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The Wants and Needs of Students

Service suggests more than a minimal commitment to fulfilling skiers’ desires. Our success as an industry depends on our ability to not only teach what they want to learn, but also to teach them to want the things they don’t even know yet. For example: a new student may have the fundamental desire of skiing safely. In the process of teaching them to fall, to ski slowly, to put on their equipment, and to negotiate the chairlift, couldn’t we also teach them to want to ski parallel, to want to ski more difficult runs, to want to take another lesson?

If you told a 5 year old that they could have a candy bar or a dollar bill, they’d likely take the candy bar. If you told a High School student that they could have a car today or admission to college, some would be more tempted by the car. If you tell a skier that you can be safe by learning the wedge or teach your body movements that will help you for the rest of your skiing lifetime…you guessed it… many will choose the wedge.

Consider the position of power we hold as skiing experts. We literally have the opportunity to educate the desires of our students. They may not even know how to want the thrill of skiing proficiently. There are powerful techniques for identifying what our students want to learn. You might adopt some of the following five practices for identifying the needs of your students:

  • Invite your students to describe how they will know whether or not you’ve done your job by the end of the lesson.
  • On the first run, or in the first 10 minutes, have your students point to the skier who is skiing the way the student wants to ski.
  • Inform your students that your job is to be their skiing genie, and that their wish (within reason) is your command. And have them tell you their wishes.
  • Start the lesson by informing your students that what they want is more important than what you want to teach them and at any time they are welcome to tell you what they want.
  • Structure your introduction in such a way that the students can stop the lesson at any point and tell everyone (or you) what they have learned.

There are obviously infinite ways to identify when you are addressing the needs of your students. Isn’t it ponderous, however, that traditionally we’ve only paid attention to when we were meeting the needs of everyone except our students. In PMTS we call that "centering". You will frequently hear us ask you where you are centered. Traditionally, instructors have been centered either on their own needs (money, personal preference, past experience, or laziness) or the needs of the larger organizations (certification, class handling procedures, time slots for lessons, adults vs. children, and set standards). Personally, I’ve yet to meet the student who paid money for me to enjoy myself while I taught them. Equally rare is the student who will pay to look like PSIA says they should look. Have you ever met the student who says I’d like to be a level 3, perfect parallel, or wedge skier? If you have, I think we’ve done that student a great disservice.

We should probably say something about wants and needs. Maybe there is not a large distinction between these two words. I do know, however, that needs seem to be more powerful than wants. Maslow probably cringes in his grave when he hears how we refer to his hierarchy. Ski instructors candidly throw around the comfort and safety needs but rarely (if ever) mention the love and self-actualization needs. The whole purpose of Maslow’s hierarchy was to describe our drive for higher and more profound motivations. What does skiing have to do with self-actualization? I know several instructors who are convinced that if they could only certify at level 3… then they’d be self-actualized. Well, I recently got my pin (I wear it next to my PMTS trainer pin) and was sorely disappointed that self-actualization didn’t come as part of the award ceremony. Maybe I should ask for a refund?

The needs of our guests exceed our capacity as instructors to meet those needs. Some have financial needs, psychological needs, medical needs, social needs, and spiritual needs. Unless you want to be a rabbi banking psychic who administers first aid and counseling, we probably ought to conclude that we are not capable of meeting all the needs of our students. Instead, it seems that skiers come to us with only information, movement, and motivational needs. Your ability to identify and address those needs will accurately describe your success as an instructor.

What about wants? While needs are more powerful, wants are more service oriented. The magic of teaching skiing happens only when both wants and needs are met. For example, if a skier wants to ski parallel, we can assume that they need to do that within the confines of safety (movement needs), with minimal understanding (information needs), and from a standpoint of kindness (motivational needs). But what if we can teach them to be parallel too. They’ll probably never thank us for keeping them safe (but maybe), but they’ll be ecstatic that we taught them to keep their skis together. Here is a short list of some wants you will likely encounter this season:

I want to be treated with respect…not like I was a beginner.
I want to ski with my family.
I don’t want to waste time getting all my gear together.
I’d rather be skiing with my friends than with this class
I wish I could be an expert skier.
I want to avoid falling.
I want to spend as little money as possible.
I don’t want to be embarrassed.
I want my friends to be impressed.
I hope that this is fun.

You may see that wants follow the same pattern as needs. Each of the wants described fit into a information, movement, or motivation category. This is powerful! If we can describe these categories, we can more successfully meet both the wants and needs of students. Look for upcoming articles to sharpen your abilities in these three important classifications.