Sep 26, 2011

Testing out

You will often hear coaches and skating moms remark, with just an edge of contempt, that a girl has decided to "just test out," meaning try to complete all of her Moves and Free skating tests by the end of senior year.

There's a funny disconnect in the skating world. While everyone acknowledges that an elite competitive career requires a rare confluence of talent, drive, good coaching, time, a flexible school, and money, skaters who can't or don't pursue this are viewed with pity, or, as I say, contempt.

But "testing out" is a worthy goal, the skating equivalent to four AP courses your senior year, or being a Congressional page-- not every good skater is capable of it.

Skaters get to the "testing out" decision for a variety of reasons. They've stopped competing for whatever reason (time, money, lack of success or loss of interest), but want the gold medal (see below for what this means) to validate their effort. They don't like competing, but love skating and want something external to keep them motivated. They want to be coaches, and the test credential can help that. (At some rinks, you basically don't need any credentials to teach, but many rinks and especially clubs require a minimum of an Intermediate Free skating test of their coaches.)

If you decide to test out, you have to factor in all the same measures you would for competing, because in its way, it's just as intense. You don't need a double axel, or any triples; you don't need level 4 skills, but you do need to follow a calendar, perfect difficult skills, be in really good shape, and impress several judges.

How fast can you move through and where are you starting
To get to the Senior Free Skating test, you have to pass 15 prior tests: 8 Moves (thru Senior) and 7 Free skating (thru Junior). If you're already older, say in your Junior or Senior year in high school, and at a lower level--Juvenile or Intermediate--you need to sit down with a coach, make a calendar and figure out a training plan as much as any high level competitor would. A very strong committed skater can do this in about 4 years starting at Juv or Intermediate. If you don't have 4 years, the hill's a little steeper, but not unclimbable. Know yourself, and assess yourself honestly.

All the factors that are there for competitive skaters are also there for these skaters--time, commitment, a lot of hours of practice, cost. You won't need to skate 20 hours a week, like a serious competitor would, but you will need to skate nearly every day, for a couple of hours, and you will need off-ice, especially at the higher levels, where the aerobic demands are considerable.

Keeping the coach on track
Some coaches consider themselves "competitive" coaches, whether or not they have the track record to back this up. As far as I'm concerned, if you're not getting a couple of girls past Regionals every year, and have never had a National skater, you're not a competitive coach; you're a coach who is feeding your parents a line of hooey. (Boys don't count; it's comparatively easy to get a boy to Sectionals, and even to Nationals.) Competitive coaches deliver medals that count. Otherwise you're a recreational coach. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, unless you're keeping your kids from testing, or suddenly pushing them through when they're high school seniors "so they have something to show for it."

If you're 16, in Intermediate, and aren't working on your second triple jump, take a step back and think about whether pursuing the competitive career makes any sense at all. Ask your coach why he thinks continuing to compete at Intermediate or Novice in your Junior or Senior year of high school is the best thing you can be doing with your skating.

To compete or not to compete
Even if you're not trying to get to Nationals, you should be skating in one or two competitions a year. There is absolutely nothing like a competition to bring out the best in a skater. It's a really good idea to compete just before a test, in a non-qualifying competition where they allow you to compete up a level, so that you can skate your test program in front of judges. Find one that has a judges critique for the skater and coach so that you can get a really honest, outside assessment of where you need work.

You have to remember that your goal in competing is not to win, but to polish the program, and to learn to overcome nerves. Especially now with the IJS, that protocols sheet can be brutal; when you're competing a senior program with only doubles, you're going to be at the bottom of the points, but remember, that's not the point. If you get a little starry eyed and start thinking "maybe", coming in last can really sting, even when you know you don't care.

Don't let the test date define your readiness
Even when you're pushing that college deadline, the thing about testing is that there are endless second chances. So don't think "I must take xx test by xx deadline." There's another test in a month. Don't take the test before you're ready, even if the calendar is making you nervous, because the judges will just stop you cold anyway, by failing you, and possibly yelling at your coach for putting out a test that wasn't ready to pass.

