Dec 3, 2009

Measuring progress

A commenter thinks you can see progress more easily through the level of jumps a skater learns than through the more subtle measure of a clean edge and the control and power required by moves.

I see what she's saying-- the jumps are a clear marker of accomplishment, a big shiny reward. But the thing about the jumps, is if you don't do the subtle work that leads to body awareness and control, the jumps will be inconsistent and even dangerous. How much "progress" is it if the landings are out of control, or the skater keeps falling, or can't get the required rotation.

The most common correction you will hear a skating coach make is "get over your skating side." (Second only to "don't break at the waist.") The "skating side" is the side with the foot in contact with the ice. (The other side is the "free side," so you'll hear coaches tell skaters things like "move your free arm, bend your skating knee, etc.") Without your weight over the skating side you cannot get properly over the correct part of the blade. In jumps it is absolutely critical that you understand, in midair, where your skating side is. Even though nothing is in contact with the ice now, you still have a skating side. The axel is difficult because it is what we call a "change of axis" jump--your skating side or axis changes in midair.

In spins, it's also quite subtle. A lot of spins go wrong because skaters center their weight down their midline, rather than over the spinning blade. Feet are very close together, so it's tricky, but that tiny 2" distance between the blades is what centers a spin instead of it corkscrewing down the ice.

The only way to learn this is to drill it, and the best way to drill it is by practicing edges, turns, and stroking. When I see a skater with smooth, powerful stroking that accelerates down the ice, I know I'm seeing someone who understands jumping. When I see someone whose stroking is full of toe picks, stiff knees, and missed extensions I don't even want to watch them jump-- I already know it's going to be scary.

I like the big jumps too. But I also like effortless footwork. Skaters with big jumps are impressive. Skaters with outstanding footwork are magical.

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