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Updated 2/19/06


A complication for some parents is coaching their kids.  They have to make the transition and switch back and forth from being a parent to a coach. Sometimes the two roles can get mixed up.  Luckily, there are several good opportunities for parents to look for coaching ideas, whether they be at ski sites, web pages, people, or magazines. (In my earlier article I gave some information about web pages, magazines, and other additional references.)

One source is asking skiers at tournaments. Parents that have raised water skiing kids themselves or people that have coached kids before are an excellent source.  You might even ask some of the juniors in the Boys 3 and Girls 3 divisions to see what coaching techniques worked for them when they were younger.

Also look for and ask about clinics and ski schools you could attend.  This year at Bear Lake, Marie Fields organized a terrific Level 1 clinic for young skiers. The skiers consisted of those who had skied maybe one or two tournaments but were still just beginning competitors.  The coaches at this clinic were Adele Roach who works at Jennifer Leachmen's Ski School part-time and me, a Girls 3 junior skier.

I noticed Adele using a couple strategies for coaching the kids and I had some myself that seemed to work well at this clinic.  One strategy is always noticing the skier's improvement and telling them when they did it right.  Always stay positive.  For instance, if the junior didn't quite do what you told them the before pass, but you noticed they were at least trying, tell them they made a good effort and reinforce again what they need to work on.

When you coach your kids, make them repeat what you told them before they go out to ski the next pass or try the next trick.  This way you can see if they were listening and if they understand what you told them.  Going a step further would even be asking your child when they came in or before they go out to ski again what they're trying to improve on and what coaching tips you gave them.

When your children get older and more serious into competitive water skiing, they might write down notes on the coaching tips they receive in their skiing lessons.  Many older juniors and adults do this to reinforce techniques and pointers.  Those days may be a little far off though, (unless your child has a desire to keep the notebook.)  For the time being parents, why not keep a notebook of your child's skiing yourself?  You could include in it the new tricks they learned, how to perform these tricks, information on ski schools, what your child learned at a clinic, timing for the gates, ect.  Keeping this journal will give you something to look back to and track your child's skiing progress with.

Dry land practice helps tremendously in building your child's skiing technique.  Brent Larsen, father of pro trick skiers Tawn and Britt, told me 80% of what you do on land you do on the water.  To practice for slalom, tie the handle to the boat pylon or a pole and have your child practice the right lean, or "leverage position" behind the boat.

The reason I say leverage position, is that the right position behind the boat has more to do with position than just leaning away from the boat.  A couple of these other things are: hips up to the handle (not always touching the handle but as far up as they can go), knees slightly bent, back straight, and arms kept into their sides, (or "hugging" their vest).  A technique to steer clear of is pulling in on the rope with your arms.  Many kids, and adults too think if they pull in they can somehow control the boat.  In reality, all this does is give you a weak leverage position and pulls you up onto a flat ski.  In slalom skiing, the cut across the wakes is the most essential technique to work on for beginning skiers.

For tricks make sure they know how to stand on the ski or skis, knees bent, weight centered over the ski, and hips forward.  Have your child hold onto a handle and practice turns on land.  They can walk out the turns but you also might have them try standing on a towel or socks on a slightly slippery floor.  This gives more of the turning of the ski/s motion.  When turning, make sure eyes are looking up in back position, weight is forward on balls of feet, knees are bent, and handle is close in to body in turns with arms bent.

In addition to practicing running the course and performing tricks, other exercises or games, can help improve your junior's skiing.  For beginning slalom skiers that are just running a couple buoys in the course, have your child run the mini course at shorter line lengths.  In the mini-course, or B-course, the boat drives right in between the line of the skier buoys and the boat guides.  Then the skier skis outside the buoys on one side and the boat guides on the other side.  Keep on pulling in the rope with each successful pass completed.  Once your child finished the 32-35 off loop range, try to go back to the big course.  The mini course helps establish rhythm and timing.

If you find that in the big course they are having a difficult time making more than 2 or 3 buoys, have them shadow the rest of the balls.  Shadowing is turning inside the ball.  This way they can still be able to feel the rhythm of the slalom course.  Another slalom drill that can also be a trick drill is counting how many times your junior can cross the wakes in a certain amount of time (i.e. 20 seconds).  This helps if your child has a fear of crossing the wakes by giving them more confidence each time they accomplish a wake crossing or beat their best score.  It also just helps the skier adapt to riding the ski.

A drill similar to what I mentioned above is the cut game.  It is used in slalom skiing.  The purpose of this game is to help your child establish a good lean behind the boat in both cutting directions.  The skier should start outside of number one buoy.  They can turn around the buoy or a little bit in front of it, if that makes it easier to do the next part of this drill.  Once they make their turn, the must cross the wakes and make it outside of number two ball.  They don't have to go around the #2 buoy.  All they must do is make it to the line of the buoys before #2.  After doing this, have them wait out there till number four ball.  Then, have them do the same thing, this time trying to get over to number five ball.

On trick skis the possibilities for games reach far.  You could have your child try to jump over first one wake, then as they get better both wakes.  To make it easier for your child, shorten their rope and/or bring the boat speed up 2 mph when jumping the wakes.  You also can have your child ride or hold the back and reverse back position as long as they can.  Then, you can spice this game up by having the junior cross the wakes while riding in the back position.  You could also have the junior run the mini-course on one ski or two skiis.

These games although fun, can become boring if you don't vary them regularly.  If you have more than one child doing these drills why not throw in a little friendly competition into the games to make them more exciting?  Better yet, you could invent more games for your children and have them make up ones themselves!

One family that I think has done more for junior water skiers than anyone else I know is the Lohrs.  I always see new faces at the Lohr's on the weekends.  As well as hearing stories about Steve and Anne teaching kids how to ski and sometimes lending them skis to use at their lake.   I know they helped me get started along with dozens of others and I think they deserve recognition for their involvement in getting juniors into water skiing, which goes far beyond their national champion children Ben and Sue.

Encouraging kids to ski is great but remember, don't push your children into skiing if they truly don't want to.  Some coaxing here and there is fine but when it becomes a "dreadful" experience to go to the lake it's just sending back negative feelings to them about water skiing.

Always try to have a strict goal every time you ski--to have fun!  Higher level training and tournaments will come down the road, if you start out with the right foundation of the basics.  Hopefully, a loving, passionate relationship with water skiing will result out of this with your children.

Watch for my coming articles on bigger tournaments such as regionals and nationals, ski schools, higher-level training programs, and more!  As always, if you have any suggestions or comments please send them to me and I will try to incorporate them into future articles.

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A series of articles about waterskiing by Junior Team Members


Natalie Hammel is a nationally ranked 3-event skier and a member of the US Junior Water Ski Team. She holds the Eastern Region and Virginia State Records in Girls 1 slalom, trick, overall, and Girls 2 slalom. She is the daughter of Roger and Lynda Hammel and trains at Timberlake Ski Club. She is 14 years old and an eighth grade student at Herndon Middle School.


Natalie is sponsored by
Performance Ski
and Surf

Jack Travers at Sunset Lake
Gold's Gym of Herndon, VA


2006 National Junior Teams

2005 National Junior Teams

2004 National Junior Team

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2002 JD Timberlake (awaiting new link)

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Natalie Hammel Articles
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