A Journal of My First PSA Conference Experience

By: Amy Elizabeth Alt
Thomas Amon

December 1, 2012

   In The Loop Extended Articles

When I first talked to the staff at PSA about the conference I was unsure if it was an investment I should make. After all, my concentration has been in recreational coaching. I specialize in Learn to Skate and outdoor hockey skills clinics. Coaching skating is not my full time job, but it has always been one of my favorite jobs. I knew there were going to be so many accomplished coaches there that coach full time. Do I really have a place at the PSA conference? I am happy to report that the answer turned out to be a resounding YES!!!

When I found out that the PSA 2012 Conference was in Boston, I knew I just had to attend. I have always wanted to skate on the ice where legends of figure skating have left their mark at The Figure Skating Club of Boston. From the minute I decided to go to conference to the moment I boarded the plane back to Denver, I was a ball of excitement.

The process started with calling the PSA office to sign up for conference. I talked to Elizabeth, who happily answered all of my questions. Not only was I excited about conference, I was also looking forward to taking my first ratings exam. Elizabeth explained the entire ratings process to me and helped me construct a plan to take my first rating. It turned out that she too was studying for a group rating exam and we decided to be online study buddies.

I began to prepare for the test by reading the materials and talking to different coaches who had been through the process before. I took the necessary tests online and made flashcards of the information. Elizabeth and I did some online studying together and were able to share different techniques. It was fun to have a buddy across the country studying for the very same exam.

The day finally arrived for me to hop on the plane to Boston! I arrived in Boston Sunday evening and my rating exam wasn’t until Tuesday. Elizabeth invited me to help put the conference attendee packets together on Monday morning. I met the staff of PSA at the historic Park Plaza Hotel where the conference was to be held. I felt so welcomed by the PSA staff and really enjoyed getting to know them as we stuffed the packets in anticipation of the conference attendees’ arrival. When we were finished we went to a quaint little restaurant within walking distance from the hotel for lunch. The rest of the day was spent prepping for my test with both a study session with Elizabeth and review on my own.


Tuesday (test day), the moment I’d been preparing for, finally came. I wasn’t too nervous, after all I’d been coaching for 13 years and I felt really prepared for the exam. I walked in to the small conference room and shook hands with my three examiners, sat down at the table, and they began to explain the rules and how we would proceed with the exam. That is when it really hit me… maybe taking this exam was a bigger deal than I realized. The questions began and I answered with confidence, and I thought to myself “this is kind of fun.” I expected the whole exam would go just as smooth as the beginning. I could tell that the examiners were obviously well-seasoned coaches. Then my test took a change of direction and I began to get stumped; the confidence in my answers faded and I realized after so many years of coaching there were some valuable teaching techniques that I simply didn’t know. It became obvious to me that I was a demonstrative coach, but I lacked the skill of verbally articulating various skating skills.  Being a kinesthetic learner, I tend to teach as I would learn, though I realized I need to expand my teaching style to accommodate all different learning styles. I went in to my exam with complete confidence and ended it with a nagging feeling of failure as I walked out of the conference room and awaited my results.

I walked back in the room and sat down among my test proctors and looked at each of them while awaiting the results of my Group Instructor rating exam. It seemed like an eternity but was only a few seconds for them to tell me that they could not pass me. Even though I knew that was going to be the case, the words still stung and I fought back inevitable tears. The silver lining though, is how amazing and encouraging my test proctors were. They each had their own way of telling me where I could improve and compassionately encouraged me. I felt that having these particular people as my test proctors was such a blessing. Not only did they encourage me to retake the test, they gave me pointers on how to pass and told me they believed in me and they knew I could do it. They also explained reasons why I did make a good coach and handed me their cards in case I had any questions or needed anything in preparation for retaking my group exam. I walked out of that room feeling positive about my experience and excited for the 2012 PSA Conference to begin.


Since I didn’t know anyone else going to the conference, I found a roommate from PSA’s roommate list and I was excited to meet her. She was Wendy from Kansas. It was fun to meet her and learn about her skating background. It was my very first PSA conference and Wendy had attended before, so she gave me different strategies on how to make the most out of my conference experience.

