Training Tips with Professional Skier Alex Hackel – Episode #22
Evan speaks to his son, Alex Hackel, who is a professional skier, about training tips and approaches used by athletic coaches. Explore how you can use some of the same techniques in your training programs. Click here to see Alex’s Ski Movie and click here to learn more about Alex Hackel. – View Infographic
Man: Welcome to “Training Unleashed.” The show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain, and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host Evan Hackel.
Evan: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of “Training Unleashed.” I am your host, Evan Hackel. I’m the CEO of Tortal Training, and today we have the pleasure of having my son, Alex Hackel as a guest. You might be wondering why I have my son as a guest, but my son is a professional athlete, and he has competed in freestyle skiing, slopestyle. Why don’t you to just quickly explain to people what slopestyle skiing is because you can probably do a lot better job of that than I can.
Alex: Hey everyone. My name is Alex, and slopestyle skiing is when you go down the ski run and you’re in a combination of rails and jumps. And you usually hit about three rails and three jumps in the run, and they combine your score and give you a score out of 100. And yeah, it’s really fun to do. I highly suggest it to any young skiers out there to get into freestyle skiing and particularly slopestyle. It’s incredibly fun.
Evan: In addition to that, you like to do a lot of street skiing and a lot of filming. So why don’t you maybe give people a quick view of what that is?
Alex: So, street skiing/film skiing is where you go skiing on terrain that’s not on the mountain, and it’s generally found around cities. And what happens is a lot of the things that you can do in the terrain park and on mountains, you can do in more urban areas and more closer to your home. So, for example, somebody like me growing up 20 minutes outside of Boston it’s more likely I’d be able to find these rails, you know, around the city, than it would be for me to drive three hours. So it’s really cool to be able to do your skiing on more of a relatable level and everyone that watches the skiing knows where this could be possible in. That’s the joy of it, skiing on a relatable level.
Evan: Yeah. And just to give everyone a little understanding, Alex has been a member of the United States Ski Team. He has competed in a lot of great events. He’s been ranked as high as 9th in the world, but now he’s probably more focused on movies and filming and things of that nature. Is that pretty much true?
Alex: I would say that is 100% correct.
Evan: So, I wanna start out with the beginning. How in the world did you decide that you wanted to become interested in becoming a professional freestyle skier?
Alex: Well, I was skiing around my home mountain and I had skied every trail on the mountain. And I was a very good skier, and I saw somebody ski the train park one day and it looked very enticing, then I had the opportunity to ride up the trail with a professional halfpipe skier Simon Dumont an overall professional freestyle skier. He had just won an X Games gold medal in Big Air. I rode the chairlift with him and I went skiing with him for like half an hour. And that experience changed my life and after that, all I wanted to do was freestyle skiing.
Evan: Cool. So you decide you wanted to become a freestyle skier, and how old were you at this point in your life?
Alex: I was around 12.
Evan: Wow. I assume that there wasn’t a booklet on how to become a professional freestyle skier for you to read. So how did you go about doing this? How did you get yourself ready? How did you prepare?
Alex: So, there was definitely no booklet for it. What happened was I started skiing in the train park and then heard about some online websites that were about this kind of stuff and that there some forums. Then went on the forums and then watched a ton and a ton and a ton of ski videos, and then signed up for freestyle ski lessons initially at my home mountain Senate River. But that didn’t go too well and then I sort of did myself, you could say, a non-formal education of it and then I went back to doing a formal education of it when I went to Windells.
Evan: So lets pre-Windells for just a second, so at first you started to learn by watching videos, watching other people try to sort of mimic what they were doing, right? And that is, by the way, the number one way people learn on the job.
Alex: One hundred percent. I would more or less watch a video of somebody else skiing and then figure out the name of the trick, figure out what movements it took to do that trick, figure out who I knew that could do that trick who skied my home mountain, and then from there warm it.
Evan: And at a certain point, you decided you wanted to go into a program, try to take yourself to another level. Have a coach, which the equivalent companies of, hey, there’s trainings available, but it wasn’t a good experience. Can you maybe explain why that wasn’t a good experience?
Alex: My initial experience?
Evan: Yeah, when you went to the academy. Your first academy.
