Maxim Kovtun: Orser gives more freedom to an athlete, Tutberidze has more clarity and discipline
It’s been a year since four time Russian National champion Maxim Kovtun finished his career. In the interview Maxim told about coaching, quads, different coaching approaches and why some skaters are in danger of finishing their careers now.
by Elvira Ondar for gazeta.ru dd. 30th May 2020
In April, one year has passed since your decision to end your career. Since then, you’ve started coaching and have already helped some skaters.
Maxim Kovtun: Yes, although I did not work in the mode of giving constant additional lessons, I have only one skater with whom I work individually. As for the rest, I held master classes or training camps and was busy at the show, I worked with Tatiana Navka. This year everything went in this mode – shows, master classes, shows, training camps, show. And in my free time, I was engaged in giving extra lessons, gaining experience.
Mostly, I put jumps and fix jumping technique. But this year I also choreographed a free program for one young skater, on the Sherlock Holmes theme.
In one of the interviews you said that you helped someone master the quadruple salchow.
Maxim Kovtun: Yes, when I just finished my career, I began to help Kirill Yakovlev, we had such a skater in CSKA. Then he was recovering from an injury, and I restored him practically from scratch or even from a minus. Roughly speaking, he stepped onto the ice on one leg. And literally in two weeks we gained a very good shape even on one leg.
Then I put Kirill a triple salchow, so good that he could do a quadruple, but I do not like to rush in coaching. Then he did not have time to recover from the injury so much.
However, with the technique I put him, the jump was already on the way — only half a turn was missed. And he understood what and why he was doing in the salchow, not just repeating after me like a parrot. I am sure that if we continued to work, we would be able to make a quadruple.
From the height of already gained experience, can you say that work on quadruples is the most difficult part in the technical work of a coach?
Maxim Kovtun: Well no. I would say the most difficult thing is to constantly keep the general strategy in mind and not deviate from it, so the athlete could go steadily towards his goal. Do not immediately rush to learn the quadruple.
It is also necessary not only to accept the character of an athlete and in some cases to change something in it, but also to be able to adapt to the student, to his mood. After all, there are many skaters on the ice and you need to feel everyone and lead to a result.
If you know the right technique, you will put it, but only if you have a connection with the skater. He should be inspired when he goes to the ice and works with you. To have this, you should make training interesting, even in terms of communication.
Here I can cite Tatiana Anatolievna Tarasova, who said that a high-class coach should make classes interesting. I remember from my own experience that for me it was always interesting to work on the ice.
Is it important in your work that you yourself successfully performed all the complex elements that you teach skaters?
Maxim Kovtun: No, there are many coaches who achieved world-class level in the profession, while not making ultra-c elements during their sports career.
For example Elena Germanovna buyanova did not perform quad jumps, Tarasova finished at a young age, Eteri Tutberidze performed in ice dance, Nikolai Morozov – too …
I’ll say more, many coaches did not make the elements that they can teach. Although for me this skill is, of course, a plus, because I feel moments that cannot be understood in theory, they can be explained to the skater only if you experienced it yourself.
But then again, I don’t think this is a huge advantage for me, because for example Tutberidze teaches little girls the most complex elements in the world: the various quadruples and she didn’t do them herself.
Turns out you can master a quad by textbook and then explained to the skater?
Maxim Kovtun: In my opinion, it is either given or not. As in creativity: you either have a taste or not. In coaching it’s the same: either you have a sense of how it should be, or not. It’s possible to work according to the textbook, but it’s some kind of soviet, old system, and now it probably doesn’t quite fit. You need to experiment with different exercises and so on.
If you could choose any coaching team in the world, where would you like to take an internship, learn about the “inner kitchen”?
Maxim Kovtun: Cool question, by the way. Since I have already saw all the work in CSKA from the inside, then if I wanted to learn something new …
I can’t choose between Brian Orser and Eteri Tutberidze. Both coaches have very strong sides, and I would like to learn their inner secrets, see the work scheme … Probably, most of all I would like to see Tutberidze’s work.
These are two very different approaches to coaching. It seems that Orser often listens to the athlete and allows him to decide a lot, while Tutberidze has more discipline and a similar scheme seems to work effectively for everyone.
Maxim Kovtun: I can’t say that because I was not present at their trainings. But it seems that this is so: Orser gives more freedom to an athlete, Tutberidze has more clarity and discipline. And her method works great – the best in the world. You can not judge her work in any case.
And how do you prefer to work with skaters?
Maxim Kovtun: I’m a rather strict coach, but at the same time I like to joke, to make it more interesting for an athlete to come to the ice. That is, I have such a mixture of styles.
Now the topic of skaters’ recovery after a long break is very relevant. You already had a similar experience, for example, in the 2017/18 season, you took a serious pause in your career, and then returned. At that time, you did not practice on ice at all?