A word about gold medals
Yes, you get a little gold medal when you pass your senior test, and you get to call yourself a "gold medalist." This is a little trick to look for on coaching resumes. If your coach's resume says "gold medalist in free skating" this does not mean they won first place at a competition. It means they passed their senior test. "Triple Gold Medalist" is the Everest of Figure Skating-- it means you passed 3 different senior tests, typically Moves, Free skating, and Dance or Figures. It is not, however, to be confused with competitive success. And trust me, every coach who is a failed competitor is calling himself a "USFS gold medalist." In my experience, and I've taught with some really famous skaters, the really successful competitors absolutely never talk about it, either through modesty or embarrassment ("former multiple World champion, now teaching at Rink Nowhere in Podunk, Nebraska". Think about it).

Getting out of your head

Often, I'll be teaching a skill, offering this bit of advice, or that. I'll review the physics or the physicality of the skill, and talk about dropped hips and opposition, and where you should be looking and your knee action and the relationship of your blade and the ice, and and and and watching the skater get more and more confused.

At which point I'll ask "is your head about to explode?" Skater says yes, I say, okay, forget everything I just said and go out there and do the skill.

Like as not, some of the problems will be gone.

This is what one reader described to me as "getting out of your head." Everyone engaged in complex skills experiences this. Getting our of your head is an athletic skill just as much as the actual skills, and one of the most important. The biggest impediment to meeting goals in figure skating is not talent, or ability, it's giving in to the psychological and social pressures.

So what do you do?

Just skate
You do this because it's fun. Even the highest level skaters don't do it because they want to slog through to the next paycheck. It's fun. So sometimes, go out with no goal in mind, and just skate for the sheer joy of it, even if it's just skating around in circles on public ice every couple of months. Remind yourself that you love doing this.

Think of one thing
Coaches get really frustrated too, when they give a correction, and the skater does not seem to even be attempting to do it, but instead just does the same learned mistake, because it's easy to do it that way. (Believe me, we can tell when you are trying to incorporate the correction.) A skater like this is a little bit too much out of her head (and yes, I like the double entendre), she's not thinking at all. Rather than ignoring all the advice, if your coach has given you three or four corrections, think about ONE of them. Especially in a skill that you've already mastered, focusing on one thing can allow your body to settle in to muscle memory. Try repeating the part of the skill that you're planning to correct out loud before doing it: "I'm going to keep my arm stretched out on the spin entry." This can both focus your own mind on it, and let the coach know that you've been listening.

Find the root problem
Most problems in skating skills come down to a single mistake, usually made early in the set up for the skill. Root problems are very nearly textbook, literally. Abbreviated as CE, these common errors are actually taught to coaches to watch for. See if you can find what this is (and actually I'll tell you what it is--you're rushing the skill. Whichever skill you're having trouble with? You're shorting the entrance edge.) and then fix, even exaggerate that. This is similar to "think of one thing."

Show off
So there you are, listening to your Xanboni and skating on public for fun. Take a friend, especially one that doesn't know how well you skate and show off for them. Nothing like a little ego boost to make you feel good about yourself.

Don't skate
Everyone has observed the phenomenon of someone not skating for 2 weeks or a month, and then coming back and rocking some skill that they'd been having trouble with. There's probably some psychological theory backing this up, but I think at the base, you've just really gotten out of your head.

Skip the hard stuff
If your brain is too full of information about some skill that your having trouble with, just don't do it for a few days. Skating skills, even basic skills, are complex; there's a lot of noise in your head. So rather than frustrate yourself practice after practice, just skip the "noisiest" skill for a practice or two.

This may not be possible for someone who only skates with a coach--either in class or in a lesson, but to that I will say that skating only with the coach is a bad idea anyway. For those who do skate on their own, meet your coach's expectations, but incorporate some of this as well. Remember that unless you are a Nationals-bound competitive skater, you mostly get to control your timeline. If skipping the hard stuff for a practice a week slows you down a little, that's okay.

