Good coaches like Annie Barabe, right, with pairs skaters Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison at the Vancouver Olympics, know when their athletes require more than just technical support. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
In an extraordinary season that has seen the ISU World Figure Skating Championships pushed back five weeks and moved to another continent, skaters must persevere.
The worlds, originally scheduled for the end of March in Tokyo, had to be relocated
because of the nuclear containment issues that followed the natural disaster in Japan on March 11. The fate of the championships remained unclear for two weeks following the first Japanese earthquake and tsunami, until the ISU announced they would move the event to Moscow in the last week of April.
In the meantime, the skaters have had to try to figure out if they were going to continue to compete, and how they would stay on the ice training.
Canadian men's silver medallist Shawn Sawyer elected to forgo worlds in favour of an opportunity to participate in the Stars on Ice tour. But until making the decision to turn professional
, Sawyer had been training for worlds, giving him a unique perspective on how skaters are preparing.
"I think at this point of the season you are so ready to [compete] or jump off the edge," Sawyer says. "The important thing is to keep the routine basically the same but still make little changes that keep things a little different.
"You have to not lose the focus and the passion. The little changes can keep your mind a little busy and then you have to keep your fingers crossed that the body holds out."Stressful times
The importance of the mind in training is paramount, according to Valya Roberts, an official with Speed Skating Ontario and a member of the faculty at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont. Back in the 1990s,, Roberts worked as a sports counselor to elite figure skaters in Ontario. She credits pairs champion Bryce Davison's mother, Laurie, as being the first to hire her to help competitive skaters at the Hamilton Skating club.
There is no doubt in Roberts's mind that there could be a lot of stress on skaters getting ready for worlds.
"The emotional impact could manifest itself where the skaters will have difficulty focusing and concentrating," Roberts says. "In skating, a lot of the athletes have relationships with Japanese skaters and were also looking forward to going to a place where they love skating.
"There is a definite grief on a lot of different levels, in the relationships between skaters and with the fans as well."
In order to cope emotionally, Roberts emphasizes the need for support around the skaters and sees the relationship between skater and coach as one of the most important. Encouraging and allowing skaters to talk about their feelings allows the athletes to work through them.
"You can't put things in a box," Roberts says. "A lot of skaters may be feeling guilty, and coaches too.
"Should we be dealing with what they are going through? There isn't a right or wrong answer. Its about how it makes you feel."
We've all seen how a skater's feelings can impact performance. As a skater moves through his program, how he feels is manifested in how he's able to respond to on-ice errors.
"The coaches especially need to focus on the emotions of their skaters," Roberts says. "The grief process has guilt as one of its reactions.
"Talking and exploring some of those emotions, especially with the time gap, is really important. Piling emotions in a box is never good, and we all know if you don't deal with them they will jump out at you in different ways."
Back to Sawyer, who is keen to weigh in on the importance of the coaching relationship, such as his own with coach Annie Barabe.
"People are simply lying to themselves if they think that a coach is just there to tell you where to place your arm and tell you which program to do," Sawyer says "Your coach is connected to you emotionally.
[Barabe] is very good about knowing how we feel and we have to tell her how we feel. She needs to know because she is the one who has to know when to push and when to pull back.
"Even if you feel bad talking about things, you feel better afterwards."
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