Alex: Why it was not a good experience for me was that I found that I wasn’t very engaged. It was very regimented. A lot of it wasn’t really up to me. I was kind of put in the group that I didn’t feel like fitted me and it sort of sucked the entertainment out of what was, you know, something that was extremely entertaining to me, because I felt like there was a lot of social structure to it and overall I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I was actually getting handicapped by the training.
Evan: And how would you describe your coach? Was he a good coach? Bad coach? How’d he treat you?
Alex: I would say that I had a very…not amazing experience with him. I would say that he was a closed-door more or less. Didn’t have any expectations for me personally and more or less treated me like I couldn’t do things and would constantly put a limitation on what I could achieve, and really, really, really, prevented me from wanting to dream big. You know, I felt like I had a calling in this. I felt.. I loved it, you know, I felt I had the expectations, but it was almost like all those expectations were always downplayed with him. And more or less it felt like his belief in what I could achieve was smaller than what I believed that I could achieve. And that’s where there was a big gap and that’s why I was not enjoying.
Evan: And how did it make you feel?
Alex: Made me feel very awful. Made me feel like something that I loved incredibly, and now having a hindsight I could really love it because I’m very passionate about it, but he made me feel like something I’m most passionate about in my whole life was something that was not fun and really not even worth doing. Just kind of took all the fun, all the excitement, all the energy out. It was not a good experience.
Evan: And the reason why I’m pushing you on this is because, when we think about training, and, you know, so, the premise of the show is that most companies don’t train, and when they do train, they train poorly. So when you don’t train you learn by watching from others and yes, you can learn. It takes longer and you could sometimes learn bad habits. Fortunately for you, I think that you were around some pretty good people and you learned good habits. But then training, if it’s not done right, if it’s not inspiring, if it’s not catering to each individual to make that individual want to be better, I can be very demoralized. And I give you a lot of credit for not letting this stop you. And I know it was hard for you to get to that point because you had parents, namely me that wanted you to stay in the program, until I actually watched a Skype coach and I remember it vividly where, you know, clearly he had favorites and different people who would finish a run and he’d go over to them and you’d finish a run, and he would ignore you. And I see this in the training role a lot.
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Evan: Even before you went to Gould you had an experience that was pretty good, where somebody that wasn’t really a coach did coach you. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Alex: Yes, one of the local people decided to take me under their wing for a little while and he taught me the basics, he, you know, taught me how to slide a rail, taught me how to ski backwards, the fundamental of it and that’s really what sparked the…..if I didn’t have that my barrier eventually to the park would have been much harder.
Evan: So, positive encouragement, teaching you the basics sped up the time it would have taken you to learn all that on your own?
Alex: One hundred percent. Moral support, positive encouragement, all of that.
Evan: And that is what good training does. Is it speeds up the process, right? When someone helps you that knows how to train, they can take you from being a complete novice to an intermediate let’s say, not maybe an expert, but you can take that time and reduce it greatly. And that’s what I think Jake did for you, which was fabulous. Then you went into Gould experience, maybe not so good. So, somehow from there, you talked your parents into sending you into Windells academy. And I think it would be interesting if you could just share with everybody how you started there and your transformation in terms of learning and coaching.
Alex: So, something that you mentioned earlier in the podcast, which was that bad habits that people can pick up when they have taught themselves or have been mistrained, and I would say that my first experience there was poor because I had a bad experience. My last coach… So of my feelings were to not want to trust the person, not wanna listen to the person. And I also had developed a ton of bad habits that had helped to get to the point of where I was, but if I wanted to break past that point and get to the point where I wanted to be, I had to get rid of those bad habits.
And at first I had no idea that this coach knew what he was talking about, and I just had come from a situation where I didn’t trust my coach. So, when he was telling me about these habits and all this stuff I didn’t wanna listen to him, and I was just very reserved and would assume he was wrong instead of he was right every time. And then one day, an experience happened to me, and this girl who also was coached by this coach, Mike Hanley, sat all 15 of us who were in the ski program and said “Look here, you’re crazy and this guy is amazing. Like he did this for me. You guys should listen to him. He can teach you anything you want. Just listen to him, even though you might be a lot better sometimes, just listen to him.”
