After Amy Vecchio ended her professional career, she immediately stepped into the new world of coaching. Within weeks, she found herself coaching a promising skater who would eventually go on to skate at senior U.S. Nationals. Over the years, Amy has built a career coaching and choreographing for skaters at every level. She is also involved in skating’s newest discipline, theatre on ice. In addition, Amy has continued her own skating and discovered a new passion for ice dancing.
In the second part of our interview, Amy talks about why she enjoys coaching, what attracts her to theatre on ice, how she fell in love with ice dancing, how the loss of figures has affected the sport, and the current state of singles skating in the U.S. Grab a cup of tea, and get ready for an interesting read!
Q: So, you went through [some difficult times] with Disney on Ice. What happened after that? You left Disney on Ice. And did you take a break from the sport then?
A: No. I came home from the show, and my sister got a call from an old friend who [was involved with] the Cape Ann Skating Club in Gloucester, MA. Her friend said, “We’re really desperate for coaches. Is there any chance your sister is still involved in skating?” I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know even where to start. So I got this call, and I thought: There’s some sort of fate involved here. I said yes immediately, and I started teaching up there.
I was teaching there maybe 2 weeks, when this woman came up to me and said, “I’d like you to teach my grandson.” And the grandson turned out to be Josh Figurido. [Note: Figurido went on to compete 6 times at U.S. Nationals.] He was 7 years old at the time. He was doing backward crossovers, and he was really leaning forward, and looking down, and his knees were really straight, and he was scratching. I said to him: “Josh. Stand up straight, and bend your knees. Instead of looking down, look over your shoulder.”
He started doing the crossovers, and it was literally like watching a butterfly emerge from the cocoon. And my first thought was: “I’ve got a huge responsibility here. I’ve got to make sure that I do the right thing with this kid.” I was only 22, I [had] just started coaching, I didn’t know what I was capable of. I just wanted to do the right thing by this kid.
So I taught Josh that whole year, and I called my old coach Mike Masionis if I had a question. I knew I was going be a good coach; I knew I was capable. But I just can’t tell you the responsibility that I felt. Because I didn’t want Josh to lose any time. I just knew this kid was talented, and I thought, “I’ve got to make sure he’s in the right hands.”
That summer/fall, after I had been teaching him about 9 months, the Gloucester rink closed for the summer. A bunch of us went to the Skating Club of Boston (SCOB) and skated in the summer. I was approached by Tommy McGinnis [a well-known coach at SCOB], and he told me what a great skater Josh was, and asked me some questions. Tommy said, “Someday, if you’d like to team-coach—when you’re ready–we can work together. I can really help him.”
I thought to myself that I could end up losing Josh. Because Tommy was a world[-level] coach. He was a fantastic coach. I have so much respect for Tommy, it’s just insane. And I did respect the fact that Tommy didn’t try to solicit through Josh’s mother, or go up to Josh himself. He did come to me [directly]. He never said another word about it, he didn’t pursue it in any other way. And I thought to myself, “You know what? I’ve got to do this.” I had to be honest with myself and admit that this man could open doors for Josh that I couldn’t, at this stage of the game. Everybody in the skating world, Tommy knew on a first-name basis.
So I started working with Tommy, with Josh. And, for 13 years, it was the three of us. I expected at any time for Tommy to push me out of the picture, but he never did. Just the opposite. He worked with me, he helped guide me, he taught me what he wanted me to work [on] with [Josh], he had a lot of respect for me and my coaching, and never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
It was one of the best learning experiences of my career—being able to work with him and Josh and going from preliminary all the way through senior. Josh ended up going to Nationals 6 times. He went twice as a novice, three times as a junior, and once as a senior. And again, I couldn’t be more thankful for those experiences, to have been a part of that. When you read your Skating magazine, it seems like everybody gets to go to Nationals, but that’s not the case. It’s such a small percentage of coaches that get to be there. So I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity, to have worked with Tommy and, especially, to be able to work with Josh.
Like I said, I knew from the first 5 minutes that this kid had some extraordinary talent. He never got the triple Axel, but he could do triple Lutz/triple toe, triple Lutz/triple loop. He could do a quad toe loop. He never did it in competition, but he could do it. But he didn’t have the triple Axel, so [at that time] it didn’t really matter that he could do the quad toe.
