One of water skiing’s most well-known and respected coaches, Canadian National Team coach Matt Rini shares the successful elements of a great coach, and his technical tips to guide you through the offseason.
When did you first start coaching? I got into coaching seriously when I was 15. I worked at Carl’s [Roberge] ski school but I skied with Mike Ferraro the whole time. Mike’s got a really unique way of breaking stuff down and questioning the typical ways of instructing skiers. He’s always tried to find a better way to do things.
Was Ferraro your most inspirational coach growing up? Yeah, for sure it was Mike. He’s the one that sparked my interest before I was even coaching.
What elements do you think make a great coach? The first thing is that you don’t put everybody in the same box. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Everybody laughs at me because I’m a very detailed person. If you show up at the lake with different earrings I’m going to notice, if your screws are lose on your ski I’m going to notice before you go out. Even when people pull up towards my lake I watch the way they walk, the way they warm up, so I know what I’m going to get before we even start skiing . I think the biggest thing about being a good coach is to notice a lot of little details about someones biomechanics.
When you get a dock full of older skiers, most of them are nursing nagging injuries so you just have to work around it. You can’t just say, “Oh, you gotta bend your knees,” when the guy can’t bend his knees. Adapt to them rather than make them adapt to you. I try to get people to understand the big picture and the goal. I’m not a person that says, “Put your arm this way, and tilt your head that way, and angle your body this way.” That’s not what I do. I try to help my students understand the big concepts of how to ski with a tight rope, and how to create space in the course. This is what does this, this is what does that. So when you’re skiing at home you’re not a complete mess without a guy sitting in the boat telling you to tweak every little thing.
So it’s all about the big picture.
If you teach skiers the big picture than all of the little things fall into place. What’s cool about people that I’ve coached for a long time is that when they go ski with somebody else, and someone tells them those tiny details to fix because they’re trying to get a certain result, that skier can actually evaluate what they want and they can apply the details into the big picture. They will know how to fix the result.
What’s a good tip you could give our skiers for going into the off-season?
Really the best thing you can do in the offseason is to get more flexible and stronger. If you can’t be on the water, you want to do as much as you can do to be that freak athlete on the dock.
Skiing’s such a tough mental game. What’s your best mental tip?
Obviously, everybody is different. You need to read what’s going on with your athlete. If they’re nervous then you got to divert. If they’re not ampt up enough then you have to ask them questions, and get their brain working for what they’re about to do. What I suggest to skiers is to write down what they want to do, and as they get closer to a tournament they can take all those important things and refine them to one or two keys and stick to them the whole time. That is your focus. You try to focus on what you can control and not what you can’t control. You try to focus on one or two technical things that you can take with you and that is your money in the bag. As long as I do these I’m going to be good.
Can you give one of your favorite key technical tips to our readers?
For the average slalom skier posture is king! There’s a specific posture you do when you’re receiving a tennis serve, there’s a posture you assume when you do a squat. How you stand is what enables you to be the best at whatever you want to do. Slalom is no different. When your posture is right, a lot of things fall into place. And when your posture is wrong, then there’s a lot of things that happen as a result of that. Most people get caught up trying to fix the results instead of focusing on their posture, which will make a lot of s#*% go away.