Jun 13, 2010

Basic Skills and Learn To Skate, side by side

There are two figure skating curricula for skating schools, designed and sold by the two main organizing structures for ice sports in the US- USFS Basic Skills and ISI Learn to Skate (I believe they actually call it weSkate now, but whatever). US Hockey and USFS also have hockey curricula.

Learn-to-Skate has a very open curriculum, based on outcomes: ("forward crossover" "3 turn"); the Basic Skills curriculum is process oriented, breaking each skill down into components and testing those: (edges on a circle, two foot turns in place, two foot turns moving, before crossovers and 3 turns). Conversely, ISI has very restrictive competition rules, i.e. you must do the moves up to your level, and only up to your level, to very exact standards and use 9 separate judging criteria. Basic Skills competitions have much fewer specific skills requirements, and use only 2 judging criteria.

You'll learn how to skate using either. I've taught in both, and I find the ISI curriculum more teacher-friendly because it allows me to break down the skills in a way that makes sense to me and to each individual class. People swear by Basic Skills because it makes teachers break down the skill in a logical way. Here's the side-by-side:

Basic skating (forward and backward motion, gliding, stopping, falling)
ISI: PreAlpha, PreAlpha 1&2, PreAlpha and PreAlpha Plus etc. (different rinks break them down differently). Gliding forwards for your body height on two feet, and on one foot both sides. Forward and backward swizzles, backward wiggles. This level needs to be fun, because if you lose them here, they're gone. Like in all ISI levels, there are only 6 skills. (My rink also adds basic snowplow stop, two foot hop, and moving dip.) ISI classes will teach proper falling and getting up, but not as a testable skill.

USFS Basic 1 & 2, conversely, has 15 separate testable skills including all of the above including the hop and dip). They then add additional skills including things Rocking Horse (one forward, one backward swizzle over and over, essentially in place), backward two foot glide, turning in place, and half swizzle pumps (slalom) which is a pre-stroking and pre-crossover skill.

Xan's take: ISI teachers will learn that these extra things, like rocking horses and pumps, need to be taught; the USFS advantage is that it's handed to the teacher on a silver platter. There's a curriculum development philosophy called "deskilling" where you write the curriculum in such a way that the teacher doesn't need to have actual knowledge of the subject in order to follow the curriculum (in other words, the teacher doesn't need any skill). This is what Basic Skills feels like to me-- it is extremely restrictive for an experienced teacher, but a godsend if most coaches in the rink are high school students.

Forward skating: cross overs and stroking
ISI Alpha: Forward stroking, forward crossovers, snowplow stop. That's it.
USFS Basic 3: Forward stroking, half swizzle pumps on circle, moving turns, backwards one-foot glides, forward slaloms, two-foot spin, plus part of Basic 4: forward edges on a circle, forward crossovers

Xan's take: ISI Alpha makes sense to a customer. When you or your kid passes Alpha, you know exactly what's been learned. Crossovers. Stroking. If you don't pass Alpha, it's easy to see why. Basic Skills 3 feels like a "non" level--you have to explain every single skill in it to a non-skater. To a layman, the skills in it don't relate to recognizable skills like "crossover." Basic Skills takes an awfully long time to get to crossovers-- four levels-- and it mixes in skills that kids will need two and three levels on (by which time, by the way, they will have forgotten them). As a skating instructor, I can see the sense in the Basic Skills curriculum, and in fact I use these skills within the ISI structure to teach the named skills like crossovers and the various turns. But I think it would be hard for a parent to understand exactly why Suzy in the ISI program down the street is already doing crossovers, while my Johnny, who has been skating the same amount of time, is only doing something called "slaloms" and isn't that for skiing?

Backward skating: cross overs and backward stroking (backwards one-foot glides)
ISI Beta: Backward stroking, backward crossovers from lift, T-stop.
Basic 4: backward half-swizzle pumps on circle, backward stroking, hockey backward snowplow stops, and part of 5: backward edges on circle, backward crossovers from cut-back, one-foot spin with optional entry, side toe hop. (lost yet? And I left out some stuff for the next level.)

