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Ruminations on Coach-Switching

Why all the coach switching? Bouncing around between coaches is nothing new in figure skating. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. But it appears to be happening more and more in recent years (**disclaimer: I have no empirical evidence of this. This assessment is based on observation and a very rough survey that consisted of me google-researching several top skaters of the past 30 years). I remember up until a few years ago, I thought coach-swapping was strictly a sign of desperation or a major conflict, or an inability to get the job done. Nicole Bobek seemed to have a new coach each season back in the 90s. Similarly, Sasha Cohen also hopped from coach to coach (and sometimes back). Neither of those fazed me, but I remember being absolutely shocked (SHOCKED!) when Michelle Kwan left her longtime coach, Frank Carroll during the season leading up to the 2002 Olympic games. And now in the past few weeks we have at least two world champions and several other major skaters switching coaches.

Some of the switching might be that it’s just natural for skaters to change coaches as they make the jump into elite skating, from smaller-time to bigger-time, where their old coaches just don't have the experience or knowledge to help them compete. (or, as a skater grows up, they just seek out a coach who better fits their style and personality or can help in certain areas they are lacking). While some skaters make that move while they’re still juniors (like Evan Lysacek going to train under Frank Carroll in 2003) or before they really take off, maybe that idea accounts for the recent switches by Ashley Wagner, Kimmie Meissner and Johnny Weir. Or Scott Hamilton’s 1980 move to Don Laws, who would lead him to the Olympic gold. But surely this natural progression theory can't explain why Mao Asada, Fumie Suguri, and others are continually going from coach to coach.

Another factor might be that, especially in the couple of decades since the demise of the Soviet Union, there are just so many more coaches to pick and choose between. And of course, skaters from, say, the former soviet republics, have more freedom to choose whom they skate for and with and where they do their skating. So someone like Nikolai Morozov is attracting skaters from all over the world to New Jersey to work with him, while if the USSR still existed, he would probably be working with whomever he was assigned.

I have read many articles about how people used to work for one company their whole lives but now the trend is to change jobs and even careers every few years (although I won’t even try to get into the sociological reasons why this is happening). Is there a similar trend occurring in the world of figure skating? Or am I completely off this theory that a higher percentage of top skaters are moving around nowadays than they did, say, 20 years ago? Kelli at State of the Skate writes that it's almost become a rite of passage for elite skaters to change coaches:

As for whether or not it’s a worthwhile tradition, well… that’s trickier. There are success stories out there for sure. After all, do you think Lambiel would have knocked on Petrenko’s door if Petrenko didn’t seem to be such a player in Johnny Weir’s turnaround this past season?

But I suspect there’s something to be said for the psychological side of it too. Does the new coach really make the difference every time, or is it sometimes the mere sense of expecting more from oneself by way of making a change? Do you simply start listening better when someone new is in the room?

Let me know what you think about the topic...and your guesses as to why coach swapping is so prevalent lately.