Apr 21, 2010

B is for Backwards

I've always liked the confluence of B-Beta-Backwards. Just my obsessive compulsive tendencies kicking in I suppose.

Beta is my favorite level to teach. For one thing, I think I'm really good at it. It also tends to hit at right about the ages of 7-9 when kids are old enough to carry on intelligent conversation, but still too young to have figured out what idiots most adults are. Plus, not one of them ever believes that backward crossovers are actually possible, so it's fun when they get it. (Don't get me started on adults and backwards crossovers. That's a whole alternate universe right there.)

One of the first things I did when I started teaching was to work out a weekly lesson plan for every level through Freestyle 3. This really helped when I was an inexperienced teacher, because it kept me on track and gave me a prop around which to organize my lessons. I worked in drilling and games, to keep the kids interested. Here's the Beta lesson plan (in practice, it varies from this considerably depending on the class):

Week one
Review forward crossovers with 25 fwd XO each direction; Straight line backward swizzles with glide; straight line forward and backward pumps, L & R, straight line pumps alternating (slalom); introduce back 1-ft glide from slalom and on circle

Week two
Review forward crossovers with 25 fwd XO each direction; review back slaloms with one-foot lift/glide, introduce stroking concept (foot held forward); back pumps & I/O edges on circle; start cross if class is ready. (You're ready for the cross if you can hold the one-foot back glide, foot in front for 2wce your body height, on a curve.)

This is the basic drill portion for backward crossovers, and I always go back to this lesson when kids are having trouble-- pumps and one foot glides on the circle.

Week three
Review forward crossovers with 25 fwd XO each direction; back stroking review & refine; back pumps with 1-foot glide on circle; start crosses (most of class time). Reward skill.

Week three is the money week. To get at least some of the kids solid in Beta by Week 10, you have to start the crossovers by week three. A kid who isn't at least stumbling through them at this point is going to repeat beta without divine intervention. Don't tell anyone I told you. Most of the lesson will be going round and round and round in circles just throwing out terrible crossovers. I never try to get kids to bend, pump, or stay off their toe picks at this stage. I just want crossovers and continual backwards movement. Introduce t-stops.

Usually, because this is hard and boring, I'll throw in something fun, the "reward skill" for the last 5 minutes. Kids love learning shoot-the-duck, spirals, spins, and synchro moves at this level.

Week four
Review. Week five is often a mid-session evaluation, so in week four you want to review everything in Beta, let the kids know where they should be for the evaluation, and encourage them to come on their own and practice. I wish rinks would hand out discount or free coupons for public skating the week before evaluation, but they never do this.

Week five
Evaluation week. For mid-term evaluation, a coach with sense will always pass something and never pass everything, especially if it's the skater's first time through the level. Only the rare exceptional skater can step into the next level 5 weeks in and not be utterly lost, and only the rare exceptional skater can't spend an extra 5 weeks getting better at the level they're at. I think it is lazy and irresponsible of coaches to pass kids up halfway through a session; I almost never do it. If you're a skater that I passed halfway through, pat yourself on the back. You were really really good.

Also, coaches? Please never give a child only "needs improvement" marks. It's not going to kill you to make a little white lie and tell them they are good at ONE thing. I've seen more skaters quit at mid-term because the coach decided to be brutally honest. Really, what's the point? If worse comes to worse, I'll write "Alpha review exceptional!" on a struggling skater's evaluation form. By extension, don't pass everything, because it confuses the kid and their parent. They think they should now get to move up, and it isn't true. You can't drop a kid into the next level when they've missed the first five classes (unless you're using this as a marketing tactic-- "oh have him take a few lessons with me, I'll help him catch up").

One of the things I like to emphasize at midterm is that the test is not about how well the skater is doing, more it lets me know what the class, and I, need to work on as we move toward real evaluation week in a month.

Week six
Week six is a work week. First, review forward crossovers: start with 25 fwd XO each direction...

Okay, wait. What's with all the forward crossovers? I thought this was Beta?

Every skill a skater learns, right up through quad jumps, doesn't stop improving once you've "learned" it. Kids barely understand this, and it drives their parents crazy. But especially because class skaters seldom practice, it takes a lot of drilling to remind them to do prior-learned skills properly. I try to sweeten the pot by telling kids we're now working on "freestyle" crossovers, with improved rhythm, power, and body alignment.

After their 25 forward crossovers, we start just putting mileage on the backwards ones, starting with 25 bwd XO each direction. I watch for common and specific weaknesses (generally toe-pick dragging, and opening up the hip so that they face the circle when they cross) plus I'll introduce moving two foot turns & step forward, which they'll need on the first day of Gamma. Review stroking and t-stops.

