Rachael and Tom learning how to curl. With Figure Skating Team Leader Lorrie Parker at practice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


You might be wondering how I think I became an Olympic coach. The first thing I want you to know is that it took 21 years of coaching. While some coaches can inherit skaters already at the top of the sport, I am not that type of coach at this point in my career. I have had to prove myself within the industry. I think this is a key ingredient to being successful. The desire to show people what I can do motivates me everyday.

I have done several interviews since nationals that have made me reflect on how Rachael and I got to this point. I spoke with her this morning about several key issues, but before I list what I feel are the 3 most important points, I can also tell you that getting to the Olympics as a coach has nothing to do with hoping or being lucky. Reaching the goal of being part of an Olympic team is achieved by careful, detailed planning in many areas.

These are what I consider to be key ingredients:

1. TALENT/WORK RATIO OF YOU AND YOUR ATHLETE: No coach can get to the Olympic Games without a talented athlete who is willing to work hard and vice versa. Rachael and I spoke about this to try to quantify just how much talent was needed without having too much. We came up with a 90-10 ratio, meaning you want to have 10 percent of your efforts come from talent but the other 90 percent to come from good, old-fashioned hard work. This is because the closer you get to being the best in the country or the world, the more you find yourself competing with equally as talented or more talented coaches or athletes. If you or your athlete is too talented you will usually become easily frustrated when you really have to work for something and this may lead you to choose to give up when the going gets tough.

2. EDUCATION: I think what helped my coaching the most was going back to school and studying sports/physical education. I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and Mass Communications from the University of Denver in 1988, and then I received my Master of Science-Exercise Science from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in 2001. Understanding exactly how to create a periodization plan that works for your athlete is important. My master's degree has helped me immensely in this area. Figure skating is a repetition sport and if your athlete cannot do the reps necessary for proper muscle memory without a major injury he/she will not achieve the highest level. In addition to my higher education, I try to make the best use of my resources at US Figure Skating, the Professional Skaters Association, the United States Olympic Committee and the Ice Skating Institute. If I do not know the answer to a question, I ask someone or do research until I find the answer. If I cannot fix a problem, I try to think outside the box and consult with experts outside our sport. I think the process of wanting to understand something and wanting to be as sure of the results or outcome as you possibly can leads you on a path toward excellence. I also look to all areas of life for inspiration because I think that sport mirrors life. I find inspiration in other sports, in the music and film industry, higher education and the business world. Ryan Bradley, who I have coached my entire career, says that I can find inspiration in just about anything and he is probably right!

3. COMMITMENT: I choose to work very long hours each day because as Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act of will. It is a habit." The more you coach the better you will get at it. Unfortunately, in the process of making commitments to our athletes we sacrifice part of ourselves as well as time spent with our significant others and family members. This is a huge part of getting to the Olympic Games. Even if you strive for balance in life as we all do, you will find that life is made up of tough decisions between two important values that are in conflict with each other such as family time vs. coaching time. You must make sacrifices to coach at the Olympic Games. You have to love figure skating and you have to spread that love to the skaters and parents you will be developing as you put in the long hours that it takes to get to the top.

Finally, no coach does it entirely alone anymore. The PSA has a motto this year that I have embraced for many years: teamwork makes the dreamwork. I see my job as the primary coach of Rachael Flatt's figure skating like that of a director on the set of a movie. Even though many people help in the process of making the movie, one person must be accountable and responsible for the final product. For a primary coach this means letting the choreographer or strength coach know how you want it done while allowing them to do their job. Making sure whoever is part of your team is loyal to your values and vision for the athlete is not easily done in our industry, so take time to build trust with your athletes, their parents and the coaches you choose to work with. Except for the athlete's parents, you know the athlete the best especially if you have worked with them for a long period of time. Think Linda Leaver and Brian Boitano. Think Christy Ness and Kristi Yamaguchi. Cultivate long lasting relationships with your athletes and those coaches on your team and this will help you reach the top.

Answer to the question of the day: The colors of the 5 Olympic rings (red, blue, yellow, green and black) represent the common colors that are found on every nation's flag that participate in the Olympic Games.

Question of the day: Why are there five rings in the Olympic flag?

Finally, I would like to add Olympic Champion Carol Heiss Jenkins to the list of coaches I have learned from who have presented at the PSA Conference. I thought about something she said today while I was coaching and remembered that I did not include her in my first blog. So Carol if you are reading this, you get a special shout out today:)


  1. Great advice Tom. I did a little googling and this blog came up. I'm a junior at UIC studying the Movement Science conc. in Kinesiology, I would absolutely love to work with Olympic athletes. Some spots opened up for internships at the USOC so hopefully that gets my foot in the door if I make the cut.

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