Jul 11, 2011

Whose goal is more important?

I talk a lot about goals on this blog, and I think they're important not just for skaters, but for living. You don't need a GTD® list for daily living or anything, but should generally know where you're going.

The trick with goals of course, is making sure that yours are aligned-- with your child's, your spouse's, your boss's, the universe, and of course, and perhaps most importantly, with the coach.

Skating parents need to practice the following phrase:

"I want..."

...my child to earn all the patches
...to take two lessons a week
...to skate every day
...to find a way to cover costs
...to have him progress faster
...to not have to worry about progress
...to compete
...not to compete
...fill in the blank

You get the picture.

When taking on a student, coaches have a couple of different approaches-- they've privately "vetted" the skater, watching to see if this is a skater with a similar philosophy to their own, regarding work ethic, practice commitment, personality; or they take a student on and then assess how to deal with them. Should they compete? Shall I push a little more or a little less? What kind of time/cost/seriousness can this skater handle?

These are all non-judgmental questions, but coaches look at these things to figure out how to deal with the kids.

Most coaches will have a rough timeline in mind for their skaters.

They don't all bother to share this information with the parents, and even fewer parents share their own ideas with coaches, out of a misguided idea that they don't know enough about skating.

For a recreational skater, the family's/skater's goal is primary. All that's at stake is the skater's interest in skating, so the skater needs to be satisfied. This does not mean that the family and the skater get to choose the content of the lessons. It means if the family doesn't want to compete, they don't compete, and if they can't afford 4 lessons a week, the coach shouldn't make them feel bad about it by comparing their progress to skaters who skate more. (Point it out yes, disparage the student, no).

For a competitive student, the coach's plan takes precedence. If you've chosen to compete at any level, then you have to let the coach get the student to the appropriate skill level. No pushing or holding back, and definitely no micromanaging the lessons.

In other words, it's not whose goal is most important at all. It's making sure that everyone understands what the goals are.


  1. "everyone understands what the goals are": So true - it seems to me that this has to be a collaborative effort with everyone on the same page, or what is the point?

    As a parent, I feel like my primary role is to help facilitate the goals as the funding source and the cheerleader. And to ensure that the lines of communication about them remain open.

    Also, I think the desire that informs the goals has to come from the skater (at least when they reach a certain age, I guess the tiny tots are another matter). No one can want it for you. I've certainly seen parents try to push their own agenda on kids, and it's not good. My kid knows that she owns this - it is up to her to work hard and use her practice/lesson time well.

  2. This is why I am glad that me and my coach have very simmilar goals before I even asked her to coach me. She does make sure that we stay on track but there are sometimes the slight change due to me going back to my old rink for university holidays but once term time happens the pattern starts again!

    She even gives me a list of what she wants me to work on outside of term time to try to keep on track with the goals!

  3. Can you give some insights on coaches goals? How many of them (at your typical municipal rinks) realistically think that some percentage of their students have a shot at nationals and are really pushing toward that goal. How important is it to their own personal goals that their students enter recreational comps and do well. Its easy for me to contemplate the skater/parents goals and what they have vested in them but the coaches are more of an enigma to me.

  4. Not all coaches have the goal of getting students to Nationals. I take special needs kids, struggling beginners, etc. In my wildest nightmare I wouldn't want a competitive kid. Some coaches will only do ISI track. You can tell what a coach's general goals are by the type of student they take on-- do all of their students compete? That's a competitive coach. Do at least some of their students go to Regionals every year? Those coaches are looking to train National skaters. Do they only have high freestyle kids? Don't take them a beginner. Et cetera.

  5. I think it also important that coach/student/parents continue to discuss goals on a regular basis. We have a young (very talented) girl at our rink. At the start the family didn't really want to do private lessons, but one of the coaches pushed for it, so they started the lessons. The girl didn't want to wear skating dresses, now the mom makes her costumes. At the most recent qualifying competition (her first), the girl placed in multiple events. After this the parents (super happy and proud) said in a sort of bewildered way, "You know, when we started, we only wanted to learn how to go backwards!"

    Now, I think you could argue that the coach's goals (to have a national-level skater) were not aligned with the family goals (learn basic skating), but the girl likes skating, the family is happy with her progress, and the coach has a national-level skater. I think goals can be constantly changing, so it is important that this discussion is held on a regular basis with the coach.