Day 1

The first day of conference was so exciting. The room was buzzing with coaches filled with passion for their skating profession. Jimmie Santee gave an entertaining welcome speech and had us all chuckling in the first five minutes. Paul Wylie gave a great opening talk regaling us with his story of his path to success in Albertville in the 1992 Olympics. His down-to-earth style made him easy to relate to. I felt as if I were listening to an encouraging friend rather than the Olympian I have looked up to all these years. I remember those particular games well and Paul Wylie is my favorite male skater. I wondered if I would get to meet him during the conference.

The other speaker I really enjoyed was David Benzel of Champions for Life. He spoke about passion in your sport and the importance of parenting in sports. He called himself a reformed sport parent. It was amazing to hear how his point of view as a parent evolved over the years. He gave information that taught me how to relate to my students in a way that would help me to be a more effective coach. He talked a lot about focusing on the positive aspects of the student’s behavior. I learned tactics for not only what you say to your students, but how you say it. It was only the beginning and I felt like I was already armed with a toolbox to improve my coaching practice at home.

The rest of the day included breakout sessions where I fervently recorded all the information I was receiving. Luckily, the information was also provided to us on a flash drive that was included in each of our attendee bags. I sat next to a coaches from State College, PA, Boston, MA, and another coach from Vancouver, WA. Meeting other coaches and networking about skating was one of the best parts of the conference. I was gathering up a slew of business cards of people that I intended to contact in the future. It was fun to see the excitement I feel in my heart about skating abuzz throughout the meeting room in the historic Park Plaza Hotel.

The seminars had come to an end and it was time to get ready for the President’s reception.  I met some of the new friends I connected with in the hallway and we headed to the reception together. The feeling was festive and there was an excitement in the air. There were suits and ties and beautiful dresses decorating the room. The ceilings were high as was the energy throughout the room. I felt so happy to be there and happy to make some new contacts. I had really enjoyed David Benzel’s talk, and was hoping to get a chance to connect with him. I spotted him across the room not interacting with anyone at the time and went over to introduce myself. As we talked we found that we are both from the Twin Cities in MN and we both used to ski for the Prior Lake Water Ski Show team. It was so fun to make that connection and discover common ground. There was ample opportunity to connect with skating professionals and others in the industry from across the nation. Afterwards I was invited to go out to dinner in the North End with some other skating coaches.

My roommate, Wendy, was waiting for me in the lobby of the Park Plaza. She was with some coaches from Minnesota and a coach from Colorado. I had heard about the coach from Colorado, Jill, months earlier from another skating colleague in Colorado- to think we had to cross the country to meet!  We are two people with many similar attributes. One of our favorite similarities is that we both have a deep love for skating that surpasses the feeling that any medal or win in a competition could ever bestow upon us. Skating helped both of us during challenging times in our lives and we both hold a special place in our hearts for the sport. We learned about our similarities over a delightfully flavorful dinner in the Italian district of Boston called the North End. We had fun getting to know each other and our other new friends from MN and KS. We just kept laughing the more we realized the things we had in common. It was like meeting a soul sister!

After dinner a few people from our dinner group went to a historical pub to take in a local band. There were families talking and dancing and enjoying the atmosphere if this bustling, historical town. The band played the Amie song by the Pure Prairie League and they gave me a tambourine. The city of Boston came alive for me in that moment and I danced around happily to the song with my name in it with my new friends giggling nearby. After dessert at a small pastry shop in the North End, we turned in for the night. We had so much fun and we were looking forward to the next day!

Day 2

Day two of the seminar was particularly exciting as we were going to The Figure Skating Club of Boston. I’d always wanted to see the rink and I knew there may be a chance to skate on the ice. I was bubbling over with excitement. We were greeted at the front door by the PSA staff and handed headsets. I could not wait to see the rink! I walked in and I was in awe. I took in the sight of the rink and immediately started taking pictures. I won’t forget how I felt that first moment I walked in the door. There was a special magical feeling about the place. There was a charming history resonating that a modern state-of-the-art building could not ever capture.

