In any snow sport, the ability to react to the environmental changes, without losing alignment or stability, is an important skill. Chip Richards, the champion Freestyle Skier, has much to say about this. In 1996, he was working with the Australian Freestyle Team.
Although these skiers displayed enormous strength when executing traditional weight lifting activities, they were highly prone to injury. Slight changes in snow conditions would throw them off balance. Then one day he sat on the sidelines, while his skiers played a game of soccer.
He noticed slow reactions times, and only minimal coordination and foot speed. Richards then realized that his skiers were unable to harness their gym- acquired strength when executing dynamic movement. They were strong in predictable environments. But they were lacking in their athleticism.
Richards then decided to change their conditioning routines, and engage in what he called “movement vocabulary expansion”. To create more fluidity in his athlete’s movements, he had them study Pilates. Additionally, he had them participate in other sports, such as surfboarding and tennis. The following season, the Aussie team received their best results in international competition.
Richards used agility training to improve the skills of his ski team. Agility is defined as the ability to spontaneously react to changes in the environment without losing alignment or dynamic stability. In addition to enhancing athleticism, agility is an important life skill. Think about it. Are you able to react to the mogul fields, icy paths and narrow trails that life throws at you without losing your center? If you were an animal, would you be a cat or a salamander?
The concept of the cat and the salamander is actually created by one of the most important people in the sport fitness movement; Paul Chek. By treating the body as a whole system and finding the root cause of a problem, Chek caused a major evolution in the fitness industry. Many professional athletic teams use his cutting edge training methods.
Chek has a theory of two different athletic personality types: Cats and Salamanders. “Cats” are involved in unpredictable sports such as basketball and soccer. Some skiers, such as the ones described in Witherell’s Athletic Skier, can be described in this manner. Cats are characterized by their quick reactions to varying stimuli.
When put on a conditioning program, they will respond quickly, and require additions, advancement and variety at frequent intervals. Chek describes the sports they are involved in as being “acyclical.” Acyclical sports include hockey, soccer, basketball, football and other sports that require a fast reaction time.
“Salamanders” are slower in their reaction times. They prefer sports such as swimming, weight training and distance running, which in some cases are somewhat more predictable than the activities preferred by cats. Salamanders will take a longer time to adapt to a conditioning program, and are more comfortable repeating the same routine for a longer period of time.
Skiing is interesting in this regard. For the most part, it is a cat-like activity that requires the constant ability to react to changes. However, many people take a salamander’s approach to the sport.
They ski the same trails with the exact same turn shape for each and every turn. While they usually ski safely, if a child, a tree, another skier or a snowboarder finds its way into their path, they may find themselves unable to maintain stability when they react to this unexpected obstruction.
Acting teachers often tell their students that “acting is reacting.” Of course, you can simply read the script and follow the playwright’s stage directions, but is that really acting?
In the same way, you can ski or snowboard down the same slope each day, while picking the exact same line, moving at only one speed, and using only one turn shape. But does really allow you to become part of the action?
Whether you are on the slopes, the stage, or simply enjoying your life, agility training offers you an invitation to come out and play! Use your imagination. Play Tag with a child. Chase your dog around the park, Have fun!
Agility is a fundamental skill for life. If you can move from each unexpected situation without “losing your center,” you will allow yourself to take delight in the spontaneity of daily living.