Xan's take: You start to see the problem. Basic Skills teaches necessary things, but they are all things that you have to teach anyway. When kids learn backward crossovers, they learn how to balance (i.e. one-foot glide) going backwards. If you can't do it, you can't do the crossover. No need to test it separately. Teach, yes. Test, no. Backwards glides are an integral part of backwards crossovers and stroking, and one-foot turns. For me it's like testing spelling by learning half a word at a time.

ISI Gamma and Delta: 3-turns inside and outside, forward inside open mohawks and mohawk combination (essentially skating into the turn), forward inside and outside edges on serpentine pattern, bunny hop, lunge, shoot-the-duck
Basic 4, forward outside three turn on half circle (they call it "from stand still" but they mean on half circle); Basic 6 forward inside three turn on half circle, moving backward two-foot three turn, lunge, bunny hop, spiral, T-stop; Basic 7 forward inside open mohawk, back outside to forward outside step on a circle (this is the same step that is part of the ISI mohawk combination), back crossovers to landing position (back one-foot glide with free foot extended), inside pivots.

Xan's take: At this level, I start to like Basic Skills better. There are fun skills mixed in with the difficult ones, like mohawks, and the progression from half-circle three turns to moving three-turns is nice. But you can see the problem-- parents can understand "three turn" and "combination" but everything else in this level is very wordy. You have to be a skater to understand the skills. I also disagree with taking the alternating forward edges out of the curriculum. This is skill left over from the old School Figures days, and is the first place where kids have to really think about precise upper body control in a considered way. (That's supposed to happen with turning skills, but it really doesn't.) Again, however, ISI is much more customer friendly-- you can really understand exactly what you need to do to pass, and the skills have short, familiar names.

Getting ready for freestyle
ISI: ISI does not have a formal transitional level, which I think is a failure of this curriculum. At the freestyle levels, they are still teaching skills in isolation, rather than making kids move into them. Many rinks add a "pre-freestyle" or "delta plus" level to overcome this omission, using patterns from USFS Moves, or making up their own, and adding in specific testable freestyle skills like Waltz Jumps, two-foot spins from backward crossover entry, etc.
USFS Basic 8: This includes Waltz Jumps, Mazurka (also known as an Albright or Scissor, essentially a backward-entry bunny hop from an outside edge. It's my favorite jump.) moving three turns on a circle, and a mohawk combination move (crossover into mohawk, forward step).

Xan's take: Basic Skills finally gets it right. ISI needs to add a pre-freestyle level.

Update: Here's a discussion from FSUniverse that brought up this post!

Have you taught or learned in either or both? Which did you like better?


  1. My rink just switched from ISI to USFSA. I had just passed ISI Beta and was moved to USFSA Adult 4, but Adult 4 assumes I have skills I don't, like a Mohawk. I don't think I'll be passing this level any time soon! Not sure which I like better, but it seems that for adult skaters the USFSA levels are geared more for competitive skaters than recreational ones.

  2. I think when you switch from ISI to Basic Skills, you should always got to the level with your highest skill in it. So if you've passed Alpha, you should start at Basic 4. It will seem remedial, but there will be skills, like you said, that ISI has not covered. The transition is a little easier in the other direction, because of the very clear definition of skills.

  3. I think the transition is also made harder by going to the Adult Basic skills levels, which are just an utter mess, IMO. They skip so many things, and I've found adults in group lessons with the adult basic skills are usually much more frustrated then those who are using the regular curriculum.

    Nancy says she thinks they are geared more toward competitive skaters than recreational ones, and that does seem to be somewhat true, but if the competitive skater is planning to head to the freestyle levels next- they are in for a shock, since they haven't gotten any of the foundational jumping skills, or started a one foot spin.