I circled my seminar times on the program; there were so many that I wanted to attend. I spent most of the time on the ice. It was so fun lacing up my skates amongst other coaches as we got ready to take the ice. We watched demonstrations on jumps, spins, and moves in the field. We were able to ask questions and many of us took videos and notes during the presentations. It was educational and exciting. My favorite course was the synchronized skating course. I adored synchro as a competitive skater and in my younger years. We got a full on-ice clinic from the coach of the Haydenettes and the coach of the Finnish team Rockettes. The opportunity to gain coaching knowledge from these world renowned coaches was a true delight. Skating in formation in our blocks brought me back to my days of practice for both the Breamar and Minneapolis synchronized skating teams. I remembered the joy I felt on the ice with the teams I skated for long ago.

The on ice sessions were my favorite, though I also gained much knowledge in sessions off the ice. One of the seminars was from a sports psychologist hailing from Spain. The greatest advice I took from her was to “Show your students the correct way to execute a skill; do not mimic their incorrect execution of the skill. Keep repeating to them both verbally and in action the correct way to complete the particular element you are working on.” She educated us on how the human brain works. The brain remembers what it hears most often. So it’s best to repeat the correct information, as you do not want your student to get the incorrect information in their head. This was important information for me as I thought about how many times I demonstrated to a student mimicking the wrong way and then showing them the correct way. She also reiterated to us the importance of praising a student’s effort and letting that sink in with them for a moment before critiquing the next thing. It made me realize that it is okay to slow down just a bit, and to remember it is the quality of what the student learns in the lesson, not how much I can fit into the lesson.

Another off ice seminar that I enjoyed was the off ice training session with Paul Wylie and his European trainer. It was an amazing time of learning how I can improve both my own skating and that of my students by putting more emphasis on training off ice. As we all know, ice time is precious and anything you can do off ice to train and support your on ice time is extremely helpful. There were several exercises using a hockey stick and bands to work on balance, flexibility, and strength. Of particular interest to me was the training that Paul spoke of that can take place in the pool. As a runner I had used an aqua jogger to give joints a break while still training for competition. My eyes are now opened to practicing jumps in the water. I loved this idea and could not wait to try it out.  I took video of everything I could to be able to share these newfound training techniques with fellow skating instructors and my students.

As I was beginning to tire from digesting so much new information and wondering how I would be able to take in one more training session, a coach from Northfield, MN, who I met at dinner the night before said, “Hey get your skates on, I’m doing an Artistry in Motion clinic.” I’ll admit, I didn’t even know what Artistry in Motion was and I was curious. I decided to take her up on her invitation and lace up my skates. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was similar to interpretive dance yet took place on the ice utilizing 5 different arm positions. She would give us three specific positions to try and then we would use them while skating to the music. It was such fun and I saw it as something that I would love to add to my skating classes as well as practice on my own time. What a creative way to express oneself through music while skating! It was enjoyable and I didn’t want the session to be over because I didn’t want to get off the ice.

Luckily, I didn’t have to get off the ice just yet. My unspoken wish was granted. The PSA staff informed Jill and I that the ice was paid up for another 45 minutes. Jill and I saw it as our opportunity to have the ice at The Figure Skating Club of Boston to ourselves. What a treat! We were getting to skate at this beautiful figure skating rink filled with years of memories from skating greats of the past. The Zamboni driver let us turn the music up and we skated our hearts out. When we were finished everyone had left except for one Boston coach who was gathering her things and offered us a ride to the Park Plaza Hotel. We gladly accepted and enjoyed chatting with her all the way to the hotel.

We met up with one of our Minnesota coach friends for dinner. As we were waiting for her in front of the Park Plaza, Paul Wylie was waiting to meet one of his college buddies for dinner. We were all chatting for a bit about the conference and got the opportunity to ask him a few more pointers about coaching. We couldn’t resist asking him to be in a picture with our group. It was a time of camaraderie with skating professionals from all different levels of experience. We were excited that Paul would take the time to chat with us and hang out for a few minutes. Our backgrounds and levels that we attained in skating were of no consequence as we were all on the same level in that moment, with skating as our common ground. After the picture, our group of new coaching friends headed out for a nice, quiet dinner. We talked about the conference, about life, and we learned much from each other in a short time. We shared our hopes and dreams not only about skating, but for the bigger picture of our lives. We talked about how we could work together as coaches from across the country and decided to stay in touch via email. We encouraged each other to follow our dreams. Our dreams were each a little bit different, but they all had one common thread; sharing the joy of skating with others.

