by Liz Leamy
I just returned from the annual Professional Skaters Association conference in Chicago and am still reeling, in a good way, from all the energy and enthusiasm of this weekend-long educational forum.
This year’s conference, held at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, drew more than 600 coaches from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe whose energy, focus and commitment collectively showed why this event has come to represent one of the most important annual meetings for the sport.
The PSA conference serves as one of Figure Skating’s most critical summit ventures because it is the unofficial kick off of the upcoming season and provides technical guidance to some of most of the sport’s most decorated, medal-getting and influential domestic players, as well scores of other accomplished and committed American professionals.
Each year, this lively community, which consists of coaches, choreographers, officials, retailers and rink managers and owners, convene together at a major city, usually on a Memorial Day weekend, to learn about the latest developments and techniques and also to socialize and interact with one another in order to increase the sport’s standard.
Without a doubt, it is the networking at this three-day event whereby the magic occurs and where many important decisions and developments for the upcoming season are formulated.
Some of the acclaimed U.S. Olympic coaches on hand here included Frank Carroll, John Nicks, Don Laws, Slavka Button, Ron Ludington and Igor Shpilband, among numerous others. This accomplished contingent, just like all the other participants, were there to learn and discuss new and different strategies, techniques and plans in regard to all aspects of the sport so that they might wind up with some golden results in the coming year.
Meanwhile, the several other hundreds of committed professionals from all over the U.S. were also busy learning and networking and could be seen interacting and hobnobbing with one another all weekend long.
For practically everyone, the rewards of participating in this event were invaluable in that they most likely walked away with a greater vision and commitment in regard to their work and craft.
Former U.S. Olympic team members who now coach cited the high energy of the event.
“ I’ve seen a lot of friends and the reunion aspect of being here makes it a lot of fun,” said Todd Eldredge, the enigmatic six-time U.S. champion and 1996 World champion who now lives and coaches in Estero, Florida. “This is my first PSA conference and it’s been great-listening to the more seasoned coaches has been very educational.”
Throughout the weekend, there seemed to be a high level of intensity in the air, perhaps with it being an Olympic year. Coaches were focused and appeared eager to increase their technical and artistic knowledge as well as elevate all aspects of their interaction with their charges.
“I love coming,” said Tiffany Chin, the 1985 U.S. champion and two-time World bronze medalist who is based in Rolling Hills Estates, California. “It’s a great forum that covers everything from edges and moves to varying jump techniques-it is so informative and informational.”
A standout segment was the Alex Ouriashev jump seminar in which Gracie Gold, the 2013 U.S. silver medalist, demonstrated jumps as a means to explain his technique.
The two, who appear to have a highly effective dynamic together, went back and forth with Ouriashev discussing his methods as Gold sequentially executed all of the triples through the Lutz with power, height, poise and ease.
Ouriashev would ask for a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple loop, Sow, Flip and in response, she would repeatedly fulfill those requests without nary a hitch.
“It is incredible to be here and watch Gracie Gold work with her coach like this,” said Cynthia Tang, a PSA-rated coach from Boise, Idaho. “This is conference is great and it is really inspiring to see so many committed coaches in one place.”
Another highlight was Scott Hamilton’s keynote speech. Hamilton, the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medalist, television analyst and Stars on Ice performer and producer, revealed great candor, humor, quickness, intelligence and heart that helped put him at the pinnacle of the sport for so many decades.
Right from the start through to the end, Hamilton had the full attention of everyone listening as he went through the travails and benchmark moments in his competitive career. Citing the impact of all his coaches during that time, he credited them, including his last mentor, Don Laws, for helping him achieve the success he has in his life.
Hamilton, a cancer survivor, also credited all of his coaches for teaching him important life lessons to overcome obstacles.
“Every single person in my life has contributed to who I am,” said Hamilton. “All of you have achievable tasks in front of you and the contributions you make to your students are paramount and will change their lives.”
Jimmie Santee, Executive Director of the PSA, a friend and former competitor of Hamilton, represents much of the life force behind the success of this conference. A former U.S. National men’s competitor, Santee, along with his superior staff, Carol Rossignol, Barb Yackel and so many others, have committed so much of their time and energy to compiling the finest speakers, sites and topics so that coaches gain as much as possible from this experience.
“We’re trying to provide coaches with as much information and education as possible,” said Carol Rossignol, PSA Education and Accreditation Director. “It is wonderful to see everyone’s enthusiasm and commitment-this what makes all of the difference.”
Obviously, their efforts work in a big way.
“You’re here, sharing and upping your craft,” said Hamilton to the coaches. “There will be tough times and things that knock you down, but for me, these have served as springboards for some of the most phenomenal things in my life.”