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U.S. Has Eye on Prize: PSA Conference Fires up Coaches to Make Dream Happen

by Liz Leamy

Over the past few years, a great deal of attention has been given to the state of American figure skating in terms of ways to make it a media darling once again, and many influential and experienced people involved in the sport have pontificated upon this topic, almost exhaustively, in hopes to figure out a viable solution.

Numerous articles, internet discussions, meetings and roundtable conferences have been centered around this issue that have come up with reasons the sport is no longer a top priority in American culture.

Essentially, the main reason the sport has experienced a fallout is due to the fact , American figure skating has been lacking a ladies superstar and needs another one, hopefully in the vein of the venerable Michelle Kwan, the nine-time U.S. titlist and five-time World champion who for years drew masses of fans.

At the same time, fewer people are tuning in to watch figure skating on television due to the fact that technology has become so much more complex. With the expansion of cable television, it is more challenging than ever to get and maintain loyal viewership.

Meanwhile, it is also harder to develop top contenders with so much competition from other sports. These days, athletes are being swayed to pursue activities other than skating that might offer them a greater return on their investment in terms of college scholarships and other financial backing.

Ultimately, however, the onus of this predicament falls upon the coaches, since they represent the front line that drives the sport with the way in which they educate, guide and inspire their charges.

“As coaches we have this tremendous obligation to create an atmosphere where the skater can thrive,” said Sam Dafoe, a coach based in the New York metropolitan area and former U.S. national contender. “It starts with you being able to see the dream happen for your skater and how you make them feel directly affects how they do.”

Of course, this is no easy task, especially in today’s world, but it certainly is important in regard to the future of the sport.

“The solution starts with the coach,” said Don Laws, the esteemed coach of Scott Hamilton, the iconic 1984 U.S. Olympic champion and long-time Smuckers Stars on Ice performer and producer.

Certainly, this group seems to get this based upon the high turnout at the recent Professional Skaters Association conference this past May, the annual summit where coaches meet to discuss, learn, strategize and plan teaching tactics for the coming season.

In all, more than 600 coaches from all over the U.S., Canada, Central America, Europe and Asia convened at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, to attend this renowned educational forum May 23rd to 25th, the only one of its kind to exist in the sport.

At this event, coaches seemed focused, motivated and determined and understood that being here was just as much about the U.S. reclaiming its status as the world’s best as it was about optimizing their craft.

“There’s a real spirit of commitment here,” said Angie Riviello, PSA president. “Coaches are paying a lot of attention to detail and there’s a feeling of building upon a foundation.”

No doubt, the PSA seemed to pull out all the punches to insure coaches were given as much information as possible to produce top-level skaters and based upon the overall mood here it appeared as if they hit the mark.

Throughout this three-day event, held at the Edge Arena in Bensenville, about 20 minutes away from the hotel, coaches filled seminar rooms and the two rinks to nearly full capacity to they sought to learn as much as possible.

“It’s a great forum that covers everything,” said Tiffany Chin of Rolling Hills Estates, California, the 1985 U.S. champion and two-time World bronze medalist. “It reaches all aspects of skating and I love coming.”

Coaches, who spent approximately 400 dollars to be here, certainly seemed to get their money’s worth.

They attended seminars on edges, spins, jumps, synchronized skating, pairs, dance and field moves as well as motivation, nutrition, periodization, business operation, skating school directorship and other topics.

“This week has been the culmination of a lot of planning,” said Jimmie Santee, PSA Executive Director. “We knocked it out of the park and having the VIPs has been fantastic.”

No doubt, the fact that there were so many celebrity coaches and former U.S. Olympic and National titists on hand was a highlight and also spoke volumes about the significance of this summit event.

Coaching icons such as Frank Carroll, John Nicks, Ron Ludington, Igor Shpilband, Alex Ouriashev, Kathy Casey, Don Laws, Tom Zakrajsek and Slavka Button were just some of the people on hand, along with many others who have impacted the sport in a profound way.

The roster of coaches here was in fact so impressive that even former U.S. titlists were talking about it.

“Listening to so many seasoned coaches has been educational,” said Todd Eldredge, a six-time U.S. champion and 1996 World bronze medalist who now coaches in Estero, Florida. “It’s great to be here.”

Eldredge, along with the hundreds of other coaches at this event, seemed to be inspired, motivated and happy to be here, which bodes as a sign for greater things to come in the sport over the next few years.

Knowledge, they say, is everything and that coupled with the resolution of our country’s coaches might indeed be the key for putting figure skating back to the forefront of American culture.

The answer, in other words, lies with the coaches.

“There’s a great deal of knowledge here,” said Laws. “That and the multitude of experience we have to draw upon is the answer.”