Matt Whitcomb began his career with the U.S. Ski Team back in 2006. Along the way, he appears to have developed a reputation as a team builder -- one who can be inclusive when it comes to embracing the many types of personalities the sport attracts. Currently, Matt is the head coach for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, and has coached at the past three Winter Olympics. Matt also enjoys coaching high school-age athletes to help them jump the gap from amateur to professional. His passions are people, and working with others to create high-performing teams.
The best travel tip is to make sure you are well-rested, hydrated, and packed and organized before the trip. Don't go into your travel blown out or stressed. Make sure to start packing earlier and take a deep breath before the flight. Transcript: "Well, the travel tip question is asked on the eve of me flying to rovaniemi Finland, and so it's a timely question. I think the best tip that is out there for traveling is, simply go into the travel well-adjusted rested hydrated, packed organized, mentally centered, you know. There are all sorts of things like you can adjust your sleeping habits before the trip, but then you're just Wasting time and the days leading into the trip, some people take melatonin when they get on the airplane, some people, meditate, some people wear compression socks. Those are all great things, but the main thing for me is just don't go into your travel blown out and, and that seems obvious, but often when we're leaving for Europe, for one month, or two months, or three, or four months. The packing is pretty stressful, and so athletes and coaches. All of our staff often do actually go into Pretty tired and stressed out, and that's a bad move. So, pretty easy to solve just be prepared and start packing earlier. Take a deep breath, and enjoy the flight and watch Lost in Translation on the on the plane."
My goal for the upcoming season is to have the women's team finish in the top two or three and the men's team finish in the top seven. For me personally, I want to maintain my energy balance throughout the year by taking time for myself when needed. Transcript: "Hey Peter. Thanks for the question. My goal for the upcoming season is a little bit more personal about my own performance. As a coach, I try not to place too many result oriented goals on the team, particularly and especially on individual athletes just because they're going through enough individual stress, anyways, with their own desire, to succeed. So it doesn't help if a Coach is, you know, making a big deal. Before an event about result oriented goals, I think that can be pretty harmful. However, as a team, I would love to see our women finish in the top two or three. I think we have a good enough team to be the best women's team in the world this year. And for our men, I would love to see them finish in the top seven. That would be that would be a huge step forward for both. And then I'll combined our team could finish. As a nation, top five or even better. I think we are we are definitely on an upward trajectory, so I'm psyched about this season with regards to that, for me, my personal goal is to maintain my energy balance throughout the whole year. I've had some feedback from athletes in the past that I who I respect greatly for giving me this feedback and they just say, hey, you know, you know when you're rested you're a better Coach and I just like to, like to work and help and keep going and keep Keep going, keep going. And I don't notice personally that I my product of coaching is is becoming dampened and so I'm going to try and stay sharp this year and sometimes I'm going to say no to requests so that I can take a little personal time and recover so that I can be better when I come back. Thank you."
For sprint races, skiers will do a harder warm-up than for longer distance races in order to reach peak temperature faster. This is because they want to avoid losing time during the race due to not being fully warmed up. To prepare for longer distance races, skiers will start off with a faster pace in order to warm up during the first couple of kilometers. Transcript: "So we do prepare a little differently in our warm-up for sprint races as compared to longer distance races and I think it you have to go back and look at the word warm up and you're actually trying to warm up your muscle temperature so that you can perform. And for a Sprint, race for cross-country skiers, that can be anywhere between two and a half to three and a half minutes. And if you are still warming up during your your race, and maybe it takes You 30 seconds to reach sort of peak temperature for your performance, you're going to be losing seconds in those in those, those moments of the race where you're not yet warm. And so, for a shorter race, we do a harder warm-up people. Talk about producing some lactic acid so that you can begin to buffer that lactate before the event actually begins. And I do believe in that. And so we work very carefully with individual, protocols from one Click to the next even two, different sprinters will have dramatically different warm-ups but they're both pretty hard warm-ups for a longer distance race. You know, a ten kilometer of 5 km. We still want to go out of the gate, pretty, pretty fast. So, we're pretty well, warmed up for that. But for say 20 or 30 or 50 km race, we do a little less and the pace of those races. Particularly if their Mass start, they tend to start a little more slowly with exceptions of course. And you can use a the first couple kilometers of that race to warm up. So great question and I hope that made some sense."
