Andrea Nesbitt: "If we can get through this season, we can conquer any obstacle"


Andrea Nesbitt

Andrea Nesbitt lives in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and she coaches teams out of Brampton, which is in the Greater Toronto area. When she answered our questions, she was enjoying getting back into a more normal fall routine. It is definitely a strange season with lots of unknowns.

This interview was conducted before Ontario entered the coronavirus "red stage". A maximum of 10 people indoor is now allowed.

How did you discover synchro?

I was single skating at the Ilderton Skating Club when my mom pointed out a team performing in our annual Carnival Ice Show. Back then, it was still called Precision Skating. So we went out to spring tryouts, and I was hooked from the very first session.

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What is your background in the skating world? Did you practice synchro?

I competed as a part of teams from the Beginner through to the Open levels at the Ilderton Skating Club and the London Skating Club. Eventually, when I moved to Toronto I joined the Fusion Adult team before finding my new home at Gold Ice. It is hard to say that I am retired as a skater now as I still skate with the Gold Ice Adult 3 “ladies” team.

Towards the later part of my skating career, I started helping out with teams at the London Skating club when I was in University. I had no plans to move into coaching full time but pretty quickly got hooked on being able to share my passion with younger skaters and loved watching their development over the years.

When I moved to the Toronto area after school, I literally emailed out to a few reputable skating organizations looking for an opportunity to help out. I am so lucky that the founder of Gold Ice, Wendy Coates, responded right away and took a chance on me. Again, I had no intentions of making this my full time career, but within just a few seasons we grew from three teams to eight and I realized that coaching really was my dream job.

I have been coaching the Gold Ice Synchronized Skating teams for twelve seasons now. I work alongside Jessica Brown and Ashley Greenhalgh. Together we coach the Gold Ice Beginner 2, Pre-Juvenile, Juvenile, Pre-Novice, Novice, Junior and Adult 3 teams. It is a whirlwind but I love being able to work with skaters through their entire Synchronized Skating journey. We have skaters on our Junior team now that we coached as Beginner skaters ten years ago.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to help grow a club from just a few teams to one of the largest organizations in Ontario. We have worked so hard to instil a strong sense of team spirit, dedication, work ethic, and teamwork in our skaters and their family members. To me this is what makes the Gold Ice Family so special!

What is your coach's touch?

At Gold Ice, I manage a lot of the behind the scenes organization. My role includes preparing yearly training plans and coordinating with all the stakeholders involved, including support coaching staff, team managers, skaters, and parents. I also take the lead on marketing, including managing our social media channels.

As a coach, my philosophy is to celebrate each skater and the strengths that they bring to the team. I believe in providing a skater with the tools they need to feel confident but also challenged at every practice. Everyone has their own personal journey in this sport, and if I am able to help guide them along the way to becoming the very best skater they can be, I know I have done my job.

As a coach, what is your best "synchro" memory, and why? 

I have two that stand out. It is too hard to pick just one!

First was our Junior team’s free program at their first ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships Qualifying competition (Winterfest) in 2018. As a new team, we came on the scene excited for the future but not many expectations. The atmosphere in the arena was incredible with a nearly sold out audience. Our team performed their hearts out as if they were seasoned veterans. The reaction from the audience made us feel so welcome in the category and I know it will always be one of my all-time favourite performances of my coaching career.

The second would be last years’ Novice team. I knew from the start of the season that this was a special group of athletes, many of which had been with us for almost 10 seasons already. As a coaching team, we informed our skaters and their parents that we believed this was a team capable of winning the national championships. We were not sure how we were going to do it but we put it out into the universe. We worked hard all season to instil a sense of confidence in the team and guide them into delivering technically sound and consistent performances. They had their two best skates of the season at the National Championships and were crowned the 2020 Novice National Champions. It felt surreal to look back at the start of the season when we set that huge lofty goal and realize that all of that hard work had really paid off.

Andrea, with her teammates and her Novice team at Canadians 2020.

What is your favourite element in synchro and why? 

The moves element hands down. I love when a moves element beautifully highlights the music and when it is skated with speed and flow. As a coach, I also love seeing skaters set individual goals for themselves to improve flexibility in certain field moves. Many of my skaters get excited if they are selected to do a field move that they have been working hard to improve over the years.

If you had to remember a program that affected you, what would it be and why? 

As a fan of synchronized skating, the Nova Senior 2019 free program “Light” is an easy pick. This program was such a beautiful blend of creative shapes, seamless transitions and musical nuances. Witnessing a relatively new team perform this program flawlessly on the national stage under an immense amount of pressure and crack their way not only onto the World Team but also be crowned National Champions was so inspiring to watch.

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Do you have any rituals before the competition?

As a coach, I get way more nervous than I ever did as a skater. However, one of my mottos is that I do not believe in good luck, I believe in hard work, training, and preparation. Reminding my skaters of this also helps to calm my nerves before a competition.

As a team, our skaters have a set off ice warm-up that they do before every practice and competition. We also like to play fun games to help them mentally prepare for the competition and relax a little. Finally, our skaters also have a little dance-off before they compete and we love seeing what dance moves each pair of skaters comes up with. Enjoying time together with my skaters having fun really is the best way to shake out any competition jitters and create so many amazing memories.

Are you back on the ice, with your team(s)?

Yes we were lucky enough to be able to be back on the ice in June with our Novice and Junior teams. At that time it was just four skaters and one coach on the ice so we had to get creative with how to train in such small groups. In July our home rink reopened and we were able to increase our numbers to eight athletes and one or two coaches at a time. Our Juvenile and Pre-Novice teams started on ice training again in July also.

