Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork in Figure Skating, too!

Figure Skating is an individual sport. I would argue that even though the pair, ice dancing and synchronized teams know best how to work together, the singles skaters could benefit from functioning in a similar way.

Most of how we work as coaches in North America with our skaters to help them become great has to do with “private” instruction or lessons. However, throughout Europe, many of the coaches and skaters train in group settings. Because of my seminars throughout Italy over the past three years and my recent participation at the ISU Singles Seminar in Ostrava, I have been reminded of the benefits of doing things in a “team” format. When I started coaching this approach made sense to me because when I was a young boy growing up in Garfield Heights, Ohio, I began playing football and basketball–team sports–before I ever put on a pair of figure skates.

There are many reasons why functioning as a “team” is useful for singles skaters. First and foremost the competitiveness associated with group instruction and interaction makes everyone better. This includes all of the coaches on your “team of coaches” who are helping you with your skaters as well as those coaches in your rink with whom you may not work. I realize a “team” environment is a difficult format to establish when parents are paying for your individual coaching time and other skaters and potentially competitors of their children who are also part of your team of skaters can well you know…let’s just say it is worth figuring out;) Get it?

Think of it this way: we all started skating as a team in group classes either in a USFS or ISI learn-to-skate program. So a FUN group setting with our friends is our initial orientation to this in individual sport.

The USFS structure is also based on clubs. Your club is the local “team” you become part of as you work the long, difficult hours it takes to become an elite skater which will hopefully and eventually lead you to Team USA. Once you are part of the international team it is no longer only about you and your goals. You represent your federation and are an ambassador for your country and your focus changes from reaching your personal goals to making your country proud of your efforts. What bigger team is there than that?

At my first international competition as a coach I was walking backstage with Ryan Bradley and we were getting the lay of the land when we past the “skating family” lounge. I explained to him that was where he could bring his family for food and snacks, etc. Needless to say once I realized they were not allowed backstage, it occurred to me rather quickly that I was now part of the International Skating Union “family” and what better way to feel part of a group/team than by using the word family. As a footnote, the skating family lounge still exists today some 17 years later.

Losing precious learning time and focus is perhaps the biggest fear of team work. About two months ago, I was the lead coach at the Air Force Academy inaugural figure skating camp and witnessed firsthand how much learning can still happen when administrators, coaches, skaters and parents share their experiences and function as a team for a week.  The same is true for the Team USA Champs Camp, which I recently attended with Max Aaron and Mirai Nagasu. Throughout the week, I watched how the “team around the team” of coaches, officials, administrators, and off ice specialists (nutrition, strength, packaging, etc.) worked together to help each skater improve. Our kick-off motivational speaker was Andy Yohe, the captain of the 2014 Paralympic Men’s Sled Hockey team which won gold in Sochi. He grew up participating in team sports like hockey and basketball and was speaking to a group of individual figure skaters. Having attended every Champs Camp except for one, I have observed how the structure and atmosphere has changed from being so separate to being so inclusive. This is mostly because of changes the athletes have suggested like wanting to practice together and with mixed disciplines (ladies and men). This year the most fun I had was participating in the coaches team building activities (included in the schedule for the first time) with my colleagues, Kori Ade, Rafael Arturian, Peter Cain, Justin Dillon, Mary Lynn Gelderman, David Glynn, Peter Johansson, Christy Krall, Doug Ladret, Jere Michael and Suna Murray. It was so competitive and so much fun at the same time. We need more of that in coaching along with Christy Krall’s card tricks.

If you stay in the sport long enough not only will you become part of the ISU skating family but also the International Olympic TEAM and the newly added team event in figure skating. The Olympics is one heck of cool party where you come together with every coach and every athlete from every sport from all of the nations around the world. Yes, many of them are there for individual glory but all of them are there for a shared experience.

Speaking with Rafael it is obvious that the Russians know the value of placing the best athletes together in the same training center and having them work together as a team. There is no need to worry about the effects of teamwork reducing an individual’s will to win. All you have to do is read the interview with Adelina Sotnikova in the recent issue of International Figure Skating to see how the Russian strategy for winning the gold medal in the team event contributed to her winning the ladies singles event.

So the next time you think your skating and your participation in it is all about you, remember that it’s more fun to be part of a team, which by the way has no “i” in it as we all have been told, but does include “me.” And there is nothing wrong with having it both ways.



