Skating coach has holistic approach to teaching sport

WEST ORANGE, N.J. (AP) Rosie Tovi thinks she has a better idea.

The figure skating coach believes – and she has many supporters throughout the ice world – an emphasis on ”happy and healthy” should take precedence over turning the sport into gymnastics in a rink. The longtime coach and choreographer calls it a holistic approach.

”Holistic is a perfect word, because it is the whole,” says Tovi, who will be launching her Championship Figure Skating Camp at the Essex County Codey Arena in West Orange on June 25. ”I have specialists in all different fields talking about different topics.”

Those topics include much more than spending hours doing jumps and spins and footwork on the ice.

”We’ll cover a host of subjects,” she explains. ”We’ll have a specialist on hormones to talk about to navigate when a body is changing. A specialist on eating – this is a big deal in skating today. Competitive skates must have the athleticism of football players and look like ballerinas. The fact is there are a lot of eating disorders in skating. So we bring someone who knows healthy eating so nobody is starving themselves to be on the ice.

”There’s off-ice training with a ballerina who is a skater.

”We do it all in a positive environment for all these kids, making sure we’re not adding more pressure to the pressure cooker. I think first and foremost as a coach, I have to do my best to get them where they want to go. But absolutely first, health and safety is the No. 1 priority; nothing will trump that. Being an Olympic champion and then your body is broken two years later, I don’t buy that.”

Tovi fears that’s pretty much what we have been seeing and might continue to see as long as there’s so much emphasis on jumping. The International Skating Union is dealing with the proliferation of quadruple jumps at its congress this week, with expectations that the number allowed in a free skate program will be capped.

Several men’s skaters, including two-time world champ and Pyeongchang Games bronze medalist Javier Fernandez of Spain, have predicted such a move.

Tovi would welcome it, and recognizes the role coaches must take in developing all skating skills.

”These kids are falling thousands of times in practice to land these jumps,” she says. ”To keep them confident and motivated, that takes some psychological and emotional understanding on (coaches’) part.

”So they are feeling my support, I am there with them. I am not judging them, I am in the game with them. That keeps them in the game for a long time.

”I feel like the skating we are seeing (at the top level) is very robotic, though, so calculating with the points. I feel like I missing seeing some of the goals of skating.”

She is seeing other signs that disturb her.

”We see now in sports the emotional struggles and pressure and anxiety and eating disorders, and these things are very real,” she adds. ”We are not just hearing about it with famous skaters. The struggles are real, there needs to be an evolution in the coaching to be sensitive to these struggles. We need to be working to educate the skaters and parents and coaches to make this a healthy environment.”

Her camp features two groups: junior and elite. Entry is capped at 25 juniors on the ice at one time, and 15 in the elite level. There will be at least a half-dozen junior coaches and nine or so for the elites – including Hall of Fame inductees Jo Jo Starbuck and Elaine Zayak.

While the camp is mainly for singles skaters, there will be instructors for pairs and dance.

Individual teaching will be stressed; Tovi doesn’t believe in the ”one size fits all” approach to coaching. That way, she and her staff discover what works best for a student, what feels comfortable for the skater, while introducing an assortment of techniques and styles.

”They start getting an awareness of what they need, a little bit of self-empowerment, not a coach saying `my way or the highway,”’ she says. ”Another aspect is it doesn’t have to be all about competition. It is not about having to beat someone else, it should be more about personal talents. How great can I get and how far can I go with this?

”It is so key and important to emphasize that skating has so many benefits. For working out it is amazing, you can get in great shape whether you compete or not.

”There are so many avenues we can take skating.”