Sergei Davydov: Raise the age and the race for complexity will lose all sense
Elena Vaitsekhovaskaya’s interview with Sergei Davydov. About consequences of raising the age limit, work with one of the most promising juniors Sofia Samodelkina and contract system.
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for russia.rt.com dd. 23d August 2020
The coach who managed to challenge Eteri Tutberidze is a rare characteristic, almost a sensation. But this is exactly what happened at the pre-season test skates in Novogorsk, where 13-year-old Sofia Samodelkina, coaching by Sergei Davydov, showed the best result, beating not only the skaters from Chrystalny in points, but also all the junior men.
At a training session in Novogorsk, your athlete Sofia Samodelkina showed an excellent quadruple salchow, but did not include it in the free program at the test skates. Why?
Sergei Davydov: To put a complex element into a program you need to have at least 50% confidence in its reliability. Otherwise, it’s lottery. I just wanted to use the pre-start adrenaline. When you learn all these technical elements – axel, quadruple jumps – there always comes a moment when the athlete seems to be ready to start performing them, but some additional push is required, and not even a technical one, but an emotional one. Viewers, judges, other coaches who are at the rink with you at the same time contribute to this.
You also tried to master the quadruple jump, put it into the program, but, as far as I remember, it was not very successful. How is it like to teach little girls quadruple jumps?
Sergei Davydov: Well, first of all, I knew how to jump quadruples. We just didn’t work well enough in our time, this must be honestly admitted. And secondly, I do not look at athletes as at small children. They are athletes. In addition, we do not set the task of jumping quadruple for everyone, but only for those who have the necessary qualities. After all, this is, in general, a traumatic thing.
Some coaches working in single skating are sincerely convinced that an athlete should not pay attention to injuries, but must endure pain, overcoming himself in every workout, and not complain.
Sergei Davydov: There are muscle pains that, of course, everyone has to endure – you can’t escape from this in sports. But when it comes to sprains or some other serious injuries, forcing an athlete to train is unacceptable for me. He wouldn’t be able to jump normally, to start with. When something hurts a lot, athlete will never work at full strength, even if he really wants.
Are your training sessions open to parents?
Sergei Davydov: Now everything is closed due to the pandemic, and last year we let the parents to attend trainings. We wanted to show … Well, not even to show, but to teach them how to treat the training process correctly. To mind their own business, relatively speaking. They need to know how they can help their child without interfering with the coach’s work. To this end, we held parent-teacher meetings, explaining that it is very important to understand what exactly a specialist can be dissatisfied with, with what dedication the child works. You don’t need to be a professional to see this. Everything is done in order to teach children how to work properly. So that it was their desire, not ours to skate, to come to training, run, stretch, learn quadruple jumps and so on.
Doesn’t it happen that a child skates just because he is afraid to upset the parents who want to see him as a skater?
Sergei Davydov: It happens. But you should understand: children, especially small ones, do not always realize what they are doing.
So I’m trying to understand to what extent hard training work provokes a person to grow up? In other words, is a 12-13-year-old figure skater a child or already a professional athlete?
Sergei Davydov: Those children who already know a lot at this age are usually older than their age. I cannot say that these are adults, but they already have developed a clearly directed conscious thinking. You can see that the girls understand why they come, what they have to do, for what … I think that is why they progress faster than others.
Tell us about Sofia Samodelkina. Why, by the way, do you call her Sofa, and not Sonya?
Sergei Davydov: She told us when she came to the group: “My name is Sofa.”
Is it her personal desire to jumps quadruple jumps or just the stage to which you, as a coach, brought her?
Sergei Davydov: A skater will never jump without aspiration. Initially, many children have the same thought: “I won’t succeed.” We, coaches, teach, lead to complex elements and give the child the bait: “You can, you are ready.” And the athlete begins to understand that this is a really achievable goal. And gets inspired to work. Well, then a chain reaction of more and more complex tasks begins, which you constantly support.
Is the quadruple jump an element that any child can be taught?
Sergei Davydov: No. There must be certain abilities. Correct coordination and a balanced body which is ready for these loads. It is important not only to teach, but also not to “lose” the element. Quadruple is complete, absolute concentration. You have to come to workout as determined as possible and you cannot afford to work half-heartedly. If you feel that you have lost some sensations, it means that you need to come back, do the training exercises anew, adjust yourself.
Samodelkina quite early began to perform a triple axel – a jump, which is said to require much more refined technique than quadruples. Is it really so?
Sergei Davydov: Edge jumps are always harder than toe pick jumps. Toe pick is a support, you can push yourself out, even if you didn’t enter the jump very well. And from the edges people sometimes fall completely unpredictable. There must be a very developed sense of balance to catch the right sensation when pushing off. If you look at quadruple jumps, you will see more toe pick jumps than edge jumps. Therefore, it is really more problematic for girls to learn a triple axel than any toe pick quadruple.
How to explain that in your time quadruple jumps broke programs even for such skaters as Alexei Urmanov, Elvis Stojko, Ilia Kulik, Todd Eldredge … Why does this not happen with girls?
