Tom Hickey

By: Terri Milner Tarquini

October 1, 2015
   In The Loop Extended Articles

It’s a familiar question: “Why do I need to get my ratings?” a coach asks.

As the new Ratings Committee Chair, Tom Hickey has the answer.

“In a word: credibility,” he said. “Ratings make it so a coach can go to a parent, client or co-worker and say unequivocally, ‘I am credible because I have gone through this process.’”

A series of tests and oral exams created by the PSA, Hickey is aware of one of the well-worn complaints about the ratings process - subjectivity of the examining panel.

“There have been some ups and downs to the process, but we are working very hard to make it a level and well-thought-out playing field,” he said. “One of my goals is to bring a sense of equality and symmetry to the ratings and the testing structure.”

Another common query lies in the actual value of a rating on a coach’s resume, when taking into consideration the time and money invested in taking the exams.

“As the business of coaching figure skating gets tighter and tighter and it becomes more difficult to make a living, the more accreditations a coach earns, the better they look,” Hickey said. “Especially for the younger coaches coming in, this is the way to be able to advertise their coaching qualifications.”

The benefit of taking exams can have side perks beyond the actual ratings themselves.

“Taking the ratings opens up resources that are so important,” he said. “It exposes you to a community of people who are there to help you and can share their insights with you. The ratings are a test of your knowledge, but you’re going to learn even more than you came in with just by going through the process.”

New this year is the handing out of business cards by the examiners when a coach sits down to begin an oral exam.

“It’s all about, ‘Call me anytime, whether you pass or you fail,’” Hickey said. “These examiners are there in a continuing capacity to help you through the level you are on or getting through the next level.”

What about a coach who knows the value of a rating and wants to take an exam, but is anxious?

“If a coach thinks he or she might be interested in beginning down the rating road, I would advise that they seek out another coach that has gone through the process or reach out to the PSA so they can get help and guidance from the tons of master rated coaches out there,” Hickey said. “Master rated coaches are leaders in our industry and it is their responsibility to help others.”

This helping hand and a willingness to share tips and techniques is at the heart of what Hickey sees as the newer generation of coaching.

“Keeping everything top secret is old school,” he said. “It’s like being on a freestyle session where everyone is doing double axels and triples and the energy level is so high for everyone. It’s the same thing when coaches begin sharing so their whole rink environment can develop and the energy can just get better and better.”

Stripping the PSA down to its very core, the organization was formed to further the knowledge of coaches - and Hickey brings a unique background to his new role, being from a mix of education and figure skating himself.

Hickey is the director of figure skating and head coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a boarding and day school located in Faribault, Minnesota. Founded in 1858, students in grades six through 12 come from 38 states and 34 countries. The school is known for its Centers of Excellence programs, one of which is in figure skating.

“The buildings look like something out of Harry Potter - all brick and mortar. It’s just gorgeous,” Hickey said. “But we have a state-of-the-art facility with two-and-a-half sheets of ice, a full weight room, an athletic training room and a ballet room.”

Students have traditional classes, with skating both before school and built into their school day, and work with staff coaches Caryn Kadavy, Carey Tinkelenberg and Annette Hickey on a rotating basis. Regular consultants are Vicki Korn, Vikki Dalquist, Joan Orvis, Peter Biver, and Kori Ade and her 7k staff, with additional summer guest coaching provided by Doug Ladret, Aidas Reklys, and Kadavy.

However, as head coach, when skaters are on the ice, so is Hickey - which adds up to days that stretch from 5:30 a.m. until 7 or 8 p.m.

“My big picture for these athletes is that each of them has obtainable goals and that they achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves,” Hickey said. “We are such an ideal environment for skaters who say, ‘I want to get my golds’ or ‘I want to go to regionals, sectionals, nationals.’ Our set-up is a perfect design for that. But we are also a great opportunity for those who want to improve and go to college and maybe have the chance to skate there.”

Starting a synchronized skating program this year with an intermediate team, Hickey’s five-year vision is to add a novice and junior team, and possibly a senior team.

“Now we can open our doors to skaters from all over,” he said. “There are plenty of skaters who don’t live in, say, Chicago with two junior teams. They can still have that experience and it opens up the possibility of collegiate skating as well.”

Coaches from across the country whose skaters come to Shattuck-St. Mary’s can choose how involved they stay in their skater’s progress and training during the school year.

“Kids go back to their home rinks over breaks and summer,” Hickey said. “We don’t want to steal kids away from their coaches, but our record is pretty good with helping kids who are coming from areas or rinks that don’t have the resources and training facilities to take it to the next level. It’s a great opportunity for so many skaters.”

It can also be a rich learning environment for coaches as well. Last summer, Shattuck-St. Mary’s hosted the Don Laws Apprentice Scholarship winners who had the opportunity to shadow a host of guest coaches, including Alex Chang, Jere Michaels, Rohene Ward, and Ade.

“It was so inspiring to have those coaches and scholarship winners here,” Hickey said. “Taking this position as ratings committee chair is a chance to draw a little of that excitement into what I need to do. I’m an idea person and I like to see growth.”

The value of attaining ratings will only grow as more parents and skaters learn what the levels of registered, certified, senior and master ratings translate to in terms of coaching knowledge.

“The Olympic Committee has said that they’re happy with the direction the PSA is going and what we’re doing for our coaches and the sport,” Hickey said. “With that kind of endorsement, our credibility only gets bigger.”