Jan 21, 2011

Just the one skill

One of your kid's rivals jumped 4 levels overnight. Talented adult skater can't do hockey stops because the coach said "it's not important" (at least until you try to stop really fast). Princess's PreJuv Moves test bombed because the she was toe pushing (making you wonder why they let her pass PrePre and Prelim). Don't even start on the axel. You can't do the axel because no one ever made you do a proper bunny hop.

Every skill is important.
  • You can't do a forward cross over without a forward one foot glide. Therefore, you must legitimately pass Basic 2/PreAlpha before starting to work on these.
  • You can't do a turn without a backwards one-foot glide. Therefore, you must legitimately pass Basic 3 AND 4/Beta (yeah, Basic Skills is weird with the turns) before attempting them.
  • You can't do a flip if your mohawks are "closed" (free foot finishes in front) rather than "open" (free foot finishes behind). Bet you didn't know that. It's because everyone lets skaters get away with the closed mohawk. You'd be amazed at the coaches I meet who don't know there's a difference.
Et cetera et cetera et cetera

Basic Skills, despite the unfortunate acronym, has that name for a reason. These skills are BASIC. This is not a euphemism for "easy," "boring," "pointless," or "too easy for my future Olympian to waste time on." You have to have strong basic skating-- stroking, crossovers, turns, and edges-- in order to have solid, safe jumps and spins that don't take years to learn. All those skaters struggling with the jumps have one thing in common: poor basic skills.

This is never the skater's fault. Parents and coaches let their egos and marketing goals get in the way of good sense.

You do not get to decide when to move the child up. I don't care if she's disappointed. I have a skater right now in a Freestyle 3 class who started deciding for herself to not repeat levels. She has never passed PreFreestyle, FS1 or FS2. At least I didn't pass her, and I had her in all those classes. Can't do edges. Doesn't know the warm up (which is what we learn in PreFree at my rink). We have a family that actually switches rinks each time the child doesn't pass, and then lies about passing at the other rink. The thing is, talented skaters can do all the skills credibly. But you know what, smart 2nd graders can read Milton. That doesn't mean they understand it. Whatever. Have fun with the axel.

Your kid needs to skate more. Your child is not going to be a good skater if you only come once a week. I don't care if it's class with Suzy from the high school, or a private lesson with the World Champion. Once a week skaters either never progress, even tho the coach may be moving them up just so you think they're earning their keep. Here's a clue: you're paying close to $40 for a half hour lesson. You. Have. Financial. Resources. People who can't afford this don't do it. You are being cheap. You are making choices about what to spend your discretionary money on. Which is fine. But then don't make faces when I tell you that the reason your child doesn't progress faster is they don't skate enough (and unlike some coaches, I'm not trying to get extra lessons. Bring the kid to public. Sign up for class. Whatever. Skate more!)

Stay in class. If the coach tries to bump the kid forward several levels, or in the middle of the session, just say no. Tell them, you know what, how about if you work on the advanced skills in the privates; the extra 5 weeks at Beta aren't going to kill the kid. Kids who are really ready to move up a level after only a couple of classes are rare as hen's teeth. Chances are, your kid isn't one of them. And even if they are, HOW CAN IT HURT TO GET ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTION IN THE BASIC SKILL? All that's happening if you move them in the middle of the session is the new coach is ignoring them, because they're too far behind to catch up and it's not fair to the kids who have put in the time. Plus, when I see a kid who is ready to move on, I move them on-- to a more advanced version of the skill at hand. Further, if I've got a class full of kids like that, I'll just start introducing the next set of skills anyway.

Skate as much as the coach says. If the coach says Princess needs to skate more, and has a good reason (a competition, a test, your frustration with her progress), then you need to use that common sense again and sign up for more ice. And no, the second lesson per week cannot be with her friend who's a Freestyle 4 skater. An 11-year-old is not the same as a rated coach. Refusing the advice of the coach regarding preparation for tests or competitions is just setting the kid up for failure.

STOP lying to parents. "She's so talented" "Beta is a waste of time." "All my skaters have their axels by the time they're 7" (that's my favorite-- it both pumps up the coach and blames the child if they can't do it.) The child's progress is not a marketing tool, and I'm tired of being blamed (well Xan wouldn't pass him, but Other Coach says he's ready for Delta. Therefore Xan is a bad teacher). I have plenty of students taking Gamma class and working on Waltz jumps in lessons. That kid is going to be the better skater.

Don't pass a skater who hasn't mastered every skill. Yes, all of us have skills we hate to fail a kid on. But I once made a child stay in Beta 5 times over T-stops (and god bless that parent who understood how important it was). The thing is, with skills like that, if you don't learn them in class no one is ever going to teach them to you. Especially if a kid who skates only in class, they need their skills solid before they move on, because they don't have a coach to fix them. This is why you see kids in Freestyle 5 doing those foot-dragging non-stops. You may not agree with the curriculum (trashing the curriculum is second only to trashing that other coach as a favorite coaching parlor game) but the skills are the skills. Further, that Beta student? She had KILLER back crossovers by the time she passed-- better than most freestyle skaters.

