Coaching Over Skype Lets Olympic Pros Lend Their Experience to Aspiring Athletes

athletes are benefitting from coaching over Skype

If there’s a secret to attaining the grace that American Olympic ice dancing siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani possess, they’re not sharing it with just anybody.

In the kind of maddening understatement that makes mere mortals like us seem even more mere, Alex describes the key to synchronicity as staying close to each other and spinning really fast. There’s got to be more to it than that!

Obviously, their success is built on years of training, sacrifice, and dedication, but there could well be a secret ingredient or two in there somewhere. Perhaps it’s the kind of intimate knowledge you share only with a friend or peer. Or protégé. In which case, a group of South Korean students is about to learn an Olympic secret.

Alex and Maia are currently using a video conferencing link to coach the students from across the ocean as the duo build toward the 2018 Winter Olympics. Virtual conversations, mentoring, and coaching over Skype or other platforms like this could eventually help create future Olympic stars.

Video Conferencing Ambassadors

The Boston brother and sister act have become American ambassadors in the lead up to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics in February. They’ve done the circuit of South Korean media, demonstrating their prowess on the ice and their willingness to embrace Korean culture.

Away from the publicity tour, however, they have developed an ongoing relationship with a group of students from Jinbu Middle School, in Pyeongchang County. With the backing of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Alex and Maia have been mentoring the students in the realities of pursuing an Olympic dream. They meet each month over a live-streamed video conference call to discuss the unglamorous side of professional ice skating, the nutrition, training, and the social responsibilities of representing your country.

The conversation is made possible by the evolving accessibility and flexibility of video calling. At first, VC technology was a fixed-in-place novelty that demanded people gather around large screens. Now, it’s a social media must-have and mobile enough to let ice dancers take their remote pupils out of the classroom and onto the ice.

Mobile Video Conferencing

To be frank, I don’t know how dynamic the Shibutani siblings are getting with their video calls to South Korea. Most virtual expert visits to school groups, like the Skype a Scientist program, involve a talking head projected to a crowd of students seated around a large TV screen.

If your expert guest is an Olympic ice skater, though, and your goal is to build a long-term online mentoring relationship, at least one side of the video conversation must get in the rink. Group video chat apps like Skype are now available on just about every device with a screen, from smartphones to drones, so it’s easy to get physical during a conference call. With a webcam attached to a small laptop, or just a phone with a decent camera, the students could follow the Shib sibs (their fan nickname) onto the ice, or vice versa. Both parties could even put their skates on and go through an interactive class together.

This way, the relationship can go beyond the lecture format and become a real mentor-protégé arrangement, where valuable insight can be shared.

Coaching over Skype

The business community has been among the quickest to realize the potential of video conference mentor programs. There are currently several small business mentoring programs in place where aspiring small business professionals can forge lasting relationships with experts who’ve gone before them. Virtual mentoring offers more than any seminar series could deliver because it can evolve into an informal, 24/7, natural conversation. Your mentor is always on hand when you encounter unexpected realities while running your business.

The same might apply to the relationship between Alex and Maia and their South Korean protégés, and eventually to relationships between other athletes and their mentees. After an initial introduction to the entire class, the pair could take to the ice with the more enthusiastic students, and then stage follow-up chats with the most gifted or dedicated ice dancers. There’s a large time difference to negotiate, but if they could work that out, the Shib sibs could watch their mentees training sessions, and vice versa. As the more gifted students progress, the video chats could become more and more personal, until perhaps only a handful of aspiring skaters are left regularly communicating with their overseas mentors. Whether this mentoring happens for ice dancers, curlers, speed skaters, or lugers, it’s a way for the top athletes in that sport–no matter where they happen to be located–to work with aspiring athletes. And whether or not those top athletes are able to commit to a long-term mentoring or training relationship, for aspiring Olympians, being able to spend time working and talking with their heroes could be a huge source of inspiration and drive.

That’s how video conferencing can make Olympic champions.

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