Jan 19, 2011

Patches, stickers, and rewards

There are two primary curricula in figure skating schools, promoted by the Ice Skating Institute (called Learn To Skate or weSkate) and by US Figure Skating (Basic Skills). Many rinks also use their own curricula, although my sense is that this is getting rarer; using an established curriculum means that standards are starting to, well, standardize nationwide. You can now move from Chicago to Tucson, and if you tell the ice rink there "I was in Basic 4" or "I just passed Delta" they know pretty much where to put you, regardless of the curriculum that they use.

Along with the curricula, come bells and whistles. Basic Skills in particular sends lots of fun stickers and pictures and posters and progress books. You're also automatically a member of Basic Skills when you register for a basic skills program. You don't have to sign up separately. ISI has patches for registering tests, but you have to join ISI, on your own (rather than through the rink, with them handling the paperwork) which I think is just a barrier to membership.

Anyway, the patches and stickers and poster are a great way to motivate kids, to promote figureskating...

And to drive skating coaches and directors to insanity.

The problem is carrying all this stuff, and coordinating the awards. Basic Skills has sticker books. The kid gets a book, listing all the skills, with a sheet of stickers. The teacher is supposed to put the sticker in the book when the skater masters the skill. Here's what actually happens:

1. The kid gets the book on the first day of class, and yay! stickers! All stickers go immediately into random spots in the book, if you're lucky, and on the car window if you're not.
2. The kids who haven't used up all the stickers already bring the book, as instructed on the last day of class. The teacher is now juggling 14 books and trying to remember which kid gets which sticker. This all has to happen in the last 5 minutes of class, because the parents aren't paying you to put stickers in some stupid book.
3. Unless of course, you don't manage to get the stickers into the book, making Princess cry, and what kind of skating teacher are you, anyway.
4. The kids who DON'T pass and therefore aren't entitled to stickers want stickers anyway, because kids today get rewarded for simply breathing, which I guess they wouldn't be motivated to do if they didn't get stickers.
5. The kids who pass some things but not others want to know why they can't just pass to the next level anyway, since they have stickers (plus I'm still unclear on what prevents them from simply putting the stickers in their own books.)

ISI doesn't overload you with crap to carry around, and intelligently does not trust children with stickers; what they have are patches.

The patches are great-- they're major bling for one thing, and look pretty cool on a bag or jacket. In the past, ISI membership was so cheap-- just $7--that rinks could work it into the cost of a class. Rinks also used to award the patches--I can remember the skating director having a drawful of patches that you got when you passed a test; I never paid for one, and my daughter's got all but the last two (FS 9 & 10, oh was that me bragging?) but apparently now they make you pay $3 per patch. Budget cuts, I assume. I haven't heard of anyone getting their ISI patch in years at my rink; I don't think they tell parents about this. You have to be motivated enough to learn about it on your own. Don't know about other rinks, but ISI still makes patches, so someone must be doing it.

The problem with the patches, is, when do you award them? I've suggested doing it in class, but of course you run up against the everyone's a winner in modern America problem: what about the kids that don't pass? They'll feel bad when they don't get a patch! Musn't have that. How do you know the kid's an ISI member? This costs $25 now, and the benefits of ISI membership are really unclear. Magazine? meh. Compete? meh. Test? Don't you do that in class anyway? You could just award it for passing the class, although some rinks will tell you that class standard is lower than "test" standard (gosh, you mean I could have been "cuting" all those kids up, rather than making them actually master the skill? Stupid me), plus the patch is supposed to denote that you've formally registered the test with ISI, and there's that $25 fee that parents aren't going to pay (did I mention that you have to pay it every year?). Also, parents can't register tests. Only rinks can register tests, and trust me, skating directors have better things to do than help ISI increase their membership.

So what to do. My crankiness and poor juggling skills aside, the bling is a nice reward for mastering a set of skills. ISI and Basic Skills membership does help keep families in skating. So how do you get the bling into the hands of the kids that have earned it?


  1. Even as an adult, I the love patches.
    I don't sew them to a jacket or my skate bag, but I do keep them on my bulletien board at home with my synchro medals.