And the next day I listened to him and oh my God I learned so much and the next day I listened to him oh my God I learned so much, and then eventually after a week, basically I just said “You know what, this guy knows what he’s doing.” And I said, “Yes” every time instead of, “No” every time and that helped, that positive training. And another thing was this person always believed that you could do something way above what you could actually do at the moment, and he was thinking five steps ahead of you.
So it was amazing because not only was he positive, not only was it moral support, but in fact, he believed that you were capable of doing anything and he really believed that just about everyone in that program was capable of doing anything. This was not singular to me. This was just his belief that this was achievable and that was infectious and saying “Yes” all the time instead of saying “No,” and being open to new experiences, and being open to fail and everything. It was amazing and it helped me get rid of the bad habits and it helped me break through that level to get to the next level which was ultimately where I wanted to be.
Evan: And this is one of the things I really want to talk about the most. We create training programs in the corporate world, and we think people should just simply want to take them or want to do them, we feel like, you know, we’ve done all this hard work and this is fair. They should just do it. But people need to be inspired, and people need to have positive energy and people need to have feedback. And one of the constant things I hear when I go in and I talk to companies about fail training efforts, the number one problem isn’t the quality of the training. It is the lack of individualization and the lack of somebody actually acknowledging that they did the training or giving a little bit of encouragement at the training.
So I hear from them constantly, “Oh I did this work, but then no one ever asks me any questions, or no one ever did anything or whatever, followed-up. There was nothing to inspire. And I think in training we need to inspire people, and attitude is huge. So here you have this coach that…and I know him, and Mike Hanley’s a phenomenal coach, but it’s not just the skills he knows it’s how he knows how to motivate people. And that we need to recognize in the training world, a big part of what we’re doing isn’t just the technical creation of training, but it is literally the motivation of people, and it makes a massive difference.
Alex: And how I would phrase it is, it doesn’t matter if you have the best training course in the world, if you’re speaking English and other people are speaking Swedish, it’s not gonna hit. So it’s not just, you know, about how well somebody can coach you, it’s about, you know, are you on the same page? Is it being supported in the right way because that’s ultimately what it comes down to, is that if you’re not receptive, it’s not gonna work.
Evan: I think what I noticed in you, you have a passion for skiing that is absolutely unstoppable, and even though you had bad coaching you were willing to push through and you were willing to do whatever it took. Makes sense?
Alex: One hundred percent.
Evan: Unfortunately in a regular workplace, people don’t necessarily have the same passion. [crosstalk 00:15:15]. So what I would like you to do though because I think that it is important for people to understand what it is to be somebody that can ski at the level you can ski, about the things that you did yourself, in terms of your own personal motivation. So can you talk a little bit about what you did at a young age to motivate yourself and things of that nature?
Alex: Yes, I did a lot of things to motivate myself, you know, I clearly felt like this was something I wanted to do for a long time, something that I wanted to be, you know, something that I deeply wanted be which is a professional skier and deeply wanted to know what it was about like to ski the way that, you know, the people I looked up to skied. I was able to create goals for myself, not only from a skiing perspective but a personal perspective that, you know, I had a range of vision boards that had, you know, what I wanted to achieve in skiing, how I wanted my skiing to be received, why I was skiing, not just like, you know, the what it is, my skiing, the what is just what happens but the why was like what do I want people to feel? How am I gonna approach this? why am I doing this? why is this important to me? And more or less having these vision boards and stating why I wanted to do it and the goals I wanted to achieve and when I wanted to achieve them was very important.
Evan: By the way, we’re gonna have an attachment to this on trainingunleashed.com. We’re gonna actually see a copy of one of our electives vision boards. Who asked you to create this vision board?
Alex: No one.
Evan: Right. No one. You just did it yourself?
