Finland: Changes in coaching staffs for the Senior ISU teams


Maikki Merilehto have been coaching Lumineers the past four years with Liisa Lakela and Henriikka Latva. (Credits: Sari Niskanen)

Maikki Merilehto is no longer the coach of the Senior team Lumineers. The Finnish coach talks about her experience and future plans.

ADV picture
Maikki Merilehto is no longer the coach of the Finnish team Lumineers. The young and dynamic woman concluded the season with the Senior ISU team at the end of February at a last live competition.

Returning from the United States in 2017, where she had coached the junior team Lexettes and Metroettes Collegiate at Hayden Synchro in Boston, Maikki Merilehto came back to Finland to create this new Senior ISU team (later called Lumineers). She spent four years on the coaching staff.

Maikki Meriletho, a young coach who already has a lot of experience in synchro.

You just finished your coaching work in Espoo a few days ago. What do you keep from this experience?

Maikki Merilehto: Building a new competitive senior team in Finland was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am eternally grateful for having had the chance to work with our extremely dedicated group of athletes and to have had the freedom to create something entirely new together with our team of coaches. 

The main takeaway for me is that it is all about the people, both on and off the ice, and about having a common set of values to guide our everyday work. It has been a pleasure to see the team find its own identity and celebrate a mindset where everyone is open to learning new ways of doing things and unafraid of change and mistakes.

A group of individuals with this type of growth-mindset is a dream come true for a coach. So I cannot thank enough all Lumineers skaters, past and present. 

The Lumineers team has made tremendous improvements since its creation. What was your style of coaching?

I would say I coach by exploring different ideas and perspectives together with the athletes whether we are learning a new skill or rethinking some old ways of doing things. I am definitely always looking for new ideas and approaches to our training. 

And since not all ideas are good ideas, this means that sometimes my idea might not work or is simply ineffective. One thing that I consciously do is that I take pride in showing the skaters when I make a mistake. Because that is also what I want for them, the chance to try out their ideas without the fear of failing. This is how we all learn more effectively and get to enjoy the journey.  

Also, I have no need for any type of authority because it is not something that enhances their learning. And I am all about learning.

ADV picture
After a synchro skating career with Marigold IceUnity, you moved to Boston and became a coach. What did you bring to the team that you learned in the USA?

There are definitely big differences in the way teams practice in the US and here back home in Finland. In the US, the teams simply might not be able to practice together as a team as much as here in Finland where the skaters mainly live max within an hour from the rinks. We have the opportunity to do everything as a team. There are pros and cons to this of course. 

What I tried to bring with me was to gradually include more free skating and ice dance into our practice schedule. This is something I think is very valuable in the way skaters practice in the US, and in many other countries too as I came to realize. Looking at the sport today and where it is heading coaching is very much a team effort. Having many different coaches working with the skaters from different perspectives I think is the future.

Lumineers, last season. (Credits: Ville Vairinen - 2020)

One thing I want to mention is that admired a lot in the US was also the dedication of the athletes. Many of them practiced in the early hours of the morning with their freestyle or ice dance coaches and then later again in the evening with their team. Driving to practice for several hours was a part of their day-to-day life for some skaters. But I never heard them complain about it, they understood that it was a choice. Again, It was the mindset that I appreciated.

I also wanted to bring with me the sense of community that was a big part of skating at least at Hayden Synchro. 

ADV picture
With the addition of a new team arriving next year (Dream Edges), do you think senior teams' situation and strengths in Finland will change?

The landscape of senior teams in Finland hasn’t been too dynamic in the past. The three Helsinki teams have been dominating the scene for a long time. It is simply how it has been. 

The competitive environment with only World Champions to compete with has been almost impossible to survive and even more impossible to thrive in for any other senior team. Especially for the ones located in the same area Marigold IceUnity, Helsinki Rockettes and Team Unique. 

Lumineers - 2019-2020 (Credits: Kirsi Laine Photography)

With Lumineers however, we were able to establish ourselves as a challenger team. This was never a given and something the team can be extremely proud of. The key to me was to bring something new to the table. Which of course is not an easy task in Finland since pushing the boundaries is what the Finns are known for.

Having Dream Edges Senior arrive I am hoping is the beginning of an era where we will have more senior teams in Finland also outside the Metropolitan area. Let’s hope that more teams keep coming. After all tough competition is how synchro in Finland has become what it is in the first place. It has been feeding the development.

"It is a homecoming in a way"
What do you think of the new "Elite 12" category?

The Elite 12 to me is a controversial topic. I understand the idea behind the concept, to provide a future competitive alternative as well as to explore the concept of 12 skaters. To weigh our options. This to me seems reasonable and I am also curious to find out what it will look like, like most of us I am sure despite the fears related to the topic.

To me, the fascination of the sport however has a lot to do with the very core of synchronized skating, the different shapes and formations and how the teams choose to use them. This is something that sets us apart and makes the sport interesting. Cutting down from 16 to 12 skaters would limit the creativity in this aspect and make the effect of for example large shapes such as a three-spoke, very different.

And at the same time, I am sure that the change could have some positive effects as well. As with all new things, we need to explore this option and evaluate the results, as we are now doing with the Elite 12 category. 

A word on this unusual season. How did it go for you?

This season was as for most of the world and the sport very difficult. However, I am very thankful that the situation in Finland has allowed us to stay on ice practising for most of the season. Sometimes in smaller groups, sometimes without attaching and sometimes almost normally. This has definitely been a privilege. 

At the end of February, we also got the chance to compete. It was the first and the last competition this season because we had to withdraw from the previous competition in November due to quarantine. So we really made the most of our last weekend together competing.

Although the season was tough it definitely made us appreciate every chance we were given to practice together and made us all more creative trying to come up with new ways of practising and competing. I think the virtual competitions were a great addition to live events. 

Finally, we would like to know about your future plans!

I will be joining "Helsingin Luistelijat" coaching team, the home club of Marigold IceUnity. I’m extremely excited about the new coaching team. The special thing for me is of course working with my own former coach Anu Oksanen. She is definitely a legend in the sport and I look forward to collaborating with her. 

Having skated in this organization myself, I know the club’s dedication to the sport and competing at the highest level. It is a homecoming in a way. 

Of course this time it is about opening doors to athletes so that they can live up to their full potential. This is my driving force.

From now on, the team Lumineers will be coached by Maikki Merilehto's former colleagues Liisa Lakela and Henriikka Latva and one more coach will be joining the team.