Developing the Whole Athlete
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts…” Aristotle
Credited with this philosophy of interconnectivity, or at least some Greek semblance of these words, Aristotle undoubtedly never intended to apply it to whole athlete development. He also never imagined the sports of skiing, snowboarding, or any other snowy-slope pursuit. Contemplating society under the shade of an olive tree was more his thing. But Aristotle’s premise is relevant to the foundation of whole athlete development on several levels, from the individual athlete to a team of athletes.
In each, the combined holistic effort of the parts leads to an outcome superior to parts working in isolation. Most individual athletes leading lives enriched and balanced with physical, intellectual, emotional, and social activities and interests (parts) will ultimately have greater opportunities to achieve optimal performance (whole). Relatedly, teams composed of strong athletes working together with diverse abilities and skills perform better collectively.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Athlete Career and Education (ACE), championed by Chief of Sport Luke Bodensteiner and led by myself as the Director, is dedicated to whole athlete development. As Luke describes it, “Our organization has a moral imperative to equip athletes as whole people far beyond their athletic performance; equally significant is their physical, intellectual, and emotional wellness and eventual transition to school, career, and life after sport. Concern and preparation for athletes’ futures are not just a safe “Plan B” in anticipation of injury or low performance. Preparation for our athletes’ futures must be assimilated as a vital building block into their participation and tenure on the team.”
Developing the whole athlete requires thoughtful, strategic programming focused on integrating education, career, and social endeavors. U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes have myriad needs based on athletics, education, career, and community progress, experience, and goals, so we are developing innovative, personalized ways to support them. Athletes from every team have access to services across funding resources (including grants and scholarships), athlete funding workshops, financial education, academic planning, advising, tutoring and proctoring, tuition reimbursement, in-state tuition benefits, career development and life skills workshops, mentoring and internship and employment networks and guidance, public speaking and presentation support, and personal branding and sponsorship engagement. All the ACE services and initiatives work in concert to bolster an athlete’s whole development.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s #oneteam initiative also relies on this idea. We have three subsets (from individual to sport discipline to whole team) spanning seven sports (alpine, cross-country, Nordic, moguls, aerials, snowboarding, and freeskiing), and the individual and team performances are respectively and equally important. One athlete’s win is a team win, and vice versa. 2018 is a banner year to watch this concept in action, as a large contingent of our athletes gear up to represent themselves, their teams, our #oneteam, and the United States in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month. I am lucky enough, however, to see the importance of reaching each individual athlete and each team on a daily basis in many different ways, whether advising on a college credit, proctoring an exam, encouraging an internship opportunity, sharing a sport scholarship, observing the snowboard-cross team sweat together on the gym floor, or cheering our aerialists in a World Cup competition.
Another advocate of this holistic approach to sport and life is U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Head Cross Country Coach Chris Grover, who sees the interconnectivity of an athlete’s life aspects as an effective catalyst for speed, “Athletes actively engaged in pursuing and education and/or career development are better athletes. Engaging the mind compliments engaging physical and technical traits and skills. Pursuing an education and/or a career while simultaneously pursuing athletic goals keeps athletes engaged and happy…and happy athletes are fast athletes.” With a collective college GPA of 3.79 during the last academic year across the cross-country and Nordic team athletes and current early season results on the podium, Grover and his athletes are clearly making meaningful connections and recognizing and appreciating the excellence of being engaged, happy, and fast.
Athletes’ contributions to society are equally as meaningful and significant as their contributions to medal count. These phenomenal athletes deserve relevant opportunity to apply their passion, skill, and dedication to life and community just as they have applied these traits in sport. “Beyond the Medals” is a vital program that enables U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes to engage in community service and see the world beyond sport. Some athletes are able to travel to Mexico to build homes for underprivileged families while other athletes worked with KidsPlay, immersing themselves in Rwandan culture and teaching kids the power of play and sport. These service opportunities have enriched the lives of many of the athletes, broadening their world view and deepening their appreciation for the their own individual and team experiences.
Bodensteiner explains of our athletes who have contributed to Hope Sports and other Beyond the Medals initiatives, “By providing our athletes with a meaningful opportunity to make a difference by using the unique platform that sport has given them, we aim to enhance their performance on the field now and in the future. By cultivating an off-the-field identity, our athletes have found more purpose in their athletic pursuits, felt less external pressure, and have been more willing to extend their athletic careers. Hope Sports has made a profound impact on the development of our athletes as people, and on the performance of our team.”
U.S. Ski & Snowboard ACE program has made steady progress these past several years in the areas of athlete funding, education, and career development, yet many areas of need remain. We are still striving to make our whole athlete development initiative comprehensive, holistic, flexible, and accessible to ensure athletes realize their potential and achieve balance. Our greatest goal beyond leading, encouraging, and supporting our athletes in achieving excellence and best in the world results, is supporting their “whole athlete” approach to sport, education, wellness, and life.