Synchronized Skating teams are known for their mastery of intricate formations, intersections and spatial awareness. The sport has evolved to demand well rounded athletes who can also twizzle, lift and death spiral—all skills that are much harder to sync up, and all are skills that give Synchronized Skating coaches a good reason to seek expertise outside of their team and / or club.
Team Illumination (NED) at the ISU Synchronized Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Successful teams do not train in isolation, but turn to collaboration—especially between the other three disciplines of Figure Skating—in order to better their own results and raise the bar for the sport as a whole.
Lesson 1: Diversity in Skaters
Gregory Brissaud may have at one time been a rare addition to the Synchronized Skating world. Previously skating as a national-level Ice Dancer, Brissaud joined Lyon, France-based Les Zoulous Senior team in 2016.
“I was convinced,” Brissaud said after watching a livestream of the team at the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. “It was clear in my mind that I had to try it.”
Four years into competing as a Synchronized Skater, Brissaud now understands both the technical and perception challenges that the sport faces. “I often hear that Synchro is easier than the other disciplines … but that’s just not true,” Brissaud said. “When I started Synchro, the most difficult thing to master was staying in line, because as an Ice Dancer, you are typically skating parallel for most required moves.”
Haydenettes skater, Sharon Neff, echoed Brissaud’s sentiment, noting that many of her past and current teammates come from a non-synchronized (freestyle) background.
“Working with teammates who don’t have much Synchro experience is interesting because some pick it up really fast and it’s not a huge transition, but for others it’s a much slower process,” Neff said. “It just goes to show that even though we are a team sport, and it’s still skating, Synchro isn’t as easy as one might think.”
Team Haydenettes (USA) at the ISU Synchronized Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“Over the years I’ve learned that there’s a lot to teach other disciplines about Synchro, but ultimately they can teach us a lot too,” Neff said. “Whether it’s a different style of skating, a different technique on a certain skill, or even if it’s just another perspective on how to relate to a piece of music or character...It has made me appreciate how difficult all the other disciplines of skating are and my hope is that non-synchro skaters see just how hard we are working and how badly we want that same recognition.”
Lesson 2: Diversity in Coaches
Since 2002, Genevieve Hohnen has coached several teams at the Infusion Synchronized Skating club based in Perth, Australia. The club has worked with coaches from Chicago Jazz, Haydenettes (USA), Marigold Ice Unity (Finland) and NEXXICE (Canada), but more recently began looking outside the Synchronized Skating sphere for coaching expertise. In March 2018, the Infusion Senior team worked with three-time Olympic Medallists and Canadian Pairs team, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
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A huge thank you to @ericradford85 and @meaganduhamel for helping us and @infusionjunioraus on our death spirals, pair spins and many other great techniques we can use in our programs! We have loved every minute and have learned so much! Also we would like to thank @iceskatingaustralia for giving us this amazing opportunity to learn from such inspiring olympians💪🏼🥇🥉 #2018winterolympics #synchrostrong #whynotsynchro2022
“We always have used Ice Dance coaches as we see a strong correlation between Ice Dance and Synchro,” Hohnen said. “However, the Pairs elements and creativity have meant that there is more involvement from Pairs and Singles coaches. We hadn’t really considered specifically targeting Pairs coaches until Meagan and Eric came, but they were very valuable as a resource for teams seeking to learn and develop more advanced partnering skills.”
Similar to Hohnen, Angelique Visser shares the same values in seeking external talent not just for her skaters, but also for her own development as a coach.
Visser began coaching Synchronized Skating in 2000 with two teams on her roster. The Kids on Ice club, based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, now fields six teams from pre-juvenile to the senior level.
“When I was teaching Singles [1993-2014], I tried to work with as many coaches abroad as possible,” Visser said. “I had the pleasure to let my pupils practice with and work beside Pierre Trente, Annick Dumont, Fernand Fedronique, Cristina Mauri, Elisabeth Manley, Mojca Kopac, Debbie Kögel-Fediukov (Ice Dance) and Uschi Keszler. From all these people I learned different things which I now apply in my lessons.”
Pierre Trente, Frédéric Dambier (FRA) and Annick Dumont at the Olympic Winter Games 2002©AFP
Sometimes technical and artistic skills are not the only learnings passed forward, but also in the simple tools and tricks that help teams manage their limited training time.
“If you only have your own angle to look at things, you will find yourself easily running around in the same circle,” Visser said. “From working with a former Pair skater and good friend, I now film sessions much more (almost every practice) and analyze them in advance so that we save our ice time to focus on the changes and get quicker results.”
Lesson 3: Diversity in individual skills
In recent years, the Haydenettes have worked with Charlie White (Ice Dance), Simon Shnapir (Pairs), Suzy Semanick-Schurman (Ice Dance) and Adam Blake (choreography). Despite their varied backgrounds, the focus of their teaching has largely been on the mastery of individual skills first; a foundational value that has led the Haydenettes to become multiple ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships medallists and 27-time National US Champions.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) at the opening of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2015©International Skating Union (ISU)
“Body awareness is so important and if you aren’t able to hold your own, it’s going to be even more difficult when there are 15 others around you,” Neff said. “We really work hard at mastering steps and various skills individually before we try them together.”
Visser expressed similar sentiment to her training style in the Netherlands, often bringing her experience skating figures into her coaching sessions. “When I teach, I always try to give skaters an understanding of why and how they are skating, what their body is doing, and let them visualize how their skating track goes,” Visser said. “I find it so useful to go back to learning the basics [even at the senior level] to make skaters understand and be more aware.”
Bringing It All Together
While recent rule changes in Synchronized Skating have brought the discipline technically closer to Singles, Ice Dance and Pairs, it is now more important than ever for teams to be open to collaboration and continue improving as individuals throughout their Synchronized Skating careers.
Team Marigold Ice Unity (FIN) at the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“We always see other disciplines as a way for our skaters to develop well rounded skills,” Hohen said. “Synchronized Skating is unique in that we are now using all facets of all disciplines in new and innovative ways which means that we always will encourage skaters in our club to continue working on field moves, free skating, Ice Dance and Pairs skills.”