Scotland’s most successful snowboarder Lesley McKenna has retired from competition and swapped her board for the books as she targets results as a coach.
A triple Olympian, the Aviemore athlete’s career spanned two decades and she remains the only British snowboarder to win a half pipe World Cup event.
Lesley McKenna. Image courtesy of Euan Baxter firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking her final bow at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, McKenna now juggles her role as coach to some of the most promising snowsport talent on the Roxy European Team with study for a performance coaching degree with the University of Stirling.
“I’d not done much formal study before, just lots of little bits and bobs,” explained McKenna, 36, in between packing her bags for the X Games in Tignes, which start on Wednesday (16 March) and features five of her athletes. “I wanted to find something related to my sport to give me the motivation to do it properly then, by chance, I came across the course at Stirling.
“It is academic, but relevant to my day-to-day work. We are reading about stuff which covers the situations I face and the solutions. It also creates a whole community of performance coaches, which is brilliant. I never considered I would have so much in common with a football or a triathlon coach and we can bounce ideas off one another and compare methods.”
The degree is the brainchild of Alan Lynn, a Senior Lecturer at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence. Created in 2010, it is geared towards people with years of experience in performance sport, delivered through distance learning.
This is a particularly appealing factor for McKenna, whose time is further split helping the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) to develop their coaching programmes.
Making the transition from top athlete to top coach can be tricky, but McKenna believes she may be at an advantage thanks to the nature of her sport.
She said: “When you are on the slopes, you coach the people you are riding with and they coach you – you each share new tricks and skills. It is a sport which is quite unusual in that sense as it’s not so much direct competition with one another, more the athletes together against the risks.
“Effectively I’ve been involved in coaching for my whole career so it hasn’t been too big a change from athlete to coach, but the difference is now I am responsible for other athletes.
“One of my main motivations is to not just to help in a sporting capacity - my job is way more than what they do in competition. There are not very many female role models who have experienced what these girls are going through in becoming a professional snowboarder so hopefully my experience can help them to achieve their goals.”
The Performance Coaching degree builds on the continuous professional development workshop programme Coaching Matters, which Lynn established in partnership with sportscotland.
A former Technical Director with Scottish Swimming, he believes Scotland’s reputation for producing talented coaches should not be taken for granted.
He said: “We have established a course grounded in coaching practice and designed to extend the capacity of the very best coaches by challenging them to share and critically reflect on how they solve complex problems and make key decisions.”
The X Games take place in Tignes, France from 16-18 March and feature more than 125 athletes from across the world, including two skiers and three snowboarders coached by McKenna.