Josh stopped skating not long after Nationals 2001. He was only 20 at the time. Who knows what could have happened if he kept going? These guys now, they keep going to 24, 25, 26. He certainly had the ability. But I think everyone is on their own path, and he was done. He knew that he wanted to move on with his life. At that point, too … you have to really up the ante if you want to continue. You have to commit yourself full-time. You’re talking a whole different league, as far as training, finances, things like that. In the end, Josh was just ready to move on.
Q: So you were just starting out as a coach, and you had a very talented student. What about your other students? Did you have a mix?
A: Yes, I had a mix. I actually had some great students that came out of Gloucester. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had several skaters go on to pass their senior moves in the field, senior free skating [tests]. And I’ve taught another girl who ended up being New England [Regionals] champion, and Eastern [Sectionals] competitor. I’ve been very fortunate in the skaters that I’ve gotten to work with.
But I have to say, honestly: As much as it’s very rewarding to teach people at that level, I do like teaching anybody who really wants to know how to skate. And it doesn’t matter if they’re kids or they’re adults, or if they’re talented. There’s something about working with somebody who loves to skate and wants to learn—wants to progress. I don’t care what their goals are. If they want to learn, I’m right down there with them. Because I still, to this day, love the sport. And I love sharing what I’ve learned. Some people come to me and say, “Well, I’m not that good,” and I’m like: “I don’t care. Let’s do this.”
So, yes, I’ve been fortunate. Who knows if that will ever happen again—if I’ll get another skater like Josh Figurido. We’ll see. But if not, that’s fine. I think it’s harder now, to have a skater and hold on to a skater like that. To have a skater at that level, with this new scoring system, is pretty much a full-time job. You’ve got to devote everything you have to that.
I’m happy teaching all different levels. I’m happy doing shows, I’m happy doing choreography, I’m happy ice dancing, I’m happy teaching tots, I’m happy having a little bit of everything. So it’s great to have that [a top-level skater]. But if you don’t have that, it doesn’t make it [coaching] any less of a great job.
Q: So do you expect to keep coaching for a long time?
A: I’ve been coaching now almost 30 years. And… I’d like to coach for as long as I can. I would like to just keep it going. I don’t feel like, “Oh, I can only do this for another 5 or 10 more years.” If I can still physically do this, and I have students and people who want to take from me, I’d like to do it for at least another 20 years. As long as I can do it. There’s no time when I’m going to say, “Oh, I’m moving to Florida.” Just as long as I can do it.
Q: Anything you don’t like about coaching, or less favorite aspects of it?
A: My least favorite aspect is probably the driving. I drive more than 25,000 miles a year, and I think any skating coach can relate to that. There are some clubs, like SCOB, where you can go in at 6 in the morning and leave at 6 at night. But we don’t all have that luxury. We’re pretty much free agents, most of us, and belong to several clubs, and we’re all over the place.
The scheduling is hard, too, because kids are so busy these days. When I skated, there were many kids who skated 5 or 6 days a week. Now, you only hear of elite skaters skating that much. But we all did back then. That’s what we did: We were skaters. We didn’t play soccer, volleyball, field hockey. We skated. And we skated. And if we did anything else, it was to help us be better skaters. We took dance class, we took ballet, we stretched. We did things that would enhance the skating. The kids were there all the time.
Now, I’ve got 22 students, and [with] some of them, the parents say, “Well, she can only skate on Tuesday on the 4:40 session, and Friday on 3:20.” So you’ve got 22 people all saying this, and you’ve got these spreadsheets out, like, “How am I going to do this?” And maybe they get sick, they go on vacation, they won’t be skating in the fall because they have field hockey. Trying to keep track of all that can be tough. Just the logistics of trying to schedule everybody and be accommodating. It was a lot easier when I got sick as a kid. My coach would say, “Fine, I’ll teach you on Wednesday,” because he knew I’d be there [at the rink].
Those are the things that I find the most difficult. And the cold! I should have said that first. (Laughs) The other things, you can deal with.
Even skating parents. They get a bad rap. But most of them are coming from a good place. They care about their kid, and they want to make sure they get their money’s worth. If you have a difficult parent, you can sit down, and you can talk to them and say, “This is how much your child is skating, and this is what you can expect over the course of a year.” I’ve had parents say to me, “Oh, she just passed her pre-preliminary moves, when can she take her preliminary?” And I say to them, “When you’re skating one-and-a-half hours a week, it could take a year.” That’s hard for them to hear, and you really have to explain. Just having a conversation and talking to them about being realistic.