After dinner, I took the crew to one of my favorite Boston hangouts where we sang for hours. It was a German restaurant that had an upright piano and a piano player named Mel. We shouted out requests and got to sing our favorite songs. It was a ball and people of all ages were having a great time together. We walked home that night laughing about all the fun we had throughout the day. We all felt lighthearted and happy and couldn’t believe that we only had one day left of the 2012 PSA Conference.

Day 3

Saturday consisted of brunch, seminars, drawings, and more time for networking. I still had yet to visit the trade show. This proved to be another great opportunity for networking. I was ecstatic as I was able to get some great deals, make new connections, and talk with a coach who wrote a book. I ordered new blades. I even put a unique twist on them and had them painted pink and orange! I spent a long time talking with the reps from Paramount who educated me on blades and the design of them. I was extremely interested and enjoyed learning more about what went into designing a blade. I also ordered a pair of Pic Skates to put on my old boots. I know that someday I’ll live on a ranch and may be far from a rink and want a way to continue my training. This is the perfect solution. I talked to the Risport rep as I’ve been skating on Risports for years. Jill and I were planning to go to the Red Sox game and so was the Risport rep.  We exchanged information and made plans to meet up before the game that night.

We left the trade show as everyone was closing down. It was time to hurry and get ready for the game. We hopped on the T and found ourselves squished in a person-to-person train full of Red Sox fans. You could feel the energy of Fenway Park miles away and even underground on the T. I couldn’t wait to go to the game. We met up with Erika, the Risport rep, and made our way to Yawkey Way. We were taking in the scene while snapping a million photos. It was the perfect way to end our time in Boston. The conference was now over, but the knowledge gained and the connections made would remain long after those seminars on the ice, off the ice, and in the halls of the Park Plaza Hotel. The connections that I made will enhance my career and I know that I grew not only as a professional during this time, but also as a person. Those few days in Boston would prove to enhance my life in ways I could not have imagined in that moment.

Once back in Colorado, Jill and I remained friends. We skated together and we took in another baseball game at Coors Field to watch the Rockies as soon as we got back to Denver. It was a ball! We continued to talk about the ways in which we could work together to help build each others skating business. Jill invited me to help with her summer skating camp she was running at Lace ‘em Up Skating School. It was a great opportunity and one I would not have had if I did not meet Jill at PSA conference. 

Jill is not the only professional contact I made while at conference. I met Scott Gregory at the trade show when I bought his book. I am writing a book of my own and thought it was kind of him to offer to put me in contact with his publisher. He also offered me some advice on writing my book as we communicated after the conference. David Benzel and I had a great conversation about inspirational speaking and he offered me advice after the conference on my coaching and my own speaking endeavors. Yan, who coaches at Mountain View Arena, offered me the opportunity to guest coach with him and his fellow coaches in Vancouver, Washington, to help me with some elements I need to improve upon to pass my ratings test. These are just a few of the awesome contacts that I made at conference.

The skills I learned and the connections I made at the conference have been invaluable. Whether you are a coach taking students to the Olympics, or a recreational coach taking kids to your corner rink, there is much to be gained by attending the PSA conference. It has been a highlight of my coaching career and I wish it didn’t take me so long to get there. I want to thank the PSA staff for being so helpful, answering all my questions, and including me in helping to prepare the attendee bags. I had a blast and felt part of the PSA family.

I would like to encourage coaches at all levels of coaching to attend the PSA Conference. You will learn something new, gain skills that will enhance your career as a figure skating coach, and have a merry time with professionals that have a vested interest in figure skating. If you have forgotten the joy of experiencing the feeling of gliding across the ice with the wind in your hair, let the energy of conference reignite your passion for our beloved sport.

Thank you for reading my story, and I will see you in Chicago at the 2013 PSA Conference in May to celebrate PSA’s 75th anniversary!