  6. T.S. exactly-- some of it is education, in both directions. Very few parents bring their 4 or 5 yr old in and say "we want a national champion." Mostly it's that they come for fun, and the goal evolves.

  7. So do those coaches that are motivated by having national level skaters stop teaching their students as they age out of that possibility? I still have no idea how all the USFS stuff works, but I remember your saying that if a kid did not have a solid axel by the time they were 10 it was pretty much too late to compete at junior nationals (why is this anyway? Its all so confusing).

  8. I think it would depend on the coach and whether they *only* take nationally-competitive students, or whether they have a range of competitive kids. The skaters also sort themselves out; it's not just the coach that has a say. Benchmarks like "axel by age 10" are just a comparison to an average and have to do with physiology and simple time. It will be interesting to see if 2011 Junior Men's champ Jason Brown can overcome his deficit--no triple axel even attempted in competition as a Junior, which is very unusual.

    So you can break these "rules."

  9. Can he still compete in junior nationals or does he now have to compete as an adult after becoming junior mens champ? Are there set ages for these things, oh source of all knowledge in the skating universe ;-)

  10. anonymom- USFS is quite confusing. The Junior Men's champ Xan is talking about did not compete at junior nationals, but at the regular nationals in the junior level.

    Junior Nationals is for young (lower levels) skaters: juvenile and intermediate level.

    "Regular" Nationals is for older (higher level) skaters: Novice, Junior, and Senior level. The Senior level is considered "Championship" level.

    Generally, skaters do move up after winning a title, however, it is not required, with one exception. BUT if you win novice or junior and do not move up to the next level, the rulebook requires that you compete at sectionals the next year to earn your spot (generally high ranked skaters get "byes" to nationals). I'm assuming Jason Brown will compete as a senior this year, but I'm not 100% sure. The exception is for intermediate level champion. I don't know why, but that's what the rulebook says (winner of the US Junior National Championships is ineligible to compete at that level again).

    I believe that last year was the first year there was a repeat Novice champion (Men's: Nathan Chen. He repeated because he is a prodigy- first novice title was at 10, and his coach didn't want him to move up and risk burnout/injury. As much as I understand the "don't sandbag mentality, staying at novice makes sense for an 11 year old whose bones are not ready for a triple axel! He is working on one now, apparently) He is moving up to juniors this year, but at 12 is to young to compete internationally as a junior.

    *on a side note, another confusion is that international juniors are an AGE level, not an ability. Many of USA's seniors compete internationally as juniors.

  11. Thanks! And YIKES how do you guys know all this stuff and keep it all straight!. So how old are most "novice" level skaters at Nationals?

  12. Novice level skaters in singles range in age from 10 to 19, at which point they "age out." The Ladies tend to move up at a younger age, because puberty does not work for them the way it does for the men. In dance, you'll have novice level up to age 23; dancers tend to be older. Again, at 23 they have to move up. Jason Brown also repeated a level, even though he was the gold medalist, can't remember if it was Intermediate or Novice, and again, it was because he was very young. He was also quite young for a Junior man- just 15.

  13. Oh, and collegiate competitions have different age categories, just in case you're not confused enough.

  14. So when you say a coach wants to take a kid to nationals you are meaning this Novice/Junior/Senior Nationals and not the Junior Nationals (where I am guessing from the ages above the kids are very young and skating at a pre-axel level?
    (Yep quite confused enough without adding in collegiate)

  15. "Jason Brown also repeated a level, even though he was the gold medalist, can't remember if it was Intermediate or Novice, and again, it was because he was very young."

    Well, unless the rule is new, he couldn't have won Intermediate and then gone back. (Though he could have stayed at the level, and not gone to Junior Nats.)

    Wikipedia only lists him as competing novice once (the 2008-2009 season where he won bronze), winning juniors, and then placing 9th in seniors this year. (So he already moved up).

    They don't do resutls below novice, so if he did repeat a level at a nationals it seems like it would have to be juvenile (unless the rule about intermediate is new).

    Max Aaron is the current junior champ.

  16. Anonymom- here are the protocols from Junior Nationals- it will give you an idea of what kind of elements are completed. This is not pre-axel levels.
    http://www.usfigureskating.org/leaderboard/results/2011/68093/results.html (click the event, then choose "judge detail scores)
    In the freeskate the winning intermediate man and lady both landed two triples and a double axel.

    Most coaches are proud to have students make it to junior nationals, as it is part of the "eligible" track (they have to qualify), but it definetly doesn't have the prestige of senior nationals, at any level.

    At our rink, it is unusual for skaters even to go to regionals, so junior nationals would be a huge deal- but we do have a coach who has taken a pair to nationals, and a coach who occasionally comes down who has had singles at nationals.

  17. giggle so now that leaves me even more confused b/c Jason Brown medaled at Nationals (not Junior Nationals) with double axel not triple so what differentiates "Junior Nationals" from "Nationals"
    Sorry to be so ignorant!!

  18. Juvenile level just changed so that a skater must be under 14 years old by September 1 to compete. (It used to be under 13 by September 1; of note that some competitions don't follow this rule, but USFSA Regionals and Nationals do.)

    My daughter competes Juvenile and places about mid-pack with her highest jump a solid double flip with lots of air time. Most girls we see at this level are between 10 and 12, but some as young as 9. Girls who medal at bigger competitions at Juvenile level have a solid double lutz-double toe/loop combination, double flip-double toe/loop combination, a solid axel (often with a "feature" - hand over head, etc.) National level Juveniles often have a double axel. At the top competitions, there is no room for under-rotated jumps or wonky anything if you want to medal. The kids who did well at Jr.Nationals at Juvenile level last year kids were solid technicians and performers who seemed to compete at least once a month starting in April/May up until Regionals in October. Did they need to? I don't know. But by Regionals, you could tell the "seasoned" competitors.

    We've seen a few double axel tries by Juveniles already at May Day Open and Chesapeake Open, but none exceptional.

    To place well at Juvenile, solid level 3/4 spins are a must.

    To make it more interesting, often a successful Juvenile skater with jumps all the way through double lutz won't make the transition to Intermediate well unless they start to put some heft and height behind their jumps. Small, "spinny" double jumps won't translate to triples, nor do they get marked as well as jumps that actually look to leave the ground. A lot of people who watch "unseen" skaters hold their breath to see whether girls can keep their jumps past puberty and begin to put the whole package together with strong technical (the "tricks") score and strong program component scores (the second score: skating skills, choreography, transitions, interpretation...one more...darn.)

    By 14, USFSA skaters need to move up to Intermediate level, but the bronze medalist last year at Nationals was 11yo with double axel and triple salchow. Regional and National Intermediate level winners lately have a double axel and one or two triples. However, you can compete successfully at smaller competitions without double axel or triples.

    There are a few cases of kids starting as late as 9 or 10 and doing well. This seems more usual with boys than girls, although still rare. There is one Japanese female skater who (supposedly) started skating at 10 years old and who is 14 now and skated at last year's Nationals with triples. However, the rest of her skating looked decidedly non-senior level.

    We're in a holding breath stage with my 12yo. It takes a combination of talent, work, kindness on behalf of the puberty gods, and keeping normal teenage angst/rebellion in check. She has other options, of course. But for the goal in her sites right now, she has to toe the line and listen to her coach. No deviations.

  19. The USFSA Qualifying Levels are Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, Senior.

    There are 9 geographical Regions which get divided into three Sections. http://www.sk8stuff.com/f_basic_ref/regions_table.htm

    Every fall, USFSA Regions hold Regional competitions from Juvenile - Senior.

    Juvenile and Intermediate (the two lowest levels) do not go to Sectional competitions. They go directly to Junior Nationals. It's only Juvenile and Intermediate skaters.

    Novice, Junior, and Senior skaters go to Sectionals, and the top winners at sectionals go on to Nationals.

    To make it more confusing, this is all going to change after next year. No more Junior Nationals. Everyone goes to Sectionals and then Nationals.

  20. It's not just about jumps- there are all the spins, footwork, program components ("artistic") and program length is different. Not to mention jump quality (grade of execution). There is a big difference between a double axel and a DOUBLE AXEL! (Adam Rippon, for example is an excellent senior level skater, known for doing a triple lutz with both of his hands over his head. He struggles with his triple axel, so in many competitions he's only does a double axel, or has his triple down graded. His double axel doesn't look anything like a low level one. Hopefully he'll be getting his triple axel consistent soon, he lands it a lot at national competitions, and slightly less so at the international ones. He really has the goods to be top tier.)

    Jason, as a junior, also likely (but I don't know) had a full arsenal of triples, while the intermediate kids only had the low triples, and not all of them can do them, only the kids who are winning.

    I can't find Jason's protocols from when he won the Junior level, but I found the protocols from this year when he competed as a senior. He also only did a double axel, it appears he was the highest ranking competitor to not do a 3A. But then, as you look down the list, many other skaters (senior level, the highest level) also only did 2A's. So not every senior man, or junior man, can do a triple axel. It is just rare to WIN as a junior man without a triple axel. Remember, the level tests are much easier than the requirements to be highly competitive at the level, so you can take the test to go to the next level without being at the top of your current level.

    Try going to youtube and watching a few programs. That will make it very easy to see the difference between junior nationals and the junior level.

    Here is the 2011 intermediate winner (the "junior national champion") http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeyWf8nMjeo&feature=related He is very very good, but there is a whole level of maturity in the skating of the higher level skaters.

    Here is Jason Brown as a junior (last year) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEh0bm-oRtM

  21. I didn't mean to give the impression that it's all about jumps. That just seems to be the part that stands out most clearly when trying to explain the differences. :-) I still don't always understand what's going on with footwork.

    And yes, a skater can pass the USFSA Senior Level test without a double axel. Juvenile level test highest jump is the axel. That's another tough one to explain.

    Spins...oye. Here's as good a primer for levels and GOE as I've ever seen:


    And to all that, you gotta do it while looking pretty. ;-)

  22. Dalia Rivkin, 2011 *Jr. Nationals* Juvenile level gold medalist


  23. TOAM - So when does the 'switch' happen from local skater to bigger and better things? When do you go from one coach to an arsenal of coaches? Does your coach say something? Does it happen between prepre and preliminary?

    How do you know what the goals are if you are a parent who has no idea? Right now dd just goes to "skate". Do you just say... "I want to know what you see in dd's skating future over the next year"?

  24. That's a long answer, and I'm on my way to work (to pay for skating, lol!)

    The short answer for us was about No Test Level when other coaches and parents started coming up to me, my daughter, her coach saying the equivalent of "She's got something there." The most important thing her coach keeps mentioning is her work ethic and her fearlessness. After that, each level we re-evaluate and treat each year as a "let's see what happens."

  25. Why are they eliminating the Junior National competitions and will they then fold the juvenile and intermediate levels into Nationals?

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. @anonymous 4:39
    For us it happened at the pre-juvenile level. Coach had talked about different tracks at non-test, but really as a heads up, these are the options education. At Pre-Juvenile, DS made a decision to push to Juvenile level to see if he could qualify for Junior Nationals. He hasn't looked back since. It is a combination of you researching, talking to other competitors who are at those levels, finding out what your skater wants and your coach talking to you about options or plans.

    Don't wait for your coach to educate you on everything. Go out and read things USFS site, brochures, talk to parents at your rink, read Xan's blog. Then if you have questions you can bring them up to your coach. By knowing something about what the options are, you can see which if any fit your skater best and help your coach to understand your skater and your family better. I don't mean dictate, but learn from your coach, but don't expect your coach to be your only education, they are there for your child, not you. Be proactive as I believe you are already by visiting this blog. :) HTH

  28. Great comments!

    RE: Coaches
    “They don't all bother to share this information with the parents, and even fewer parents share their own ideas with coaches, out of a misguided idea that they don't know enough about skating."

    True dat! DS's coach has never said anything about an end "goal" and I like it that way. We will see what will happen, where it will take him (he knows what DS’s goals are, we’ve talked about that over the years). There are so many things that can get in the way of being a "National Skater." Injuries, teenage attitude, growth spurts, non-growth spurts. I appreciate this “unspoken policy”. I never feel like he's stringing us along by saying "DS can be an Olympic skater" and on the other hand, DS and I don’t hear “You’ll never be able to do that...”’

    Coach plans for the future, but works in the present. Mental expectations or limitations can create reality, and if Coach labeled DS ahead of time as a no-go years ago, he would not be where he is now. Sure, it would be nice to hear outright that he will get to Nationals or that he will be an Olympic skater, but the reality of it is that no one can predict the future. Saying it will not make it true. It’s all about the hard work and the NOW. I think that what DS does daily is the reality (and we see where he is by this), not what he might potentially do in 10 years.

    I see other families at the rink who’s moms get on board and start pushing once a coach says...”she can do it” (exactly what I am not sure) and it makes skating less fun and more like work for the kids. These moms might actually get in the way of this potential with their pushiness.

    Skating is a marathon, I see so many families treating it like a sprint. I think that this contributes to burn out.