It’s tough when you have a skater and they fail a test, or come last in a competition. The parents sometimes take it worse than the kids, because this is their child, and they love them, and their heart breaks for them. And you have to get them all together, and say, “Look, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. This has nothing to do with you as a person. This is about your skating, what you have to work on.” You have to separate the person from the skating. Just because you fail a test doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a person; just because you’re last doesn’t mean you’re a loser. You have to take it all as a big learning experience and a huge process. And you always have to look at the big picture and focus on your own goals and not worry about, “So-and-so’s landing their Axel,” and “So-and-so’s just passed this test.” At the end of the day, none of it matters. Your biggest competitor is yourself, and you’ve got to come up with your own plan.
The most important thing in skating, I think, is perseverance. That’s how skating is. It’s a long, long road. The people who have been the most successful, that I’ve seen, have been the ones that stuck with it. That’s how you’re going to have a lot of success, in anything. The person who sticks with it and learns from their mistakes and keeps going, not the one who says, “I came in last, I can’t do this any more.” I think more than talent, more than anything, perseverance is probably #1 at being successful in this sport.
But it is hard. Because when that piece of paper goes up and tells you what place you came in [at a competition]… I just think it’s one of the worst parts of the whole sport. It’s worse than if you’re on a team. If a team loses, the whole team loses. But if it’s [just] your name up there … it’s tough. It’s a tough part of the sport.
I think most skaters can handle it. They just want to know that you’re going to love them, no matter what. They don’t want to get yelled at in the car on the way home, or be told, “You’re wasting my money.” As long as the parents and everyone is on the same page. That’s the ultimate goal–to create a better person, a better skater, a healthy, happy person. That’s what any parent wants for their kid. But it’s a long process getting there, and it’s hard to get parents to understand [sometimes]. Because they want the results today. Particularly in this world.
Q: Speaking of perseverance, you have kept up with your own skating as an adult, in addition to coaching. Tell me about that. What motivates you to keep skating?
A: There are a lot of things I’m interested in. I like to take ballet classes; I try to get to the Boston Ballet School as often as I can. This year, I’m determined I’m going to improve my French, and start to learn Russian. So my whole world isn’t just skating, skating, skating. I am married, and I have a 25-year-old daughter. My husband Bill is a firefighter in Winthrop, MA. And my daughter Brittany works in Boston and recently returned to this area after spending 3 years in Boulder, CO. I do have a life outside of skating.
But when it comes to physical activity, I still find myself drawn toward skating and the goal-oriented aspect of it. I’m not satisfied going into a gym and just saying, “Okay, I did X repetitions.” I know it works for some people. But for me, I just like the skating and what it can offer. And the fact that there is never an end. You can always keep learning, you can always keep improving.
I always said that when I got older, I was going to ice-dance. And one day about 7 years ago, I was trying to get my double Salchow back. And I was like, “This is crazy, I’m in my 40s, I don’t need to do this any more.” And there were some ice dancers who came to the rink [that day], and they looked so happy and so relaxed, and they’re holding hands and they’re skating around. And I said to myself, “Why am I not doing this yet?”
So, that was it. I hired an ice dance coach, Ron Kravette. [Note: Ron Kravette is a 4-time U.S. senior bronze medalist in ice dance and now coaches.] I just decided, I’m going to do this. I was hooked almost immediately. To the point where I questioned whether I should have done this years ago. Because I think in my early 20s, it might have been easier to find a partner. I still look for one. I have a friend, Eric Rioux, whom I skate with sometimes; we practice together. It’s fun.
I skate with Ron every week. And I got hooked on—not just passing tests, climbing up the levels—but how much there is to learn in ice dancing. There are so many things that Ron would tell me, and I’d just say, “Wow, of course. Right. Why didn’t I know this before? All these years I’ve been skating, why didn’t I know that?” I found a whole different level of education in ice dancing. I don’t feel like it’s just more skating. I feel like I took on a whole different sport.
And it’s nice to skate with somebody. It really is. It’s nice when you have to go out there for a test, that you have somebody’s hand to hold. Sometimes after I’ve ice-danced, I’ll go out and I’ll skate by myself, and you almost feel kind of lonely! Like, where’s my partner? [It’s] not just the technique [in ice dance], but learning the positions, learning how this works, how that works, as far as handholds and timing … There’s just an endless amount of skating education, and I’m just happy that I started it. I love it. I just love it. And I’m going to do it as long as I can.