    My problem is that the classes I took are so random. I passed Basic 3 and 4, changed rinks and went to Adult 2, changed rinks and went to Gamma, then they changed their system and I passed Basic 7 and 8. URGH- that would not be a pretty jacket. (Then Freestyle 1, 2, and 3, in both systems)

    My coach registered my ISI tests, not the rink (which isn't an ISI rink). Maybe it's because he runs his own ISI "club" that he can do that? (The rink is no longer ISI, our synchro team paid it for awhile so we could continue, but then the team disappeared. The coach has a "club" that he takes a huge number of kids to World's each year- I don't know what rink it's affiliated with though, as it's not ours)

    Our LTS program gives the kids the USFS books, but then we teachers never see them again. They also sell the patches. I suppose a parent could just go buy all of them- there is no "awarding" them going on.

    Because I had to buy all my USFS basic skills patches, after I passed my "real" tests, I went on the USFS website and bought those too. Bronze MITF is my crowning achievement right now- so I wanted that o be on my patch wall!

    Oh- and I don't think passing a kid in ISI who can't pass the "test" standard is "cuting" them up. I think the manual tells you to move the kid to the next class even if they are stuk on one move... they just don't pass the test.

  2. Skittl, that's a very good point about programs jumping around. Plus, any ISI program can register a test, but it has to be a program because of the way their scoring system is set up. I'm involved in a program called Ice Reach and we're registering the program with ISI AND Basic Skills for that reason.

    As far as passing kids up even though they're missing just one skill, absolutely not. The test is the test. Neither Basic Skills nor ISI manuals have an option for passing a kid just because they're stuck. You have to pass the test to pass.

  3. I swear there is a comment in the ISI manual about allowing kids to move to the next level even if they haven't passed the test.
    Or maybe it was in the coaches magazine? I was registerd as a coach for a few years because I was needed as a judge.

    However, it is made clear in wherever I saw the statement that they haven't passed the level, and can't test the next level or compete any higher. Just that a program shouldn't make a kid do FS3 eight times in a row if it's clear they aren't going to get the change foot spin for awhile. Just work on it outside class until it's time to try the test again, but in the meantime, let the kid take the FS4 class.

  4. I see what you're saying. I'll have to see if that's in the manual, but actually at Crown we're pretty strict at the freestyle levels (some coaches less so than others); many rinks do combined classes, so you're getting the higher-level skills while working on the passing standards for the prior level. But that's an interesting post topic! Thanks for the idea.

  5. In the UK Skate UK is the standard learn to skate system, then Skate UK Star takes you up to toe loop, salchow, upright spin and a basic program. For all those you're tested by your coach and they sign a book (the skate uk one is free, the skate uk star is about £18 but comes with a "free" skatebag). For all these you can get a certificate and badge, rinks may or may not charge for these.

    After that you're onto NISA tests, which are judged by external judges, and I'm pretty sure no badges or certificates for those. There's different streams of tests for field moves, elements, free (program), compuslory dance, free dance, original dance and pairs.

    I love getting the badges and sewing them onto my skatebag! They're a reminder of how hard i had to work to get them!

  6. I received the little book and the stickers in an envelope to take home. The coaches don't even touch the books. Instead, they have a sheet with all 8 levels on it, and they check off each element in whatever level is being tested. There's a freestyle sheet too, with all 6 levels. That tends to be what the coaches refer to. The sheets are taken home by the kids on Evaluation Day (week 7) and certificates are handed out on Last Day (week 8).

    I just use the book as reference and I put the little stickers in it myself. I ran out of stickers somewhere around FS2, and started using a gold pen instead. Since I'm working on double jumps now, I rarely delve into the book. All I have left is some spins and spiral sequences (I'm technically in FS5- stupid camel spin.)

    1. My daughter just started skating lessons this winter (USFS Basic Skills) and they do it pretty much this way, too. They clearly test on the second to last week, and then re-test on the final week, and every kid gets an evaluation sheet that checks off which skills passed and which need more work, and a note of whether you passed or not. I like that the kids can't immediately tell who is passing or not, because all the sheets look the same.

      You have to stop by the desk in the lobby to pick up your patch (and book if you're new to the program) if you passed. The patches (and book) are free. Unfortunately, dd's rink doesn't even tell people about the patches - I learned about it from another mom who found out after her daughter had already passed three levels. (They are nice and will give one all the appropriate patches in that situations.) But, WHY don't they TELL people about it? Rinks seem so prone to assuming that everyone knows how everything works! Most annoying.

      The USFS gives a lot of stickers, all shaped like a little skater. The spot for each sticker is outlined in the same shape, but is a little bit larger than the sticker, which makes it impossible to get all the white space inside the outline covered by the sticker, never mind covering up the outline. As someone who likes things neat and tidy, this irks me. I like the idea of using a gold pen.

