In June 2011 team China was finishing up the final details of their summer training trip to High Cascade Snowboard Camp in Oregon when they received word that the foreign coach that they had arranged to work with was not going to work with them.They contacted John Ingersol, founder of HCSC and their main contact at the camp, to discuss their options for another coach to work with their team. Ingersol hooked them up with Chris Clark.
The Chinese team is compromised of seven athletes — five girls and two boys, four team coaches, a team doctor and a team manager/translator. Clark found himself in a awkward position, being thrown up against a language barrier with very little time to plan. The first session developed very little success. “However, with their continued request,” says Clark, “I stayed working with the team throughout the first four sessions of camp.”
As time progressed he was able to address some pretty drastic issues that they were dealing with: “Some of the girls were using bindings that were way too big for them, with the hi-back pushed so far forward that the forward lean adjustment was not even in contact with the heel cup.” After making some calls and getting some new equipment set up, Clark began to see some major steps forward in the riders’ ability to more successfully control their boards.
Near the end of their time in Oregon they presented Clark with the opportunity to travel to New Zealand and help coach the team at the NZ Open and World Cup stop. He gladly accepted. The NZ Open did not go as well as they had planned. But the team did see some excellent results at the end of the trip. The Chinese Ski Association (CSA) offered Clark a full-time job coaching the team through the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
“I decided to sit back a little to try and get a feel for how they were used to training,” he explains. “They had a ‘trainer’ who did all of the physical training while the other coaches did the specialized training, mainly trampoline, but also a little gymnastics.”
He proposed a more “team” focused look at coaching, where the athletes could build off each other rather then struggle as individuals. The Chinese had up to that point approached the coaching process by listening to what the coach said, but didn’t give any personal feedback. Clark took a very Western approach, encouraging rider feedback.
“My biggest goal is to get these athletes to start to not only think a little bit for themselves,” says Clark, “but also really learn their bodies so that they can start to play with their tricks.”
This is a competition-focused group, with the Chinese looking for medals in Sochi. Yet outside of the Olympics, one of Clark’s major goals is “striving to get the team accepted into the culture of the sport.”
“A lot of the Chinese kids really do not know what snowboarding is all about,” explains Clark. “They don’t understand the comradeship of strangers who all push each other to get a new trick or just have good time.”
Clark wants to instill in them the notion that snowboarding is about this ability to pull up to a resort and go ride with friends — outside of the competition circuit. Although the language barrier is a sticky point right now, he believes they will overcome this fast once they to start speaking English and begin participating more communally with other riders.
Essentially, once this team gets its bearings and begins to get more comfortable with the idea of what snowboarding is and can be, their progression is going to really take off, and we’ll all be treated in turn to insight into a whole new world.