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Thread: Funding Figure Skaters' Training

  1. #1
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    Funding Figure Skaters' Training

    Part of the discussion in the Tonya Harding thread prompted me to start this. I can't recall if it was during fall of '03 or '02 that ABC did a piece on the rise of Japanese figure skating, especially ladies. One of the coaches said he attributed the change to the way the Japanese federation funded training for individual skaters. He said it used to be that a skater had to prove herself in international competition before the federation would provide funds for training. However, several years ago the federation decided to try a "pilot project" in ladies figure skating. The federation changed its approach from what I described above to looking for young skaters with potential--ages 10 or 11--and start funding them early based on what the child could do; evaluation of coaches' comments; the skaters' physical attributes; the physical attributes and background of the parents, ie, if one or both parents had been athletic, even recreationally; and the child's drive, intelligence, ability to concentrate, etc. The coach who spoke about it--it may have been Coach Sato--said he felt this approach gave many more children regardless of financial background the opportunity to excel in figure skating and he attributed this change in funding by the Japanese federation to the high level of skating by Japanese ladies today.

    Since Japan's economic system is very similar to that of the US and Canada, I wondered if this might be something the USFSA and/or CFSA should look into, especially given the soaring costs of training an elite skater.

    What do others think not only about Japan's approach but about sponsorship, training costs, and the role of the USFSA and/or CFSA in general?
    Rgirl

  2. #2
    Keeper of Michelle's Nose berthes ghost's Avatar
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    Interesting.

    I think that it's a great way for Eastern nations who are behind to kick-start a program, but I'm not sure it's the right aproach for well established countires like US and Can who are suffering from a bit of performance fatigue.

    I also wouldn't discount the importance of role models either. I'm sure that the holy tinity of Emi-Midori-Yuka has alot to do with the current state of Japanese ladies skating as well as the current (lackluster) state of Japanese mens, pairs and Ice Dance.

    I know people blame the whole sissy image thing, but I have a feeling that if Todd had won at least one of his 4 Oly attempts, a lot more boys would be asking how they can get rich and famous and drive their own Corvette too. (well, maybe the corvette didn't help either, it's a little passe isn't it?)

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    If a skater shows talent and motivation, there should be a system in which their coaching is subsidized. Maybe it should be encumbent on coaches to reduce their fees if they see that talent and motivation. After a year, the coach could submit a recommendation to the Association/Federation to offer scholarships as well.

    Surely this talent is evident in the Regionals and Sectionals. That could be the starting point.

    Joe

  4. #4
    Salchows and Shimmies!!!
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    Berthe's: You make a really good point, and the Vette is still quite popular, by the way.

    Joe: Unfortunately, reducing fees would only be possible for the highest level coaches. Coaches at "regular" (non-elite) rinks just don't charge that much. I think it would be great if perhaps USFS put in some subsidies for these coaches as an incentive.

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    Of course, Yazmeen - The qualifiers for subsidies should be those skaters who can not afford the top coaches. The financial fact should be established.

    I think though, a top coach if he sees someone special at the Reginal or Sectional level should approach the skater (and parents) and give them advice on what to do next. If the parents say, they can not afford anymore than what they are presently doing, the top coach could offer a weely half hour coach. If the coach then sees real progress in the skater, the coach should go to the Federation/Association and explain the situation to them with a view to obtaining a subsidy.

    I also think that parents should be able to request a subsidy. the Federation/Association could hold annual auditions for such people and at the same time investigating their finances.

    These are just my thoughts. I know it will never happen.

    Joe

  6. #6
    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    I don't think that it is the responsibility of the coaches to bear the financial load. As Yazmeen says, the coaching profession is like any other -- only a few people at the top make the big bucks and everybody else is struggling to make a living out of it, or even a reliable supplement to their income.

    Even the top coaches need to be paid. According to Christine Brennan's books, there was a time when the Kwan family just couldn't afford to pay for coaching and ice time for Karen and Michelle. Too bad. They had to drop out of skating for a while. But after Michelle got famous enough, Lake Arrowhead gave her free ice time and also paid Frank Carroll on the Kwan's behalf for coaching, in exchange for the publicity that Michelle brought to the rink.

    The USFSA maintains a fund (the 1960 airplane accident memorial fund) which is supposed to provide financial support for young skaters, IIRC. Does anyone know how much money is involved, or what the criteria are for receiving a grant? I believe that this fund is separate from the USFSA operating budget and is sustained by individual contributions specifically for this purpose.

