Decision training vs behavior training in alpine skiing Subscribe Pub

Earlier this year, I attended a higher level race coaching course and I had to prepare a presentation on the subject of "Key elements affecting performance of U16/U18 in a competition - decision training vs behavior training". Some of the stuff I learned while researching the subject was quite new to me, honestly, so this may benefit you as well.

In a nutshell, decision training is a set of tools focused on giving the athletes tools to self-coach and engage them cognitively in the training process. Random practice, delayed feedback and other tools are employed as the skill level goes up.

Decision-trained athletes perform better in the long run. In contrast, Behavior Training is based on mindless repetition.

Decision training is especially important in an "open skill" sport like skiing. Open skill sports are those where the environment changes significantly and athletes need to adapt dynamically, as opposed to say swimming, where the environment is static and repetition rules.

These issues are really important in coaching performance athletes. There are many take-aways as a coach in planning training as well as conducting training.

Don't use Decision Training as an excuse to lazily just cycle through a course all day! It is very important to match the ratio of BT/DT to the age group and athlete skill, obviously! There are differences between training technique vs tactics... and if you did not engage the athletes cognitively, you failed!

There are also many take-aways as a parent. A coach should setup a parent session and explain DT vs BT, to avoid questions like:

  • why are you not talking to my kid every time he goes by?
  • why are you ignoring my kid?
  • you're sure talking to Jack a lot, what about my kid?
  • Jane did not improve today, at all!
  • what's up with all these questions? She's not training to be a coach!

Here are my talking points, summarizing the subject and adapting it to ski racing in particular. Use this to get curious and do your own reading on the subject.

Let's first clarify Behavior Training (BT) and Decision Training (DT), so we're on the same page. Some of this was new to me.

Behavior Training

  • Classic, drills-based, Physical oriented
  • Plenty of feedback and instruction
  • Simple to complex
  • Drill perfection
  • Block training (repetition) to create automaticity
  • Set a course and run, run, run

Q. How often were you guilty of just cycling athletes through a fixed environment, with constant feedback?

Decision Training

  • Equal attention is given to both cognitive skills and physiological requirements
    • Engage athletes, learn to self-coach
  • Variable training
    • repeat, but change one thing every time
    • Corridor, but add brushes, change offsets
  • Random training ()
    • Random stuff - like a weird course. Follow the leader etc
  • Delayed and reduced feedback, as skill develops
    • Delay feedback and reduce it - leave the athletes to solve problems on their own when their performance falls within a bandwidth of acceptable performance
    • As feedback is delayed, the number of sports-specific questions directed to the player increases.
    • Use questioning maybe
  • Top-down progression, tactically oriented, hard skills first
  • Increased cognitive effort during training
  • Learn to make decisions in competition-like situations

Q: Where would you categorize "guided discovery" ?

As we walk through those characteristics, we can see some of the key elements that affect the performance of U16/U18 in a competition, in regards to decision training vs behavior training.


  • Performance in time
    • BT early performance, but performance lower later in season, decreased during competition
    • With DT, performance increases slows, but we get higher performance during competitions
    • Especially bad as major competitions are usually towards the end
    • This is the result of research
  • Stress
    • Skills learned in BT tend to break down under stress
    • With DT, the ability to make decisions in difficult conditions should help under stress
  • Unexpected situations, recoveries
    • BT would not train a response, resulting in possibly a random response
    • With DT, there's a better chance of making good decisions
  • Scrimmage
    • DT trains more randomly and variable, simulating competition conditions
    • BT is more block training, repetition and feedback
    • So DT gives more training in conditions approaching competition conditions
  • Inspection
    • the athlete is more self sufficient
    • "doesn’t run as inspected"
  • Reliance on good decisions vs coach feedback
    • BT - reliance on coach
    • DT - reliance on own decisions, less coach feedback,
  • Overall,
    • Engaged, can think and decide
    • React to issues better
    • Understanding the elements of performance
    • Recognizing patterns
    • Look ahead / focus
    • Improvise / decide


  • So what's a good ratio between environments and courses
  • Between courses and scrimmage

So... DT is not "a thing", it's just a way that training should be conducted, how a coach should behave and a set of training tools, like limited feedback, variable training etc. It is also very age specific. A U18 can self-train a lot more than a U10, for sure, although both need to be cognitively engaged in the training process. It is up to the coach to use them accordingly.

Decision Training and IACRCv

The Canadian skill acquisition model is IACRCv, i.e. the stages of skill acquisition:

  • I initiation
  • A acquisition
  • C consolidation
  • R refinement
  • Cv creative variation

This roughly maps to the training group ages, but not always.

The application of the Decision Training tools must be in relation with the current skill level.

Using variable training at the I or A levels will retard learning, while not using it at the Cv level will not facilitate improvement.

The decision training tools

Let's take a quick look at the seven DT tools and their possible applicability to alpine ski race training.

Video feedback

This is a feedback tool. Athletes should learn to analyze their own performance and compare to others. The coach should use questioning and bandwidth feedback with video as well.


This is not the usual demo of "do this" but using models of all levels of performance, including demos, other skiers, video of WC etc. The idea is to get the athletes to understand differences in performance, so they can better analyze the top skiers themselves.

The athlete should have homework to analyze videos on their own.

Bandwidth feedback

By reducing and delaying feedback, the athletes will be involved more and need to think and solve problems.

The idea of "bandwidth" refers to reducing feedback when the performance falls in a bandwidth of acceptable performance, where we reduce feedback. If the performance is not good, then feedback is given.

Athletes learn to self-coach more, to solve problems and think through the elements of their performance and depend less on the coach's presence and a constant feedback and guidance.


Questioning accompanies reduced feedback and allows the coach to maintain a communication with the athlete, while making them think, verifying their understanding, giving them hints etc.

The athletes must understand the technical and tactical elements of the sport, not just "improve skill", otherwise they cannot think through issues and they will not be able to self-coach.

Variable practice

When a single class of skill is trained in variable conditions, like in a race. The skill could be "carving the outside ski" or "impulse" or dealing with this or that gate combination.

Random practice

Combining more biomechanically different skills or classes of skill and simulate situations expected in racing. This is in direct contrast to simple-to-complex progressions and will teach athletes to combine several skills in this or that tactical situation or context.

The context, the tactical situations should change so that the combination of skills is practiced in different contexts.

Hard-first tactical instruction

Start the season with more difficult elements of technical and tactical training, rather than keeping it simple in the beginning.

Start with challenging the athletes with more complex performance and combinations via either video, modelling or execution in complex environments/terrain.

Even when we have lower skilled athletes that cannot perform the more complex skills, we can still show video of say WC winning runs, point out good skiers and make sure they see this or that combination, understand performance here or there etc.


This is a great intro to the subject:

More reading:



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By: Razie | 2016-07-26 .. 2021-12-28 | Tags: post , coaching , improve-skiing

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