Senior Grand Prix Reflections Part 2

I often get asked what it’s like to see so many of the top skaters in the world compete during their Grand Prix events. The simple answer: it is truly an honor and fascinating. Even though I have coached skaters in the Grand Prix series since 2001, it never gets old. One common misconception for the young skaters is that once you get to the top of the sport you become more perfect. Well yes, and NO!

When I attend these competitions, I try and watch all of the practices, 35 minute warm ups and 6 minute warm ups for all of the singles events (and sometimes dance and pairs if the hotel and arena are close to each other). It is very interesting and educational to observe the PROCESS each skater goes through to arrive at their performance since no two are alike.

Certainly when skaters are traveling at speeds between 15-20 mph and attempting triple-triple combinations, triple axels and quadruple jumps and are expected to execute them with split second timing —PERFECTLY—for their positive Grade Of Execution, you really get a sense of the amount of risk and courage that it takes to be one of the best in our sport.

So when the very top men risk two or more quads in the freeskate, or if you are Mao Asada, the only woman in the world who risks the triple axel in BOTH programs, it is truly amazing that these very athletic elements can be completed successfully, in the context of an artistic performance complete with Level 4 everything else.

I have been fortunate to coach many skaters who have wanted to do the HARD WORK it takes to be the best. I also have observed three-time World Champion Patrick Chan train daily for several years. The one thing that comes to mind when I think of competitive excellence is one of John Wooden’s cornerstone blocks on his pyramid of success: Industriousness. As he says, “There is no substitute for hard work and careful planning.”

To those coaches who ask me what it takes to coach at the Grand Prix level or to those fans who ask what it is like to watch a Grand Prix practice LIVE IN PERSON — it is PURE AWESOMENESS and the culmination of a crazy amount of HARD WORK!

So coaches LEAD your young skaters gradually through the PROCESS and tell them to never stop WORKING and REACHING until they retire because once they become the BEST their other competitors will try much harder to take their place.

Oh yeah, there is one last thing: the other part of it is that once you’re there in the Grand Prix for the very first time like Max Aaron was this season, it is a whole lot of FUN being a player in the game of figure skating!

Senior Grand Prix Reflections

As I sit here in Moscow’s DME airport, I feel so privileged to have coached at four Grand Prix events this season for many reasons.

The first being that to attend the competitions with such talented athletes as Max Aaron and Agnes Zawadzki is truly a blessing and a coach’s dream.

To witness Max train like a beast at home and take such huge athletic and artistic risks in his Grand Prix debut makes me proud. While I know he carried a lot of expectations on his shoulders and in many people’s eyes he did not live up to the hype, he did in mine. Instead of resting on his laurels and falling into the trap many elite skaters do and just trying to “skate clean,” he “failed upwards” (see the book, The Talent Code) and in the process showed all the young skaters around the world that it is ok to make mistakes and to never stop reaching until you are the very best. Carry on, Max!

And Agnes…what can I say? To help her overcome her fears and skate a clean short at the Rostelecom Cup and achieve a personal best was such a rewarding coaching moment. And while I know she did not win a medal here, the improvement in her long program in two weeks by nearly 10 points is a testament that there is no substitute for hard work and training. While I know she still has more work to do, it is important as her coach to acknowledge the small steps she takes along the way. I can hardly wait until our next long program training day! It is called the “road to Sochi” because it is long and winding. Makes me think of a Beatles’ song;)

Finally, a special thank you to the fans from Japan, Russia, China and the US. I always say, “Success is for everyone,” and your genuine support for all of the skaters no matter which country they represent shows this. When we see you in the hotel lobbies or backstage at the arenas, your smiles, kind words of encouragement and gifts help us carry on our challenging Olympic journey.

Peace and love this holiday season,

Tom Zakrajsek