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Interview with Jonathan McPhail: Coaching Freeski and Snowboard at the Vuokatti-Ruka Sport Academy (VRUA)

April 24, 2023

Tell briefly who you are and where do you coach?

My name is Jonathan McPhail and I coach sports science topics (mainly physical training and performance science) to athletes and coaches in freeski and snowboard at the Vuokatti-Ruka Urheiluakatemia Olympic Training Center. I am British but moved to Finland in 2015 to study my masters in Sports Science and Biomechanics at the University of Jyväskylä. Alongside my work, I am currently studying for my Ph.D. in Sports Sciences focusing on the physical testing and development of academy and national team freeski and snowboard athletes.

Describe the sport you coach? 

Freeski and snowboard are snow-based sports and require an array of technical, tactical, and psycho-physical demands. To master new tricks, athletes learn precise technique that emphasizes control, timing, and body alignment. Although this requires a certain degree of co-ordination, mobility, and strength and power, the sports are primarily viewed as technical disciplines.

Consequently, athletes and their coaches predominantly focus on skill acquisition and the refinement of tricks whilst also taking into consideration the emotional load that these athletes may experience due to the inherent risk of severe injury.

What makes freeski and snowboard sport so unique?

Ruka snowboard environment is unique

The sports are relatively ‘new’ and so there is a great deal of progression in the tricks that athletes are learning and performing. Furthermore, there is often a large degree of autonomy granted towards athletes and a great deal and individuality on display. The subjective ‘style’ of the execution of technical tricks is also often deemed as incredibly important. Within the sport, style is trying to make a trick look good and is often a combination of linking creativity with being in certain body positions whilst performing a trick.

Another unique aspect of snowboard and freeski is the environment of being on snow and the changeable weather conditions involved!

What things do you emphasize in coaching?

This is dependent on the individual athletes in question, the coaches I am working alongside and time of season. Context is key! In my opinion, coaches, and support staff where possible, should try to get to know their athletes, and seek to understand what works for them (or may work) and then apply the most appropriate interventions - not easy sometimes!

For example, some athletes may need to prioritize developing their decision-making regarding trick selection, their risk-taking ability, psychological preparation, nutrition or perhaps strength and conditioning training. Juggling these considerations in an effective way whilst ensuring quality on-snow training is the aim!

What kind of coaching philosophy do you believe in and promote in your actions?

I believe that it is important to be curious, to try and continually develop, be self-aware and to not lose sight of the big picture. I try to prioritize applying the most applicable interventions based on the context and individuals vs. being tied to a philosophy. I like the serial winning coaches day-to-day practice framework (Lara-Bercial and Mallett, 2016).

Why do you use Qridi Sport as a training tool? Which functions are the most important to you?

Currently, within the academy freeski and snowboard teams the most impactful functions within Qridi Sport are relatively simple ones - the calendar planning and training content functions as well as the list of participating athletes. This helps the coaches plan their season, training blocks, competitions, and overall structure more efficiently - freeing up time otherwise spent on logistics that can be applied for coaching interventions and other aspects deemed important in both the short and longer term for developing student athletes.

As the coaches, athletes and other important personnel become more accustomed to Qridi and training monitoring, we will start to investigate applying other tools and techniques within Qridi providing they are backed by high quality peer-reviewed research, are valid and can make a positive impact for our athletes and systems within VRUA.

Thank you for the interview Jonathan and all the best for your coaching!

More information about the vuokatti-ruka sports academy: