Apr 1, 2011

Ready or not

Is testing before you're ready a waste of everyone's time, or a good idea to just put it out there? And of course there's the always fraught skipping of levels, or dodging the class tests.

But how horrible is it, to test when you're not ready, or move yourself (or have your coach move you) along?

U.S. Figure Skating and the Professional Skaters Association consider it so awful to test before you're ready that it's actually in their codes of ethics that you will not schedule a test for a student who isn't ready for it. I have seen judges publicly lay into coaches whose students don't appear ready. USFS considers basic skills to be more important than free skating; you must pass each level's basic skills test-Moves in the Field-before you can qualify to test Free Skating. I don't care how big your 6-year old's waltz jump is. If her cross overs don't cross she's not going to be able to take the Pre-Preliminary Free Skate, because she's not going to pass Moves. In competitive figure skating, whether in the Nationals track of US Figure Skating, or the recreational track of USFS Basic Skills/Test Track or ISI, you cannot compete without testing.

But let's examine it.

Stop that skater!
It catches up with you. If the coach or parent or skater just keeps pushing through levels without objective evaluation, eventually the skater will get stuck. Something stops them-- USFS test judges, or the skater's own frustration, or a skill that even the most indulgent coach or parent can't finesse or bully their way past, typically the axel. If you're wondering why your coach has not suggested that your Freestyle 2 or 3 skater not do USFS Moves tests it's because, unlike other skaters at that level, yours has been pushed through and does not have the requisite skills.

Skates all the time
If your skater is skating a lot-- more than just a class, lesson and practice or two-- you can get away with muscling past the class tests. But this too has its pitfalls. If you skip basic levels, make sure your coach is actually teaching the missing skills in privates, and that your skater is drilling them in practice. Don't be impressed by tricks like spins and half jumps, which are easier for gifted, engaged skaters to acquire than are the workhouse skills like edges, proper stroking/crossovers and basic turns.

Second opinions
Don't be afraid of them. If you're planning to push your skater through, be you coach or parents, having that outside opinion can't hurt. It's what the entire structure of competitive skating is premised on--impressing people who don't know you. If your only evaluation is coming from people with a direct emotional or financial stake in the skater, like a parent or coach, you are not getting a trustworthy evaluation, especially if your skater seems to be moving way faster or way slower through the levels than other skaters with the same age, ability, and practice time. (And by the way, Basic Skills and ISI LTS level competitions don't count. The judging is too erratic from competition to competition.)

I get so nervous
I would take a skater who falls apart under pressure into pressure situations even before they're ready. Whether this means risking a public admonishment from a US Figure Skating judge, coming in last in a competition, or setting up an exhibition or practice test, sometimes putting it out there needs to be part of the lesson.

Respect for the profession
What does it tell a skater whose coach or parent keeps pushing them through the levels when another trained professional, like a judge or a class coach suddenly tells them "no." I can't tell you the number of children who stand in class arguing with me because their coach is handing them hooey about their technique or level. The skater has been taught that all the other coaches are wrong, or even against them.

Skills are confirmed through objective evaluation. Think about who is evaluating your skater. Are they really objective? If you're not getting tested, you need to think about what you're afraid of.


  1. I'm an adult skater holding steady at USFSA Basic Skills level 5. Younger skaters come through and pass onto the next level each lessons cycle - and they do eventually deserve to pass on - but it's funny to hear the consistent complaint that "edges are BORING" and "why do we have to keep doing crossovers? I KNOW these!"

    I ask them "Are you planning on competing?"

    Most all enthusiastically say "YES!"

    So I say, "Well, how do you intend to get from one jump and spin to the next? Swizzles? Scooting along on your bottom?"

    Not only is all the "boring stuff" important when it comes to learning jumps and spins, I think they don't sometimes quite get it that judges are looking at the the entire program, not just the fancy parts.

  2. As far as pressure situations, I recently read about one rink that has a practice session each Friday where parents all sit in the audience or along the sideline with clipboard, and the kids dress in their competition or test costumes and there is a "mock" competition or test. No real scores, of course. But just the feel of other people watching and sitting with clipboards. I thought this was a great idea!