Practice smart
I've written about this before. On the challenging, new, or boring skills, give yourself a limit and then stick to it. I also do this with very young children. You do the skill xx number of times, and every attempt counts, even poor, wrong, or uncompleted ones. (With skaters known to be manipulative or lazy I change the instruction to xx correct ones, or xx "real" attempts.) Another way to practice smart is to think of practice as a series of nesting arcs--the single practice, the week, the session, the season. Taken to a complex level, this is called periodization, and it can be used not only for competitive training, but also to help recreational skaters stay focused and satisfied.

Skate on your own more
If you're always relying on a coach to tell you what to do and how to do it, you're never learning your own internal language, which leads to all that noise in your head that you're trying to get away from. Be your own skater, know your own self talk, and learn how to think about what you're doing when you're doing it.

What do you do to "get out of your head?"

Sep 21, 2011

The Ice Halo®

I've been wearing the Ice Halo®, generously loaned me for review by the company, for a week. I've been wearing it in all my classes, and did a brief moves practice with it.

I am sold. It's moderately distracting when you first step on the ice, but no more than is a new costume with fussy bits, and I think because the one I've been wearing is fur, that's what I'm seeing. After about 5 minutes you forget it's there. Lots of compliments, because, well, it's very attractive. People would tell me "love your hat" and I would get to say "it's actually a helmet!" Many oohs and aahs. It's a little warm, but I wore it as long as 4 hours at a stretch, and it would just get moderately sweaty; not to the point of distraction or discomfort. This might be different for an extended high-level practice; I would suggest that the company investigate developing a "competitors" version with better moisture wicking.

One of the best things about it is that even if it shifts (which it never did), it's a ring, so it doesn't affect vision no matter what part is forward, unlike a full helmet.

I tested it on as many different types of skaters as I could- "baby" competitors, LTS class and LTS privates, high level multiple rotation jumpers, adults, and coaches.

SF (7-years old, FS3 class) Loved it. Mom loved it. Skated an entire lesson, doing all warmups, moves, jumps and spins. Stayed in place, looked adorable. Class coach thought it was a hat, or possibly is too self-absorbed to actually notice stuff like this. Her private lesson coach was receptive.

SBM (6 years old, Gamma private) Also loved it, and, again, mother also loved it. This is a child who can be fussy and difficult, but she put it on and forgot it was there. It did not shift for the entire lesson. I'm her private coach, so I'm on board. If it comes in turquoise, that's a sale.

Coach Fashionista: gave it 3 seconds, for a 7 year old child in FS2. Not, "let's go around one time and then see", not "hey mom, what's the deal?" Just a completely closed mind. This is going to be the biggest hurdle for this company. I think a coach this closed-minded about it can have a huge effect-even if the parents are adamant about a child wearing head gear (even such innocuous and fashionable head gear as this), the parent is going to lose, because a child will not go against a coach on this. Further, once a coach has made such a fuss about it (the mother described her reaction as "vehement") it's over-that child will never wear safety equipment. I feel bad that the kid lost face over this.

Adult free style class: very resistant, despite the fact that one of them is the mother of a student and was fine with testing it on the child, and that I know this is a group of skaters who really trust me. But they had lots of reasons why it could not even be tested-- sloping forehead, no one else wears it, I don't like fake fur, it's hot, I'll look silly (this after complimenting me on it, so either I actually look silly, or they were just making noise).

SR (very skittish adult, class) Would not even try it, despite the fact that she is clearly terrified of falling. First she complained that it would mess up her hair (the lesson is at 8:30 at night--what, she's going clubbing after this?). Then she decided it would be distracting (mind you she hadn't put it on her head). Unfortunately, the adults were universally the most resistant to it, even though they are the group who would benefit most, as I would venture that far the majority of head injuries I have observed have been adults.