Don't complain about the level of coaching in the basic classes if you're not willing to teach them yourself. The only time I ever see the "top" coaches in Learn To Skate classes is when they realize they need fresh meat. They come in for a session to skim off the most talented students and then disappear back onto the freestyle ice.

And finally, for Skating Directors
Don't just rubber stamp the pass. Especially at the freestyle levels, make the kids skate to the proper standard. I don't care how good their axel is. If they toe-push their cross overs, they shouldn't pass Freestyle 5.


  1. The kids who can jump but can't stroke are frighteningly common.

    "You can't do the axel because no one ever made you do a proper bunny hop." I feel like the bunny hop is the most frightening jump. Probably it's the combination of the acceleration from a forward takeoff and the forward landing.

  2. You're absolutely right- bunny hop is a terrifying (and dangerous) jump for exactly the reason you say.

  3. I agree that if a skater is only taking group lessons, once a level is passed there is barely any chance to revisit elements that were not mastered properly. Fortunately I once had a great adult class where the coach not only pointed out deficiencies in my basic skating but worked with them as well. That kind of luxury is almost unimaginable in a regular group lesson that adheres closely to elements on a specific level.

  4. One coach at my rink skims off all the potentially talented little kids and to keep them interested and their parents impressed, teaches them jumps and spins and spirals when they can barely do forward crossovers. She teaches the cutest little girl who obviously loves skating, but can barely do crossovers, can't do three turns, struggles with drags, has never attempted a mohawk, and doesn't really get edges.

    This little girl "has" a toe loop (from a two foot turn instead of a three turn), upright spin (from skaky crossovers, a wobbly rotation and a step backwards out)

    I totally appreciate the need to keep kids interested, especially when they're very young. But if they think they can do a toe loop like that, they're gonna give up when they have to learn how to do it properly!

    I am SOOOO not having a go at the kid or her parents. Kid is happy, parents are happy. But her coach should, in my opinion, spend more time on the basics before trying to get the poor kid a program with spirals jumps and spins! She can't do any connecting steps.

  5. And its most important to know your child well. My princess LOVES to "complete" an element, cross it off as "done" and move onto the next big thing, usually a level or two above where she is skating. While the aspiration is great, she needs to do the work on making the things that are "complete" (in her head) higher quality. I'm just a parent, but even I can see the scars from crossovers not learned properly..and princess needs a coach to be the enforcer of quality. Every time we watch skating on TV I comment "look at those crossovers!" (as if where a triple axel)

  6. It's me again, Anon, Mom of princess with the opportunity to improve crossovers. What occurred to me after I posted, was that for me this isn't about skating really, but about learning some work ethic. You've got to work for it to earn it, and take pride in the persistent pursuit.

  7. That's the kicker, Anon. Work Ethic. Can I draw a horse? Absolutely. Can I draw one better? You bet. Gotta work at it, though.

    I really don't get the rush to get through levels. What's the hurry? Take your time, enjoy it. It's ice skating, not researching the cure for diseases. Yeesh.

    And Public Ice is cheap. If you get the annual pass at our rink and manage to get five hours of ice per week, you're paying about thirty five cents per hour. Just let them go skate. But kids, you gotta get over this Big Ice/Small Ice bias. I can't tell you how many of Stitch's Rink Friends "refuse" to skate on the Studio Rink, and this is tolerated by Parents. Newsflash; It's all ice, and it all skates.

  8. Because we kept going in and out of classes and lessons til she was 9, my daughter more or less learned how to skate doing every weekday public on the studio rink. And what she REALLY learned is that skating is fun.

  9. 95% of my skating practices happen on coned off public ice and I've been really happy. Studio will work for pre-freestyle but 2+ freestyle skater on studio public ice would make it nearly impossible, unless they all work on scratch spins :)

  10. These are Basic/Learn to Skate seven and eight year olds refusing to skate on Studio ice. Just kids that need to be physically on the ice in general, not need to really big rink just for the sake of itself. It's really sad, because the Big Rink is only open during school hours and once per weekend. "Susie just won't get on the little rink. She says it's too small for her." She's what, just out of toddler clothes?

  11. Once you get into freestyle it's hard, especially for adults, to practice on the small rink when it's crowded. But it's not always crowded. At Basic 7/8 it's starting to get hard to really practice on the studio. But beginners, thru Basic 5/Beta, just need mileage. Just get them out there skating. Kids who are interested will meet each other and start copying each other. They'll get bored just skating around and will start trying out the stuff that they do in class. But the main thing is, you gotta skate!

  12. Agreed - just get out there. Stitch got bored with his spins and was trying a backwards entry tonight. Can't disagree with that!