Week seven
Here we go again: start with 25 fwd XO each direction, then 25 bwd XO each direction. Work on noted weaknesses, two foot turns & step forward; Review stroking and t-stops. Introduce freestyle skills such as spins, waltz jump, pivot for fun.

Because they've been working really hard and they deserve a reward.

Week eight
Another serious review week, because next week is The Test.

Week nine
Evaluation week! Expect tears, because some silly mother has told her kid that she's going to pass without consulting the coach first. (That's me crying; the kids are usually fine.) Review standards, practice the move, observe a demonstration, and then have them skate one at a time, attempting to keep all the ones not skating from getting bored and killing each other. Pry the adults who are ready out of Beta with a crowbar.

So what should proper Beta/Basic 5 backwards crossovers look like? Skater should be able to do 6 backward crossovers in a row with no extraneous pumps or wiggles in between. Skater should have a clear understanding of the first pump, with proper push and knee bend, and be able to cross fully either by lifting (ISI) or cut back (USFS Basic Skills) with a clear understanding of proper edges and weight shift, and strong arm position. Backward stroking should be smooth and continuous, and at least one T-stop should be mastered; a clear understanding of proper edge should be demonstrated on the "hard" side.

Because many rinks don't split Beta into Beta 1 and Beta 2, absolutely no toe pick dragging is allowed to pass, or you'll never get rid of it. Students should expect to go through Beta twice. I always call my second-timers "Beta 2" just to make them feel better, even though it's not a real level.

I also feel strongly that someone entering Gamma should understand moving rotation and be able to do a two footed turn from a glide both clockwise and counterclockwise. This is part of the Basic Skills, but not of the ISI curriculum at this level.

Week ten
Every damned rink in America calls this Game Day. I hate Game Day. I hate it with a passion. Please please please no more relay races on the ice. Or maybe ONE. They are boring, pointless, and leave out the kids who are intimidated by speed.

Here's some better things to do with Game Day.


  1. This is so great!!! I wish I'd had this when my daughter was in Beta!!!

  2. What level is she in now? I'll post that curriculum next!

  3. As a member of the "whole alternate universe" that is adults learning backward crossovers I feel obligated to point out that skating backwards and doing crossovers is hard and scary and maybe even insane. So there! :-)

    But seriously, I wish I had your plan when I was taking Beta. I would have printed it out and used it to guide my practice. What a great approach!

  4. MER I sent my friend Beth to you! You guys were made for each other. Here's the very MER-like comment she made about her coach's very Dmitry-like comment yesterday: "Today my skating coach said to me 'You should not look like godzilla attacking Toyko!' I hope I get to deliver his eulogy."

  5. I loved Icepact & bookmarked it last night. Mer11 & I are leading parallel lives - adult skaters with 6 yo boys & wonderfully descriptive coaches.

    I must point out some members of the alternate universe skate without fear. Or should I say some members strike fear in the hearts of coaches? I have been accused of: Kamikaze skating; skating like a spastic puppy, Godzilla, Frankenstein's monster & Grape Ape. And described as Carol Burnett on ice.

  6. Your curriculum is so thought out, I wish my kids' instructors had half the initiative to think about planning ahead weeks in advance (not to mention it looks as though they need to ask other instructors what they should teach) would you mind posting curriculum for usfsa freestyle 3 and 5?

  7. I'll do the FS3-- I've never done a 5, since I only ever sub in the higher FS classes.

  8. Xan -- Thanks for introducing me to Beth! I love making new skating friends.

    Beth -- Nice to meet you! I'm so glad you like Ice Pact, thanks! Looking forward to chatting with you over there. If you blog/Twitter, let me know where I can find you. Sounds like we have lots to talk about. And I have a feeling you'll keep me laughing.

  9. Wow, I love this. I'm one of those scary adults and I think this is my 4th try at Beta. My excuse is that I never, ever stepped on the ice until a year ago and I'll be 60 next week. This class term we've had a rotating cast of teachers, plus there are just too many people at too many levels in my class (Alpha to Delta). But, tonight I finally had a breakthrough and actually did real right over left backwards crossovers - yahoo!

  10. Nancy, good for you! I recommend you try to find a Figures class- Figures are amazing for older adults starting around the Beta-Gamma level. Check out my posts about this lost skating art. (click "schoolfigures" in the tag cloud).

  11. This is very good information. Would you mind doing this for Gamma as well?

  12. Anon- Gamma's in the works (or a combined one about turns). Freestyle 3 has been promised for next.