When Tim Gfeller took the reins as the head coach of the Norwegian women’s World Cup team in 2014 he inherited a small team on the rise and quickly saw potential in advancing the program.
Now six years in, and with handfuls of medals at the highest level of ski racing collected from skiers on his teams, the Ottawa-raised coach, who also spent eight years with the Canadian women’s World Cup team from 2006-2014, offered club coaches and executives on a BC Alpine zoom call insight into the craft and profession of alpine ski coaching. Essentially, his lessons learned.
On the call, he outlined six guiding principles practiced by the Norwegian team that he feels would be of value to any club or regional program. Culture, planning and hard work are the the core of Norway’s success in alpine ski racing, as outlined in last week’s Svindal interview sheds light on the Attacking Viking’s ‘secret sauce.’
“We operate our team a bit like a business,” he said with an acquired subtle Norwegian accent. “We have a mission statement and set of values that I think are important for any team which will set the direction and guide the club.”
Cultivating ‘smart’ athletes
With a coaching and support staff of 13 supporting eight skiers on the World Cup team, Gfeller noted the critical importance of athletes “taking ownership of their programs” in order for the system to be cultivated into a productive and successful operation.
In terms of developmental philosophy and direction, Gfeller encouraged a unique pathway that works best with regional or local challenges … and unique advantages. “Forge your own path and always have a purpose to what you do,” he said.
“It’s next to impossible to copy what another country is doing,” explaining further. “Each country has its own unique challenges … and Canada has very different cultures within the country itself, so I suspect each club or regional team has its own challenges. You can learn from others but it’s important to forge your own path and decide how you want to develop your athletes.”
Team over self … always
Citing a positive team culture that “promotes the team, not the individual” as a key factor, Gfeller noted that ski racing is obviously an individual competition, but “as Kjetil Jansrud said, ‘It’s an individual sport for one minute and 30 seconds and otherwise it’s a team sport.'”
“We travel around together, support each other, we build environments and feed off each other,” he said. “That’s important to instil even at the younger ages as the importance of the team is [high], no one person is bigger than the team.”
Gfeller also suggested preparation and planning as the key to successful coaching. “It [planning] can be 85-90% of the work as a coach,” he said.
When asked if there’s a difference in the work ethic between Canadian and Norwegian ski racers, Gfeller paused and thoughtfully responded with, “no … I wouldn’t say there’s a difference in work ethic but they are used [in different ways]. But I do think that Norwegians are willing to do whatever it takes.
“When I was in Canada I had probably the fittest group on the World Cup and now in Norway we have the same.”
“We’re not just a group of people that travel and work together, it’s really a family,” he said. “We try to work hard, work smart and do what it takes. But setting the culture is very important.”
Tim Gfeller: 6 Guiding Principles
Set the values and mission statement to guide the club. Build a family that works hard and smart, while being good people.
2. Team over self:
Always do what’s best for the team, not any one individual.
3. Individualized development:
Overcome the unique challenges and use the advantages of your culture or geography.
Short, mid and long-term planning is critical for coaches. Always have a plan and train with purpose.
5. Technical preparation:
Keep it simple. Be strong over the ski. Ski clean, use the legs well. Be active through the turn with good balance.
6. Coaches learning:
Always be willing to learn from everyone around you. Never stop learning.
Watch Tim Gfeller‘s complete presentation here.