Apr 28, 2010

A free style curriculum

By popular request, I'll be posting my lesson plans for Gamma through Freestyle levels over the next several weeks. You'll find prior posts on tots, Alpha, Beta and Figures; look under "curriculum" in the tag cloud.

Most free style levels, not just Freestyle 3, can use the following lesson plan, simply with the jumps/spins substituted per level. Freestyle curricula in both ISI and USFS Free Skate generally have one to three jumps, turns both in isolation and within footwork, a spin, and one or more gliding maneuvers. USFS adds in jump sequences and combinations as a testable skill, as well as the Pre-preliminary Moves test patterns.

This is my lesson plan for Freestyle 3 (USFS Freeskate 3)

Warm up: It's a good idea in freestyle classes to start using a standard warm up, or a couple of different standard warm ups, to start giving kids an idea of what they should be doing for warm up on their own. At my current rink, where freestyle classes are a full hour, we often run the warm up for 20 or even 30 minutes, with a serious emphasis on power, pattern, and covering the ice. Generally we do 5 minutes of stroking and alternating back crossovers, then "5 circle pattern" forward and backward crossovers, waltz 3s, forward and backward edges, edge pulls, power 3s, bunny hops, spiral and lunge, left and right. Warm up is mixed levels and full ice. Parents often don't like the long warm up, but I have found that it really helps kids develop not only power, but also confidence. For a USFS program, the warm up should include the Pre-pre moves patterns on full ice.

Week one: After warm up, review waltz jump, half lutz (ISI), toe loop (USFS), ballet jump (ISI) or mazurka (USFS), moving forward 3 turns (especially inside), and one-foot spin (not scratch spin). If there are problems or inadequacies with these skills, freestyle 3 becomes challenging. I like to introduce the toe loop from a standing position, and then from a forward inside 3-turn in the first week. Also using that forward inside 3-turn, I'll start working on edge and body alignment for the back spin (which in FS 3 is used in the change foot spin). We'll do spin drills like spinning without pulling in, and backwards glides lightly dragging the toe.

Week two: Warm up waltz jumps, review toe loop and one foot spin; introduce salchow, introduce forward outside mohawk. If the class is small and/or sharp, you can start introducing a scratch spin in this lesson as well. Work on the first two parts of the change foot spin-- one foot spin 4 rotations, and a change to other foot back spin just one full rotation without losing the check. I never let my students add rotations to the back spin until they have one solid back spin on the proper edge; if you encourage multiple rotation too soon, they just drop to the inside edge. I know that ISI now says that the change foot doesn't have to change to a proper back spin, really, what's the point of teaching this wrong.

Week three: Forward and backward spirals should be added to the warm up in this week; work on improving waltz jumps, introduce waltz jump combos: with ballet jump and wj/toe loop, emphasizing proper toe pick entry and upper body movement, start working on toe loop from stroking and inside 3 turn. Review salchows, review & drill one foot spins including strong entry edge, intro 3 leg of spin, the return to the forward spin. Still just looking for 4-1-3 rotations foot to foot to foot. Drill outside forward mohawks left and right. If time, intro waltz 8 pattern.

Week four: Introduce jump combo; if it's a USFS program, this is prescribed, otherwise set one up, or let the skaters figure out 2, 3, and 4 jump combos or sequences on their own utilizing all jumps starting with bunny hop. If there are parts of the testable skills that have not yet been touched on, introduce them here. In week 4, the coach should be aware which students are in this level for the first time, and which are repeating and how many times they have repeated. The coach needs to decide if any student should move up mid-session. (I don't encourage this, but sometimes it's okay; now is the time to figure this out.) The coach will need to juggle week four to give each student help with his or her weakest elements, in preparation for:

Week five, mid session evaluation: review and evaluate jumps and spins; if other skills are testable do these as well. Remember that the mid-term evaluation has two purposes: to let you as the teacher know where the students or your lesson plan have been weak, and therefore where the focus should be for the remaining time, and as an encouragement to the students. Never give a mid term without some positive marks. Be prepared to justify your marks to all the freaked out parents.