CONFIDENCE: Believe in yourSELF

As I said in last month’s blog, July is the first official high intensity training month in the sport of figure skating. It is a time when skaters begin doing a lot of sections and full run throughs of their new programs. It is also a time when they begin to compete and test the waters with their new material in order to be ready later in the season.

Well prepared skaters who are physically fit and train “clean” programs with quality skating skills, elements and performing ability may at times perform poorly due to a lack of confidence. From a coaching perspective, I am always fascinated when this happens. This is “THE” biggest mystery that every coach and parent would like to solve. If a skater has trained properly and prepared in every way they in fact should feel confident–yet somehow they don’t. In most cases, the coach and others on the high performance team are confident that the skater is prepared because they have witnessed the training and preparation but the skater doesn’t “feel” it as they get closer to the moment or when they are in the moment.

Over the course of my 24 years of coaching I have worked with many talented skaters who have prepared themselves to various levels of readiness and success. I am now in a phase of my career where I am starting to also train foreign skaters (Canada, Sweden, Italy, Mexico, etc.) Of course we know there are differences in training methods for skaters all over the world. North Americans tend to start training earlier and train full run throughs of their programs and Europeans generally begin training later and train mostly sections. So what is the BEST method of preparation to develop the confidence necessary to compete and reach your goal? This question requires further discussion.

On his Pyramid of Success legendary coach John Wooden placed the CONFIDENCE block directly underneath the block of COMPETITIVE GREATNESS. He defines confidence as the belief in oneself that comes from knowing you are prepared, and he also knew that confidence was a requirement for great success. Sounds easy but not every athlete has inherent self-belief and not every athlete is eager to prepare. Additionally, sometimes athletes with good intentions prepare only partially–meaning they neglect key weaknesses in their skating because it is too difficult to do it all (a weak spin, not working on a difficult jump required for success at their level, not using facial expression in their run throughs because it will throw off their focus on the elements, etc.) This eventually becomes an issue because when they perform their “clean” program under pressure but are lacking in some critical developmental area their results suffer. If this mindset is allowed to become fixed they will never reach their full potential and become the best in the sport. Their participation in the sport will “fill out” the event so to speak but they won’t realistically be able to reach for the podium on their own merits.

It’s difficult to mention just a few words about John Wooden since his Pyramid was all encompassing and so very thorough. It’s NOT hard to believe that he worked on it for over 17 years. Another point worth noting is his definition of full effort during practice. This is something I see vary on a daily basis in ALL of my athletes at EVERY level. One of his famous training phrases was: “No whining, no complaining, no excuses. Just give me your full effort now.” And he would also add, “Perform at your best when your best is required…Your best is required each day.” A great mantra for the Steve Jobs’ instant access generation.

Here are some of my suggestions (in random order)  for developing confidence in figure skaters:

1. Competition Readiness: An athlete should never compete without adequate preparation. No matter what phase of periodization they are in they should always display a minimum level of performance. This job falls squarely on the shoulders of the coach (and parents if the skater is a minor) in making sure the skater follows and sticks to a readiness plan. It doesn’t matter if they “win” or “medal” every time but acquiring physical and mental control through training does build the self-confidence they need to know they can produce a desired result in competition or reach a specific goal each time they go out to compete. So onward to lots of hours and repetitions to build a myelin path that is lightning fast and rock solid.

2. Self-esteem: In my layman’s terms having self esteem means you “feel” good about your “self” because people around you (mainly your parents) have told you positive things when evaluating your attitude and approach to life. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell calls this a “concerted cultivation” type of parenting, where parents actively foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills. This is an important part of building confidence but in my opinion is the smallest piece to the confidence puzzle. The positive feelings associated with self-esteem usually wane when the people on the high performance team begin to offer the criticism necessary to reach the top or they cannot constantly reassure the skater or they are not physically present in the skater’s life (for one reason or another) in order to deliver the positive message.

