Canadian figure skating coach Carol Lane, left, shares a laugh with prized students Vanessa Crone, right, and ice dance partner Paul Poirier, centre. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
The Canadian figure skating championship takes place in Victoria beginning Friday.
While the skaters make up the "front line," standing right behind them will be the coaches who have brought them to this point.
With the event only days away, I thought it would be interesting to get a coach's perspective.
"I wake up at 5:10 a.m. I get out of bed. I pick up my BlackBerry, but before I turn it on, I say to myself 'whatever the day brings; don't panic.'"
This from Carol Lane, who along with a coaching team made up of husband Jon Lane, Donna Ijima, Juris Razgulajevs and consultant Roy Bradshaw, is responsible for the senior ice dance teams of Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, in addition to Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill.
In fact, this coaching team from the Ice Dance Elite at the Scarborough Figure Skating Club will have a total of six couples competing in Victoria.
Is 'Canadians" - as it is commonly known - an important event?
"Canadians as a coach, is the most important competition of the year," says Lane. "There is nothing nicer and nothing that has ever or will ever surpass having a team win a national title."
In 2004, Andrea Chong and Spencer Barnes won the national novice title, and Lane realized that although she had waited a long time for one of her teams to be crowned Canadian champions, there are many hardworking coaches who never get there.
"I still get the biggest thrill walking into the nationals and experience that certain atmosphere that no other competition has. The kids all love it as well."
Getting skaters to the top at Canadians doesn't happen overnight and the work already starts many months prior to the competition.
Lane explains that in today's skating world, one season seems to fold into the next with very little time off. In her skating program, there is a planning meeting that happens every April to go over what has gone well and what needs work, while also setting up priorities for the next season.
In attendance are the teams, all of the coaching staff and the parents. The philosophy is one of collaboration, and although Lane has more often had an idea of where she would like to go creatively with a team, she and her colleagues are willing to entertain any and all ideas from the group.
"I think that by watching and paying attention to the growth of skaters and their programs through the season, that often determines what the plan will be for the next season," explains Lane.
"Usually something along the year strikes me, so yes I do have an idea what I want to do," She chuckles before continuing. "If I can make it work...[that's] another idea."
Who has the veto power when it comes to deciding music and creative direction?
"As far as ideas are concerned, it doesn't matter who finds it," says Lane. "Hopefully it comes out as the best choice they [the skaters] can make. But if I don't think it will suit them, and it's something they want, I tell them to go away and play with it and convince me."
By giving the skaters a voice, everybody ends up working towards a common goal.
"We know what we want to do," she says. "Can we see the vision and translate it on to the ice?"
The choreography and costumes are in place long before the end of the summer, and what remains is the training.
"Once we know what competitions we are doing, and as much as we possibly can, we put in quite a systematic training schedule," says Lane.
Everything is included from the goals, to how the skaters are going to train, and even when they might need a break.
Lane elaborates: "It all sounds great and when you see it written down, it looks great but life is what happens when you are busy making other plans."
She is the first to acknowledge that injuries and occasional illness can throw a wrench in the whole thing.
"I come up with a structured plan but try not to be too stressed if I cannot be adhering to it rigidly and I try and get the kids in the same mindset."
Lane theorizes that panic doesn't help anyone and by having a plan you can adapt and make adjustments.
"If they [the skaters] are able to accomplish something they feel better. [And it helps] if you can keep them feeling positive through the process as much as possible. I try to encourage them to look at problems as opportunities. For example, if you are sick and are off for two days, then you will feel well rested and ready to go when you come back."
She acknowledges that it can be stressful, especially as you get closer to the competition.
Lane also feels that the best course of action this close to Canadians is to not make any big changes in how the skaters are practising. The coaches use video and review daily in order to help the skaters tweak their programs.
"I think of standing on a teeter-totter as a coach, and trying to find the delicate balance where you can go too far or not far enough," she says.
Lane has her skaters go through the same routine she did as a competitive ice dancer, which is to come to the rink, do the "run-throughs" of their programs, make their corrections and go home.
She adds that the lion's share of the work is "done now."
Prior to jumping on a plane for Victoria, Lane gives her skaters the same advice she uses herself: "You've planned the work, now work the plan. And don't forget to enjoy the experience."
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