May 17, 2010

Turn with your elbow!

I get all my best ideas from the kids.

S kept forcing her three-turns with her hip this morning. I asked her "which body part helps you turn? It's not your hip or your knee, so what is it?" So she tried some serious answers-- your foot? your head? and then got silly-- your pinky finger! your elbow!

Wait. And I thought about it, and then tested it, and then told her, yes. Your elbow. I want you to turn with your elbow. She pushed off, moved her elbow into position (which forced her shoulder into the proper position) and presto-chango, 3 turn.

Gamma and Delta (variously Basic 5 thru 7) are about turns and edges. These aren't hard to do, but they are hard to do correctly, because there are lots of easy cheats that make it look like the correct thing, but are subtly wrong, like turning with your hip. Here's my 10-week curriculum for Gamma.

Week one: as always, start the class with 25 each, forward and backward right and left crossovers. Depending on how good they are, in an ISI program start introducing progressives for forward crossovers (foot hits the ice before the cross) and "cut backs" for backward crossovers. (USFS Basic Skills teach these with the basic crossover curriculum). Introduce two foot turns CW & CCW forward to backward, and back Mohawks both inside and outside (stepping forward from one foot to the other).

Gamma has a lot going on-- at my rink we start refining cross over skills, and kids learn 3 different turns, which also includes of course, back edges and confident backward gliding. (Skaters in USFS Basic Skills have theoretically mastered back edges in the level before introducing three turns.) So they have to learn back inside edges (for three turns and mohawks) and back outside edges (for the required Mohawk step pattern). I always teach these, plus proper rotation, first, before trying to get the kids to turn on one foot.

Week two: start class with 25 each, F&B R&L XO, and review 2 foot turns. I'll start working on outside three turns right away in week two, emphasizing upper body control and what DH just called "ambiflexterity:" the ability to turn both clockwise and CCW with equal facility. I like to take a figures approach to 3-turns. I make the skaters break the skill down-- forward edge from a strong push, then forward edge plus strong rotation thru the shoulders (or the elbow!), and only then checking the shoulders to create the turn. This helps the skaters understand that it is the check and not the rotation that makes the turn happen. Otherwise they just spin.

In a sharp class, I may have time to introduce Mohawks.

Week three: cross over drills, including lots of work on backwards freestyle crossovers, and crossover patterns, like half-circle forward/turn/half circle backwards, step to forwards, repeat, as well as crossovers in a figure eight pattern. Introduce hockey stop. Review and practice forward outside 3s, introduce inside 3s, and start Mohawk drills like teacups, wall crawling (doing Mohawks while facing the wall and holding on--this shows skaters how open your upper body is for a mohawk). I'll also introduce the ISI Mohawk combination pattern, but with a two-foot turn instead of the Mohawk for the first timers. This gives the kids who are in the level for the second time a chance to work at their level.

Week four: crossover drills and patterns, then review. Week five is often a mid-session evaluation, so I try to get through all of the required elements, even the ones they haven't worked on much, like hockey stops.

Week five:
mid session evaluation. Start with crossover drills and patterns anyway.

I consider a mid session evaluation to be an evaluation of my curriculum as much as an evaluation of the skaters. I need to see what the class as a whole is struggling with, because that's where the focus needs to be for the next couple of weeks. I also look for individual skaters who are struggling with one or more elements. I almost never advance a student to the next level at this point, because they've missed too much from the new level. It won't kill them to spend another 5 weeks in Gamma. However, I want to note who is really advanced, so I can start coming up with enhanced skills for them to work on, so they don't get bored.

Week six: crossover drills and patterns; focus on the problem areas, and start enhanced patterns and skills for the stronger skaters. Start doing the combination with the actual mohawk.

I like to try to reserve the last five minutes of any class for fun stuff-- higher level skills, or add on games, or skaters' choice. In Gamma class, however, there is often not a lot of time to give the kids reward skills for their hard work. After the mid session, however, it's a good idea to start throwing them a bone and let them work on lunges, bunny hops, turning two-foot jumps, shoot the duck and spins. They need to have some unstructured fun.

Week seven: crossover drills and patterns, then drill and review all skills. Reserve 5 or more minutes for off-level skills (this can also be things like crossover challenges-- who can do the fewest crossovers on a circle, forwards or backwards, who can do the mohawk straight out of a forward crossover, etc.)

Week eight:
crossover drills and patterns, then drill and review all skills for test next week. Freak kids out by reminding them that the test is next week.

Week nine: This is test week. Here are the proper passing standards for ISI Gamma:
  • Forward outside 3 turns: strong forward push to outside edge at least as long as the skater's height, clean turn with proper shoulder rotation, keeping free leg and hip back; strong back inside edge check at least the skater's height. Must be on a curve (edge).
  • Forward inside Mohawks: strong forward push to inside edge at least as long as the skater's height, proper step for open mohawk (there is also such as thing as a closed mohawk, and an outside mohawk, just to complicate things) to back inside edge, which should be held in proper checked position with leg back for length equal to skater's height. Got that?
  • Mohawk combination: three forward strokes, forward inside open mohawk, to back outside edge and back outside mohawk for step to forward. Must be equally solid both clockwise and counterclockwise (right and left mohawks).
  • Hockey stop: Proper sideways stop from three strokes, with skids on both blades.
Week ten crossover drills and patterns, plus testing of anyone who missed Week Nine. Since this is Game Day, and I hate Game Day, I'll do advanced Gamma skills including variations of the Mohawk combo including USFSA Basic Skills Mohawk pattern (stepping into Mohawk from a forward crossover), doing the combo with different turns, trying two-foot back threes and two foot forward brackets. Other turn combinations are waltz threes (continuous three turns around a circle), waltz eights (a figures pattern), running threes (three-turn with toe-assist), inside three turns, power three-turns, etc.

Send them on to Delta, where they will all forget how to do Mohawks.


  1. Gotta love 'S' ! !

  2. She is the most awesome little girl. Serious when it counts, but doesn't let the world get her down.