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Getting pumped in Providence

Synchro teams get psyched up in Rhode Island

Team Image, here warming up backstage, has passed down pre-competition cheers for years. Their coach says the rituals help team bonding.
Team Image, here warming up backstage, has passed down pre-competition cheers for years. Their coach says the rituals help team bonding. (Mickey Brown)

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By Jocelyn Jane Cox, special to icenetwork.com
(02/23/2008) - Most skaters have a set of pre-competition rituals, ranging from practical ones, like stretching and visualization, to more superstitious ones, like always putting the left skate on first or eating one piece of angel food cake. For synchronized teams, it's all about getting pumped up. The final moments before taking the ice can almost seem like full-blown pep rallies. We caught up with several teams participating in the 2008 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships to find out their game-time strategies.

It's standard practice for the teams to walk through their programs in their sneakers backstage. So, music of several different programs can be heard simultaneously in the wide hallway downstairs at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Like many teams, the Ice Mates, a novice team from Lexington, Mass., do a clapping "build-up" in order to get excited. They also listen to music in the locker room, sometimes including "We Are the Champions" by Queen. They also do something they call "bad energy," where they all lean forward and scream at the top of their lungs. The team captains explain that the purpose of all this is to have fun.

Josh Babb, coach of the Skyliners from New York, tells us that his junior team also listens to lots of high-energy songs in the locker room and performs a series of cheers they have made up themselves. To balance this out, they usually chant, "Ohm," a calming sound usually heard in yoga classes. Before competing their short program, his skaters will often have a "dance-off" to the music of their short.

Additionally, his skaters have come to expect and even count on the fact that he will say "have fun" right before they leave the locker room. For his own part, Babb makes sure he stands to his team's left as they take the ice and has come to rely on a spritz of calming mouth spray, provided by a fellow coach.

The University of Michigan senior team literally falls down on the floor of the locker room. This is so that they get the falls out of the way before they compete.

Team Braemar's novice team from Minnesota is quick to demonstrate for us the "ba-na-na-na" sound that Chevy Chase's character in Caddyshack makes while sinking putts from all across the green. They also believe in team talks and the power of the "blue dot." They all have a graphic of a blue dot affixed to their skating bags, which is purportedly infused with the positive energy of renowned psychic Judy Hevenly.

Lauren Hunt, assistant coach of Team Image, an intermediate team from the Yonkers Figure Skating Club, tells us that her skaters are still belting out cheers that have been passed down from previous generations of the team, from even before she herself skated on it in the mid-to-late nineties. Furthermore, one of the more boisterous skaters leads the rest of the group through a "dexterity check," in which skaters quickly tap their body parts. They derive last-minute strength from Yolanda Adams' song, "I Believe."

Team Image head coach Sylvia Muccio likes her skaters to develop these kinds of pre-performance rituals themselves and likes to see them bond together. "If they can build up their own energy and trust in the locker room, that will translate onto the ice once they're out there."

This week, we've also heard about skaters fluffing each others' skirts right before their names are announced. We've heard about beloved stuffed animals hugged in succession, and we've seen boxes covered in glitter. All these specific rituals increase team spirit and boost energy. Basically, it's a matter of doing whatever it takes in those final moments to get all those minds and all those bodies ready to perform well together once the judges are watching.