Q: What level have you gotten to with it?
A: I passed the gold dance test, and I passed one of the international dances. There are 10 international dances, and I’d like to take all of them. And if there’s any way I could, I’d like to take some of the free dances as well. That would require a lot more time, and I think a partner too. I’d have to probably find a partner.
Q: Is that the adult gold dance test, or the standard competition-track gold?
A: I took the standard [track] through the silver. And then the pre-gold and gold, I took on the adult track. Primarily because you have to solo them, and I really just didn’t want to solo them. I wanted to skate with Ron. Because that was my big thing, to skate with a partner. That’s what I was most interested in. I did solo [the dances] in the silver level, just not in the pre-gold and gold. And you don’t have to solo them in international. The international dances are really fun.
Q: Are those like compulsory dances—like the waltz?
A: Yes. The Paso Doble, the blues, the Starlight waltz. You can still see the great compulsory dances the skaters [once] did at the Olympics—it’s all on YouTube. And that’s where I still learn a lot from, is watching that.
Q: So what about adult free skating? Have you done that in the past as well? Any plans to do more?
A: I had taken about 5 years off [from skating], from the time I was 30, and I picked it back up at 35. I was raising my daughter and teaching some days, so 5 years went by in a blink. But when I started recovering, I said, “I’ve got to do something to help me get healthy again. Something that I love.” So I started skating.
A couple of people said to me, “Oh, you really should do some adult competitions.” So I did two adult competitions in Interpretive. And it was fun. I liked picking out the music, and choreographing the program, and designing the dress and having it made. All the preparation. But I have to say, both times after I got off the ice, it was almost a letdown. It was like, “I’ve done this already, I need a different challenge.” I didn’t get the satisfaction out of it that I wanted to. I didn’t care what the results were. So I only did those two. It wasn’t long after that I started ice dancing. And that’s just been one of the best things that I’ve done as an adult.
Q: So, you’ve got coaching, you’ve got your adult skating/ice dancing that you’re doing now. And also, you’re coaching theatre on ice. So how did you get involved with theatre on ice? And what are you doing with that right now?
A: I was asked to be assistant coach of Imagica, [a team] at SCOB, in 2008. At the time, Imagica had close to 30 people on the team, and the coach really needed an assistant. I didn’t know anything about theatre on ice–how much it was taking off, how many teams there were, that they had all these competitions. Of course, I had heard of it, but I didn’t realize how big it was getting until I started getting involved with it. I worked with Imagica for about 5 years, and I loved it. We won Nationals 3 times, and we won Nations Cup in Toulouse, France. So we had a lot of success, and I made a lot of friends. It was a great experience. In the end, the numbers started dwindling. At one point, we had maybe 12 people, and they didn’t really have the need for a second coach.
A couple years later, North Shore Skating Club (NSSC) wanted to start a theatre on ice team, so I was asked if I wanted to get involved in that. This is the first year. NSSC has 2 teams. The adult team is Diamond Blades, and the kids’ team is Crystal Blades. Diamond Blades has 15 adults. We have 11 women and 4 men, between the ages of 18 and into their 70s! I didn’t expect it to be this big this year. We’ve got maybe 4 or 5 people who have passed their senior free skating test. So we’ve got some really great talent. We’re going to be competing in Birmingham, Alabama, at the end of June. It’s been a fun experience, with a great group of people, and we’ll just see where it goes. We would like to qualify to Nations Cup; we would have to place in the top 3. That’s the goal, but we’ll take it one year at a time.
Q: So what draws you into theatre on ice? Just the team aspect of it?
A: I think that a lot of the skaters, they like the team aspect. Figure skating, as we all know, is not a team sport. And the only opportunities you have are synchro and now theatre on ice. The only other time you feel any sense of connection with other skaters is if you’re in a show, [and] you’re working on a group number. Skaters can skate on the same ice every single day, and sometimes they don’t know each other that well. Then you get them in a situation where they’re working on a program together, and a lot of times that’s when friendships really start being formed.
So, a lot of people like that aspect of it. And it can be fun! It can be really fun trying to come up with the set. The skaters this year are coming up with their own costumes. And they all contribute ideas. A couple weeks ago, one of the skaters said, “We should have a unicorn during the ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ number.” So now I’m looking for unicorn costumes. (Laughs) It’s this big collaboration of ideas and talent. Of course it’s not serious, like the Olympics. But when you’re on a team like that, I see people start to feel a sense of responsibility, like they want to contribute, they want to skate their best. “I can do a double toe loop in the program.” Or some skaters will say, “I can draw; let me help with the set,” or “I can sew; let me help make the costumes.”
