Inna Goncharenko: There is nothing to do in sports without ambition and thirst for victory
Interview with Inna Goncharenko. About quad jumps, development of figure skating and importance of first coaches.
by Olga Verezemskaya for Moscow figure skater magazine #2 (54) 2019
Inna, in your opinion, what made this progress in complexity of jumps possible?
– I think, first of all it happened due to overcoming a certain psychological barrier, as well as due to the accumulation of experience and the development of training methods.
Was this barrier overcome by children or coaches?
– Of course, by coaches. They made their conclusions and stopped being afraid of quadruple jumps. This psychological breakthrough has become possible thanks to the Tutberidze’s group, which proved with its work that it is possible and even necessary to learn quads from early age.
Should we cancel single and double jumps and start with triples?
– Even at the beginning of 2000th, for a year-two children have been learning double jumps, then for another year they have been learning them in combinations, and only then they started to learn triple jumps, and only a few reached that level. Today, the approach itself has changed: single and double jumps are just a training exercise for triples and quadruples. This is a new trend in training, and advanced coaches are teaching single jumps with an eye on quadruples, not otherwise.
Previously, it seemed that only physically strong skaters were capable of quadruple jumps. Due to what children, who do not have such muscle mass, started to jump quads?
– A child in the pre-pubertal period is lighter, more resilient and psychologically more stable. If a child is not a coward by nature, has necessary physical abilities and desire that’s half the battle. It’s also important that he has a competent trainer and ambitious parents. Without this, nothing will work out.
So are the ambitions of parents a positive factor?
– Yes, if a child skates with a competent coach. Sporting ambitions and professional work cannot harm a child. They say that humanity has made progress through laziness. Maybe, but not in sports. There is nothing to do in sports without ambition and thirst for victory. Only those go to sports who are interested only in the first place, who want to prove that they are the best.
You cannot go far on ambitions alone. Still you need to work, to exploit your body on maximum. How long is it possible to withstand all this?
– From childhood, an athlete gets used to working hard and doesn’t see anything special in this. He is sure that this is norm and thereby increases the capabilities of his body. I think that there are no special limits, especially in youth, when there are a lot of ambitions. Why does the entire learning process happens in childhood? Because at this age, it’s easier to learn everything new. The more you put in a child, the more will remain with him at the time of passing puberty.
Today, almost everywhere you can hear cries about excessive loads, broken legs and backs and, in general, about poor skaters tormented from childhood. Do coaching ambitions threaten the life and health of athletes?
– Nobody breaks anything more or worse than usual. Take any coordination sport – gymnastics, diving, trampolining and others – everywhere training begins from an early age, because otherwise you won’t have time to learn everything you need. By the way, the same situation with ballet and circus: intensive training starts very early, but only the most talented ones become Baryshnikovs, Nurievs, Tsiskaridzes.
The press has lately written a lot about the harsh methods of Eteri Tutberidze’s work. I can say that we all work harsh, just not everyone gets a result like hers. Eteri managed to find such a mechanism of work when children come to the ice every day and fight. They fight for the elements, for her attention, fight with themselves and among themselves. Therefore, her athletes are so consistent and stable in competitions. In training twice a day, six days a week and 350 days a year, she has her own Olympic Games in her group. I don’t think this is easy, for her and her entire team. After all, it is necessary to work at maximum every day.
There are always some specific people who made a breakthrough. But, before becoming a world-famous coach, Eteri at the beginning of her coaching career worked with children for whom figure skating was a hobby, took those who were already expelled from sports schools as unsuitable. These were ordinary children, not the most talented, not the most brave, who needed to be persuaded to become brave and talented. She also does it now.
Sounds good. But, you see, in the West, the training methodology is fundamentally different from the Russian one, everyone admits this. Why can’t we work like them?
