Updated: Jun 25
Being learner centred is often talked about in teaching sports, and snowsports is no exception to this. However, what does it mean to be truly learner centred? If we are to be successful at helping and developing the individual then surely we need to know what their needs are and how to address them in the environment in which we work? Taking some inspiration from Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs and Martin Seligman's PERMA theory of happiness and well-being I am presenting a model of 'being learner centred in snowsports' which I hope will be a cause for thought and discussion both by snowsport instructors and the national associations who train and examine them.
We have probably all heard of the acronym S.E.L. - Safety, Enjoyment, Learning which puts safety as the number one priority in any learning experience. The learner needs, and wants, to feel safe within the snowsport environment whether that is indoors in a snow dome, on an artificial slope, or in the mountain environment. They also need to develop trust that their instructor will make good decisions with regard to their safety whether this is terrain selection or the choice of task or drill. This means that the challenge and skills balance needs to be carefully managed so that the learner has the available skills to match the challenge of the task.
All emotions are useful whether they are labelled positive or negative. The learner needs to experience a range of 'positive' emotions such as joy, serenity, gratitude, awe, inspiration etc. and the snowsports environment is the perfect place to foster such emotions. As research by Barbara Fredrickson suggests positivity helps to broaden and build our awareness, thoughts and actions opening us up to what is possible. As instructors we have the perfect opportunity to help our learners experience these kinds of emotions. However, we also need to manage our learners negative emotions e.g. fear and anxiety and this comes back to good decision making (and safety) with regard to choosing suitable activities while being aware of the demands that the environment is placing on the learner such as weather, busyness of the slopes etc. Emotions can also be adversely affected by the physical and mental demands of the sport so this needs to be continually monitored.
Being fully focused on the task at hand is very desirable both from the learner's and instructor's perspective. Having such concentration can be seen as a gateway to flow experiences leading to many benefits including enjoyment, enhanced learning, stronger self-concept, sense of achievement etc. The instructor's role here is to create the necessary interest so that the learner can place their attention on the appropriate stimulus. We are always paying attention to something but the challenge (for the instructor) is to get the learner to pay attention to the task. As Tony Robins says, "energy flows where attention goes" and we want our "psychic energy" (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) to be present moment focused on the task at hand. This loops nicely back to emotional needs, and management of emotions, in that a learner who is fully focused on the task at hand has no attentional energy left over to worry.
People often come on snowsport holidays for social reasons and the connection they make with other learners is very important. The instructor's role includes managing and promoting that connection and the overall atmosphere during the session. This is where lift riding time can be very effectively used to develop such relationships, not only making sure your guests mix with each other, but also by giving them topics to discuss when ascending. There also needs to be a positive connection between learner and instructor which can be enhanced through good mindful listening (on the part of the instructor) and through developing trust as previously mentioned in safety needs.
Learners want to feel they are making progress, that they are getting better. Therefore, they need to acquire skill, become more technically competent and able to apply their technique to the snowsport environment (tactics). This, in turn, leads to a sense of achievement and improved self-esteem which links back to the need for absorption.
Learning is a complex process. And learning in the snowsports 'open' environment adds to that complexity. Great instructors can look after the individual learner needs as described in this article. Doing this will result in very gratifying and memorable experiences for the learner and is a truly learner centred approach.
Technical competency and skill acquisition are clearly important (achievement needs) but the learner has other needs which perhaps take priority? It seems that a number of education pathways (as delivered by national associations) focus more heavily on the 'technical' side of the sport in spite of the fact that the other needs of the learner are of equal if not greater importance?
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The classic work on how to achieve happiness. Rider.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). Positivity : groundbreaking research to release your inner optimist and thrive. Oneworld.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 370–396.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish : a new understanding of happiness and well-being--and how to achieve them. London and Boston: Nicholas Brealey Pub.
Tate, D. N. (2020). Learn, Enjoy, Flow and Grow: Using the principles of positive psychology to help find passion and meaning in life (First). Parallel Dreams Publishing.
About the Author
Derek Tate is an author, coach and teacher and runs Derek Tate Coaching. His mission is to help others to flourish and get more out of life through better mental, emotional, and physical health. He offers mental skills coaching, alpine ski coaching, online courses and workshops and writes self help/psychology books.