Nov 7, 2010

Skating books

I know from my stats that the most popular posts on here are the "how-to's" (most beloved by people who are taking private lessons, making me wonder exactly what their coaches aren't teaching them), and there are a couple of books that you should know about.

My copy of Figure Skating for Dummies has mysteriously gone missing, (as has my copy of Coaching Hockey for Dummies, hmmm), so unfortunately I can't point you to any specific advice that I liked or didn't. It's great-- starts at "fall down, get up" and goes all the way through triple jumps. Unlike a lot of other "how to" books on skating it really is geared to people who do not already know the basic terminology, so you can follow it even if you've never been on skates. Ostensibly written by Kristi Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton, which I take with a little (okay, a giant) grain of salt. The overly-cute language and illustrations of these books can be grating, but the information is flawless.

I used this book a lot when I started teaching because it has a really good ordering of skills. Unfortunately, it has not been updated in more than a decade, so the sections on competitions and judging are outdated to the point of uselessness. It doesn't even show up on the website as a selection. There are always a few available on Amazon.

At the other end of the how-to spectrum is the book that is the closest thing to a technique Bible as you'll find, John Misha Petkevich's Figure Skating Championship Techniques, from Sports Illustrated. Petkevich also starts with swizzles, but his language is a little more technical and dense, and the illustrations (photos of skaters Brian Boitano and Tracie Brown) are hard to follow if you don't already understand the skill. He also sometimes arranges them from right to left, for some impenetrable reason, but not always. (I also believe that some of the photos are actually reversed, probably an editing error, where the editor put the transparency wrong side up, so that the skater appears to be jumping or spinnng clockwise instead of counterclockwise, again very confusing for someone who doesn't understand the skill.)

This book is laid out the way a coach thinks about skating-- with basic concepts, common errors, and standard corrections for hundreds of skills and variations. It also includes a lot of skills that are seldom taught anymore, let alone used in competition, like the open axel, double walley, and various flying spins.

Several years ago I found a marvelous little self-published gem in a remainder box at Rainbo Sport Shop. The Skaters Manual by Kenny Isely is part history of skating, part technical manual, and part diatribe against the United States Figure Skating Association, the clubs and various individuals, by name. I actually found 10 copies on Amazon this morning, although it's not always there. Includes wonderful information, not available anywhere else, on boot and blade mechanics and care. A truly unique and marvelous little book.

There is a terrific workbook on School Figures called "Figure It Out" which includes drawings, coaching, and execution tips for all of the old school figures. I had borrowed a copy from someone who made me give it back and then lost it. If anyone can find this book for me, I would pretty much mortgage my oldest child to own it.

Finally in the how-to is the mother of them all: Lynn Copley-Graves' The Evolution of Dance on Ice. There are usually a few on Amazon, and they turn up on Powell's Used Books as well. Hands down this is my favorite geek skating book; a comprehensive (to say the least) scholarly treatise, it demonstrates how free figures from the late nineteenth century eventually became ice dance. It shows every single world championship free figure ever laid out, season by freaking season. It shows how the "European Waltz" morphed into the "American Waltz" and traces the controversy, which sometimes literally came to blows, over which one was more "correct." (A lot of dance coaches still roll their eyes over the 3-turns in the American. You gotta love ice dance coaches.) It also relates the history of clubs and explains their rise and eventual fall as powers in figure skating. If you ever wondered why they always announce the club that a skater "represents" at U.S. Nationals, this book tells you.

If you're a skating uber-geek, get this book.

Do you have a skating "how to" book that I don't know about?


  1. The Complete Book of Figure Skating by Carole Shulman. I find it more approachable than Petkevich's book.

    Fall down & get up works better for me than reading. Must be one of those kinetic learners.

  2. I found a book on called Figure it Out, is this the book you are looking for? There are lots of other figure skating books are great prices listed at great prices on

  3. Xan - there is rumored to be a book on figure skating technique written by the Soviets that no skater was allowed to bring out of the country. I think some have though. Ask a Russian skater and they probably will know about this, but they may not acknowledge it. That would be the book I'd like to read.

  4. Oops - when I said "bring out of the country" I should have said bring out of the Soviet Republics ... because I think this book stretched into the Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and others.

  5. Jenny, I'll ask my PSA "mentor," who is a Ukrainian skater out of the old Soviet system. Of course, it will be in Russian...

  6. Thanks for doing this post. These books are on my official holiday wish list.

  7. Kenny was my coach starting when I was three years old. I have many copies of his book in storage. I am looking for them now.