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2014 PSA Conference a Golden Moment for U.S. Figure Skating

Palm Springs helps light up crowd at annual educational coaches’ summit

 by Liz Leamy

Jere Michael, Alex Chang and Courtney Hicks after Michael and Chang's jump seminar

Rohene Ward, Mauro Bruni and Yebin Mok

(30 May 2014)  Palm Springs, the famous southern California golf and vacation destination that has been, over the decades, home to dozens of Hollywood icons, political leaders and industry titans, including the late Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers and former President Dwight Eisenhower, provided the perfect backdrop for this year’s Professional Skaters Association conference and trade show.

This past weekend, more than 400 coaches from all over the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico and Asia descended upon this idyllic desert environment, characterized by modern homes designed in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright and beautiful stucco-style structures with pools and palm trees, to participate in this annual event, known to be the only formal professional educational forum of its kind to exist in the sport.

Right from the outset, it was evident that the paradise-like beauty of the Rancho Las Palmas Omni hotel and golf club had an effect upon, well, almost everybody, as coaches, officials and vendors appeared to be as pumped up as ever to try and continue raising the skating standard here in the U.S. and around the world.

“We try to provide the best education we can give coaches to help make the skating community better and stronger,” said Jimmie Santee, PSA Executive Director. “This has been a great environment for everyone and they seem to be very invigorated and at the same time, relationships are being formed and strengthened.”

In typical fashion, there were many heavy hitters at this event, including Frank Carroll, a keynote speaker, as well as Lori Nichol, John Nicks, Kathy Casey and Tom Zakrajsek, all of who gave outstanding and informative seminars on choreography, jumps, footwork, periodization and spins, among other things.

“This is my first conference and I’m really enjoying it,” said Rohene Ward, the former U.S. men’s contender who was famous for doing triple jumps both ways and choreographer for Jason Brown, the 2014 U.S. silver medalist whose Riverdance nationals free skate has gotten nearly 5 million hits on YouTube to date. “The best thing is seeing everyone in a non-competitive situation come together to work in a collaborative manner and help each other.”

Some of the sport’s most influential power players were also on hand, including Samuel Auxier, the newly elected U.S. Figure Skating president, Charlie Cyr, a U.S. Figure Skating and ISU official, Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating Senior Director of High Athlete Performance, Chris Snyder of the U.S. Olympic Committee Director of Coaching Education and Peter Martell, Ice Skating Institute Executive Director, among scores of national, international and Master Rated coaches.

This year’s attendance roster also included former national, world and Olympic contenders and medalists such as Linda Fratianne, Todd Eldredge, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand (who were named the 2014 PSA and U.S. Figure Skating Developmental coaches of the Year), Amanda Evora and Rocky Marval, among others.

At the same time, most of the 2014 Olympic coaches and choreographers were also on hand, including Marina Zoueva, the 2014 PSA and U.S. Figure Skating Coach and also Choreographer of the Year, Kori Ade, Jim Peterson, David Glynn, Scott Brown, Rohene Ward and Yuka Sato, as well as others.

At the end of the day, it was really the dozens of dedicated coaches, many who may or many have not have ever been in the sport’s spotlight, who fired this conference right up and who, in tandem with the aforementioned groups, helped make for a great week of education and connections.

“Everything about this conference is exceptional,” said Mauro Bruni, a former U.S. men’s contender, professional show skater and coach. “It’s amazing being able to see the best coaches in the sport doing what they do best-teach.”

For the PSA, this event was especially paramount since Chris Snyder, the U.S. Olympic Committee Director of Coaching Education, acknowledged the standard of the PSA Coaches Educational system was so superior it is going be used by the USOC as a prototype for educating coaches in other sports.

“The acknowledgement from the USOC that our programs will be used as an example to other USOC sports is a big feather in our cap,” said Santee about the PSA. “It says a lot about what we are and where we’re at.”

The biggest moment of the weekend was definitely the EDI Awards dinner, where Marina Zoueva was announced as PSA and U.S. Figure Skating Coach of the Year and also Paul McGrath Choreographer of the Year.

Marina Zoueva with Sarah Kawahara

Humble and gracious over being given these two major U.S. Figure Skating and PSA honors, Zoueva thanked Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the first Americans to ever win an Olympic Gold in ice dance, for much of her success and also expressed gratitude to the entire figure skating community.

“Thank you everyone,” she said. “Thank you especially to the skaters, again and again to Meryl and Charlie.”

It was also exciting when Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the three-time U.S. pair champions and three-time World medalists, were named Developmental Coaches of the Year.

“We feel so honored to influence young people everyday,” said Sand, who, along with Meno, his wife, coach the 2014 U.S. junior pair silver medalists, Chelsea Liu and David Perini and Ai Setoyama and David Botero, the U.S. novice pair champions.

Along with the celebration, coaches also learned a great deal about how to teach various elements including jumps (taught by Kathy Casey, Frank Carroll, Alex Chang and Jere Michael) spins (Evelyn Muller Kramer), footwork (Scott Brown),  the IJS (Charlie Cyr and Libby Scanlan), periodization (Tom Zakrajsek) and long program tips (John Nicks, who was also awarded the 2014 PSA Lifetime Achievement honor).

Aside from the myriad of great classes, there was the usual high level of hobnobbing and interaction going on around the hotel and Desert Ice Palace Arena, with much buzz about how to build traffic and retain and build customers at rinks.

During one conversation, a coach even cited the importance of a good snack bar stating that if people “like coming back to a rink for the French fries, it’ll help with customer retention and growth.”

Certainly, a good snack bar along with a staff of educated, dedicated professionals is a solid recipe for developing skaters almost anywhere around the U.S., because let’s face it, even in what might be an unpredictable economy, people like to stay active and have fun, which is the purpose of any sport.

“It’s all about the love of skating,” said Lori Nichol, the esteemed choreographer who was recently inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. "I love the feeling of gliding, flying and just skating every step imaginable," said Lori Nichol. "It has given me so many friendships and through all the ups and downs, it has been incredible."

As Nichol intonated, at the end of the day, passion for a sport such as figure skating can certainly bring one to great heights, that’s for sure.