Patrick O'Neil

By Terri Milner Tarquini


April 1, 2016
   In The Loop Extended Articles

Club Relations Specialist for U.S. Figure Skating is a big job, but - once the need for such a position was identified - someone had to do it.

Enter Patrick O’Neil.

“I consult with clubs around the country on their various needs - governance issues, by-laws issues, SafeSport issues, coach-related issues - anything, really,” O’Neil said. “The reality is there is a multitude of issues that clubs face today. And those issues are different depending on where you are. Detroit is not going to face the same issues as a club in Los Angeles. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job. Nights, weekends, anytime - I am on call.”

The position, created in June 2015, was born out of the desire by U.S. Figure Skating to add another layer of support for clubs across the country and assist membership with any questions, concerns or conundrums.

O’Neil has a resume that is up to the task, having served on several U.S. Figure Skating committees, including the SafeSport Committee, the Grievance Committee and the Parents Committee, as well as being the Sectional Vice-Chair of Midwest Membership. With PSA, O’Neil is on the Board of Directors and is Vice Chair of Professional Standards and Committee. He is on the ratings prep faculty, is a ratings examiner, and is master rated in free skate and moves in the field. O’Neil also has a master’s degree in social work.

“I’m also a licensed psychotherapist,” he said. “I have not practiced formally for several years, yet I feel like I practice every day. I have a background in people. I’ve had the opportunity to work with athletes at the grass roots through national level and to direct a large competitive program in the Midwest for many years. Those experiences have provided a strong foundation of working with membership at all levels in skating and that includes the athletes, as well as the parents, volunteers and board members. I am lucky to have gathered a wide breadth of knowledge within the sport.”

All things that will most likely come in handy when fielding a club’s queries or helping to streamline their process.

“I do the legwork and have the conversations with all parties involved,” O’Neil said. “The big picture of the job is to help clubs run like a business. And, like any business, there are going to be problems. We want clubs to let us help them with those problems and make them a stronger business.”

If there are larger-scale problems, the endgame, of course, is that blow-ups are avoided and agreements are reached as peacefully as possible.

“The ultimate goal is to bring everyone together on whatever the issue is,” O’Neil said. “Part of my position is to be there for the members to help get everyone on the same page so a club can move forward. If a club is strong, its athletes have every opportunity to be successful.”

With an upswing in U.S. Figure Skating membership the last couple of years, it stands to reason that new clubs might form or that existing clubs need more assistance, especially as options for skaters increase.

“There tends to be a drop-off when skaters reach their teen years,” O’Neil said. “U.S. Figure Skating has done a tremendous job in creating programming to keep kids skating. Theatre on Ice, the high school series, solo dance, college skating, competitive test track - there are so many more choices out there to give athletes a reason to stay in the game.”

Having coached for over 20 years, O’Neil stopped coaching full-time a couple of years ago, which has allowed for him to pursue some other interests within the sport. While he said he misses the day-to-day training environment, he enjoys consulting with colleagues and their athletes, traveling to host day- and weekend-long clinics, working with synchronized skating programs, and just returned from Austria as a coach with Special Olympics, the latter of which obviously affected him deeply.

“It was an amazing, amazing experience,” he said. “The athletes were truly treated like Olympians. There was a full opening ceremony with a torch relay and a lighting of the cauldron. It was so inspiring to be standing in a sea of special needs athletes and to experience the success they were feeling and the pride they had in themselves for what they had done to get there. It was very special and very humbling and something I will never forget.”

It’s also an experience O’Neil would like to repeat, as he’s already applied to go back as a coach in 2017.

“Someone recently asked me what the difference was between the special needs athletes and the athletes I usually coach,” he said. “My answer was that, save for the obvious medical or psychological needs, there is no difference. These athletes want to be successful and they do what it takes to get there, just like any athlete. They have the same heart, the same soul, the same dedication of any athlete. It was a great experience on so many levels.”

It’s a dedication that O’Neil himself possesses when it comes to his new Club Relations Specialist role because he likes working with people and people are what clubs are made up of, after all.

“I really enjoy working with clubs and seeing them be successful so the athletes and their members can be successful,” O’Neil said. “U.S. Figure Skating is a member-driven organization, and the athletes are at the heart of what we do. And that goes for all levels and types of skaters, from beginning skaters to the elite level. I have had the pleasure of working with skaters through triple jumps and truly believe that every athlete has the opportunity for their own ‘Olympic moment.’ Whether they are landing an Axel for the first time or actually qualifying for the Olympic team, watching young athletes achieve goals they set and grow and develop into productive citizens of the world is the main reason I teach. I love what I do.”