Giordano and Davis (2010 US National Juvenile Ice Dance Champions): After an initial period of distraction, just fine. As I suspected, they felt it was hot, which might be mitigated by using the microfleece. Angel felt she could not do a layback with it on, it didn't feel secure, so this would be a definite issue for a competitive lady. They liked the idea of using these just when bringing new lifts onto the ice.

GJ (5 years old, Delta private, that's her in the picture) 'nuff said. All the 4- and 5-year olds did this. Every. Single. One. Get a skateboard helmet for the really little ones. (NOT a bike helmet--you want a helmet that fits close to the head, with good peripheral visibility and no points, which can force the neck to snap forward.)

Nora (professional skater, my daughter) Like all the high level skaters, she thought it was fine, but couldn't imagine ever wearing it. She ran through spins, jumps and moves and had no problems with anything, including the layback, probably because she was wearing it a little lower on the back of her head. She liked the warmth.

Chelsea (Senior ladies competitor) ditto Nora. All the high skaters who tried it claimed that high level skaters don't need safety equipment, while then proceeding to tell me all the awful injuries they have either witnessed or experienced. Sigh.

Manol (Bulgarian Junior Men's Champion) Like all the boys, he immediately "tested" it, by diving full speed at the ice and banging his head. No apparent effect, but with Manol, a head injury might just look like business as usual.

Stitch (St. Lidwina's kid) liked it, but Coach apparently had an apoplexy over it. He immediately started banging his head against the boards (he's short) "to see if it works."

The Noisyboys really liked it, but were extremely distracted by it, not because it was innately distracting, but because they are very distractable (this could be a general problem with boys and some of the crazier girls; the novelty of it was the main attraction). They also had a predictable boy reaction--punching each other in the head, yes "to see if it works." On the whole, however, their verdict was "yes." They wanted a better fit, but of course I had limited options for them.

Currently, these seem best for recreational skaters, who unfortunately are the least likely to suffer head bangs, at least on a per capita basis. The company would do well do develop lines for rental facilities and ones that specifically address the needs of competitive skaters. For rentals there needs to be a way to overcome the no-hat-sharing problem (because of epidemic head lice in some parts of the continent), especially since these are primarily cloth. Perhaps removable, replaceable (or washable) liners or covers (that's an on-going revenue source too!), and/or a plastic fashion side?

The other difficult hurdle is the coaches. ALL of the older and most of the competitive coaches were not fans, ranging from skeptical to scoffing to actively hostile. The Russians all hated it, and I caught at least one making fun of me. For something like this to catch on, I think the clubs and federations (SkateCanada and USFS) would have to make it required equipment, starting at the lower levels. Nearly every youth sport that you can think of requires safety equipment, in particular head protection, but somehow in figure skating it's anathema (not "pretty " I guess).

So here's the tl;dr (too long, didn't read)--it's a great product. I think it should be required equipment, especially for adult beginners. Buy it.

At this writing, I have not received any remuneration, products for personal use, or promises from Ice Halo.

Sep 19, 2011

A word about my home rink

Over the course of my career, I have taught at five different rinks, skated at another 3 or 4, and have worked with coaches from another 10.

This blog is a reflection of my experiences at all of those rinks. While my home rink necessarily has a strong influence on this blog, unless I specifically say that "this is my home rink" (for instance the Nutcracker posts), no single post is EVER about my rink only, and sometimes it's not about my rink at all.

I believe that there are problems and issues at my home rink, but having managed other recreational programs (not skating) I try not to speculate, especially in such a public forum, the reasons behind specific rink problems that I do not see being addressed. I try not to criticize my colleagues, who represent an amazing well of skating knowledge, although I know that sometimes my frustration will shine through. Sometimes I bring up problems from my rink where I am perfectly well aware of why that cannot be addressed in that context. However, as the blog is meant to have universal appeal, I figure you don't want to hear about our little issues, you want to hear about big issues.

More often, I bring up more universal problems that don't exist, or aren't critical, at my rink, but that I have observed elsewhere, or that a parent or skater has emailed me requesting that I address it.