3. Self-efficacy: In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of building confidence in skaters. This is the feeling of accomplishment they have about themselves because they have worked long hours through the developmental process to achieve their goal. This feeling of personal competency feels “good” and lasts for a long time because the achievement of the goal is REAL. Research has shown that people who have very high feelings of self-efficacy also have strong feelings of personal confidence in their ability to continually complete tasks and reach goals–in other words, they have grit. This is in contrast to people whose parents praise them too much in hopes of building their self-esteem. Google Carol Dweck now and read some of her work for the best explanation to this complex scenario. Additionally, in the book Driven From Within, Michael Jordan’s mom said, “I told him not to wait for anybody to give him anything. Work hard so when you get the gifts they are yours.” I don’t think there is a better quote about how to produce self-efficacy if you are a parent–or a coach.

4. Doubt vs. Trust: Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “You can’t dream up confidence. Confidence is born from demonstrated ability.” So the skater must apply themselves today in practice in order to feel confident later in competition. This is commonly referred to as deliberate practice. I am often asked what my last words are to skaters before their name is announced. These are usually the moments when their self-doubt can take over. I often say something to the effect of “trust your training.” Legendary figure skating coach Frank Carroll says the skater should always do their program like they intend to compete it in competition. I totally agree 100%! When skaters use a practice method that is exactly what they will do in competition there is no better way to demonstrate their ability and thus build confidence. This is how they (and we) won’t see any difference between how they train and how they compete.

5. Role Model: Finally, Three-time World Champion and two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Patrick Chan trained at the Colorado Springs World Arena for several years. Even though I didn’t coach him, watching him do rep after rep and do run through after run through with quality skating and performing ability was truly an amazing experience. He was an athletic force of nature. He was totally driven. As US Champion and twice World Team Member Max Aaron has said, “I watched Patrick train like a beast so I must, too.” Personally, I miss seeing that level of total commitment he had even in spite of any error he might make. Patrick, if you are reading this post please come back and visit and remind everyone how to train like a champion.


Technique and Artistry

The summer months are the time for elite skaters to create their new programs (and the young rising stars to show their new material at select competitions). Max Aaron just finished working with Canadian choreographer Mark Pillay on his new short program that will certainly push the artistic envelope. This season singles skaters will also be allowed to use vocal music in the IJS system. Could this change be a chance for all skaters to really be able to show their true personalities and a different side of their artistry? I hope so. I am excited about this possibility because quite frankly the IJS rules have made figure skating programs look very similar in COMPOSITION. This is because after skaters execute their level four spins and step sequences (which are more intricate and time consuming than what was completed by champion skaters in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s) and then complete 7-8 jump boxes only a small amount of time is left for choreography, performance and interpretation.

One of my favorite skating performances of all time is John Curry’s 1976 gold medal winning long program to the music of the ballet Don Quixote. When I was 13, I used to “skate” around the living room jumping and spinning to that music while playing it back on the VCR. It is such a complete moment of artistry and technical ability woven into a quality performance under the pressure of Olympic competition. Coincidentally, I own a copy of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s 1980 version for the American Ballet Theatre. The similarities in movement between the two men are striking.

I first met John Curry when I was a junior man training at South Suburban Ice Arena in Littleton, Colorado with Norma Sahlin. He and his company were rehearsing in Vail and drove down to Denver in search of ice time during the week of the Vail Invitational. I will never forget the suppleness of John’s handshake which matched the tone of his voice and his words as he encouraged me to heed Norma’s advice, “Without technique there is no artistry.”

Coincidentally, Janet Lynn was living in Denver and skating the same day on the same session while her three sons sat in the stands and watched. Later that same week Scott Hamilton would join a similar session. Having come to work with Norma because I admired the skating of World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist Charlie Tickner, it was a thrill meeting and seeing so many champion skaters in one rink at the same time. What I observed then has been invaluable to the foundation of my coaching in helping develop skaters from the grassroots to the championship level.

The most important thing is to be yourself, be unique and be the best you can be.

As I begin to assess my first 25 years of coaching, I realize that even though I coach with a structured, periodized format, I take pride in the fact that none of my skaters “look the same.” Because they are different people with different minds and bodies, I have encouraged all of my students to develop their own style–Ryan Bradley, Rachael Flatt, Jeremy Abbott, Brandon Mroz, Max Aaron, etc. When you grow up as I did in an era of John Curry, Robin Cousins, Charlie Tickner, Toller Cranston, Scott Hamilton and Jan Hoffman, who were all podium finishers at the World and Olympic level, you begin to realize and APPRECIATE how different they all were — and all could perform and compete brilliantly despite their weaknesses while emphasizing their strengths. Some more athletic. Some more stylish. Some with more dance influence. Some more technical. Some more theatrical. Some more showy. All strong. All great.