    I agree with Joe that it would make all the difference in the world if a means could be found to make it possible for talented children to make progress in the sport without driving their parents into bankruptcy!

    Mathman
    PS. One thing about Rgirl's post that caught my eye was the reference to the skater's parents. Under the Japanese system, greater consideration is given to children whose parents were athletes. Sounds a little bit unAmerican to me, LOL.
    Last edited by Mathman; 03-06-2004 at 06:36 PM.

  7. #7
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    Mathman,
    I didn't mean to imply that under the Japanese system, greater consideration is given to children whose parents were/are athletes. It was just one thing that was factored in along with everything else and I think wisely so. From a social/psychological POV, if a child has the ability to become an elite skater, parents who have athletic backgrounds are more likely to be able to understand the training demands. From a genetic perspective, there's a better than average chance that the child inherited good genes for strength, endurance, coordination, kinesthetic intelligence, etc. Looking at the parents to see if they are signifcantly overweight or obese is also "unAmerican" (or maybe all too American the way things are going in this country), but it would not only be a misuse of funding but cruel to the child to invest coaching money and time into someone who has a high probability of not being able to keep his/her weight within limits that are best for skating.

    What the Japanese are doing is no different than what the Russians have done with sports and ballet for decades. It's also no different than what highly competitive universities do with applicants. You get a certain number of points toward acceptance if a close relative is an alumus. I can think of several high ranking politicians who never would have gotten into their Ivy League schools had their fathers not graduated from them.

    Finally, sports is inherently unAmerican, if by that you mean "with liberty and justice for all" or "an even playing field." It's very captialistic, so in that way what the Japanese are doing--and Russians did--is very American. Federations invest in young skaters the way people invest in the stock market. They study everything they can about their potential investment to increase the potential for a high return and lower the risk. The young skater's parents are a factor.

    But the same thing could be done without considering the parents as a factor, or only considering whether or not the parents support their child's interest in skating. Anyway, my understanding of the USFSA's fund is that it works the way the Japanese system used to work, ie, skaters have to wait until they prove themselves in an international competition before they can receive funding.


    As for Berthes Ghost's point that the success of the Japanese ladies has more to do with role models than funding, could be. But after Yuka Sato won '94 Worlds, Japan didn't have a World medalist until Fumie Suguri in '02--eight years. Now the Japanese not only have current world level ladies but they have some potentially great skaters just coming out of and/or in juniors. Also, my understanding is that the Japanese federation started this new funding approach only with ladies, waiting to see the results before they used it in any of the other disciplines. I do think, however, that in order to truly evaluate a funding approach such as this is to see how it works in all four disciplines over a period of about 16 to 20 years.

    OTOH, it does seem like a catch 22 that in order to get funding a skater has to do well at an international event but in order to do well at an international event the skater's parents must be wealthy enough to pay for top coaching. Back before the technical demands were so high and there werent' so many international competitions, I think skaters who naturally had great ability could get noticed and thus get private sponsors (as Scott Hamilton did) or funding from the USFSA. But now that junior ladies are expected to do six triple programs, which may include a 3/3, I think even the most naturally talented girls need top coaching at an early age.

    In any case, I think something needs to be done to help skaters and their families pay for training costs if the sport is going to continue at a high level in countries without state funding. Look what happened to Great Britain and what is happening to Russia?
    Rgirl
    Last edited by Rgirl; 03-06-2004 at 07:49 PM.

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    RGirl,

    You wrote:
    But now that junior ladies are expected to do six triple programs, which may include a 3/3, I think even the most naturally talented girls need top coaching at an early age
    I couldn't agree with this statement more. As the mom of a young skater, I know full well the expense of the sport. Many of you have followed mine and my daughter's foray into the world of skating (and for all your patience, I thank you !). I was all new to this whole skating scene - have no skating background myself other than a love of the sport - and I was blessed with a daughter that not only loves the sport, but has excelled.

    In one year, she has gone from shaking and wobbling around on relatively inexpensive skates to landing axels and double salchows on more expensive skates. My husband and I have made many sacrifices this past year, and will continue to do so as much as we can, but we refuse to sacrifice to the point of it being detrimental to our family and to our other child. We don't feel it is fair to sacrifice our relationship or our son's activities solely to fund our daughter's skating. It has been pointed out by our daughter's current coach and by other coaches at competitions that she has immense amounts of natural ability AND the all important love for the sport, yet I fear that her potential will never come to fruition merely because of the lack of dollars available to develop that talent. There isn't a little girl on that ice that works harder than our daughter does, and I have never regretted one dime spent.... my fear is that there won't be enough dimes to assist her in achieving her potential, whatever that may be.

