Coaches Corner – Meet Jessica Kelley
Monthly interviews from our all-star female staff on their backgrounds and how they are empowering, inspiring, educating, and connecting girls in skiing.
Meet Jessica Kelley
Jess Kelley was a 10-year member of the US Ski Team and during that time won three Noram GS titles, a silver medal at the 2002 World Junior Championships, and was a member of the 2007 World Championship Team.
She now lives in Park City, Utah and coaches the Women’s FIS team for Park City Ski and Snowboard Alpine Team. She has coached for Keely’s Camp since the beginning, never missing a summer.
Keely’s Camp: You spent ten years, 2000-2010, on the U.S. Ski Team competing all over the world. After you retired what was your path into coaching ski racing?
Jess Kelley: Honestly, I didn’t plan on going into coaching when I retired, but I was in school and needed a job and I heard that Park City Ski Team was looking for coaches so I contacted Jesse Hunt the program director to see if there was a spot that would work for me. I ended up really enjoying it and over the years have formed amazing relationships with a lot of the athletes that I’ve coached, which is what has kept me going. I’ve also been frustrated by the lack of female coaches, especially at the higher levels and the lack of respect that is evident towards female coaches. I feel like it’s important to show female ski racers that coaches don’t have to be men and that women are just as capable and knowledgeable.
KC: You have one of the most decorated families in U.S. ski racing history and a brother, Robby Kelley, who currently is competing on the World Cup. Tell us about your family’s background and what it was like growing up ski racing in Vermont.
JK: My family is full of ski racers. Both of my brothers and myself all raced on the World Cup and my mom and all three of her siblings raced on the World Cup circuit in the 70’s. I have a handful of cousins who have been on the World Cup tour and are NCAA All-Americans. Growing up with that background I think made it seem more attainable because I was always surrounded by it. As a kid it was just a normal part of life and I don’t think I really understood what it all meant until I was getting close to being there myself. I loved growing up skiing at my family’s little ski area in Vermont, Cochran’s Ski Area. It’s a very tight-knit community and everyone that has ever skied there leaves with a huge love and appreciation of skiing.
KC: Did you have a powerful female coach growing up? If so tell us how she impacted you.
JK: My mom was my coach from the time I could ski. She has an amazing eye for the sport and has always been very passionate for coaching, but she has the right attitude. It’s all about positive mindset and fun for her. During my career I would go home and seek her advice any time I felt like things weren’t going well for me. I try to bring her style of coaching into my own because I believe it’s the most effective way to get the best out of athletes.
KC: We are always evolving & growing as coaches, that said, what is the greatest lesson you have learned while coaching?
JK: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it is all about the athletes. They are out there working hard and all I can do as a coach is help them reach their goals and support them in any way needed. You can be disappointed for an athlete because they are bummed out themselves, but never be disappointed at an athlete because it’s not about you as a coach, it’s about them. The athlete is always going to be more upset with themselves than you will be as a coach and that’s something that is really important to remember. As a coach, you have to be supportive and help them move on from the bad days to be able to succeed in the future.
KC: What advice would you give your fifteen year old ski racing self?
JK: I would say the biggest thing to remember is to let the little things go. The sport can be so taxing and stressful, agonizing over every result is such a waste of time. It is a long process and everything changes so much day to day. You have to remember that you ski because it’s something you love doing. Every race is different and what has been working well one day might not be as easy the next. You have to learn to let things go and keep moving forward.
KC: During your career you were arguably one of the best giant slalom skiers for the U.S., representing the U.S. in the World Championships in 2007, and winning silver at the Junior World Championships in 2002. What was your secret to giant slalom success that you share with athletes you coach today?
JK: When I was skiing my best it was all about movement, pressure, and finding balance over the outside ski at the top of the turn. That would allow me to be aggressive and clean with my arcs into the top of the turn. In young ski racers I see so many that do not understand that they need to give themselves room above the gate to allow the skis to arc and generate speed. So that is one area I really try to emphasize. And then also making sure they are always trying to move dynamically from turn to turn.
KC: Lastly, what are your thoughts on maple syrup?
JK: (Laughs out loud) My favorite question so far! It is, of course, the best condiment out there and it has to be the real stuff, straight from the trees.
Jess Kelley’s family makes the ‘real stuff’ at Cochran’s Ski Area in Vermont. The syrup makes for a great holiday gift. Purchase Slopeside Syrup and donate to Robby Kelley’s World Cup Ski Season here.