The especially snarky posts are almost always meant to be humorous, although sometimes I strike a nerve. You can tell, because they will be tagged "humor."

I've worked at my home rink for more than 10 years. If it was all that bad, I'd have left.

UPDATE: It got bad. I left.

Sep 16, 2011

How dangerous *is* figure skating?

from a reader:
I'm always trying to get more folks on the ice, skating, taking a few lessons so they can enjoy skating recreationally (especially in 99 degree weather like we're having now.) I always get the same reply: it's tooooo dangerous.

I get that it's on ice, on blades, and takes a bit more skill then walking and chewing gum, but I think these massive numbers of broken bones and head trauma that people quote just aren't accurate. So what do we tell people?
Why can't beginners skate? It's not that hard!Seriously, it's not that hard. The number one reason beginners can't skate is crap rental skates. (Number two would be "we found these in grandma's garage! Why are the blades black? Haha! We stuffed socks in the toes because they're 4 sizes too big. But if Precious can't skate it must be the coach's fault!)
Lobby your local rink to care for their rental skates, and to replace them every couple of years. There must be an industry standard on how often skates should be replaced, but I can tell you that at the rinks I've taught at only one doesn't wear skates to the nub. For a while we had a sharpening service that was using a hockey setting on our figure skates, so that they were too curvy, wrong hollow, and ground to a point at the back. It was amusing, in a schadenfreude sort of way, watching the little kids tip over backwards. I pointed this out to the facility manager, who said "oh, there's a difference?" (True story) They did not correct it. 100% of our rental skates are garbage.

My advice is don't take a beginner class. Take the hundred bucks it would have cost you and buy a decent pair of recreational skates, then go to public skating for 6 months. If it's your kid and you don't want to skate with them, hire some skatergrrrl to "babysit" Sunday afternoons at the rink, at a babysitting rate. High school skaters should not be allowed to charge $50/hour to teach tots, anyway. THEN take a class.

*Do* beginners fall? And how many get hurt?

Fewer beginners fall than you might think, and almost all beginner falls are skaters who don't listen, or can't employ, the coach's advice not to "dance" their feet or wave their arms madly when they start to lose their balance. Among beginners who fall vanishingly few get hurt, and vanishingly few of those get hurt badly (concussions, soft tissue tears, broken bones). But if it's you, or someone you know, then that seems like a crazy statement--"well almost no one gets hurt, but my friend got hurt, so the odds must be really high"

Why do people fall on the ice?
Well, it's slippery if you're moving. (It's not slippery if you're not moving. True fact. It is the movement that creates the slip--your blade melts the ice and you glide on the watery interface, i.e. hydroblading-the scientific definition. No movement, no melt, no glide.) And you're on a stiff, curvy metal tightrope. Beginners try to duplicate familiar movements--walking--which doesn't work, or they try to duplicate "skating" like they've seen on tv, attempting to push and glide before they're ready, or they put on hockey skates because figure skates make you gay. But the most common reason that beginners fall is because some idiot is giving them bad advice. Friends tell them "it's easy, do this!" (hard move follows). They want to keep up with their experienced friends. A coach refuses to "baby" beginners "no need to start off the ice, just come out and skate" (I said that in my head with a Russian accent, haha).

What are common injuries?
Far and away the most common ice injury is soft tissue damage in high level skaters. I tore my MCL once and could not get the stupid emergency room to do an MRI. They insisted I'd been skating so I must have broken my knee cap (only knee cap injury I ever heard of was Tonya whaling on Nancy, so I guess that counts as a figure skating injury). I'm pounding away at my knee cap, going "see? Not Broken! I tore my MCL please do an MRI". The other common injury I've observed is adults breaking wrists, because they're afraid to drop and roll when they fall, and instinctively put out their hands to brace the fall. The fact that this, instead of tuck and roll, is instinctive, is in my mind proof positive against intelligent design, because it's a stupid instinct. Heads would be a little ways down the list, but still high enough to count as common. This is why the resistance to head protection is so inexplicable. (Great new head protection product).