    “For a competitive student, the coach's plan takes precedence. If you've chosen to compete at any level, then you have to let the coach get the student to the appropriate skill level. No pushing or holding back, and definitely no micromanaging the lessons.”

    Parents need to get out of the way. Why pay a coach for their expertise if you are not going to let them use it? Let your coach do their job. If you don’t trust that they will do a good job, then why did you hire them in the first place? Most of us have to learn to let go, but at a certain point in their competitive careers, it does more harm than good for the parents to put in their two cents on purely coaching issues.

  29. @anonymom: re: Junior Nationals: I would be interested to hear the official answer to this Governing Council change. What I have heard is that there are a few reasons. One is that creating a chance for the Juvenile and Intermediate levels to compete around the upper levels shows them that JNs is not an end point, but a beginning. I guess lots of competitors in the past quit once they got to Junior Nationals because it was an end goal for them.
    The second one is the speculation that it is a cost cutting measure. By consolidating the competition, it will save money. [aside: Too bad because (speaking from a boy point of view) JNs is an incredible experience and it is one of the only way that boys can compete against 40 other boys. Coaches think that this helps to keep boys skating. I agree. ]
    I think that the competition is going to be at the same venue or area, same time frame, but not at the exact same time. But I haven’t seen anything in writing about it.

  30. Link from USFS http://www.usfsa.org/Story.asp?id=46049

    310. APPROVED - Competitions Committee
    Made the following changes to the qualifying competition structure:

    1. Have the four best-placed competitors in the intermediate and juvenile singles events in each region qualify to enter the appropriate sectional championship.

    2. Replace the current U.S. Junior Championships stand-alone event with a smaller national competition for juvenile and intermediate athletes held in conjunction with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

    3. Have the four best-placed competitors in all intermediate and juvenile events (singles, pairs and ice dancing) from each section qualify to enter the national competition mentioned in item 2 above.

    Implementation date: September 1, 2012

    Most talk I've heard - speculation - is that it's money. Less expensive to add-on Juvenile and Intermediate to "big" Nationals. Of course, it's more expensive for skaters who now have to finance trips to Sectionals. Of course, if you're in it for a penny, you're in for a pound.

    It does essentially mean that a lot of kids whose only shot at a nationals was Jr. Nationals will now never go. I can see the long term pros but also the cons of this. South Atlantic Region sent 8 Juvenile skaters to nationals last year. Next year, it will be 8 (from a HUGE region) to sectionals against an similar and somewhat smaller region. Gripe, gripe, gripe. :-)

  31. Here, you can read more about the JN changes here:

  32. sk8rmom.p, thanks for that link! Great article!

    Also, I meant to say that next year it will only be 4 sent from South Atlantics. 4 versus 8 seems like it shouldn't be a big deal, but now to go to sectionals and limit chance even further...I can see a lot of young skaters saying, "I give up" too early on in their careers and not even take a shot at Regionals.

  33. Read this post by Jimmie Santee, Executive Director of PSA regarding eliminating Junior Nationals. http://skatepsa.blogspot.com/2011/07/bring-back-plan.html

    I believe they are not eliminating the national level of competition for those skaters, but instead having them go through Sectionals like the higher level skaters do, in order to help Sectionals pay for themselves. Currently, the hosting club loses money (because all the PreJ, Juv & Int. skaters skip Sect. and go straight to "Junior Nats")

  34. last ignorant question (I swear!) Do skater have to go through each level starting at preJuvenile in order to compete or could the just enter at the novice (or some other) level?

  35. They must pass the tests at each level, but there is no requirement to compete at the previous levels.

  36. You compete no lower than your highest tested level regardless of whether you've ever competed before. Some competitions allow you to "skate up" that is compete at the level immediately above your test. If you have tested only USFS and want to compete in ISI, you must take all the tests up to your equivalent USFS level. Here are the equivalent levels: http://www.skateisi.com/site/sub.cfm?content=events_eligibility_rules.
    Let's move this discussion to its own entry, which I will set up sometime in the next couple of days, based on Josette's amazing encyclopedia of knowledge!

  37. This: "Coach plans for the future, but works in the present."

  38. "Amazing encyclopedia of knowledge"...uh oh! If anyone sees any glaring errors or has an experience vastly different from mine as a newbie parent to Juvenile+ competitions, please don't hesitate to correct me! My POV is only mine from the stands and what I glean through Google and conversations on and off-line.

    But thanks for that vote of confidence!