You may remember a childhood or school game called “telephone.” Kids get in a circle and pass a message from one to another. After the message has travelled around the room, the original message is unrecognizable or completely wrong.
I feel like this describes being a relatively new parent to ski jumping with no ski jumping experience. We hear a lot of theories, but never know which ones are true, and we don’t know what we don’t know.
This spring a group of parents from Blackhawk decided to try and improve the knowledge of both athletes and parents. We reached out to Jed Hinkley at USANS to see if he had any thoughts on a coach who might be willing to help for a few weeks to create a consistent approach for both kids and parents alike. After discussion about domestic coaches and national team coaches, Jed Hinkley connected us with Kimmo Yliriesto. Kimmo was on the World Cup circuit for many years and has been coaching ski jumping for the past six years. Kimmo also had some Midwest cred, holding the current record at Norge and winning Iron Mountain.
What sounded like a long shot turned into an opportunity for Central. It also showed how USANS and small clubs can work together for the greater good. Kimmo agreed to help, and instead of working with just Blackhawk we decided that it would be great if athletes from across Central could participate in camps so the benefit was division wide and more clubs, coaches, and athletes could work together toward a common approach to jumping. Ishpeming and St. Paul were the first to raise their hands. We now had three camps for Kimmo to coach and share his insights. Each clubs would organize their own camp and provide different opportunities, and Kimmo would help athletes and coaches who participated in the camps, allowing Kimmo to spend three weeks coaching in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Other athletes, parents, and coaches also volunteered to help with activities off the hill and some Nordic Combined sessions as well.
The Ishpeming camp was a big success, with over 25 jumpers attending! Most of us had never been to Ishpeming before, and it was great. Gary Rasmussen has done an excellent job over the past year, and now has over 20 kids showing up for practice during the summer, and even more this past winter, and Dick Ziegler is doing an amazing job on the Cross Country side. It was at Ishpeming that we first noticed Kimmo’s coaching style.
Everyone was evaluated, and almost everyone was placed on the 10-meter or 20-meter jump. No one was allowed to go to the 40-meter jump despite several jumpers being in the appropriate age range. No amount of persuading by the kids would change Kimmo’s mind.
The same thing happened at the Blackhawk practice the following week. Kimmo kept everyone on the 15 meter for the first week. Kids had to earn the right to go to 30 or 60 meter jumps, which was based on skill, not just their ability to slide off the jump.
I can tell you as a parent, I silently questioned his logic. I wanted my kids jumping the bigger hills and felt like they would not benefit as much from the smaller jumps. However, I kept my doubts to myself.
The St. Paul camp was no different. Dave and Sue Swanson did a great job putting on the camp. St. Paul has two hills (one 20 meter, the other is a 46 meter) with plastic. On the first day, only one jumper was allowed to leave the 20 meter hill. Several parents voiced their frustration to me, but I asked them to have faith.
Next was the Blackhawk camp. Clint Jones, USANS Team Director, joined our camp to coach with Kimmo and our local coaches. Thirty-two jumpers from 10 different clubs attended the camp. It was great to see 100% participation from Central clubs.
What did we learn from Kimmo’s three weeks in the U.S. and Clint’s visit?
Lesson One: Kimmo likes to shop. He never met an outlet mall he didn’t like.
Lesson Two: You should CONSISTENTLY go to K with good form and a telemark before expecting to move up, in addition to possessing skills like a balanced in-run, a take-off where you use your legs and push down, and a solid flight. This means every jump is good — not one out of five. If European jumpers do indeed have an advantage over American jumpers, it is their discipline to get close to perfect before moving up.
Kimmo kept the kids on the largest hill they could jump well. For many kids, this meant staying on the 15 or 20 meter jump all weekend. Age did not matter; jumping skill is what mattered. Every time a kid jumps a hill with bad form or is scared, they build that into their muscle memory. It makes them more likely to repeat the same mistake and to make a habit of those bad mistakes. As Clint said, “90% of a coach’s job is undoing the bad habits jumpers have picked up over the years.”
It takes hundreds of successful small jumps in order to have successful big jumps. Hundreds of successful small jumps build muscle memory, confidence, judgment, and skill in different conditions. Kids should be absolutely killing it on a small hill before moving up. I think this was Kimmo’s main message.
Lesson Three: Is related to lesson two, the smartest jumpers and coaches are moving down to improve. Yes, you shouldn’t move up until you have it right, but you should also move down again if problems develop. Don’t try to work out problems on the largest jumps. Moving down to improve your jumping is a smart move in almost all cases. You can unlearn bad habits or learn new skills where you are more confident and comfortable.
Kimmo told a story of going back to a 60-meter jump to work out a problem after he had been jumping 120-meter hills for years. He spent three months trying to work it out. He came back a stronger jumper than ever before. We watched this happen with multiple jumpers over the three-week period. Hill size should be flexible, moving up and down as needed, and just because you move up to a larger hill does not mean that you exclusively jump that hill or that you are a larger hill jumper.
Lesson Four: USANS wants to support families and clubs. We asked a lot of Jed, and he delivered both Kimmo and Clint to our club in an effort to improve the level of athletes and coaches and to create a common approach to coaching. Clint did a great job with both jumpers and coaches. Reach out to Jed if you need anything; he is there to help.
Lesson Five: Get creative to find solutions that work for your group or club. Three clubs put on three successful camps in three weeks. Seventy-one jumpers from 10 different clubs participated in the three camps. Ten coaches attended two coach training sessions with Clint Jones.
Central is very different from clubs like Park City or Steamboat. Having small clubs several hours away from each other is the norm. Central’s unique structure needs unique and creative solutions. When we all work together, we can do great things for our kids and coaches while making it affordable for everyone. USANS teaming with small clubs allowed us to do something new and different.
Lesson Six: Keep it fun. Kimmo went to a lot effort to keep it fun. If kids aren’t having fun, they may find another sport. We will work harder in the future to make it fun for the kids. Water balloon fights in St. Paul and the dry-land survivor game at Blackhawk were big hits with the kids.
Lee Hull and Jed Hinkley contributed to this article.