Update 9/23/16: Patrick announced his new coaching team (article link) consisting of Marina Zoueva, Oleg Epstein and Johnny Johns. He will continue to train at the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton, Michigan. I wish him and his new coaching team the best. May harmony, understanding and encouragement prevail as they work together. Good luck, Patrick!
Ever since Kathy Johnson unexpectedly announced her resignation, there has been much speculation about who would be Patrick’s next coach. It may be that the new coach will be revealed tomorrow, in which case this blog post may be rendered obsolete. Nevertheless, as he mulls over his choices and figures out who he would be “100 percent sure on“, here are my thoughts on his search for the holy grail… er, golden coach.
Who would be the ideal person for the job? Perhaps he or she would coach Patrick all the way to Olympic gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Also, I think to many figure skating fans, these are the most important requirements:
1) A technician who can help Patrick do quad jumps like Jin Boyang (so he can beat everyone or at least stay on the podium with the top competitors). We already know how highly Patrick thinks of this. To him, the skating skills and overall artistry of his programs are just as important as doing quad jumps of all kinds.
2) Another requirement is someone who can help Patrick attain all of the technical goals while still maintaining his current impeccable artistry. We know what Kathy had said about this. The more quads in a program, the more other elements have to come out, because there’s only so much time. So the challenge is to find a balance between doing the technical elements and elevating Patrick’s strengths. However, to certain fans hoping Patrick’s next coach can help him get all four quads in tow and become a super skater, this requirement is non-negotiable: “All the other top men are doing it, so he must do it, too!” Or else, I’ve observed disappointment in the form of a gloomy and resigned outlook: “I will watch Patrick out of enjoyment, but I won’t expect him to win.” Surely we can still cheer him on and support him while hoping for the best?
My Definition of a Golden Coach
What skill set do I think is most important for a golden coach to possess? Of course he or she would need to be an expert with an objective eye, as well as someone who is much respected for their work! But I think first and foremost, Patrick’s new coach needs to be his biggest supporter. Besides good rapport, love (in the form of mutual respect and appreciation) is a crucial factor that cannot be overlooked. Whoever coaches Patrick needs to be somebody who loves his talent, appreciates who he is, and can bring out the best in him. As a result, not only will Patrick be “perfect” on the ice, people will see his heart and soul – and all the good qualities that comprise the essence of who he is. People will no longer say, “I couldn’t connect with him; he was too cold,” or “he had no expression on his face, no personality.”
The ideal coach would truly understand Patrick and what motivates him, including the mental, psychological and cultural issues that keep him from being able to project his presence with ease and touch audiences’ hearts during performances. This is no easy feat. If Patrick were an iceberg, he would be like one that was submerged in friendly Canadian waters:
Most people might only see the tip of the iceberg as it reflects the rays of sunshine upon it (Part A: What People See). But it would be a mistake to coach Patrick based only on what can be observed there. His coach would need to understand the part(s) of the iceberg that are submerged underneath deep, dark waters and are possibly hidden even to Patrick’s conscious mind (Part B: What Is Hidden). Part B contains his values, upbringing, deep-rooted beliefs, attitudes, fears, etc., including those scripts from his Chinese heritage that run in the background. While Kathy got along great with Patrick during their coaching time together, I wonder just how much she understood his Part B.
Understanding Part B
This Part B can be very difficult for non-Asians in North America to understand. I will digress here to give some anecdotal examples from my own life. Even though I am a very Westernized Asian-American child of immigrants who has been called a “banana”, I have experienced the following when it comes to my own Part B:
A Caucasian friend that I had known for awhile once told me that she could not figure out my motivation, and she wanted to know what motivated me. I was at a loss for words and asked her to repeat her question again. “I want to know what makes you tick,” she said. I never had anyone ask me this question before and I tried my best to explain myself to her, but ultimately I was not very successful. To me, what motivated me was obvious, but to her it was a mystery.
When I lived in the Midwest, I knew one other Chinese guy around my age named Kwan (technically he was ten years older, but whatever). He started dating a blond girl from Arkansas who was younger than both of us. She was very sweet, but one day she came to me and said, “I’m having trouble understanding Kwan. Can you help me?” I was surprised and asked what she meant. She tried her best to explain it to me, but once again she did not seem to be able to understand his motivation and why he did things the way he did. Not surprisingly, unable to bridge that gap of understanding, they later broke up.
I believe that almost all Asian people in North America have some submerged behavioral traits somewhere in their psyche, including people who are multiracial. I once had a colleague named Mary Andrews who told me that her friends used to notice certain habits and behaviors she had that were a bit unusual, such as mopping a wet floor with rags using her foot. When she later reflected on why she had these “odd” ways of thinking and doing things, she realized that she had learned them from her Vietnamese immigrant mother without being conscious that they were Asian in nature. To her, they were normal. To her non-Asian friends, they were unusual.
So Patrick’s Golden Coach would need to have an understanding of how these hidden cultural habits and values work in Patrick’s life, and how they affect his performances. An example of someone who demonstrates some understanding of this is his choreographer David Wilson, who spoke a bit about it during an interview with TSL about his work with Kim Yuna.
Recovery from Perfectionism
Another trait I would like to see in Patrick’s next coach is someone who can help him silence the demons of perfectionism. When Patrick is out on the ice, I want him to have no more thoughts of “Uh oh, you did that wrong. Oh well, this skate is a failure. You’re not gonna win.” Those voices perhaps plagued him during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and now I would like to see them silenced. Patrick will never be able to fully express himself or skate with joy as long as these demons persist. Difficult as it might be, he would need to let them go and even risk “losing face” by letting some people down with his performances. I would like the ideal coach for Patrick to know how to help him skate without letting the results define his self-worth, because they don’t. As basketball coach John Wooden once said:
…you never heard me mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored. And I just wanted them to be able to hold their head up after a game. I used to say that when a game is over, and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or the opponent outscored you.
So that is my definition of the perfect Golden Coach. For me, the number one ingredient needed here is not necessarily just technical expertise, but how much this coach loves and understands Patrick Chan. I do hope that Patrick is able to find this person, and perhaps he already has. I think Kathy may have come close, even though she might not have been able to help him silence all of his perfectionist demons. But perhaps Patrick himself will need to be his own Golden Coach. This would require him to be his own best friend instead of being his own worse enemy when he’s on the ice. Now that would be a great way for him to start this new season!