HomeRead & TalkLibrary - TeachingImprove Your Teaching: Movements vs. Exercises


Improve Your Teaching: Movements vs. Exercises

As an instructor, you need to understand what your students need to work on, and how they should practice in order to learn. In this article we’ll discuss the difference between what they work on vs. how they work on it. In a subsequent article we’ll discuss methods you can use to find out what your students need to learn.

As in any sport or activity, the skier has to move his/her body in order to make the skis do their job. Your bones, muscles, and nervous system work together to make your body do what you want. This applies whether we are talking about walking, lifting a fork with food to your mouth, hitting a tennis ball, or skiing through a field of moguls. Though we generally don’t think of it while doing it, we had to learn how to move in order to learn to walk – “lift foot from floor, swing it forward, lean body forward, lift toes in order to land on heel, push off toes of back foot, land on front foot, bend back leg slightly to lift foot,” etc. In tennis, the player has to hold the racquet properly (the hands move and grip the handle), has to run into position (move the legs and feet to start, run, turn, and stop), has to swing the racquet (turn the torso, bring the arm back, coordinate the torso and the arm swinging the racquet through the ball, use the hand and arm to adjust the angle of the racquet face), and so on. In skiing, the skier has to tip the skis on and off edge (tilting the feet, lengthening and shortening the legs) and has to balance on the skis (shortening and lengthening the legs, sliding the feet fore and aft, tilting the torso to lean over the stance ski, etc.) A skier who is trying to learn to ski in moguls often has to learn to coordinate two movements: flexing (or bending) the legs at the same time as tipping the feet. In each example, I have mentioned how the person needs to move his/her body to accomplish the task – these are the movements that need to be performed. Most often, movements are what your students need to practice.

Deciding how to practice is different from knowing what to practice. For any given movement that a skier needs to work on, there are many ways to practice. You could just tell a skier what movement to perform (“Bob, you need to bend your legs more”) and send him off down the hill, but this may not be the quickest way for the skier to learn the new movement. As a skillful instructor, you would structure Bob’s practice so that he learned the new movement quickly and accurately.

Let’s say that a skier needs to work on flexing (bending) the legs. Different ways to practice this include:
• standing in one place, lifting each foot alternately from the snow without the hips and/or shoulders rising or tilting
• sliding on flat terrain in a straight run, alternately lifting and setting down the tail of each ski
• sliding across the hill in a traverse, alternately lifting and setting down the uphill ski; again, the hips should travel on a level plane to ensure that the leg bends in order to lift the ski
• making linked turns, tapping the tail of the inside ski (bending the leg will lift the tail)
• traversing across small moguls, keeping the skis in contact with the snow, and the hips, torso and head traveling on a level plane
• making turns back and forth across a small ridge of snow, keeping the skis in contact with the snow, and the hips, torso and head traveling on a level plane

Often, the ways to practice are simply what we call exercises. The goal of an exercise shouldn’t be to perfect the exercise – rather, it should be to focus on and practice the desired movement. From this standpoint, it’s important that you are exact about how/when/where the skier will perform the movement in each exercise. For instance, in the first exercise presented above, if the skier leans back and forth and picks up each foot without bending the leg, then there is no practice of the desired movement, so the exercise would have essentially no value.

Most exercises can be used to practice a variety of movements. For instance, think about a garland. In a garland, a skier could work on tipping the uphill foot, shortening the uphill leg, flattening the downhill ski, transferring balance from foot to foot, leaning the torso from side to side to counterbalance the tipping of the feet, etc. Now, think about a fan progression. Whether you are starting in the fall line and working toward starting in a traverse, or vice versa, you could still work on tipping a foot, shortening a leg, transferring balance from one foot to the other, leaning the torso, etc. Garlands and fan progressions are two ways to practice; in either one, you can work on a variety of movements. Again, it is critical that you present the exercise so that the skier knows exactly how to practice the desired movement within the framework of the exercise.