Interview with Neil MacGrain – Head Coach at Bearsden

Thanks for your time in doing this interview Neil. We thought it would be great to hear a bit more about the scenes and teams that make up CSS and with Bearsden dominating the league over the past two years we definitely would love to have some insight to what goes on at Bearsden! What are you guys drinking up there? But seriously, let’s start with the basics. How long have the freestyle nights been running and how often are they?

Freestyle has been going on for years at Bearsden. There was some sketchy wooden kickers back in the late 90’s and then the freestyle slope as everyone now knows it was built in 2006. Bearsden Freestyle in it’s current incarnation has been running since 2008 with training now on Wednesday & Sunday evenings. There are 2 sessions on a Wednesday; Development Team from 6.30-8pm which is aimed at those who are looking to build their freestyle skills and get started in some of the local competitions, and the Competition Team from 8-10pm which is for those who a looking to (unsurprisingly) compete mainly at Scottish & British events.


It seems like it is yourself and Matt McCormick who drive the scene at Bearsden? What is your role and how does that differ to what Matt does? How did you get involved to start with? Anyone else who is heavily involved in making Bearsden what it is?

Would say the riders really drive the scene at the club, with the coaches trying to shepherd the flock in the right direction. There is only formal coaching twice a week and we very much promote that if riders really want to develop then they need to take ownership for their own learning and ride a hell of a lot more every week. Those that are really progressing are probably riding 4-5 times a week.

My role as Head Coach covers all the fun stuff like planning, paperwork, dealing with parents… as well as being on the hill coaching. I got involved by starting the training programme in 2008 after coaching abroad for a few years, and was lucky that there were a bunch of young riders who wanted to develop and were keen to get coached. Matt is still very much an athlete and his focus has to be on staying on top of his own riding, but he is also a very good at getting involved with coaching as part of, and outwith, the training sessions supporting the riders where possible. There are a number of coaches involved at various levels, but Rick Murray has been a stalwart of the staff since the beginning and he brings a really positive outlook and atmosphere to the sessions. As he puts it, he’s the good cop to my bad cop!


 What happens on a normal freestyle night at Bearsden – how many people come along, who is coaching, who decides what features you have out on the slope, etc?

The sessions are pretty rider driven, it always starts with a warm up in trainers working on agility, balance & coordination before either hitting the now world famous snowflex kicker or pulling out some rails or boxes to session. We are lucky on a Wednesday that both slopes are closed to members of the public and only Bearsden Freestyle & Racing teams are training, which makes it pretty easy to set up whatever we want for the rails. On a Wednesday there are about 20 riders per session and about 25 or a Sunday too.

 

Its clear you have masses of talent at Bearsden. Why do you think Bearsden has such a vibrant scene and how do you and Matt approach helping such a wide range of kids and adults all at different levels to progress week in week out?

I think one of the biggest points to look at is the fact we are in the 11th season of having a regular training programme and with that comes a lot of opportunity for new riders to come in and see what can be achieved over time. You can’t fast track skills development, you need to ride more and be motivated to work hard putting in the hours to learn the skills. This is reinforced throughout the programme and we also value the benefits of skills development from other sports and activities. It’s too easy to become so focussed on one sport at the cost of all others, but that can just lead to a limited skill set and early burnout, especially if it’s driven by a pushy parent!

The other area of great importance for us is the range of skills in the coaching staff. You need to have a balance of experienced coaches who know the sport and the likely development pathway within it to bring a realistic perspective, and a bunch of young guns who can still throw down and inspire the next generation by showing them what to do. No-one is better than the other, it’s just best to have a mix to be able to meet the physical or psychological needs of a range of riders. While all the coaches will have their preferred sport, everyone gets involved coaching both the skiers and snowboarders, and the riders know they can talk to any of us if they want some help.

 

What place does freestyle play in the grand scheme of things at Bearsden? Do you have full support from the owners and managers to do as you want? We know you guys have been pushing it this year with your super creative EX tricks. Do you have support for new features and keeping things fresh on the slope or is that down to the freestyle crew to take care of that side of things?

We are very fortunate the club are really supportive with all that we want to do. This year there was new matting put on the landing and the small jump rebuilt to better help the development of the younger riders. It’s not cheap and there’s always a budget element to look at, but if we are able to justify the benefit, or fund it ourselves then there is generally no issue. Freestyle is only a small part of the club activity but with the various visiting pro’s over the years it has helped to raise the profile of a small dryslope in Glasgow to the wider freestyle community, and the club recognises the benefit of that.

 

Last year Bearsden won a considerable amount of prize money from winning both Championship Skiing and Championship Snowboarding – half of which you spend on new features for the slope. Have those new features had a positive impact since they arrived? And we all want to know… how did the other 50% of the prize money get spent?

Yeah we blew the lot on a new rail and box and then spent some more on a few new kickers on to them. Wanted to get a low, wide box that was easy to put out so we could make freestyle more accessible to the kids in lessons. If they can snowplough or straight-line then they can have a go at this box. Judging by it’s condition already, it is being well used… We also got a donkey kick rail as something a bit bigger. It’s pretty popular as it’s so smooth but also helps with working on spins off. We are pretty limited on space for rails and needed something that would help riders progress. No point have a super tech rail only 3 people can hit, better to have something which allows more people to get technical on it. The other half of the money went to the riders. The younger ones had it put towards the camp in Italy last year and the older ones got the cash to help with the cost of their seasons. That was Matt’s idea, and was a good one as it was well received by the riders and parents!

 

If a local kid thinks it would be great to come along and take part in your freestyle nights, how would they get involved? Do you welcome new members all year long? What do you do to make sure they aren’t going to nail themselves on their first attempt off that big kicker?

The programme runs from start of Sept to the end of May and as long as we have space, then we can accommodate new riders throughout the year. We like them to come along for a few weeks on a trial basis to start off with and if they like it and want to continue, then they need to become members of the club and the team. The sessions incorporate an element of technical riding which gives the coaches an opportunity to assess the skills before deciding on a plan of action. Most come having ridden at the slope before, but if they haven’t then we build them up slowly riding both the dendix and snowflex before they are allowed to huck their carcass off the jumps!

 

OK that’s probably enough questions for now. Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s been great to have the support of the club, but there are various others who are involved behind the scenes who work hard to support the programme and all the riders involved, so I need to really thank Al, Ross & Lewis at Freeze Pro Shop for all their commitment & support over the years! It’s all the little things that add up. Also want to thank Snowsport Scotland and Sport Scotland for the various injections of funding and off hill support services provided to the riders as they move up through the Park & Pipe Academy and on the Development Teams. Knowing the older riders have access to the Institute network of physio’s, S&C and performance lifestyle means the coaches can really just focus on the sport skills development. Finally want to thank GB Park & Pipe, BSS and all the sponsors of CSS for pulling this all together for the last 2 years. Can only imagine the work that goes on behind the scenes and the time involved but CSS has really pulled the UK freestyle community together and hopefully showcased another part of it to more of the rest of the world!


And final thanks has to go to the parents who help out & support all the stuff we get up to. It’s the usual suspects with the countless hours taxiing, helping organise and filming (not just their own kids either) are all very much appreciated by the riders and coaches!

 

© Neil MacGrain 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

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