Sergei Davydov: In the old days, figure skating was less demanding, or something. There was another difficulty, other requirements, the athlete did one run-through a week, getting used to it. And of course, when they put a quadruple jump into the program, it screwed everything up. Now children are working in a completely different way. Need to prepare a new element? This means that we will skate the whole program until this element falls into place.
What is the next quadruple you plan to master with Samodelkina?
Sergei Davydov: While the task is to make consistent what we have: toe loop, salchow. Of course, I would like to try lutz, but we are in no hurry.
How do you feel about the talks that the age for performing in seniors can be raised after the Olympic Games 2022?
Sergei Davydov: It’s such a double-edged sword. Still, ladies’ figure skating is now at the highest technical level. It has great attention, it is constantly discussed, they write about it – and all this is because of the quadruple jumps.
I disagree with you. It seems to me that the battle of personalities is still at the forefront: Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin, Yuna Kim and Mao Asada, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova …
Sergei Davydov: I don’t know, frankly, what is true here, but I still think that the “arms race” – all these complex elements – to a very large extent attracts attention to our sport. Raise the age – the race for complexity will lose all sense.
I heard a lot of similar arguments in gymnastics, but from time to time people appeared there who overthrew all the dogmas. For example, Boris Pilkin, who figured out how to use Svetlana Khorkina’s long arms and legs to her advantage, so that the athlete does not lose in complexity.
Sergei Davydov: It seems to me that this is primarily a matter of the personality of Khorkina herself. If Pilkin took four athletes of the same physique and brought them all to the highest result, we could talk about some special method. If the coach had not had an outstanding personality, he would not have done anything, unfortunately. It’s like Liza Tuktamysheva in figure skating. Who is in amazing shape and shows that you can perform the most difficult elements in a mature age.
A well-known figure skating specialist Leonid Raitsin has always stood in the position that the key to success is in the correct physical and special training of an athlete. That any person can be prepared and get a big margin of safety. In other words, for him it is not a dogma that only such slender girls as Alexandra Trusova or Anna Shcherbakova can jump quadruple jumps.
Sergei Davydov: You can raise the margin of safety, but all the same, as soon as the girl’s transitional age begins, her physical shape disappears. No matter how cool you prepared her.
Is getting an athlete through puberty an interesting or painful process for a coach?
Sergei Davydov: I would say inevitable. You still have to go through it, you can’t go anywhere. Worst of all, there are no tools.
In what respect?
Sergei Davydov: Every coach has a tool to teach a child to jump a quadruple toe loop, but there are no recipes and templates to guide a child through puberty and growing up.
You have worked with such luminaries of the coaching department as Nina Ruchkina, Rafael Arutyunyan, Elena Tchaikovskaya. Which of the mentors most of all influenced the principles that are guiding you now?
Sergei Davydov: Hard to say. I am very grateful to Tchaikovskaya and Vladimir Kotin, with whom I worked not only as an athlete, but also started as a coach, and worked with Ruchkina the longest. From her I went to Arutyunyan, then returned. And of course, the understanding that figure skating is not only ice, that a balanced work that needs to be done correctly and on time, was laid in me by Nina Ruchkina.
Each young coach goes through a period when more experienced colleagues use him as a supplier of “raw materials”. You, as far as I know, are no exception.
Sergei Davydov: Many left, and not only from me. Now even the 37th school (the school of “Chrustalny”) faced it …
Are contracts necessary?
Sergei Davydov: I think yes. Until the relationship begins to be formalized legally, the coaches will have no way of tying the athlete to themselves. Hockey and football live according to such systems. A coach should know: if, for example, he makes an agreement for three months or for three years, he will work quietly throughout this period. If the athlete breaks the agreement ahead of time, some kind of forfeit, compensation should be provided. That is, a person must understand that he cannot turn around and leave with impunity. And perhaps people will think more seriously before making a decision.
Are you making any effort to keep the athlete in the group, or at least to minimize the likelihood that the person can be lured away?
Sergei Davydov: It’s useless. Judging by how many people have left us and how many transitions occur in general, we can conclude: if a person decides to leave, he will still do it, no matter what you do. You can get him back a while, but, as a rule, such people are still constantly looking for more profitable options. I don’t take the level of the world championships, but in adolescence, from time to time almost everyone begins to feel that everything is going wrong. Therefore, I always teach my children, and myself too: the competitions passed, they made a mistake – everyone must find this mistake in himself. I thought, you thought, we drew conclusions together – and only then something can work out. And if you constantly look for whom to blame and blame your shortcomings on the circumstances, then nothing will work out.
What can be a reason for you to kick an athlete out of training?
Sergei Davydov: If he doesn’t work in full strength. I never kick out of training if I see that a child is working, trying hard, but something didn’t work out.
Did you have to expel someone?
Sergei Davydov: No, but I set the conditions: either you live by my rules, or you need to look for another specialist.
Related topics: Sergei Davydov