That’s the good thing about theatre on ice: Everybody can contribute, and they all feel like they’re a part of it. In synchro, you’ve got these girls, and they’re all trying to look the same, be on the same level, do the same thing. There’s a team aspect, but there’s no individuality, because you have to be so structured. And it’s wonderful, but that’s not for everybody. In theatre on ice, you can be all different levels. We have one girl who’s trying to pass her pre-preliminary moves, skating with girls who are seniors. And it’s fine. I enjoy it. I hope that the program builds, and I hope we have more skaters and more teams in the club.
Q: Would you like to see theatre on ice eventually come under the ISU and have a world championship, like synchro?
A: I think it would be great. We have a Nations Cup now, but it’s not sanctioned. Any time something comes under the ISU, people want to be involved. So it grows. Anything that gets people involved in skating—getting the numbers up. Right now, in this country, [figure skating] is not as popular as it was 20 years ago, or in the Dorothy Hamill days. There are so many other things for people to do. There’s girls’ ice hockey. There’s so many sports that girls can partake in, that they couldn’t [before] Title IX in the 1970s. I’m for anything that gets kids and adults in the rinks and skating. Because it’s a great sport. Something like theatre on ice isn’t so expensive.
Q: I did want to touch on the whole subject of figures, because that’s something we’ve talked about. And it’s a change that you have seen in your career. Obviously, when you were starting out, figures were still a big part of the sport. Now, they’re not. So, your thoughts on that? The decision to eliminate figures from the sport.
A: I think there have been a lot of repercussions … I don’t think people realized the impact it was going to have when they first eliminated them. I think that’s part of the reason why you don’t see so many 5- or 6-day-a-week skaters any more. In order to be successful [back then]—to go up the ladder, even from pre-preliminary to juvenile–you had to be at the rink all the time. You really had to put those hours in. Those figures weren’t easy–they were time-consuming–and so you had to put your time in. You had to do them; you didn’t have a choice. Nobody really wanted to do them, in the beginning. You’d get a few people who are interested, but most would be like, “When can I start free skating? I want to jump, I want to spin.” They’d do it because they had to.
So, you took away figures … And we lost a lot of ice time. [You’d see] clubs having [as much as] 40 hours a week of figures and free skating … Bam. Cut in half. Immediately. That had an economic impact on the coaches. It’s better for the parents, but…. Then the hockey started taking over. Once you lose that ice, you don’t get it back. Hockey comes in.
It used to take, on average, a year to pass a figure test. And in order to do that … preliminary, you had to skate at least 3 patches a week, an hour [each]. First [figure] test, you had to do 4 [patches]. Second test, you had to be there 5 days a week, an hour a day. Maybe the same for the fourth test. Fifth test, sixth test—you had to do 2 patches a day. So now you’re talking 10 hours a week. Seventh test, eighth test–you’re talking 3 hours, sometimes 4 hours a day. People knew that it took a lot of work to get to these levels. And you lost a lot of people on the way, too. For every person who passed their preliminary free skate/figure test, only 1% passed the eighth, 2% passed the seventh, and 3% passed the sixth. So there was a huge dropoff, because it took so much time. But people were aware of the work and the time that was involved, moving from level to level.
Now, you’ve got Moves in the Field, which don’t take nearly as much time to learn. In the club that I teach at, we have 20-minute moves sessions. And I think it’s created this impression that you only have to do them for 20 minutes a day, and you can still move up a level every single year. And the parents expect it. There’s all this pressure to keep passing these tests—without the same amount of ice time. So I think the quality has gone down. I’ve seen kids pass a novice or junior or senior moves test that would never, never have passed the sixth, seventh, or eighth figures tests. The positions aren’t there; the body control.
The people that developed the Moves in the Field–they really put a lot of thought into it. They knew figures weren’t going to be part of the picture any more, so we’ve got to do something. They put a lot of work into it. I don’t want to take anything away from that. But I think the way things are today, everybody wants everything, bam bam bam. They want to move up a level every single year with not a whole lot of time [put into it]. And it takes a lot of time. There aren’t any shortcuts to learning how to skate properly.
