by Grace Holzer
As Nationals come to a close, many teams have the opportunity to think about the growth of their clubs for the next season. Managers and coaches are at the front lines of connecting their skaters, creating team chemistry, and building their teams; sometimes from the ground up. They are intentional and stay focused on their goals for coming seasons. A few representatives from small teams have provided great insights on their struggles and triumphs.
Although many teams strive to increase their numbers, there are many benefits to a small team. Raegan Johnston an original member and now a coach of the adult line for Gotham City Synchro team speaks to this perfectly. “There’s more ownership and buy in from every member of a smaller team”. Each member is crucial to the strength of the team both on and off the ice. Jen McMahon, coach of Fond du Lac Blades agreed with this saying that her skaters are “more likely to help each other with difficult parts of programs” since every skater, of every skill level, needs to be invested and ready to compete when the time comes.
Of course programs of every size come with challenges. Lee Anne Filosa and Melissa Delano are two of the founders of Team Excel Collegiate. They found the process of figuring out who is in charge and what roles they would play a struggle in creating the team. “The few of us who took the lead on starting the team had never built or led a team before. Because we were forming a collegiate team, we and the organization felt strongly that the team should be skater-run to help teach important life lessons such as being organized, learning leadership skills, and advocating for something you are passionate about. We learned largely through experience, but also were fortunate to be a team within a larger organization where there were experienced volunteers who we could ask for advice and guidance”. Of course, not all teams have a larger club to rely on and some smaller programs can find it difficult to get the backing from their home clubs. This causes friction over ice time as well as general funding which can make skating more expensive for the team.
To combat some of these issues, recruitment is crucial. Finding skaters was the first challenge Excel had to overcome in creating a new collegiate team. “We heavily relied on social media to contact our own networks, and to extend beyond our networks to the larger skating community. Writing personalized messages to people in the area helped us identify skaters who were looking for an opportunity to skate but didn’t have an appropriate or nearby team available. We jokingly called ourselves “Team Facebook” in the first year as a result”. Social media is a huge opportunity to get the word out about your program and reach people you otherwise wouldn’t. Another effective option is marketing your team in competition books and flyers at larger competitions.
Gotham grew its team through working with local Learn to Skate programs for adults. This easily translates to younger teams as Learn to Skate is widely populated and there are fresh faces every few months. Fond du Lac utilizes camps and workshops to get to know skaters in the area that may want to try synchronized skating. This gets new skaters involved early and allows them to adjust to team skating if they’ve never done it before. It also enables new skaters to get to know the team before the pressure of a season begins.
Mary Amodeo the current president of Albany Figure skating club had an interesting take on creating a consistent flow of skaters. “For years I [had] thought that it would be a great idea to start a competitive regional synchro team. Another local club [had] an exhibition team, but both Albany and Saratoga had always had competitive teams. The numbers were dwindling at both the Albany and Saratoga Springs Figure Skating Clubs so I approached the former President (I am the former President of the Albany Club) of Saratoga about the notion of starting something new. Bottom line, without doing this, neither club had enough skaters.”
Although merging is one of the more difficult transitions and options for teams trying to stay afloat, it has been successful for Albany figure skating. “ We hired a coach, consulted with USFS, held tryouts, and fielded two teams our first year (Pre Juv and Open Juv)” under the name Capital District of New York or CDNY. “Both teams qualified at sectionals and we couldn’t be more proud.” It is not problem free solution but it’s working for them and can be a great option for an area that has multiple clubs closeby.
Each team is unique in their recruiting and no recruiting option is right or wrong. The intricacies of growing a team are innumerable. Every coach and person involved with synchro brings passion and focus to their organization to make sure they can fill their lines year after year. It’s fitting that CDNY tagline is “We are stronger together”. These smaller teams represent the heart of synchronized skating and the strength that each individual brings to their team.