sponsors, Paris Glove and Canadian Pacific Hotels... only two sponsors have shown commitment in working together, past the next Olympics. "We want to see snowboarding grow in Canada, unfortunately there isn’t more support out there." Wood says the sport-management side of snowboarding is unique because it is divided into different properties to make it easier for sponsors to identify where their funds are flowing. The national team, the national series and the national championships are the three main divisions of the CSF. Wood says the CSF is frustrated it can’t get more funding from Sport Canada, and is tired of having to deal with complaints from athletes who are having to sleep on floors and hitch to hills. "It’s a year after the Olympics and it’s frustrating that our government hasn’t recognized our athletes," said Wood. "The time to recognize a sport is after the event, not a year before the next one. This year we’ve had 45 podiums, and the government will not support us until 2001. We keep sending letters, but there’s no chance of anything until the next round of quadrennial sport funding kicks into effect." There are nearly 1 million snowboarders in Canada, about 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women. Being an "equal opportunity" sport, snowboarding could be the perfect tool for the federal government to reach youth, Woods says. "If one was looking for a cause for a lack of growth in the sport, it’s because we don’t have support from the sport management side of it," said Wood. "We have support from TV networks like OLN, CTV and CTV Sportsnet, which broadcast over 900 hours of snowboarding a season, but it comes down to the whole bureaucratic melting pot, and our requests are falling on deaf ears. The government says we’re not a sport in Canada." In the meantime, while the CSF trys to sort out its funding problems, Ricker works to rehabilitate the knee she injured while competing without a coach.

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