Interview With Sheila Thelen

Photograph of American skating coach Sheila Thelen

I have never been to Minnesota or met Sheila Thelen in person but the moment I saw the video of her driving in her skates, I was like "she's my kind of people!" Throw in the fact that she invented and designed Champion Cords, runs Grassroots To Champions seminars and is an integral part of and Young Artists Showcase in addition to being a great skating coach, and you have one pretty remarkable human being. When I skated I was lucky enough to work with both Susan Tuck and Katy Martins - two fantastic coaches with great senses of humor and attitudes - and Sheila Thelen is totally a coach with that same great attitude and caring about her students. Talking about YAS, Sheila said, "I'm still shocked how many skaters and coaches have no idea or have not followed it! IT IS FABULOUS!"... and she's 100% right. She took the time from her busy life and schedule to talk about everything from her own days as a skater to coaching, IJS, the future of the sport and much more. You're going to love this one:

Q: You are responsible for so much GOOD in the sport. You've designed Champion Cords, you're the Executive Director of Grassroots To Champions, you're integral in the success of YAS and you hold a Master Rating as a coach with the Professional Skating Association. What are your most proud of in your career more than anything? Most proud of?

A: There are a lot of different things to be proud of and not all of them have to do with coaching. Professionally, inventing Champion Cords, running Grassroots To Champions, being a part of iCoachSkating, MKYAS4, and the FRIENDSHIPS I've made in coaching – all are priceless to me. These training devices, techniques, and information sources are very helpful to the future of skating. Coaching wise? It isn't so much to get a talented skater to learn a new spin or jump as much as it is to get a kid with no talent, no money and only the drive to do something they did not think they could do. That smile on their face... priceless.

Q: Behind every fabulous coach is a fabulous skating career. What can you share about your own?

A: My skating career wasn't the best. I wasn't the one with all of the first places or most trophies. I was the one who stuck it out and kept on trying. I try to use figure skating as a life lessons example to my students. My favorite Jon Bon Jovi quote: "You can’t win, until you’re not afraid to lose."

Q: What originally brought you into coaching and what's kept you involved and excited all these years about what you are doing? 

A: I started with some basic coaching in college. Then after returning from a 1 1/2 year overseas Grad Program, I got back into coaching. I've always LOVED coaching. I really enjoy working with other AMAZING coaches ! I am so honored to work along with Audrey Weisiger, Nick Perna, Chris Conte, Trevor Laak, Pasquale Camerlengo (who did my voicemail), Douglas Webster, Doug Mattis, Page Lipe and so many more! I feel blessed to work with so many great athletes and coaches. The seminars are a total blast. I also love using DARTFISH software, to help skaters learn and apply corrections.

Q: If someone gave you a big old genie lamp and allowed you to make three wishes for the future of figure skating, what would they be? And no, more wishes can't be one of them. 

A: One is better techniques, more information to the skaters and coaches. Shameless plug to #2 is to do away with the IJS. #3 is to get more kids involved with skating. I'm magical so I get 4 wishes, so #4 is more skaters and coaches attending the Grassroots To Champions Seminar (that will totally improve the sport).

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment? 

A: OH – I have so many! Getting on the ice carrying a cup of coffee and forgetting that I had my skate guards on. I chipped my elbow but still taught for 4 hours, went to the accountant... then the emergency room. That weekend I took 6 kids backstage at Stars On Ice (looking like an idiot pro in arm sling to the entire Stars On Ice cast!)

Q: Your funniest? 

A: Working with the coaches at Grassroots To Champions. They are the funniest group of people I have ever worked with. No matter what city we are doing a seminar, we have the best stories in skating. We've nearly shut down airports, had crazed ping pong tournaments and worked with hilarious Grassroots To Champions skaters! My life is neverending smiles and humor.

Q: I love food, I love music and I love reading! What is your favourite meal, song and book? 

A: My favourite meal is lobster in any form. Although, people have figured me out – so they "dangle the lobster meal" to "motivate" me to attend certain events. Lobster. My favourite song is "Rebecca", the theme from Top Gear UK... hahaha! Our entire family has watched 18 SEASONS of Top Gear. I want my own "TOP BLADE" TV Show! We would look just like Top Gear UK – but it would have the Grassroots To Champions coaches! We’d be huge. Seriously, I love all types of music. I really try to stay current. That stupid "Royals" song sticks in my head for days... My favorite book? I love to read. I read everything. Motivation, marketing, negotiating and anything you can buy at an airport.

Q: What is the skating world's biggest problem and how can coaches fix it? 

A: The biggest problem is the IJS. It's too complicated and limits the skater to certain routines to get the maximum amount of points. The result is a decrease in the creativity of the sport and innovation in skating. Now they all look same, doing the same routines, just in the different orders. Also, a lack of children skating. We need to have young kids getting into figure skating. Girls hockey took many of potential skaters away from figure skating. We need to get them back. ATHLETIC girls and boys!

Q: Who are your three favorite skaters of all time and why?

A: Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning and Pasquale Camerlengo. Scott and Kurt because they have big personalities that help skating. Pasquale? Aside from being a great choreographer, he does the best voicemail messages ever.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know? 

A: After college I was an archaeologist and I carried a gun, just like Indiana Jones (sorry, no whip). I worked for over a 1 1/2 years on various digs in Israel. When I got back from Israel, I got back on the ice as a coach and haven’t left. I've applied my education to coaching. Especially, when using DARTFISH computer software.

Q: If you could give every single skater in the world one piece of advice from your heart, what would it be? 

A: It would be advice I learned from Audrey Weisiger: Dream. Dare. DO.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":