by Katie Fiore and Kennedy McKay
Athlete Perspective: Katie
Time is flying, and the summer is quickly finishing up! This past weekend I was fortunate to attend the first-ever National Synchronized Skating Summit held in Geneva, Illinois. It was a 3-day experience that replaced Coaches College and Training Festival. What differentiated the Summit from other U.S. Figure Skating sanctioned camps (such as DREAM camps and the former Training Festival) is the integration of coaches and skaters learning from top tier influences together.
The first day began Friday afternoon as skaters quickly checked in and split up into their respective groups. My group began with a team building exercise and an informative discussion about collegiate skating led by Sarah Arnold. This conversation was followed up later that weekend with a Collegiate Skating Fair held in the lobby. 10 schools were represented, and it allowed skaters to explore information about the different opportunities offered through collegiate skating. Later that day we had our first Artistry In Motion Class with Paula Wagener Blonder. Campers were lucky enough to have two classes with Wagener Blonder that focused on posture, flexibility, musicality, and fun! Our first on-ice session was a traveling element workshop instructed by Crystallettes senior coach, Shannon Young. Young taught us many tips and tricks regarding how to successfully travel a wheel or a circle. We also had an interactive discussion about unison with Saga Krantz in which she utilized video examples from more than just synchronized skating to demonstrate how essential unison is in so many sports.
Saturday was the longest day for all of the athletes. The first session began at 8:30 AM with an off-ice acting class. This class inevitably pushed many skaters out of their comfort zones, and it was also enjoyable to see how we could explore our emotions and movement. Next, we had a pivoting block session with Hockettes coach, Erin Donovan. Donovan reminded us the basics of pivoting blocks while increasing the difficulty throughout the session by adding additional turns and people to each line. We then moved on to our second classroom session of the weekend, Judging/Calling with Lisa Insley and Audrey Kamm. Skaters learned some of the basics regarding calls and GOE’s, and then we were even able to watch Insley and Kamm “call” a long program from worlds this past season. Next, we worked on multiple creative transitions with Heather Paige. We assessed which transitions were the most efficient and it gave some perspective into the choreography process. Our next off-ice session was with pairs skater, Rockne Brubaker. We worked on off-ice skills and warm ups to improve our pairs techniques. On Sunday, we took it to the ice and were able to work on many different types of death spirals and partner camels.
Skaters were able to express themselves in both the off-ice performance class with Josh Babb in which skaters explored their artistry along with an on-ice body movement session led by both Babb and Saga Krantz. These classes are always standouts to campers and allow skaters to shift away from an entirely technical focus. On Sunday, skaters enjoyed both a power skating class led by Carla DeGirolamo and a stroking class with Lisa Darken. These sessions helped skaters concentrate on acquiring the most power from every push by focusing on individual technique.
The highlight of the weekend was surely the two classes taught by Tanith Belbin White and special guest, Charlie White. It was an incredible experience to learn from such decorated skaters. We were fortunate to have participated in two sessions with Tanith and Charlie; one being skills, the other focusing on specific turns. The obvious experience these two have made learning both relatable and inspiring. Regardless of your skill level, these classes were surely the most challenging and taught some great drills to bring back to your practice.
The National Synchronized Skating Summit was such an incredible experience in so many ways and really catered to many levels of skaters. It was a definite push towards improving our sport as a whole and bonding over a common passion.
Coach & Official Perspective: Kennedy
For coaches and officials, the Summit kicked off with presentations covering a wide variety of topics. Lisa Insley, Chair of the Synchronized Skating Committee, began the day by reviewing the well balanced program requirements for the upcoming season and answering any questions coaches may have about the program content.
Lois Long, member of the Synchronized Skating ISU Technical Committee, discussed ISU updates for voting and implementation in June 2018. Main focuses of this presentation included expanding the GOE range to +/-5, the newly appointed Working Group to study synchronized skating’s Olympic application, and conducting feasibility studies and testing team reduction from 16 to 12 athletes.
Long also emphasized that athletes still have a lot to prove before synchronized skating can be added to the Olympics. She wants to see athletes focus on fundamental skating skills, and that the level of skating from teams needs to match the caliber of skating already seen in the Olympics. Coaches and skaters alike must push the creativity, power, and complexity of the sport to draw in uneducated audiences and give synchronized skating the momentum it needs to gain public attention.
Insley added that athletes need to establish foundational skating skills at the pre-juvenile and juvenile levels, and waiting until junior and senior is too late to develop an Olympic-level skating skill set.