When I began coaching in 1990, I brought Nathan Birch from The Next Ice Age (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary) to St. Joseph, Missouri to teach “Skating Class” to my young skaters, one of which was Ryan Bradley. Nathan along with Tim Murphy and Lori Nichol were some of the original members of John Curry’s skating company. I skated my first class when I was on break from Walt Disney’s World On Ice tour and was cast for Dorothy Hamill’s production of “Nutcracker On Ice,” which Nathan and Tim were hired to direct and choreograph along with Dee Dee Wood. Skating in an ensemble was a new experience for me and I certainly enjoyed learning to “bird” with Gary Beacom, Patricia Dodd, Martha Muth, Amy McPartland and Gia Guddat among others.

We started every rehearsal in the shopping mall rink in Palm Desert, California with “Love Shack” by the B-52’s blaring from the bar that was adjacent to it. Even though the rink no longer exists, I think back to that time in my life as the genesis of a more complete understanding of the concept of melding the sport of figure skating with the art of dance. This “lucky” break in my professional career enabled me to work in a different performing capacity from the Disney experience, which was certainly both stimulating and enriching. It is mind boggling to think that after retiring from competitive figure skating in 1988, I was fortunate enough to work with Jill Shipstad, Bob Paul, Nathan and Tim and also audition with Sarah Kawahara for a job in a Willy Bietak production all within the span of 18 months. Each of these professional choreographers created in such a different way than I had been trained as a competitive figure skater and this enriched my knowledge of the art of skating.

Given these experiences, I have encouraged all of my students to first develop their technique and skill level as the platform which will allow them the opportunity to then experience a broad range of choreographers including Lori Nichol, David Wilson, Phillip Mills, Tom Dickson, Catarina Lindgren, Nikolai Morosov, Pasquale Camerlengo, Mark Pillay, Nathan Birch, Jill Shipstad and new up and comers like Kate McSwain, Drew Meekins and even Rachael and Jeremy.

So as everyone settles into summer creating and then training I would like to pass along some advice:

To all the skaters: as you continue to develop your technique and find your artistic voice it is okay to look up to your skating idols but remember to become your own skater with your own unique style.

To all the coaches: as you work with and develop your skaters always continue to find ways to have them appreciate learning good technique as the means to express their artistic voice.

To all the fans and pundits: as you watch skaters from all over the world develop right in front of your eyes be slow to criticize this young talent rising in the skating ranks within the social media. Try to take a step back and “appreciate” the place in the developmental process where each one of these skaters is and allow them the time and give them the encouragement they need so that they can grow into becoming the best they can be.

This is the job of every good parent and every good coach. And every good fan;)



Goal Setting

I am excited to welcome everyone to my new website. The idea for this project was the result of my periodization social media venture in July 2013. I received and continue to receive many requests to provide additional coaching tips from many of my followers. This website became a “goal” when I sat down with Merry Neitlich at the Glacier Falls summer competition.

How appropriate and ironic that my first official blog addresses the topic of goal setting. During this kick-off month I will feature information on goal setting and more importantly, goal achievement. Recent studies by Harvard Business School and Forbes reveal that even though the goal setting buzz words have become popular in every aspect of society, the actual achievement of the goals set is what becomes the deal breaker. Meaning many people set goals but few actually follow through and achieve them.

Long ago, Aristotle derived the idea of “final causality” in which he speculated that purpose can cause action. This led Edwin A. Locke to begin examining and testing goal setting theories in the mid-1960s for almost thirty years. The difference between setting goals and achieving them is where our job as a coach becomes important. While we cannot follow each of our skaters around and make sure they accomplish what they say they will. We CAN create a climate where working toward a goal is a priority and where the process of long-term effort toward a goal is valued.

For athletes, the process of achievement begins AFTER they set their own goals and SHARE them with their coach. While some coaches believe it is enough to suggest to their skaters to “do their best,” Locke and others have determined that people who are told to do their best–don’t. To change some type of behavior it has been clearly documented that a person must have a clear view of what is expected from him/her. So the goal achievement process continues with the writing of a periodized training plan based on the skater’s goals–by the coach. For anyone attending the PSA conference May 22-24 in Palm Springs, CA, come join me on Thursday May 22 for my periodization presentation “Guided Discovery: Applying Periodization Concepts for the Developing Figure Skater,” to learn more about this very detailed and important athlete-driven but coach-led process.