    I think that Adult Basic 3 is probably more appropriate after having passed Beta than 4 is. You do have to repeat the backwards crossovers (but will learn them a different way- no stepping over) but there is a lot more covered in this level that the ISI skater would not have done yet.

    1. (Very late reply but on topic). I just started the USFSA Adult Basic Skills program this summer (finished Adult 1) and start Adult 2 next week. What will be interesting is the change from Adult 1-4 (32 skills) to Adult 1-6 (44 skills). It appears they have added skills back in but still fewer than Basic 1-8 (51 skills). I will probably start with private lessons after Adult 2 so I will hopefully get a blend of skills from that. Not planning on competitions just personal satisfaction and to hopefully improve my snow skiing.

  4. I am an adult skater and I started with the adult ISI workshop class- where I learned a hodge-podge of basic skills from the alpha, beta and gamma levels. I surpassed where the adult class was going and moved into the kids ISI class at the delta level- I am now about to finish my freestyle 2 class. I didn't find the transition between delta and freestyle 1 to be hard at all- and all of the coaches at our rink teach the skills in isolation but then also have us skate into the skills in various ways so we learn the 1/2 flip from mohawks and 3-turns. I also take privates and one of my coaches is really big on the transitions between skills and working to ensure I do them with speed and when skating. I think that when students get to the delta/freestyle 1 level, most of them also have a private coach ... so maybe that's why the pre-freestyle level isn't necessary?

  5. @ anon: It really depends on the program. A program that teaches really by-the-book ISI won't have those transitional moves, but most coaches I think are going to use them as a teaching. Sounds like you're in a program where they're doing it right!

  6. My daughter has taken classes in both programs because we live in a different area during the summer (because of my husband's job). So she is a USFS program during school year and in an ISI program during the summer.

    One thing I liked more about ISI (or may be it was just that particular rink we went to) is that, unlike our USFS program, they didn't use any paper cones for swizzles in their intorductory class. Our USFS program uses cones and the kids learn to look down when they scate. It is very hard to break that habbit later.

    Another comment I have is that in my experience (however, again, may be it's just our two particular rinks), USFS's standards are higher. My daughter has been in Basic 2 for 3 months by the time we left for the summer, and her coach kept telling me things like "she is doing so well". I took it as "she will pass soon". So I signed her up for Alpha 1 for the summer. I did tell them that she hasn't passed Basic 2 yet, though. The Alpha 1 teacher confirmed that she should be in their class. We went home for one weekend a month later and send her to Basic 2, being sure that she'd pass it right away (it was their testing week). To my huge surprise, she didn't! Went back to Alpha 1. Passed Alpha 1 (forward crossovers) in a couple of weeks. Moved to Alpha-Beta. Started working on back crossovers. Went home at the end of the summer. Finally passed Basic 2. Spent 2 months in Basic 3. It is now her 4th month in Basic 4 (she passed forward crossovers 7 months ago in Alpha 1!)

  7. Anon, this is not because USFS has higher standards. This is because B2 and B3 have testable skills that are not in the ISI curriculum, most notably a two-foot turn from forwards to backwards and half-swizzle pumps on a straight line and in a circle. She didn't pass, not because USFS is "harder" or "stricter" but because the skills required are different. I get a lot of USFS Basic 6 skater who couldn't pass ISI Beta because they can't do a proper weight shift on the back cross, because of the way USFS teaches it.

  8. Thanks, Xan, for your reply. It is interesting to see a coach's view on this. Sorry for the many typos in my original comment :-) When I type fast, I make a lot of them.

  9. Way late to the party here, but wanted to comment anyway. I've only skated in a Basic Skills Program, but I think it seems more fun than ISI because at least I passed something. I am stuck on being able to skate on one foot (my left). So while I passed Basic 1 last fall in ISI I would still be stuck in Pre-Alpha. And if I ever do get past this I can say I passed 3 levels before getting stuck on crossovers which look pretty scary. Just my random two cents.

  10. vibrant hubpages desing templates http://casinoonlinex.wordpress.com free online casino games