Maxim Kovtun: I vaguely remember that part of my life, my brain works so well that I quickly forget the bad things. But still, I didn’t have such a situation when I was forced to stay at home for months. I think it will be insanely difficult for athletes now.
I suppose that many will finish with figure skating, they will not be able to recover. We have such a sport, this is not football: coordination is lost very quickly, jumps are forgotten. We need to learn them again, but not everyone will succeed, unfortunately. If some restrictions are extended, then for many it will be a real tragedy.
Skaters have never had such a vacation in their careers. And, whatever one may say, a person still relaxes inside when he does not know exactly how long it will last. Someone is also growing, someone is starting to gain weight, and someone may be losing desire, this also needs to be taken into account.
Taking this into account, it will be forgivable for many to recover for a long time, enter the regime and discipline. The main thing is that a person has this very opportunity to return.
There is some concern that due to this quarantine, Russia may lose its leadership position in figure skating. For example, Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who defeated everyone last year, have now forgotten the quadruples and the triple axel, and with a changed body it will be even more difficult to restore it.
Maxim Kovtun: Well, in other countries, the girls were sitting at home too and are experiencing the same thing. Everyone is in equal positions here.
Tarasova said that, according to her information, in some countries, skaters did not stop skating.
Maxim Kovtun: I do not think that in Japan someone has their own personal skating rink. This may be true, but it is possible that it is not.
Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova were included into the preliminary composition of the Russian national team for the season. Do you think this forced break can equalize their chances and, in general, the chances of all older athletes with the capabilities of young skaters? Still, it’s easier to restore triples that ultra-c elements.
Maxim Kovtun: Maybe a break will really equalize the chances of many, or maybe a new army of girls and boys with quads will appear and beat everyone. Or our skaters with quadruples and triple axels will quickly recover – they are also at an age when it’s not so difficult. It all depends on who grows up and in what shape will return to training. Honestly speaking, it will be interesting for me to look at all this.
Let’s say that in June the quarantine for the Russian national team skaters ends and everyone starts training. How much time would you give to restore optimal shape?
Maxim Kovtun: I think it will take two months of everyday preparation to look more or less ok. But I’m not talking about the execution of programs, it’s just about “looking ok”.
To skate the entire free program, you need much more time. After all, skaters generally gain maximum shape only by the middle of the season. Although it’s different for everyone, someone happens to shoot at the beginning, and then it hard for him in the second half of the season.
But I know for myself that by August-September at the control skates there are very few people who show their maximum. It happens that athletes come there with unprepared programs. This is a very long work.
You mentioned that you study at the RSUFK to be a coach. It is no secret that athletes usually rarely appear at a university. After finishing your career, did you have more time for studies?
Maxim Kovtun: Of course, there is more time. Not that much, but more, both for myself and personal life. For everything what was lacked all previous years.
However, the studies plan has not changed. It was adjusted to my constant trainings and remained so. Well, when you are a world-class master of sports, worked with the most legendary coaches in the world, I think can just give you can a diploma (laughs).
This, of course, is a half-joke. But just a half of joke. I know some things that will never be taught at the university.
You said that for your thesis you needed to keep a diary of your own training.
Maxim Kovtun: Yes, the thesis work is dedicated to improving the stability of elements in the training process. But here again, stability can be achieved in the trainings, not in competition. Here psychological moments come into play. In general, it is difficult to find a child who immediately shows that he will be champion. This is very rare. And still it is necessary to use it correctly, to bring up correctly. Coaching is insanely difficult, but very interesting. A complicated, complicated topic …
If we talk about consistency, is Nathan Chen the leader in this now?
Maxim Kovtun: Chen is a great athlete, really the best in the world. He and Yuzuru Hanyu are together on the top.
They are perhaps superior to everyone else, but on the issue of consistency it seems that even Hanyu is currently inferior to the American.
Maxim Kovtun: Maybe Hanyu is not so consistent, but every time he raises entire 15,000th arenas with his energy. There is no such other skater. His programs are always very interesting, and his technique is very unusual. Despite the fact that Yuzuru is very small, on the ice he looks wide and beautiful – this is a grandiose work.
If you could observe their training for the thesis work, communicate with coaches, draw some conclusions about the development of consistency – that would be just super.
Maxim Kovtun: I trained with Nathan Chen at CSKA when he arrived. There was even a little sparring between us. I was always interesting for me to train with an athlete of this level, compete in quadruple jumps.
I also was in Detroit at the training camp before the Worlds, there I trained with Patrick Chan. And at various Japanese shows, I performed with Hanyu. In general, I saw how these guys train, and I would not say that it is impossible to create such an athlete in Russia. There are simply some other secrets that apparently do not work for us.
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