Coaching is great because I don't have to race and experience the pain, but there is research that suggests that if you focus on something else rather than the pain, it can help to reduce the amount of discomfort. For example, counting or looking at a particular point can help distract from the pain. Transcript: "Well, the great thing about coaching is that I don't have to race. And so I don't feel pain in races. I only feel excitement and maybe a little bit of stress, but not a ton, but we study pain quite a bit and, and discomfort and there are some some, there's some cool research about. You know why we rub our Shin when we bash it and the idea is that only so many signals can go through the pathways to your brain. Rain. And so if it's filled with just pain, then you feel it, rather acutely. But if you rub it in fill those Pathways with rubbing sensation, then you can only feel so much of the pain and I think racing is similar. If you can focus on your Technique you don't have the capacity to focus exclusively on the pain. You're going to feel uncomfortable in races for sure. But I know one of our great athletes Jessie Diggins. She will. Sometimes you can almost audibly hear her accounting as she goes by you in a race. You know, one, two, three, just just distracting herself from the discomfort and I find that incredibly inspiring. Some people look at the next tree to get to and around the next Corner. Anything to distract you from that pain because if you just focus internally on that discomfort, it's going to eat you. Thanks."
Strength training is very important for cross-country skiers and should be done two to two and a half times a week. Focus on core, Olympic-style lifting and Plyometrics. Older skiers should pay extra attention to strength training due to lower testosterone levels. Transcript: "Hey Brett, great question. How necessary is strength training for cross-country skiers? It's huge, we do it. Probably two two and a half times a week which is to say to two big sessions of strength. And then one maybe that's just core Plyometrics based, but strength is kind of the thing that helps. You maintain your Technique long into a race when you might otherwise start breaking down, particularly your core. We spent a ton of time with core. Of course, as Americans we do a lot of strength training that's a, that's a huge piece for us a little bit more olympic-style lifting than say, some of the Scandinavian Nations but equal emphasis on core, we use a lot of bands that are like hanging from a pull-up bar to do sort of elastic resistance. A lot of jumps, a lot of Plyometrics, things like that for older skiers. Yeah. Men, my age and older. Women as well but men in particular were testosterone. Levels are not what they once were strength. Training becomes even more important. I think the older we get so have fun with it."
What makes people nervous about a World Cup course is the high speeds they reach, the hardpacked man-made snow, and the unpredictable weather conditions. Teams that can't go home often check out the courses to look for any sketchy corners or low-hanging branches and report it to the local organizing committee. Having predictable weather tends to calm anxiety. Transcript: "Maddie, Matt W here from Finland, just checking in after a great race with Gus Schumacher or time trial actually on a course on a World Cup course, that does make some people a little bit nervous. And what makes people nervous about this particular course, is some of the downhills we've been reaching speeds over 50 miles an hour, the last couple days and, you know, this is where we don't wear helmets and, and we're going 50 on. In man-made snow, which is incredibly hard packed things that tend to make me nervous, our safety oriented. So as an international team that travels, just incessantly for four months, we don't go home. And, and we're always at the venue, five, or six days before the race with teams like Canada, Japan, Australia, often Russia. But not this year, China. Just teams that can't go home and we're always checking out the course. And if The sketchy corner or something like that or something that could be improved low-hanging Branch. I don't know, will tell the local organizing committee and they'll usually fix that for athletes. I think what makes them nervous is more like changing weather conditions. If there's a big snowstorm forecasted for the day of the race or rain or something like that because hitting the wax for us, the getting the skier at wax, right? Is so important critical to success our success? Yes. And so predictable, weather tends to calm anxiety, and unstable weather conditions. Tend to make people nervous. I hope that answers your question a little bit. Thanks so much. It's, it's fun to get your questions."