    2. Anon, if rinks told people things, we wouldn't need this blog ;)

  7. High summer on the middle of the road, sixteen of us in pairs marching down the highway eating crackers and Cheez Whiz from a can. Each of us has precisely thirty percent of our body weight strapped to our backs, measured as precisely as an old bathroom scale can get, but as the miles wear on the accusations of more or less weight become more virulent. Last night someone heard what was surely a bear outside the tent, so the pair scrambled out and into someone else's tent thinking there's safety in numbers. The dawn greeted eight feet sticking out the flap that measured no more than thirty inches square. Those four are cranky, since the "bear" was actually a raccoon that made off with their packets of ramen and dried peaches. The wooded hillside was strewn with evidence of the raid, scattered panties and tampons only serving to humiliate them further. We've been walking for four days, it's a hundred degrees in the shade, and the aroma of the Huff and Puff Cat Food factory wafts over the inlets, making sure the Cheez Whiz lasted as long as it did.

    The wooden sign of the Home Camp comes into view, and a weak cheer rises from the bedraggeled group. Talk immediately goes from blistered feet to showers, and then to the prospect of fresh dairy and fruit. Counselors promise a dip in the pool as soon as possible.

    That night, over a fire with marshmallows that leave sticky traces on bruised knees, we get our backpacking patch. It's two inches round, embroidered with a sharp looking blue pack embellished in gold that looks nothing like our filthy packs. Some of them got stitched back together with thick white twine someone found in a gulley after the possum incident. My tentmate looks at me and I look at her, and there's a moment in the firelight and starlight where the wind rushes over in a sharp and cool relief of the hard days behind us.

    You'll pry that patch out of my cold, dead hands.

  8. Skate Mom, I kept waiting for Mysteria to show up.

    Anon-- Basic Skills wants the coach to do the stickers. Every BS (haha) program I've been in does it the way you describe, because really folks, what the hell?

    Turnip- USFS has this delusion that this is what will happen in the US too, through something called the "Bridge" program, but I'm not optimistic.

  9. Our rink includes ISI membership in the cost- so we don't have to sign up separately if you sign up for the Learn-To-Skate classes. The rink people enter all the info for us- even when we do competitions in house! When you pass a class, we have a paper that shows our scores.... if you want the patches- you test separately with the person in charge of ISI at the rink- this is the test that determines competition eligibility. So a kid could be in FS1 class, but only passed the gamma test. The idea is that the test/competition level is higher than the class level- not that you haven't mastered the skill in class, but that competition level skills are much higher than recreation. I don't mind this double system at all- I get to advance my skills in group and work on perfecting all the nitpicking technical stuff in private lessons for tests.

    As an adult skater, I love testing and getting the patches- it feels more official. I'm in the FS4 class now, but only have tested through FS2...and I'm about to transition over to USFS, so I'm working on the Pre-Bronze things. I hope I get a patch :-)

  10. Oh I really sympathize with you coaches out there. Once saw a coach passing stickers to kids on testing day and jokingly asked for one too. But she did not give me any, lol. Since my rink is ISI, it was probably just for fun.

    I for one think some coaches at my rink are not very strict about passing kids up. As long as there is potential for you to improve a rusty skill on you own, they may pass you. Sometimes it's the sympathy factor - Susie has taken this level N times and her X spin is just one revolution less than required. Oh and 2 years after passing gamma I still don't have a hockey stop! Coach at the time just said it's not important.

  11. Anonymous-- that's a reasonable system. You can be competing 1-2 levels below the skills you're working on; this makes sense-- you compete the level you've tested, not the level you're learning. This can be taken to extremes-- someone in FS4 should not be competing in Gamma, and you shouldn't hold off tests on skills you have mastered so that you can win competitions. That's called sandbagging, and it's cheating. In ISI in particular, people will often skip several program tests (you only have to do a program for the highest level you are testing) just because it's more efficient, and saves money and time. I've got a student right now I'll probably keep in Gamma for competitions until she's ready to test FS2. (Her class level is FS1)

    jjane-- and there you have in a nutshell the problem with passing skater who haven't mastered "just one skill" because it "isn't important." If the skill isn't important, why is it in the curriculum, and why would you even try to master it? For a skater like you, a hockey stop shouldn't be hard, and certainly shouldn't take 2 years to learn. But what's your motivation to learn it now?

  12. Xan, I haven't been serious with hockey stops until evil 60 seconds drills came up :) T-stops just won't cut it. And all the fancy show stops seem to build on hockey stops too...

    From hindsight, the skating curriculum is very well structured that levels build on each other and no element can be slighted.