Typically, goal setting in sport is done after the last competition of the season. When you work with skaters of different levels this means the goal setting process can happen several times per year. For example, last year I began this process with my non-qualifying skaters in December after regionals was complete and my skaters had time to rest during the holidays. For all of my national competitors who finished in January we started this process in March after the Olympic Games. We waited a couple months to see what happened at the Sochi Games because 2014 is the end/beginning of a new quadrennium (4-year Olympic cycle) and we also began mapping out a quadrennial plan. Most recently, Max Aaron, who just finished competing at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan, began his goal setting process as part of TEAM USA. Athletes like Max and those on the international team must submit written goals “on line” in a secured computer system called EX3. These goals are approved by the coach and various USFS officials. So as you can see if your skaters are not setting goals they are really out of the competitive loop.

I suggest advising your skaters to write goals daily and use their smart phones or I-pads if not good old-fashioned pencil and paper. I am planning to release a goal setting e-book very soon which will have lots of information about goal setting and all of my personally-developed goal setting planning sheets. Keep an eye out for this book of valuable information on my website.

One of my very dear friends from our Disney on Ice show days, Choeleen Loundagin, M.A., wrote a book several years ago titled, The Inner Champion. In one chapter on goal setting she uses the acronymn SMART goals. This means goals must be:






Although setting “smart” goals seems obvious I am surprised at how much help my skaters need with planning short-term, intermediate and daily goals which follow logical steps that will help them achieve their long-term goals. A very important task, yes, but yet not an easy one to complete when you consider all the things kids have to do in a day.

A basic principle of periodization is setting what are called “stretch goals” which means goals that allow the athlete to grow and “stretch” without ripping them apart. Push too much and the skater becomes frustrated. Push too little and the skater doesn’t develop at a pace which will allow them to be competitive and provide success and incentive for them to continue in the sport. It is a staggering fact that by the junior level most female skaters leave the sports because they have not or could not keep up with the level of progress necessary to insure success and thereby feed the development of their personal self-efficacy. Many times parents who are under severe financial pressure need valid reasons to justify spending thousands of dollars on our sport. The best way to keep a skater skating is to help them achieve their goals and do what the Japanese call “kaizen” or constant improvement by design or plan.

And so now that the Sochi Olympics are over and the 2013-2014 season has come to a close, it is time to set goals for the next year, the next four years and then begin the process of daily work that makes these goals a reality. In other words, turn the promise of today into a performance in the future. Those words sound motivating. Perhaps I should use them somewhere on my website. Oh yeah, I already did. In the logo:)

Graduation Time!

The holiday season is a special time to be thankful for every blessing in our lives. I am challenging all figure skating coaches to pay it forward and sponsor someone into your local learn-to-skate program.

Please consider doing what I did. I met with the PE teacher at my children’s elementary school, Pinion Valley, in Colorado Springs. I showed him the S.T.A.R.S. protocol from US Figure Skating and asked him if he could make it part of his class curriculum and then find out if any of his students that excelled at the exercises were interested in learning how to skate.

He wrote down each student’s name on a piece of paper and in lottery style drew 12 random names (two from each grade 1-6). I decided to sponsor all 12 students into a 7-week USFS Basic Skills program at the CSWA beginning November 2nd and ending December 14th.

You or your club or rink can try this idea throughout the holiday season and in January and February to help promote our sport. It is not only a great way to give back, it can more importantly brighten someone’s day!

Share this message (again) with as many skating people as you know. If you want, share your personal success stories with me or in the social media with everyone you know.

These pictures show the graduates from Basic 1. Their names in alphabetical order (not as pictured) are:

Paige Edling
Sydne Gallardo
Margo Janus
Grace Johnson
Kaylee Moon
McKayla Nelson (not pictured)
Sophie Reed
Kayla Spears
Virginia Waddington
Jack Wambeke
Katherine Wambeke
Jack Zettlemoyer

Instructors for the class are: Jo Ann Schneider Farris, Alex Johnson and Alexe Gilles.