Alex: To me, as a proud father, it blew me away when I first saw Alex’s first vision board. What I wanna do here, because the purpose of this is to talk about Alex, but to relate it to training. And from my perspective, it’s gonna be very rare that you’re gonna find anybody that’s gonna create a vision board on their own. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t create vision boards for people. That doesn’t mean that we can’t create individual training plans for individual people, and to work with them, and help them in the process. So as opposed to us creating a plan and say, “Here Alex, here is a plan,” we create the plan together, and it’s customized, and it has goals and it has energy, and it has vision. And if we can do that we can motivate people to be much more exciting about their personal development, and then people will see their development happening not as part of a machine but part of an individual facing what they wanna do or where they wanna be. And the goals aren’t just literally about the job function, but about your career, where you’re gonna go, the metrics of things of that nature. When you look at Alex’s board, he literally listed tricks and things he wanted to learn and he listed personal things that he wanted to do, and one of the things that’s really cool is that he also has pictures and visions of things to remind him and center it around those things.
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Evan: You got a new movie coming out, and what I really like to understand is how it came about, the coordination and the leadership and what took to make this vision happen. So can you tell us all about the movie?
Alex: Yes, the name of the movie is “Eat the Guts,” and it’s a ski film produced by HG Skis, and the producing and making this movie is incredibly amazing that it happened, incredibly amazing all the things that had to happen for it to line up, and a lot of it starts with a shared common vision. And that’s really hard to do when the shared common vision is between 8 to 10 people, and it’s not just writers but it’s also…so it’s not just people in the movie it but it’s also people in the company. So you’re having to really negotiate visions. And all this isn’t necessarily set at once but it’s happening at once. And then once you guys find a common vision… So we really wanted something out of the box, something groundbreaking, something that wasn’t happening every day. And something that in this time of the constant content, wasn’t just gonna get looked over, viewed once, a few times and then tossed away. It was something that, it was gonna have a timeless feel, even though it’s created in a time where content is consumed and thrown away, and consumed and thrown away, and consumed and thrown away. And that was our common vision.
And then once we got that common vision, then the process of making it is just as difficult, if not more difficult. We are traveling around in the winter in a van that was made in 1995 in the first year that we filmed for the studio projects, so this happened over two years, definitely not overnight. It didn’t even have heat. So we’re traveling around some of the coldest places that have snow in Northern Canada and we don’t even have heat. And there’s about six to seven of us on the trip, and at least five skiers. What’s difficult is there’s only so much time of the day and there’s only so many days in the winter and there’s only so many trips. And you have to figure out how each person in that van is gonna be able to ski to their best potential, and that’s incredibly difficult. How do you prioritize who gets to hit what? If two people will want to do the same thing, but you only have two hours of daylight and they’re both gonna require two hours, how do you do that? And how can you get the best skiing out of everyone? And that’s everyone even if they’re having a bad day. That’s not like everyone, like if they want to. If you’re in that van you made a commitment to wanting this film projects to be the best and one wanting yourself to have the best section. And everyone holds each other accountable, and if that person isn’t feeling it that week, it’s not like we’re just going “Oh he’s not feeling it this week, we’re not gonna do something for him.”
It’s, he’s not feeling it this week, we get to do something for him. We get to help him out. We get to ask him what he wants to do. We get to maybe even annoy him into achieving what he ultimately committed to wanting to achieve. So it’s very difficult to navigate and that’s without, you know, taking into account any of the planning that goes into scheduling, the weather, you know it’s all weather dependent. But the leadership in it is absolutely crazy and it’s maybe one of the hardest things to do, but we all do this out of passion. Nobody is making an incredible amount of money off this, and this is all just shared common vision and passion coming together and overcoming these obstacles.
Evan: And this is so important when it comes to the world of training. Because to be successful you have to have a shared vision. You have to have senior management share that vision. You need to have everybody in that company that shares that vision. And you need to bring everyone up who is down. Everyone who is having a bad week up. And I think most people listening to this know I wrote a book called “Engaging Leadership” where I talk about the importance of a shared vision. And Alex’s thing has nothing to do with my book by the way. He was doing this well before my book. But this whole idea of that team creating a vision is so important and, you know, do you have a vision for your training efforts? If you’re running a training department, does your training department have a mission and vision statement of what you’re trying to accomplish? How are you getting input? How are you getting buy-in and support, so that when you develop the training and materials, that it is embraced by management, it’s embraced by the people that are the learners.
