It Takes A Village To Raise A Champion
|Jessie Diggins (L) and Kikkan Randall celebrate with their gold
medals at the medal ceremony for the women's team sprint final at
the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Feb. 24, 2013 in
Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Growing up in Minnesota, it was only natural for Jessie Diggins to try out skiing as a youngster. Strapped to a pair of skis at the ripe age of 2, Diggins showed promise in the sport of cross-country skiing and quickly fell in love with it. Now she is the reigning team sprint world champion (with Kikkan Randall) and has her sights set on the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“Everyone in my family cross-country skied and so it was no surprise when I got involved with the sport,” Diggins said. “Before I could even walk, my dad used to carry me in a backpack and go skiing. As I got older, every Sunday I would go with my friends to the mountain and learn how to ski. It was more of a social event than anything else, but I began to really love it.”
Diggins soon joined Central Cross-Country Ski Association, or CXC, in Verona, Wis. Though small in size, this local club packed a punch, as it was one of the few Community Olympic Development Programs (CODP) in the country. Started in 1998 by the U.S. Olympic Committee, CODPs were established nationwide to partner with local sports groups and serve as a talent ID program. Each CODP aims to motivate kids to achieve the highest level of success in a sport and serve as a pipeline to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In addition to offering various national and international competition opportunities for those involved, each CODP prides itself on building proper fundamentals and technical skills at a young age, while also keeping the sport light and fun. To find a CODP in your area, click here.
Longevity in sport is the key for CODPs.
“Oftentimes, sports teams become too intense too fast, and kids end up getting injured or burning out before they are in their teens,” said Alicia McConnell, USOC's Director of Training Cites and Community Partnership. “Our goal with the CODPs is to build a solid foundation from which we can hone skills and increase competitive ability as the athlete continues to improve.”
In Diggins’ case, this was no exception. She trained with CXC for two years and saw immediate improvement in her skiing. Shortly after, she joined her first pro team, Stratton Mountain Elite (SMS), and continued pursuing her goal of making the U.S. Ski Team. After qualifying for the 2011 World Championship team, Diggins was offered a B Team spot on the U.S. Ski Team, which she accepted.
|Jessie Diggins in action during the women's cross country
individual 10km at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on
Feb. 26, 2013 in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Following her senior year of high school, Diggins received an academic scholarship to Northern Michigan University, but deferred enrollment because she felt that she should continue skiing and see how far that would take her.
“Most skiers on CXC and my high school team go to college, but the majority of the U.S. Ski Team members do not,” Diggins said. “Though I fully intend to get a degree at some point, if I want to compete at the highest level and be amongst the best in the world, I need to focus on my training. Once I earned my spot on the U.S. Ski Team, training became my first priority.”
Though Diggins’ time in CXC was short, CODPs around the country partner with National Governing Bodies in their particular sport in an effort to enhance high-quality intermediate sports programs. Following the logic that “it takes a village to raise a child,” the same holds true in the sports realm as well. In order to cultivate a successful athlete development program, the community needs to be invested for the long haul. Champions are not created overnight, so through tough training and consistent investment from the community, CODPs across the country have the chance to change the face of youth sports in America.
“The three main goals of any CODP program are to inspire the youth, encourage them to get involved and to motivate them once they are involved,” said Yuriy Gusev, Director of CXC. “For us, Jessie has become a sort of icon for CXC and will come back here and then to motivate the kids and contribute to the program in whatever way she can.”
While elite-level athletes have an abundance of resources within their reach, most age-group teams do not provide the same level of support. CODPs aim to bring those resources necessary for success to a more accessible level in order to encourage participation, from both seasoned veterans in the sport, as well as beginners.
“Within a CODP, there is a definite hierarchical structure, which we feel is crucial to the kids’ success,” McConnell said. “Training alongside these elite-level athletes not only encourages the younger ones, but also helps them to understand the process and journey to get to that level. We believe this facilitates goal setting.”
CODPs are mostly connected with more non-traditional sports which need more exposure. Currently, there are nine CODP programs representing 14 different National Governing Bodies around the country, with the hope to expand further.
The benefits of a CODP program cannot be understated.
“Though not wholly responsible for my success, the CODP program and CXC was extremely influential within my skiing career for the time I was there,” Diggins said. “Between the excellent coaches, my fun teammates and our rigorous training plan, CXC was an essential step in my growth as a cross-country skier.”