When we did figures, the judges were right down on the ice, with their little magnifying glasses, and if you had a flat, or a change of edge, this far from the turn, you got a deduction. And it was really hard to pass those tests. Now, the judges are up in the bleachers. You could have a change [of edge] a foot away from the turn, and they might not know. You have some judges who are like, “There’s no way that was a clean turn.” But they can’t really prove it, because they’re sitting 30 feet away. Whereas back then, they had absolute proof.
I think the coaches who did figures [themselves] are still trying to teach these kids [properly]. But I can’t say that the ones without a coach who did figures can break it down to a loop or a counter or a rocker or a bracket and tell you exactly where the arm should be right before the turn, where the hip should be, and why. I’m just afraid that some of that is being lost.
Figures are almost like the encyclopedia of skating. So many times in my lessons, if I’m stuck on something, I’ll go back to my figures training. And you can find the answer. If somebody is [not] doing [something right], I’ll think, “Where would you want to be if you were doing the figure?” And I’ll see why it’s not working. So I constantly, to this day, am going back to my figures background and pulling the answers out for anything.
But I think they [Moves in the Field] are still better than not having anything at all. And there are some things about moves that are really good, too. Like, I did the brackets and counters and rockers [in figures]. But we did them so slow. And when you do them at speed, like you do for moves, it’s a whole different feeling.
At this point in my teaching career, I would say the best thing ideally would be if the skater had a figures background, a moves background, and an ice dancing background. That’s why I think [many] synchro teams make the kids take moves tests and dance tests, too. Because I go to dance tests, and I’m absolutely amazed at how many people are taking dance tests. And most of them are synchro skaters. Because I think they know you need a little of that in order to be the best skater that you can be.
It’s just unfortunate to see these kids who are trying to come up the ladder so quickly, without putting in the hours that we had to put in to move up even one level. You were the one who told me that it took Ashley Wagner 4 years to get her double Axel; it took me 3 years to pass my third figure test. Everybody moves at different rates. And I wonder if there’s pressure on the judges, too.
Back when I skated, you didn’t question the judges. There was God, and there was the judges. They could stop figure tests. If you had 10 figures, and you weren’t getting that minimum passing grade on the first or second figure, they could stop the test. And at some point, parents started complaining. Now, the judges are being questioned a bit. They’re being criticized. You wonder about that. Maybe they’re just throwing their hands up and letting the kid pass.
Q: So overall, you’re not really a fan of figures being eliminated?
A: The hours we had to do them—it was a little ridiculous. And it wasn’t for everybody. To have to get up in the morning and do figures for 2 hours, and another hour after school, and then do free skating … I don’t even think that’s possible these days. There might be parents who would say, “Look, my kid doesn’t have that kind of time. She’s got 4 hours of homework.” I don’t know if that would fly today. The ones who get to the Ashley Wagner/Gracie Gold [level], they’re really the exception. For everybody else … it’s more recreational. In reality, you can’t skate 4 or 5 hours a week, and expect to come up the ladder.
Q: The sheer amount of skill, I think, that goes into this sport is unbelievable. I was talking with a skating mom about it. She said that was one of the biggest surprises–just how long it takes to really do anything in skating. And there really aren’t those shortcuts.
A: Right. There are no shortcuts. And there’s such a variation of how people progress. Everyone progresses at different levels.
Q: I want to get some thoughts from you about the state of the sport in the U.S. You’ve touched a little bit on how the loss of figures has affected the sport. Talking about the grassroots level and involvement—where is at it? Compared to when you were a kid 40 years ago, are there more kids involved in skating today? Less? The same?
A: I think there are more kids involved overall. The numbers that USFSA has for their Basic Skills programs are huge. They’re more than they’ve ever been. But then there’s a dropoff. When I skated, we had those 5- or 6-day-a-week skaters, so the freestyle sessions were filled all the time. At NSSC, we now sometimes [have] 10 kids on a session. The earlier sessions, there’s like 5 or 6 kids. Yes, the Basic Skills numbers are through the roof. But so few of them will continue through junior/senior levels.
Things go in cycles. Some skater will come along and capture the imagination of every little girl in this country, and they’re going to want to skate again. It’ll come back. It’s not something you can package. A star is born. It will happen again. The economy, too. When people have money, they skate; when they don’t have money, they don’t skate.