And the issue around training in this country is an opportunity and it’s about taking training and unleashing it and making massive changes for the better. And I believe it’s incumbent on all of us to look at training not as a function we do, but a passion we create, a passion we share, a passion that we bring everybody in here, so if we take the things that Alex is talking about as a professional athlete and we apply it, it’s shared vision. It’s individual plans where individual people have their own things to do. It’s encouragement. It’s supportive. I love the term Alex used. We get to help people out that are having troubles. We get to support people that are having troubles learning the things in a very positive way. And if you could do this to your training department, it will make massive changes in your organization by really literally having a vision, sharing that vision and having individualistic goals.
Before we get to the end, I wanna share a quick story about you because I think it makes a statement. And I wanna share the story because I know from a lot of people I’m training, that there are times when you just get frustrated with the company that people don’t care or don’t value training the way they should. And we all have to take responsibility by the way, it’s us. If people don’t value training, you know, we can sit back and say “Well, they don’t value training.” But the reality is it’s our job to create that. So, when Alex was 15 years old, he was competing in the World Freestyle Skiing Championship. And this was a big, big, big, event and big deal to him. And he was in Canada in Whistler, and he had an accident where a pole literally hit his face. Just take a second and describe maybe the amount of damage and what that was like.
Alex: I had a bad ski accident., I don’t even know if it’s a pole, something sharp ripped my face open. Cut through all five layers of my face from right around beginning of my eye, it elevated the start of my eye to below my mouth. And more or less I had to get 400 stitches, plastic surgery it was awful, super lucky to not go blind, pretty much one of the gnarliest, freakiest accidents you could possibly get. And maybe one of the most gruesome injuries I’ve ever seen in skiing.
Evan: So, imagine this happens, and he’s in Canada, and I wasn’t home. I was in Chicago. My wife wasn’t home. She was in Georgia. Neither one of us had passports. So my wife had to fly home then fly to Vancouver to catch up with Alex. But people in support, Kerry Miller, who was with him literally stayed in his hotel room, so I’ll give a shout-out to Kerry, thank you. [crosstalk 00:26:40]. Anyhow, I caught up with Alex when I came back to Mount Hood and I tried to talk Alex out of continuing. And I said to Alex, “You know, Alex, you don’t have to be a competitive skier. You can just do it for fun,” and do you remember what you told me?
Alex: Yeah, I told you that people had to pay their dues and I paid my due, and therefore I was due to then reap the benefits.
Evan: And that’s the point here that I want to end up in, is that you know, we’re are all creating great stuff. We are all paying dues. We are all working really hard and that, you know, if you stumble, if things aren’t working as well, like you can’t get the message out, you aren’t getting the support you’re getting, it’s part of your dues and you just need to figure it out and overcome. And then when you figure it out and overcome you can have great success. But not to look at the things that are stopping you as things to weigh you down, but to have the positive energy that Alex had to not sit back and go “Oh my God, woe is me. I’m scared, I’m nervous,” but to say “Oh my God, I just paid my dues and because I paid my dues I’m gonna reap my benefit.” And, you know, that attitude, your attitude, the attitude you get to create are hugely, hugely important. Alex I’m gonna end this the same way we end all of the things and ask you for one training tip. If you were gonna give our listeners one tip, one key to successful training, what would that be?
Alex: I think that would be creating energy and positive energy, and creating people wanting to step into their power and wanting to step into their potential. And I think that that’s something that’s incredibly important is not only that the training is good but that you’re inspiring people to do it, and you’re engaging people, and are connecting these people with their vision of being the best that they can possibly be at their craft. And if it goes well, I believe that it’s not crazy to think that you can get these people that are incredibly energized, passionate and are willing to persevere through struggles to be the best at their craft.
Evan: Alex I wanna thank you very much. Everyone again on “Training Unleashed” we will have a link to how you can watch Alex’s new movie. and we’ll also have a link to his website. For those of you that are listening on iTunes or stretcher or one of the other vehicles or Sweep radio, Alex’s website is alexhackel, Hackel spelled hackel.com or iamhackel. You can do both of them.
Alex: I am alexhackel.com, alexhackel.com
Evan: You can check out a lot about Alex there. Thank you all for taking the time and thank you, son, for being my guest today, and everyone have a fantastic day.
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