Robin Greenleaf, Chair of the Synchronized Management Subcommittee, spoke about the International Selection Pool, selecting international competitions and the process of appointing teams to Team USA, and new Regional Monitoring Sessions. She also discussed aligning the World Team selection process more closely to that of other skating disciplines. This procedure is posted under General Info – Team Selection Procedures on U.S. Figure Skating’s Members Only website.
To conclude Friday’s session, Insley, Greenleaf, and Audrey Kamm, a National Technical Specialist, conducted a mock calling session. They played Rockettes’ free skate from the 2017 World Synchronized Skating Championships and showed coaches and officials what the technical panel experiences when calling a program and reviewing particular elements. Coaches and officials were given mock calling sheets and encouraged to call the program as well, giving them the opportunity to analyze the program from a technical panel’s perspective.
The day began with a Mobility, Stability, and Symmetry class led by Lindsay Slater, who received a PhD in Sports Medicine and works with U.S. Figure Skating’s S.T.A.R.S. program. She taught coaches fundamentals about off-ice training and warm ups with compound movements (see an example here).
On the ice, I attended a body movement class led by Saga Krantz (Hayden) and Josh Babb (Skyliners), a creative transitions class with Erin Donovan (Hockettes/University of Michigan) and Heather Paige (Starlights), and a skating skills class led by Tanith Belbin White (and with a guest appearance by Charlie White). Sharing the ice with these incredibly well-respected individuals was a rewarding experience!
In addition to these sessions, I attended a calling and judging workshop led by Insley and Kamm. After they taught the basics of element levels and GOEs, the athletes had the opportunity to practice calling and judging elements. To complement this experience, Greenleaf led a workshop on program components. She played four different programs from the 2017 World Synchronized Skating Championships. With each video, she asked that everyone focus on only one program component each time. These were very useful workshops as I begin my journey to becoming an official!
Kyleigh Gaff, U.S. Figure Skating Synchronized Skating Coordinator, facilitated a discussion panel with coaches of teams that medaled at the 2017 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. I sat in on the junior, senior, and collegiate session with panelists Saga Krantz (Haydenettes), Josh Babb (Skyliners), and Ashley Korn and Erin Donovan (University of Michigan).
I listened to these coaches speak about the timing of their season, tryouts, choreography, and handling alternates and swings. Babb stated he treats all of his athletes as equals, and each has the opportunity to work for a spot to compete. All coaches agreed that athletes who have to learn multiple spots in the program need to be the most versatile and smart skaters. In addition to this, Krantz told coaches they need to take ownership of their skaters. An organization should not complain about their lack of resources, funding, or talent; the organization needs to make the most out of what they are provided with. This is an essential concept as coaches push their teams further to work toward Olympic inclusion.
The day concluded with the collegiate fair. As an alumni, I spoke to athletes about the University of Illinois’ collegiate team and my experiences as a student-athlete and president of the team. There is nothing I love more than talking about my alma mater and how skating shaped my experiences as an undergraduate!
On Sunday, I observed a speed/power class led by Carla DeGirolamo (Miami University) and a skating skills class led by Tanith Belbin White and Charlie White. These elite coaches all stressed the use of knee bend, ankle bend, and blade control. Both classes continued to emphasize the importance of utilizing fundamental skating skills, a central theme this weekend and for the upcoming season.
I also attended a ‘2018 and Beyond’ discussion facilitated by Insley, Greenleaf, and Heather Paige, Chair of the Synchronized Skating Development Subcommittee and Director of Starlights Synchronized Skating Teams. This session allowed coaches and officials to give feedback about the Summit and discuss upcoming changes.
Greenleaf posed a question about potential changes that synchronized skating may need to undertake for Olympic inclusion. Do we change our sport to adhere to the general public and Olympic committee for an event that occurs every 4 years? Do we make these changes, whether it be as small as program content tweaks or as significant as reducing team size to 12, to get accepted by any means possible? The room gave mixed reviews, as some suggested we make any change necessary to be included while others stated that we have seen teams of 12 skate, and it is vastly different than watching a team of 16 compete.
Other highlights of the discussion included creating elements, transitions, and interactions between skaters that are unique only to synchronized skating, methods of gaining public attention through social media, and thoughts on reducing the number of program components for lower level teams to place an emphasis on skating skills and unison, similar to the track that singles and pairs components will follow.
Again, coaches and officials discussed the emphasis on evolving key fundamental skating skills to create teams full of athletes that bring beautiful skating to life.
The 2017 Synchronized Skating Summit was a jam packed weekend of learning and skating, and every session challenged me to continuously evaluate skating in the context of becoming an official. This season is already gearing up to be incredibly intense as athletes, coaches, and officials work to prepare synchronized skating for its Olympic application in 2018!
As the summer goes on, continue to share your skating experiences using #SummerOfSynchro to be featured every Synchro Saturday!