Week six: Review progress report, focusing on both class-wide and individual weaknesses; teach a full rink jump entry pattern for each jump in the level, review all moves and footwork patterns; major effort on back spin part of change foot, trying to reach 3 full rotations on proper edge.

Week seven: review all, correcting common errors. Common errors in FS 3 are over rotation on jump entries, wrong toe pick placement on toe loop, salchow free leg, checking landings on combo, losing the check on back spin (forcing an inside edge), underrotation on back spin, wrong edges or steps on footwork, spiral not held long enough, etc.). For USFS programs, all moves patterns should be run at test standard on full ice if you can get it.

Week eight: review all for testing following week. Try to fit every skill in, but if there isn't time make sure to get all jumps and spins, and any new turns that are part of footwork (e.g. the outside mohawk). It's also a good idea to try out moves that indicate readiness for the next level. At freestyle three, you'd want to see kids able to do backward shoot the duck (for sit spin), at least one back outside three (these can be taught in a single session), two foot loop jump.

Week nine: Test week in most rinks. This is not an encouragement test. This is the real deal for class purposes. The skater should show easy, confident ability at every maneuver. ISI has rather specific breakdown of marks. I'm not sure what their language is, but I break it down like this: 0= did not try; 1=tried, but hopeless; 2=tried, can't do; 3=good understanding of maneuver but not at passing standard; 4 (F)= almost there; 5 (D)=passing standard; 6 (C)=very good, above passing standard; 7 (B)=excellent; 8 (A)=superior; 9 (A+)=pro; 10= perfect. No one gets a 10. I've given out 2 nines in 11 years of teaching. I once had a teacher give me a "1." This is just mean. ISI lets you pass with what I consider a "D," i.e. a 5, but I tell my kids I want them passing with 6s and 7s. When I do a test, I watch for kids who will be able to succeed at new skills on the first day of the next level. At most rinks class level and competition level will be different, with the skater competing one to two levels lower than their most recently passed class.

Week ten: You can have a "Game Day" in freestyle classes, tailored for the greater range of skating skills, age range, and ability of the class. I like to introduce a skill from the next level, or even from two levels up, as well as things like jump and spin games-- most waltz jumps in a row, longest jump combo or sequence, biggest jump; most rotations, best feature. You can also have the skaters put together 20-second programs. This is enough time to do one jump, one spin and one gliding maneuver with transitions.

Skaters who are not taking private lessons should expect to take every freestyle level twice or even three times. This moves you up 1 to 2 levels per year. If you start freestyle classes at the age of 10 this gets you to Freestyle 8/Intermediate (all double jumps) by sophomore year of high school. It's a very rare rink that has enough freestyle skaters still in levels classes beyond FS 8. Please remember that it's not a race, and there are no prizes for being the youngest freestyle skater in the program. If you want to move through faster, take private lessons and practice properly; however, I still firmly believe in taking the classes one at a time, and in their full 10-week span. At the very least, it's a really cheap way to get a second or third lesson per week.


  1. thank you! now we know what to practice when we are on our own!

  2. Great lesson plans- very well thought out. Sometimes I feel like I get in a rut with my lessons (though I only do snowplow).

    I did chuckle at your "move up" rate for freestyle. I spent over a year in Freestyle 3, and will likely be in Freestyle 4 for life. I guess if I worked on nothing but the FS4 elements in my private lessons, I might be able to get them, but I prefer to focus on moves, which are more fun.

  3. Skittl, are you an adult skater? All bets are off for adult skaters.

  4. Yes, I am. It does make a difference. Though I did manage to pass through Basic 8 quicker than many of the "recreational" kids. Their parents wouldn't bring them to the rink to practice, so I could generally do 2 levels in 8 weeks, while they just did 1.

  5. You should see if you can find someone to teach you how to do School Figures (Patch) as well. Patch is great for adult skaters, and will help your moves and your freestyle skills.