Interview with inline speed skater Joey Mantia: "Olympic berth doesn't define the quality of a sport"
Joey Mantia is a multiple time world champion, record holder and a member of the 2014 US Olympic Team. This year, he came to India with Michael Cheek, another world champion to conduct roller skating clinics in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune and Virar. I was fortunate enough to have been able to ask him a few questions after his first clinic ended in Bangalore.
Q. What have been your impressions of India so far since I understand that this is your first trip here?
A. So far it’s been really nice actually. For me, since this was my first time in India I didn’t know what to expect. Everybody, when coming here, told me that I wouldn’t like the food, wouldn’t like this or that but before I came here, I’ve travelled quite a bit in my life. So I’ve been to some crazy places! Apart from the driving, which is crazy, everything else has been pretty nice.
Q. There has been a huge response to your camps and now you’re at the end of your first camp. What have been your perceptions of the skaters, the coaches and the entire skating culture here in India?
A. Yeah it’s good because I think there is a great urge to learn, and the skaters here are just thirsty for knowledge. I don’t think there has been a good source for that knowledge here in India yet so my being here, hopefully can fix that a little bit. It’s hard to do too much in just a week, but I’m doing the best I can within my time constraints.
One thing to me that is very interesting is that the kids are very intuitive. They ask in-depth questions so I know they want to learn because they are asking the right questions. As far as focus, it’s hard to get the little kids to focus because they just want to have fun which I understand but it’s important for the coaches to figure out a way to make training both focussed and fun.
As far as coaches go, I can’t really say because I haven’t really watched any training sessions so I’m not sure what their methods are or how effective they are.
Q. How is the skating culture in India different from in Europe and the US?
A. That is a difficult question to answer. I think skating wise, parents put a huge amount of pressure on their kids to perform well. And when the kids get to a certain age, say around 13 or 14, I think that’s ok. But for kids of 8 or 9 it’s difficult.
On the first day of the clinic, I had kids trying to skate in every group, every drill, trying to do extra when they weren’t even doing the drill they were supposed to be doing, correctly. And I understand that this comes not from the kids but the parents or coaches. I understand the desire to have your kids do well, but at some point that becomes detrimental. They try and focus on volume rather than quality. So there is that fine line.
Q. Roller skating has failed to get into the Summer Olympics yet again. It has since been dropped from the Asian Championships as well. So what do you think the future holds for the sport now?
A. I don’t think being a part of the big competitions defines a sport at all. I think that if you love this sport, which I think anyone who has been part of the sport would agree,you know that skating is a sport to fall in love with; it doesn’t need to be defined as what it is a part of and it is its own entity. I think that’s the cool thing about skating is it doesn’t have to be part of anything bigger.
Obviously it is a hindrance that every time we try and get into the Olympics, we fail, so it may cause people to think the sport isn’t good enough, but that’s not it. There are a lot of other factors involved in getting into the Olympics beyond whether the sport is cool or not. We already know that skating is good enough in terms or athleticism. So it’s a business with other factors being taken into consideration.
Q. Related to my previous question, fewer people in India are entering into the sport purely because it isn’t part of big competitions. And from what I can tell, in other places too, athletes are moving decisively away from roller skating to ice skating. So what do you think roller skating has to do to retain its skaters, or at the very least convince the athletes to do both ice and roller skating?
A. I think the best thing for roller skating, and I hate to say this, would be to stop trying too hard to get into the Olympics. Like I said, the sport shouldn’t be defined by what bigger competition it is a part of. We still have the World championships which is pretty much the Olympics for us. Obviously unlike the Olympics, there aren’t all the other sports around.
However, having skated in both the Olympics and World Championships myself, I have to say I prefer the World Championships. There are just higher levels of competition at the Worlds with a larger number of skaters. The Olympics limits the skaters at the event so you wouldn’t have all the countries participating in the World Championships. So whether or not a sport is part of the bigger picture should be irrelevant. Becoming a national or World Champion in the sport should be enough.
Q. What should India do to create a World Champion?
A. I think India has the numbers but I don’t think specific knowledge of the types of development that need to happen is here yet. So the techniques and things I’m teaching at the clinic may seem basic but it’s the little details that make the big difference - Quality over Quantity. It’s not about just skating for 3 hours straight but about skating 10 minutes but doing it very very well. So that’s the kind of things I’m teaching.
I’m not saying there aren’t good coaches because like I said I don’t know enough about the coaches here, but in the US the coaches that take things slow and really teach how to skate produce more champions than those who just send the kids out and watch. Could you develop champions that way? Possibly. Sometimes you’ll have one good kid who just learns by himself and becomes a champion. But if you want to elevate the whole country, you have to really take the time to learn the art of skating.
Skating is about finesse, not just about going out and pushing hard. It’s also pushing hard, but only together with a lot of other things.
Q. Based on your experiences here, do you think you’ll come back to India to teach a few more clinics in the coming years?
A. Yeah I’d love to. Next year if the people want me to and if it makes sense. We’ll have to figure out the criteria and the cities, but yeah. I would really like to come back.