Figure skating is a very demanding sport. Single skating is one of the sports of figure skating, where individual skaters compete by performing their own competition programs to the rhythm of music. Competitors strive to achieve the highest possible score from the judges based on the performance. Skaters receive points for technical skill, basic skating, musical expression and cleanliness and smoothness of the performance. Figure skating could also be described as a demanding hybrid of sport and art, which combines the need for physical condition and technical skills as well as aesthetics and artistry.
Finnish figure skaters have achieved a lot of success in international competitions. A special feature of Finnish figure skating is the club system and cooperation between clubs. The Sports Manager of the Finnish Figure Skating Association, Satu Niittynen, sees this as a strength: "We have a club system in Finland where hired professional coaches are responsible for coaching and its planning. I see that this is our strength. The cooperation between the coaches of our top clubs is extremely functional, not being in the bubbles of their own coaching centers. In the world, it is often more common to train in such a way that the athlete buys a coaching service from a coaching center."
In Finland, cooperation between coaches includes sharing experiences and learnings. "For example, all the personal coaches always come to the national team camps, and there they share good and bad things and learn from them together. Nationwide cooperation is one of our strengths. On behalf of the association, we want to see that those enthusiastic and talented people are found for the whole of Finland, and to create the conditions for all potential athletes to have the opportunity to develop and advance in their goals. This is our goal. Things are never ready or perfect, but that is one of the goals of our operation," elaborates Niittynen.
Sports manager Niittynen says that the Finnish Figure Skating Association has two top experts as club developers who focus on good operating practices with the clubs and the development of club and coaching activities at the national competition level. In her own work, Sports Manager Niittynen, on the other hand, focuses especially on those clubs that have athletes representing the Finnish national team. "My own cooperation and communication with these clubs is very close in various matters, from finances to sports itself. There are about 10 of these clubs where our national team athletes are," Niittynen sums up.
Figure skating coaches are mainly full-time professionals. This also motivates the Sports Manager Satu Niittynen: "I like the fact that figure skating has an extremely professional coaching system. I'm fascinated by professionalism and the opportunities to move things forward with very competent, motivated and committed people."
Another special feature of figure skating is that top sports and top-level goal-oriented activities are already done with very young children. This sets great quality requirements for coaching philosophy and coaching expertise, as Niittynen describes: "It's quite a different thing to work with children and adolescents than with adult athletes. It requires the ability of the coach to understand children's development and how development takes place at different age stages, both mentally and physically. It is a clear special feature in sports of early specialization, such as figure skating."
Figure skating coaches have personally focused even more strongly nowadays in pure sport expertise, around which a support team has been built, focusing on, for example, physical training and psychological readiness. In the coaching philosophy, the holistic athlete and excellence in other areas of coaching are in an important position. "Some time ago, there was still a mindset that one's own coach had to be able to do everything - which of course is not possible. I have watched with pleasure that responsibility is shared and expertise is sought more widely these days. We need a lot of professionals in different areas," explains Niittynen.
Sports Manager Satu Niittynen's job description is extensive. In a comprehensive task, her own long background in the sport makes it easier. As a skater, Satu was herself a national level athlete who purposefully practiced single skating until she was 17 years old. After this, almost immediately, Satu started the duties of instructor and coach in figure skating. In addition to sports training, she completed a master's degree in sport science at the University of Jyväskylä. In the early 2000s, Satu worked as a physical education teacher, but more and more figure skating coaching took her along. She coached for about 15 years, also coaching national team-level skaters in different cities. Since 2014, Satu has worked in the Figure Skating Association as a sports manager.
As a sports manager, the biggest task is to support the national team and the national team's athletes and coaches, as well as taking care of many things. The job description also includes national team camps in Finland and abroad as well as international competitions and their coordination. In these, Niittynen is often involved in the role of team leader. And when it comes to children, the sports manager's duties include a lot of discussion and cooperation with the children's parents as well.
In addition to operational work, strategic work is a key part of the work of Sports Manager Niittynen. "I am responsible for the top sports plans of all our sports, i.e. ice dance, single skating and synchronized skating, and what kind of measures need to be taken so that the sports can move forward and do well. It is an important part of my job description. In addition, the finances and budgeting of elite sports are my responsibility," says Niittynen. Strategic work also includes managing networks and working in them.
Figure skating as a sport is very challenging and the amount of training is large, which naturally requires tremendous will and motivation from the athlete. When asked about the athlete's characteristic requirements, Sports Manager Niittynen describes as follows: "A wide variety of athletes can do well in this sport, but the most important characteristic requirements are speed, speed force and speed of movement. The sport also includes versatile mobility, so you can do many different positions and movements on the ice. The endurance must be in order, because the heart rate rises very high in the first 15 seconds at the start of the program and stays there for several minutes."
Naturally, the mental side and the related psychological skills are also in an important position, as Niittynen describes: "And I would also emphasize the mental side in particular. When an athlete goes to start her program, focus and self-confidence must be in order and under control. You have to be able to perform an extremely difficult task even under pressure, and on top of that, doing it has to look effortless," explains Niittynen.
In the national team path of the Finnish Figure Skating Association, Qridi Sport was implemented as part of a wider new national camping activity. The new
national camp system operates throughout Finland. About 160 skaters and their coaches were selected for it. Sports Manager Niittynen explains the goals of using Qridi Sport: "With the help of the tool, information can be collected in a new way about the amount of training, how it is divided into accompanying training, ice training and how many other sports skaters have besides figure skating. In addition, we want to know how the athlete experiences the balance of rest, recovery and sleep. We have initially set out to search for and collect this kind of basic information and support the athlete through it. The goal is to reflect this data into the thoughts and experiences of how things would be optimally under control. This way we get a comparison surface of the training and workload of young figure skaters in Finland. The idea is that when Qridi Sport has become more familiar to athletes and coaches, we can expand its use to more other things. "
Internationally significant changes are coming to figure skating with the age limit change. The minimum age limit for adult skaters will gradually increase over the next two years. Sports Manager Niittynen describes what it means in practice: "Until now, a 15-year-old has been able to compete in the adult series with different physical characteristics than, for example, an adult woman. Now this age limit is being raised and thus the understanding of the characteristics and needs of adult athletes is growing. Such issues have now been brought up more and career development can now be looked at and supported further. I think this is an extremely great trend."
Figure skating offers athletes the opportunity to challenge themselves by striving for successful performances and goals. Single skating requires a lot of dedication and training from skaters even at a young age. Appearing in competitions is the moment when athletes have the opportunity to show their skills to the public and judges. The coach's role is to walk alongside her own athletes and be ready to support the athlete in both successes and failures. In the role of Sports Manager, Niittynen's task is to support all athletes regardless of the situation. "Over the years, I have noticed and understood that working as a Sports Manager is a little different than being a coach. There are always winners and the ones who have disappointed - and I have to be with all of these athletes. I feel that my job is to listen and let the athlete share her thoughts and feelings - even bigger frustrations and annoyances. It's okay to be disappointed and you can express it. It is important that everyone feels that they have been heard and that they get the help and support they need".
More information about the Finnish Figure Skating Association: https://www.stll.fi/
Images copyright: Finnish Figure Skating Association