Every skater has their own "must haves" in order to skate a great program in competition. I always say you have to find your optimum equation for success to deliver a good performance under pressure. Once you have found that golden nugget it needs to become your pre-competition preparation that you do faithfully all of the time. In essence it becomes the thing that each skater focuses on while getting ready to compete.
We know the obvious things that make up each skater’s package of habits which might include what and when to eat, getting to the arena with ample time to survey the building and become comfortable, in time to warm up, get in costume and skates, checking the blades one last time to be sure there are no unexpected nicks that can be easily stoned out, or any other ritual a skater may have developed.
Different skaters need different things. Some are fine with any coach in their team putting them on the ice while others feel especially secure and empowered with one particular coach. It can be a quandary as who goes to the event.
But in addition, every coach has their own MO (mode of operation) that they have used for years in competition and has proven to work for them. The coach adapts their MO to each skater’s needs. At the point of competition skaters shouldn’t question their coaches, rather they should, "Just do it!” This becomes the golden nugget to keep each competitor in the zone for the event.
I have used the same basic formula, with modifications, for 25-years now with singles, and pairs and dance teams in the making of national champions. "If it ain’t broke, don't fix it."
While I am developing skaters we work as a team to find that golden nugget that will give each athlete the edge to succeed in a stressful situation. This process is developed over time and provides each skater the power to be focused, confident, strong, and to take ownership of the arena.
When a coach has a skater like Tatsuki Machida that is willing to work and think in new ways, the skater’s results can be enhanced and make competition performance more consistent. Three years ago when I first slowly began to implement some changes in Tatsuki's MO he was a bit unsure. Gradually a mutual trust developed and we were off and running. It’s so exciting identifying what is needed to make everything come together.
Back in the Ice Castle days, I acquired one of my biggest nuggets working with Carlo Fassi during those precious years. This nugget was comprised of two pivotal things that shaped my work as a choreographer forever.
"Skaters are like horses in that they sense everything." Carlo said this to me in 1990 in Halifax at the World Championships. He knew that from my years as a competitive gymnast I had learned to stay calm and focused without getting nervous. In gymnastics not feeling nervous is pivotal as even one moment of loss of concentration could land a gymnast with a potentially life-altering injury. Carlo confessed that he and Christa were a bit nervous about the upcoming event. So he told me I would run the morning practice before the long program with Jill Trenary. Gulp! My first thought was what if I screw up? If Jill didn’t win, I would have been toast. We were thrilled when she became the World Champion that year.
“This is a sport first and an art form second," Carlo added. He spent time to teach me the optimum speed calculation necessary to execute a triple axel or triple lutz, triple toe. He was careful to make sure I understood the importance of pattern and that every skater needed something different to execute these difficult jumps and spins.
Whether it is Nationals, a Grand Prix event, Worlds, or the Olympics I feel gifted in the fact that I still never feel nervous. Sometimes I think it might be exciting to be a coach who had that nervous rush of adrenalin. But then I remember that the only reason to be nervous is if a skater is not prepared. In that case they darn well better be not only nervous but scared to death.
Check out Tatsuki Machida’s or Haruka Imai’s long programs at Skate America. You can see the precise process of choreographing a program and how it can be well executed if the skater’s equation (golden nugget) for success is in play. Daisuke Murakami and Riona Kato delivered stellar performances at NHK Trophy where the equation for success was in order.
Whether you are a coach or skater, it is important to harness the power of the golden nuggets in your skill set. Feel them and own them in order to create performance consistency and success.
The session is over and the Zamboni is coming out.