Now we are able to have our full teams on the ice together at one time and we have also started back up with our Beginner and Pre-Juvenile teams. All our teams still have to practice social distancing as per our provincial guidelines, so we are not yet able to skate attached.

It is a little bit crazy to look back to March when we were worried about what we thought was going to be just a two-week break from the rink. The first question that came to mind was “how are we going to host tryouts?” Well, fast-forward to September and we managed to hold virtual tryouts, train as a team online, begin on-ice training in small groups of four skaters at a time, and now we are figuring out how to choreograph programs while maintaining social distancing. 2020 has certainly been a year for thinking outside the box!

Andrea and her colleagues

What do you do to make sure your skaters are feeling great while skating?

The time away from the rink really made us incredibly grateful for the time we are able to spend together on the ice. While this season has many unknowns, we are finding more than ever how important it is to skate because of our pure passion and love for the sport. Our skaters are working to motivate one another and as coaches this helps us find our inspiration to push forwards.

How do you practice with the COVID-19 still around?

Currently our skaters must wear masks as they enter and exit the arena but they are able take them off while skating. While we are still social distancing and not able to skate attached, we are working hard with our skaters on their individual skating skills and also finding creative ways to choreograph programs.

For now we are also trying to do most of our off ice training online over zoom to minimize the time we spend at the rink.

What are the goals for the upcoming season?

With so many unknowns this year, we are taking the time to focus on individual skating skills and speed and power. We had a lot of new skaters from out of club joining our program this season. So it is actually been a bit of a blessing to be able to have the time to get back to basics.

Coming off their National Championship win, our Novice team has been working very hard on improving speed and power and are looking to continue to build on last seasons' successes. Our Junior team has ten returning athletes and twelve new skaters – many of which are from our Novice team last year. There is a strong possibility it will be primarily a domestic competitive season this year. Our goals continue to make improvements from competition to competition and have consistent and strong performances. 

For our younger teams, it is always more about their individual development in the sport and building a strong foundation for the future.

We are excited about what our teams will be able to bring to the table when the competitive season is back up and running. We will be ready!

Diversity is part of our sport. How do you make sure everybody feels included?

Inclusion is something that is incredibly important to us at Gold Ice and to me as a coach. In a team sport, skaters must show respect to every one of their teammates in order to be able to work together towards common goals.

At Gold Ice, we are very lucky to have an incredibly diverse group of skaters so it is important for us to celebrate this. We do this by carefully thinking through our music, costume, hair and makeup selection, but also in ensuring all team members feel included and important to the success of the team. Every skater must feel valued and heard.

I think as individuals and especially as leaders in our sport, it is important to always be educating ourselves and remain open minded. As human beings, we are far from perfect and have so much to learn. This year more than ever we have learned how important it is to ask honest and tough questions. 

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What did this sport teach you? 

Oh gosh, so much. Where do I even start?

I think team sports/activities are so important for teaching many valuable life lessons. Synchro has taught me how to come together with a group of unique personalities to work hard towards a common goal. Teamwork, commitment, and perseverance. To be honest I have learned just as much, if not more, from my “failures” than I have from my “wins.” These are all such important lessons that have helped me outside of the rink as well. And not to mention time-management skills that I picked up while participating in a competitive sport throughout my university career. That part especially has come in handy now that I am balancing a family life with my husband and one-year old daughter alongside a busy coaching career. 

As a coach, synchro has taught me how to communicate effectively, the value of patience, and how to identify and be sensitive to everyone’s individual learning styles. I think when you are able to value and celebrate the uniqueness that each skater brings to the team, that’s when you can truly be unstoppable. That is what I love most about this sport.

Andrea, with her husband and daughter 

Which advice(s) would you give to young people who want to start synchro? 

Do it! Synchronized Skating is such a unique sport that provides athletes with the opportunity to compete at a competitive level throughout their high school and university careers and beyond.  

Competing as a part of a team does bring with it many challenges, so if I had one piece of advice, it would be to approach every training session as an opportunity to be better than you were the day before. Face challenges head on and see them as an opportunity to improve yourself as an athlete and skater. If every athlete on the team is showing up at practice wanting to be the very best they can be, it elevates the team as a whole.

As a coach, I am never frustrated if a skater comes to me asking what they can improve upon. It shows that they are taking accountability for their own development.

How is synchro evolving in your country? 

Synchro is growing in Canada, especially in the competitive categories. Just a few seasons ago we only had two Junior teams remaining. Since then, the category has now grown to eight teams and we are also seeing more and more Novice level teams as well.

Because of how large our country is geographically, it can be challenging for new clubs to form and have enough competitive opportunities. The sport in Canada can also be quite expensive as there is little funding available. We are lucky to have three incredibly strong Senior teams in Canada, however it would be great to see this category develop as well to keep more athletes training at a competitive level for longer.

Andrea coaching her junior team

What are your projects in the future?

For this season, it is really about making sure that all of our skaters and teams continue to feel challenged and motivated. We are looking at new ways to provide performance opportunities and how we can set short term goals as the competitive season is still undetermined. 

In the future, I am focused on working to develop our grassroots level teams that feed into our more competitive levels. Our skating club is growing and we want to be able to provide more opportunities for our newest skaters to experience synchronized skating from a young age.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share a little about myself and why I am so passionate about our sport. This is such a strange and challenging time for so many of us, however it has been incredible to be able to witness how our community is coming together to think outside the box and continue to do what we love. Honestly, if we can get through this season, we can conquer any obstacle that comes our way.

Learn more about Andrea Nesbitt by following her "Take Over" this Sunday on the OneTeamMVMT's Instagram account.