By no means would I consider myself a fan of figure skating. However, I am a fan of any sport that demonstrates athleticism, grace, and dedication to excellence. Recently, I watched a video of 15-year old figure skater Kamila Valieva. She displayed a remarkable skating performance that had the announcers gushing, “I’m speechless,” and established Valieva as the favorite for the gold medal at the upcoming Olympic Games.
I tried to watch the performance from a coach’s perspective, not a fan. I studied the move of putting her hands above her head rather than across her chest when doing aerial spins. I had never seen this technique. I learned from a friend who happens to have a Ph.D. in physics that this subtle move increases spin rate while in the air. As a coach, I can only imagine the hours spent on and off the ice, perfecting every move from the jumps to the fitness needed to perform such a challenging routine, to the fantastic choreography and the dedication required to achieve this level of perfection at such a young age.
Watching an athlete excel in any activity, in this case, figure skating, makes me wonder how Kamila Valieva could get to this level of execution?
I wonder if she went on the ice daily and performed her entire routine, or did she break down the routine into parts and then put the parts together into the final product? My guess is the latter. To equate to volleyball, breaking the game down into smaller components, paying attention to detail, then putting the components together when competing. This approach would replace the endless and mindless Queen of the Court games that seem to be a component of many practices.
I wonder if Valieva participated in dance classes off the ice to develop the routine’s choreography? Then, there was a transfer from the studio to the ice. Again, my guess is there was a significant investment of time in off-ice activities. Might this equate to working on the footwork for blocking and attacking or practicing the correct throwing action to ensure the athlete can perform the proper footwork or arm action correctly without a volleyball before asking them to perform with a volleyball?
I wonder how much time the athlete spends watching training videos with her coach to provide feedback on the areas of strength or areas in need of addressing in her routine? Providing accurate visual feedback allows the athlete to focus on specific training activities. How much time are we spending with our volleyball athletes providing visual feedback? Then, using the gathered information to plan the next practice.
I wonder how much time is required for the athlete to complete the necessary repetition allowing the most challenging move to come across as effortless?
I wonder how many times she fell while executing one of her jumps, got up, and repeated the skill until there was a level of satisfaction in the performance.
If you add on the fitness sessions, rehab sessions, mental training, visualization, and you have a significant investment of time on the part of the athlete but also the coach. As much dedication as the athlete possesses, the coaches must be equally, arguably more dedicated, to devote long hours to help in this quest to perform at a level never seen before.
Athletes with high aspirations require a competent coach that is able and willing to put in the time to assist the athlete. Competing at the highest level requires both the athlete and the coach to be in it 100%. Many coaches at the youth levels are not full-time. There are jobs, families, commitments, etc. However, the athletes count on us to give the best possible effort to help them accomplish their dreams.
I think it’s fair to ask all coaches to provide their best effort when working with athletes of any age or skill level. I would encourage coaches, as their schedule allows, to allocate time for coach improvement—perhaps reading a book, such as the Power of Habit, that studies how your athletes form a habit and the process for changing a habit. Or how to develop a core strength program to assist the athlete in skill execution and injury prevention. Or perhaps a phone call to a successful college coach with 3-4 questions to help you improve your coaching knowledge. Make every effort to be the first coach in the gym and the last coach to leave after practice. Be willing to spend extra time with your athletes, helping them pursue their vision of greatness.
I can confidently say that Kamila Valieva did not get to this point in her career without expert coaches who provided their best effort to assist in pursuing a very lofty goal.