    As much as we love her and would do anything for her, it sure would be nice to have some avenues to explore in regards to financial assistance, especially here in Canada where we desparately need a boost in our singles skaters. I am not saying my daughter is the next Kwan, but with some "proper" coaching and a little financial backing, perhaps she could be, merely based on her accomplishments to date. Until she competes at a Juvenile level, there is NO funding available from Skate Canada, and I personally think that is too little too late. There needs to be some assistance at a grassroots level in order to rebuild our sport to where it should be in Canada.

    Despite the fact that she is not at a competitive level yet, there should be a talent recognition program to get these kids at this early stage.

    We will continue to do all we can do for as long as she continues to love her sport, and I suppose we can hope that it is enough! It sure would be nice to have other avenues to explore while she is young enough and impressionable enough for the coaching to REALLY matter!

    Canuck

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    Thank You, Sk8tngcanuck

    Sk8tngcanuck,
    Yours is the quintessential experience of probably tens of thousands of novice skaters and their parents. But there's nothing like hearing it conveyed articulately and rationally from someone who is going through it. I realize Mathman was being somewhat facetious with his "downright unAmerican" comment, so this in now way is a knock on MM's comments. But what I find "unAmerican" or "unCanadian" is the situation in which you and so many other parents and young skaters find yourselves.

    Thanks so much for your post, Canuck. It really brings it "home" so to speak. It would be great if parents of high calibre novice skaters could works as a group to "prompt" the USFSA to fund proper coaching for their children, but unfortunately there's the whole competitive thing. Sigh. You and your family will be face with increasingly complex deciisions, as you don't need me to say. We all wish you the best, Canuck. Have you considered trying the media to draw attention to your daughter? I mean local newspapers and such. A newspaper article or TV newstory tape sent to the USFSA might catch their eye. I'm sure you've considered all kinds of things, so forgive me if I sound like, "How about a bake sale?" Yeah, right. That would pay for what, boot laces?

    Great post, Canuck. There's nothing like first-hand experience. Best wishes. I'm sure we'd all love to see your daughter fulfill her potential, no matter where it leads her.
    Rgirl

  10. #10
    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    I guess you're right about what's American, Rgirl. But I think I would be pretty ticked off if I were a skinny kid and the USFSA said I couldn't get any financial support because my parents were too fat.

    As for children getting into prestigious colleges because they have relatives who are alumni, I know that's true, but it doesn't make it right. Give someone else a chance.

    Plus, I am not 100% sure what the main mission of the USFSA is. Maybe it is to produce world champions. But I think that's less important than their main goal of supporting local clubs and encouraging the enjoyment of figure skating at all levels. I guess it's the naive democrat in me after all. I would favor a strategy of "a rising tide lifts all ships" (one of Ronald Reagan's favorite phrases, LOL.) If the emphasis were to be on making the sport accessible to lots and lots of people, then some of them would rise to the top. Sometimes if we try to guess prematurely which ones this will be, by clues like what their parents achieved (among many other criteria), we end up outsmarting ourselves with too much social engineering.

    SkatingCanuck, my heart goes out to you. What you said about not wanting to slight the rest of your family by pouring everything into your daughter's skating was especially poignant. We have certainly seen, at the elite level, a number of examples where star-struck parents seem to have done exactly that. How does it make the other children feel, I wonder?

    About bake sales, maybe Rgirl's suggestion of getting some local publicity for your daughter's talent isn't completely off the wall. Todd Eldredge was generously supported by his town in New England, and he later was able to give back to the community after he had made his mark in the sport.

    Mathman

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    Originally posted by Mathman
    ISkatingCanuck, my heart goes out to you. What you said about not wanting to slight the rest of your family by pouring everything into your daughter's skating was especially poignant. We have certainly seen, at the elite level, a number of examples where star-struck parents seem to have done exactly that. How does it make the other children feel, I wonder?

    I've always wondered about this too. I'm sure you can find all kinds of extremes but the siblings sacrifice a lot as well. And some probably didn't get much of a choice in the matter. I'm sure there are several who feel cheated because time, money and especially attention was thrown at one child. Success is great but that seems like it's too high a price. :(

    It would be nice if skating were more accessible/affordable to people if it can prevent or reduce scenarios like that, but some dreams just won't happen overnight. :\

    My sister is just finishing her junior year of college and is starting to realize that there are trade-offs in life due to limited resources. I remember how hard that lesson was and it never gets easier to make a choice between conflicting desires.

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