Uncommon are other broken bones, and cuts, although I've seen my share of blade-in-the-muscle accidents, and chin splits are fairly common. This is not to say these can't happen, just that they are rare. I've been teaching more than 10 years, have observed thousands of skaters and off the top of my head can think of only around a dozen hospital-level injuries, most of them intermediate or advanced skaters.

However, common sense and statistics is not going to get the skittish onto the ice. It doesn't matter that it's one of the safest youth sports, or that it's great for adults trying to get back in shape. (I had a doctor once describe it to me as "low impact"- another true story. Yes, I still go to that doctor, she's a keeper!)

The worst thing you can take onto the ice with you isn't bad skates; it's a bad attitude. People who believe that they can't skate will make that happen. Take them for a nice long walk.

Sep 15, 2011

I thought there was safety in numbers

Well, not in figure skating. There is nothing more terrifying than a public skating session the Sunday after Christmas.

At some rinks, practice ice can be packed to the gills as well--even though you're paying a premium for restricted ice, this can still mean 20 to 30 skaters, plus their coaches, and they don't skate in a nice predictable circle like happens on public.

So how do you skate safe on a crowded session?

Public Ice
Follow the rules!
Don't skate against the flow. Don't cut across the coned section. Don't do knee slides, or crack the whip. Don't shoot pucks, or small children. Don't wear ear buds, or talk on the cell phone. In other words, use common sense.

Practice ice
This one's a little more complicated, but starts the same--follow the rules. Which means know the rules. Ask a coach what the rules are. This can also have the affect of making the coach remind herself what the rules are, since coaches are often the worst offenders (and frankly a coach that tells you, don't worry about it we make our own rules--giant waving red flag.) Pattern, right-of-way, and priority will vary somewhat from rink to rink, but here are some common sense rules to follow.

Right of way
In general, the person whose music is playing has the right of way. At a well-run session, this person will be wearing a bright pinney or belt. At a stupidly run session, you are somehow just supposed to know who is skating to their own music. Following that, a person in a lesson has the right of way over someone there for practice. The person doing the jump or spin in the proper place has the right of way over someone doing a non-music runthrough of their program (i.e. if your program has a jump or spiral choreographed in the center where everyone is spinning, you have to yield to the spin).

Don't stand still
The worst thing you can do on crowded ice--public or practice-- is stop and stand in the middle of the ice. If you have to stop, get over to the boards. Do not give me the excuse that you're "trying to see where the skater is going to go." Straight into you is where, because no one expects immovable objects in the middle of the rink.

Lefty jumpers get the right of way. Do not cut off their jump patterns.

Lutz corner
The lutz corners are upstage right and downstage left. Never give a lesson, or practice small patterns in these corners, you will drive the people working on lutz, and their coaches, into a murderous rage. (Left jumpers use the other corners; if there are a lot of left jumpers on a session you also cannot use these corners, but with just a couple lefties on a session, just be aware and get out of the way--lutz setups telegraph a mile away.)

Round and round and round and....
Don't stay in one little circle practicing the same move over and over and over. If you have to practice some small pattern, move it around the rink. Better yet, start learning how to "use the ice," i.e. use at least half the ice on all jump set ups, do turns within moves patterns, etc. Adult skaters are particularly guilty of this one.

Lower level or upper level skaters?
Lower level skaters get the right of way. Period. I don't give a shit about your triple flip. If there's a skater working on waltz jumps they clearly do not have the tools you have at your disposal to pull a jump and not cause a crash. Do not role your eyes, or complain to the monitor, or your mother, or stamp your little foot. Lower level skaters are a fact of life unless you are in a serious training program. If you're not, then get over yourself and stop frightening the babies.