There’s always going to be certain people that are attracted to the sport, and that’s not ever going to change. But unfortunately, I’ve heard parents say, “Get the kids in the group lessons, let them learn how to skate, then pull them out before they start to love it. Because it’s so expensive. So time-consuming. You don’t want your kid doing this.” And there’s a lot of girls showing up in hockey skates because the parents don’t want them to figure skate. They want them to learn how to skate, and then they’re going to play hockey. So we lose them there, too. I’ve seen quite a bit of that in the last few years. Because right now, girls’ hockey is huge, and there’s scholarships.
Q: What about facilities for skating in the U.S.? Living where we do in the Northeast, there are a lot of rinks, and yet a lot of them are seasonal, and a lot of them have somewhat limited availability for public skating. What are your thoughts on that? Do we have enough rinks? Enough training facilities?
A: I think in the Northeast, there are enough rinks. We have a lot of rinks here, compared to other parts of the country, where you have to travel hours sometimes to find one rink. So we’re lucky in that aspect. But you’re right. Ice time–public skating availability—it’s always been that way. It’s usually in the daytime, when demand isn’t high. They’re getting a lot of money from these guys right now. [Gestures to the hockey players who were playing in the rink during our interview.] They lose money if they put public skating on in a time [when they could get hockey]. So they’re not going to do that.
From a coaching aspect, I wish there were more rinks that had rooms to warm up in, to stretch in, to have ballet classes—heated rooms with mirrors, ballet barres, so we could come in and do everything under one roof. Some rinks have this, but not enough. Most rinks are built with hockey in mind and not figure skaters. More heat would help, too. It’s so difficult for skaters to warm up properly in rinks that are so cold.
Q: U.S. singles skaters, especially our ladies, were once the best in the world. Now, we’re struggling a bit. Any thoughts on this, as a coach, based on everything you’ve seen? What do we need to do to get back to that point?
A: I think that skaters in the U.S. have it very difficult. We don’t get the funding that I hear skaters in other countries are still getting. Parents in the U.S. are doing their best, but ice time and coaching fees are expensive. And funding isn’t available until you are a national competitor, unless you’re lucky enough to have a sponsor. Our kids are trying to work, go to school, and skate—and it’s difficult, sometimes nearly impossible. And we lose a lot of very talented skaters at the lower levels because they simply can’t afford it. Parents also worry about whether or not they’ll get a return on their investment: scholarships are few. And even after reaching the elite level, it’s difficult to make a lot of money unless you’re an Olympic champion. Of course, skating provides many life benefits and lessons that you can’t put a price on. But for many parents, the financial cost is an important consideration.
In countries like China, success in skating may offer them opportunities that they might not be able to get otherwise. The kids are aware of this from a very young age, and they work very, very hard, and are [sometimes] completely supported by their government.
What do we need to be successful in singles again? I think if there were a system where very hardworking, talented skaters could be identified and supported at lower levels, we might not lose so much talent on the long climb to the top. I’ve known many skaters who have had to stop skating or cut back considerably because their families could no longer afford it. And that’s unfortunate.
Of course, there’s also a different mentality in some other countries. As I’ve said, the skaters are more aware that success in a sport can change not only their lives but those of their families. I think they feel more pressure from a younger age and develop a strong work ethic earlier, due to this heightened sense of responsibility.
There are a lot of Russian immigrants in the Boston area now. And I notice the parents seek out Russian coaches. They want their kids’ skating lessons spoken in Russian, and they want that discipline. They understand the connection between work ethic, discipline, and future success. Don’t get me wrong—there are also incredibly disciplined, hardworking American children. But I see many kids who think nothing of taking an afternoon off, or who get on the ice late or off early, not fully appreciating the value of every minute on the ice.
Q: Yes, the tough thing about skating–well, probably a lot of sports, but especially skating—is you have to start that work ethic at a really young age.
A: Right. You do need that work ethic from a young age. These days, there’s a strong focus on being a well-rounded person. Parents want this for their children, colleges expect it, and it’s important. But to be successful in a sport that’s as difficult as skating, you need focus, discipline, and a perseverance that’s almost unparalleled.
Having said that, I think that success comes in many forms. You don’t need to reach an Olympic podium to be successful. Most skaters skate for the sheer love of skating, the freedom it brings them, and the joy of participating in it. I still think it’s the most beautiful sport on earth, and one of the most beautiful art forms that has ever existed.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Amy Vecchio as much as I enjoyed speaking with her! It’s not often that you get to sit down with someone who’s been in the skating world for so many years and has so much knowledge to share. Thanks, Amy! 🙂