Last Thursday, July 30, 2015 marked the beginning of U.S. Figure Skating’s annual Coaches College and Training Festival. Coaches from around the country gathered in Newark, Del. at the University of Delaware to hear from U.S. Figure Skating officials and Team USA coaches about the latest news, trends, and updates regarding synchronized skating in the U.S.
Robin Greenleaf, Chair of the Synchronized Skating Committee, kicked-off the day with updates on the Dr. Richard Porter Classic and Olympic progress. For clarification, Dr. Porter will still be open to all teams who wish to compete—it will not be an invitational. The panel for junior and senior competition will be an international panel to meet ISU requirements for an international event.
Although the entire synchronized skating community was disappointed to hear the IOC decision to not include synchro in the 2018 Olympics, it is important to note that our sport continues to progress in new ways. It is now clear that the ISU is fighting for synchro inclusion. In early March 2016, the ISU will hold the Shanghai Trophy (invitational) for senior level synchronized skating teams. This new event demonstrates ISU engagement in the promotion of synchronized skating, and is proof that the journey to the Olympics is not over, it’s just beginning. In the words of Greenleaf, “keep fighting.”
Greenleaf also discussed changes that are still under debate, but may be coming down the pike. These potential changes include moving our novice division to “advanced novice” and adopting ISU rules for advanced novice annually, moving the juvenile division to IJS, and bumping moves in the field test levels to be just one level below the synchro level (instead of two) on the way to fully matching.
Lisa Marsocci, Chair of the Synchronized Skating Development Subcommittee spoke next about the U.S. Figure Skating Skills Progression Guide that is now in development. The Skills Progression Guide will serve to strengthen the pipeline for U.S. synchronized skating by providing training recommendations and benchmarks for skaters at all levels countrywide. The hope is that the guide will encourage consistency across the U.S. by improving and standardizing training methods and expectations. This concept of building and strengthening skills carried through every session of Coaches College.
“As American coaches, what do we have to do to launch to the next level?” asked Team USA coach Josh Babb (Skyliners). “It’s not just about one team. It’s about all of us together.”
Coaches sat in sessions about elements, transitions, athleticism, and performance and execution learning from U.S. Figure Skating officials Kelley Ristau, Kristin Abbott, Greenleaf, and Marsocci as well as USA coaches Saga Krantz (Hayden), Erin Donovan (Hockettes), Carla DeGirolamo (Miami University), Heather Paige (Starlights), and Babb. The focus always remained, “how do we get to the Olympics,” and the answer always remained “improve our skating skills.”
“If we want to go to the Olympics, we have to skate on circles,” said Krantz. Teaching skaters a “style” of skating from a young age is imperative. We have to instill fundamentals into their muscle memory and create a solid foundation to build on. Skating on circles, with proper form, is essential to generate speed, power, and flow.
Another resonating theme during Coaches College was unison. Skaters and coaches in the U.S. need to improve overall unison of the team not just during each element, but during transitions and throughout the entire program. Not only do we need to get back to the basics in skating skills, we need to get back to the basics of synchronized skating. The sport was founded on precision and synchronization. Coaches and skaters have been so caught up in all the technical requirements to fulfill levels and boost GOEs that we’ve forgotten where we come from and what’s at our core.
Running parallel to the Coaches College this weekend was a smaller event, the Coaches Academy. For the first time, U.S. Figure Skating gathered a small group of college students and recent graduates who plan to pursue coaching or judging as part of their professional careers. Kelly Vogtner, Director of Athlete Development at U.S. Figure Skating, headed the event, which covered topics ranging from building strong skater-coach relationships to selecting appropriate music for a team. Head coaches, judges, and senior members of U.S. Figure Skating spoke with the group about their experiences in the synchro world and offered advice about life on the other side of the ice. After the long weekend, the aspiring coaches left Delaware equipped with the knowledge to help them become the best coaches they can be, both on and off the ice.
Coaches College concluded on Friday, and the skaters arrived for an evening kick-off of Training Festival. Ideas from Coaches College filtered into the skaters’ training sessions on Saturday and Sunday as they worked on skating skills with Tanith White and Douglas Razzano.
Skaters learned new drills for edges and turns, and took an off-ice “pound” fitness class. Team USA coaches choreographed a program for each group set to different “music through the decades.” Skaters trained and performed their programs Sunday evening for the crowd.
The camaraderie of Coaches College and Training Festival is unparalleled. Both skaters and coaches from competing teams unite during this weekend of skill development for the advancement of synchronized skating. It’s incredible to see so many synchronized skaters working together for the betterment of the sport.
Here’s to a season of ultimate skating skills, supreme unison, and the continuation of our journey to the 2022 Olympics!