– Back in the Soviet years, we were taught that we, as coaches, have no right to raise our voice, cannot kick an athlete out of training for laziness or disobedience, that we must inspire him to this hard work with pedagogical methods. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work like that. In the West, where the coaching ethics of interaction with the athlete is very regulated, the coach won’t raise his voice, won’t scold for laziness or being late. There, the coach will never touch the athlete with his hands in order to correct the position of his back or leg, because you can end up without a license or even in jail. Because of this, training process is going slower than ours. It is possible that with such an approach they wouldn’t have had any results at all, but in the West, athletes don’t work in groups, but exclusively individually. But please don’t think that I think it’s right to yell at children and shake them. Just
so it happened that our methods of work are differ from Western ones. There, coaches and parents are in direct commodity and money relations. For parents, an athlete is an expensive investment, therefore, not a coach demands something, but athlete’s family. Especially an immigrant family, especially from the East. In China, in Japan, the mentality of the nation is different from ours and from the western: they are workaholics and bring up their children in the same way. Once I accidentally made sure of this when I saw the morning gala practice after some Grand Prix. Imagine athletes at seven in the morning, who in a relaxed state skate back and forth on the ice or just stand near the board. And only Nathan Chen the entire practice session jumped quads in front of his mother, who was carefully watching him – on ice without resurfacing and without overhead light.
When the rules changed in 2004, there was an opinion in our circles that from now on we would lose to foreign athletes, since we were not good at skating skills. Today, our skaters are among the Olympic and World champions. Hence the question: have we learned how to properly teach skating skills, or have we adapted somehow to perform the most difficult jumps without it?
– Oddly enough, but both. First of all, we learned to use the rules. For example Eteri Tutberidze every time analyzes the rules very competently and keeps up with them. When combinations were highly valued, she won with combinations, then with combinations in the second half of the program, then she began to win with tano jumps, now she is preparing to win with quad jumps. We know that her athletes not always have divine skating skills because of various circumstances. Many came to her group from other coaches with an already formed skating skills. Now when she has created her own school, I think Eteri will have a planned work on skating skills, because you can do without this. This will give even greater impetus to the development of multi-rotational jumps – from more interesting steps, good speed.
Are there effective ways to teach athletes how to glide? After all, coaches usually complain that there isn’t enough ice.
– In my opinion, they shouldn’t have excluded Figures from competitive program, it was necessary to come up with some other format, more spectacular. Especially since now with the development of television and all digital technologies, these competitions could become exciting: viewers would see in detail the work of the edges, the steepness of the arc, the drawing of the element, the cleanliness of the turns – everything why our sport called figure skating. But now there is no such type of competition, and no one gives ice for this. Therefore, coaches begin to come up with their own methods, in order to meet the requirements of the rules somehow. I have my own methodology for teaching the basic elements of figure skating. I always carefully work on skating skills with my athletes, try to come up with something for each warm up to maximizes the development of skating skills.
Many coaches are also unaware that instead of working on some jump till fainting, this time could be spent on skating. All jumps are performed from the arc, because the jump is its logical ending. This is physics, dynamics of motion. One youthful enthusiasm and willpower won’t be enough, you’ll still need to work on skating skills.
When do coaches begin to realize that it is necessary?
– When the jumps cease to work. Then, coaches start to work on skating skills for the jump. But if there is a jump, then why bother? Just look how many athletes have appeared who perform jumps without a classic swing. Technique began to tend to the efficiency of movements. My acquaintance, a coach calls these jumps “pinwheels”: the height, as they say, is above the newspaper, but with enough number of rotations.
That’s how children’s jumps look like?
– No, it’s not about age or height. There are quite tall athletes who make quadruples like pinwheels. While quadruples are rare, the judge will judge them by underrotations, but as soon as more than half of the athletes will jump them, the beauty of the jump will be appreciated again: height, distance, length of the arc on the landing.
It is known that when Figures were a competitive program, there was a following phenomenon: athletes who won Figures weren’t great in free program and vice versa. Today you can see something similar: Jason Brown skates brilliantly, but in terms of the jumps he doesn’t shine. It turns out a paradox. Or it doesn’t work so linearly?
