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Arrows spring forwards, skiers fall backwards

With the recent switch to daylight savings time, I am reminded of the famous mnemonic for remembering which way to move the clocks: “Spring forwards, fall backwards”. Since mid-February, the Middle Years Norval program has been focusing on learning two outdoor skills: cross-country skiing and archery. Both these sports share an important feature, they are easy to learn but take time to master. They also allow students to have fun and learn together while maintaining a physical distance.

Cross-country (or Nordic) skiing is a great outdoor activity. The UCC campus is a perfect place to learn cross-country skiing.  There are lots of wide open fields to teach and practice the essential skills for moving forwards, turning and getting up when you fall … and as Mr. Elgie says all the time, in cross-country skiing everybody falls!  And there are lots of fields to ski across and hills to climb up and slide down.  

Going Cross-country skiing teaches students patience and perseverance. Students who are experienced downhill skiers can be frustrated because the techniques are different from what they are used to. Students who have not skied before struggle to get used to balancing on skis, but they improve quickly. As always at Norval, the best teacher is experience. As we ski around the property, the students experiment with how to best move forward and get the most efficient glide, how to climb up hills without falling and of course how to ski down the hills. They watch each other and give coaching tips to friends who are struggling. The biggest complaint I heard after skiing was that they wanted more time to keep skiing.

Now that the snow has melted, we have started learning archery. The Upper School phys-ed department kindly allowed us to convert the Upper tennis courts into an archery range for four weeks. I have loved seeing the sheer joy on the students’ faces when they hit the target for the first time and hear their classmates cheer! I also enjoy the conversations that start with “But isn’t archery dangerous?”. Surprisingly, statistics show that a properly taught and supervised archery program is safer than every school-offered ball sport except for bowling and table tennis.  

Like hiding vegetables in your spaghetti sauce, archery encourages the students to practice important life skills while having fun. Archery builds confidence and self-awareness. At first, they struggle to draw the bow back fully but soon they realize that if they use their upper body, not just their biceps, they find they are much stronger than they realized. Archery teaches goal setting and perseverance. Every missed shot teaches as much as every bull’s-eye. Archery teaches balance, co-ordination, focus and self-discipline. Most importantly, archery teaches the importance of following the rules and respecting your teacher and classmates, to keep everyone safe.  

Bill Elgie
Director, Upper Canada College Norval Outdoor School