– Jason Brown really skates great and he’s amazingly expressive. He loves figure skating so much, but in his case, it seems to me, he was a little late with learning quads. If he had started learning the quads a little earlier, when there were fewer adult doubts and fears, he would have jump them. It is necessary to learn multi-rotational jumps in early youth, it is more difficult for an adult in all senses.
Why doesn’t an athlete start jumping all other quads after having learned a quadruple toe loop for example? What difference does it make? He just changes the arc of entry and that’s it.
– Let me give you an example: you learned to write with your right hand, you know how to hold a pen, you learned all the letters. Can you write quickly and beautifully with your left hand? Here is the same.
Today, skaters from childhood begin to learn multi-rotational jumps on the floor. They work on sharpness of rotation, bending, landing on one foot. But when an athlete goes to the ice, different triggers are added to this skills, which we call the entry arc. These triggers affect the trajectory of the jump. An athlete can be able to bend tightly, be sharp and explosive, but then he needs to learn how to enter and land each jump. And if we want an athlete to skate for a long time and without injuries, then almost always we will have to adjust the jumps to his body changes.
Why, do we teach children single jumps on the first year of study, if they are not able to hold the arcs?
– Today, the jump has become a kind of fetish. In media periodically appear news about the quadruple jumps of various skaters. Someone, without getting into the details, published the news that an athlete of a well-known school did a jump with five rotations, although this element was made on harness. The excitement is connected with the huge attention to figure skating from the press, advertisers, fans.
The market for coaching services has become very hyped lately. Freelance coaches are fighting for “client”, for his money. It’s not always possible to earn money and competently teach figure skating, considering that there have always been few good coaches.
Parents usually believe in coaches’ self-promotion, because they often don’t understand nuances. It is difficult for them to choose a coach for their child, because there are a lot of offers. And only time can show whether this choice was right or wrong, but usually athletes do not have this time. Therefore, skaters always run from one coach to another. Especially in demand are those whose skaters are currently successful. They see at the competitions that Ivanov is jumping triples, and Petrov is already jumping quads, which means that they must urgently run to Petrov’s coach. It’s always been and it’ll always be.
How fatal and athlete to train with a wrong coach?
– Nowadays this is not so fatal: with money you can find specialists who will teach anew or teach anyone. It just takes time, money and effort, and the world championships are won by those who learned everything correctly from the beginning. Why do high-level coaches take children to their group only after looking at them? They take the most prepared, those whom the first coaches taught the basics correctly and didn’t ruin the desire to train further.
Therefore, everything in our business comes down to the first coaches, who lays the foundation for the future of each athlete. If someone thinks that some elements can be learned anew, he is right, in theory it is possible, but in practice there are no guarantees.
It happens that coaches take improperly taught, but capable children, with condition of fanatical persistence of both an athlete and his parents. These coaches, as a rule, are high professionals who are able to correct mistakes which has already become a habit, “clean” such an athlete, who then goes to a strong club to a more famous coach for a champion career. For middle-level coaches, this is a professional dead end, burnout, because they also want and can realize their coaching ambitions. There has always been such a problem in figure skating, but now it is especially acute. Therefore, there is no problem for an athlete to find a coach who will teach him or re-teach him. Rather coaches have a problem how to realize themselves further. Those who have earned a name will face the question how to reach a high level, and this cannot be done without creating a team. This is the most difficult task.
How soon will the rest of the world wake up and try to catch up with us?
– They has already woken up long ago and the race for the leadership is ongoing, especially since the technique is clear and psychologically all the barriers are passed. Another question is how athletes themselves are prepared for this, especially in the West. There is a boom on jumping in our country, because everyone understood that it’s cool and not scary at all. Therefore, the more competent coaches and enthusiastic parents we have, the more talented Russian children will master the quadruple jumps and win.
Related topics: Inna Goncharenko