Friends, and coaching groups
When you're skating with a friend, or if your coach does group lessons on practice sessions, it is very easy to get tunnel vision, and to see only your own group. Don't let the group be an ice hog, pissing everyone else off. Understand that group activities, even when parsed out a skater at a time, have a tendency to command the ice. If 15 skaters are all skating the same set pattern, even if they're only going out one or 2 at a time, they are going to create a vortex that no one else can skate through. Be sensitive to this if you're part of a group.

Get up
If you fall, get up, even if you're hurt. Your prone body is the skating equivalent of a pothole--no one is expecting you, and you're hard to see down there.

Stick with it
Practice ice is terrifying the first few times out there. It looks like chaos. But a session has its own sense and pattern, which you will only start to understand when you are out there. Stay with it, and learn to go, as they say, with the flow.

Sep 11, 2011

I'd rather be figure skating

I used to work full time in a downtown office.

It was a pretty fancy job--I mean, it was a cubicle, but I made fairly serious money, and I had a long title, and people worked for me. I dressed nice and made reports, and talked rich people into giving me money (I guess I still kinda do that).

And then one day, out of a clear bright sky, the world changed.

The day after, September 12, 2001, I looked at a sign posted on the wall of that cubicle. It said "I'd rather be figure skating."

And 3 months later I walked out of that cubicle and into an ice rink as figure skating professional.

Sep 6, 2011

A sample ISI judging sheet, explained

It's competition season! Get ready for bling, hardware, and take a deep breath. Your admission to Harvard is not at stake.

One of the most confusing things about competition, especially ISI competition, can be "why didn't the best skater win." So I've created a sample scoring sheet to explain how this might happen.

Please note that I have "rigged" this sheet-- it is not based on any real skater, I made it up, sitting at my desk, to illustrate various points. Randy Winship, Director of Skating Programs at the Ice Skating Institute, who reviewed this for me, strongly recommends that you read the competition manual for judges (someone let me know if you can open this; it may be allowing me in because of my professional membership) which is available as a free pdf download on the ISI site (search "Judging Essentials").

ISI competitions use a panel consisting of 3 judges, one of whom must be Gold tested, and a referee, who I believe must be Gold tested, all through the ISI judges certification system. Each judge has their own sheet like the one below (I've consolidated all three onto a single form for ease of discussion). They mark only their own set of columns. Judges do not discuss marks except in certain instances. It is impossible for a single judge to rig an outcome.


So who wins this event, and who was the best skater? Looking at the individual skills marks, looks like Skater 3 is the best skater, so how come she came in fourth? The worst skater- Skater 1, pulls off a third.

What happened?

ISI gives the judges a statutory range, based on the number of skaters in a flight, which is not supposed to go over 5. (For scheduling and other reasons, competitions may stretch this to 6 or even 7; the largest ISI flight I've ever seen was 9.) You'll see at the left top of the sheet "7.0-7.8" which is the statutory marks range for a flight of 5. Judges must stay within this range, except in certain prescribed instances, and must use the entire range for each skill. Judges grade ONLY the skills and qualities listed on their sheet. They do not see, or discuss, what the other judges are doing, unless there is a dispute or a question.

Looking over the sheet, you see everything within the marks range, except in the Back O-I Pivot and Duration columns (Judge 1), and the Change Foot column (Judge 2).

A correct duration gets 10 points (the referee has a stopwatch), but if you go over time (more than 10 seconds from start of movement to end of movement) there are prescribed penalty marks. Skater 4 went between 10 and 15 seconds over her time limit, so she loses 2 points. The referee notes this on her sheet, and initials the judge's sheet. Some coaches will mess around with the time limit; knowing that you've really got 10 extra seconds, they'll cut a 90 second program for 99 seconds. If the equipment plays that music a little slow (this happens less with digital recordings than it used to with audio tapes), or if she skates slow and finishes after the music ends, that skater is risking a penalty.

Silly skater 3 didn't do a pivot, so she gets a goose egg for the skill. This is not a bad pivot or an incomplete pivot, but a missing pivot. When this happens, the judge who is marking this skill will ask "Was there a pivot?" If all the judges and ref agree there was no pivot, it goes down on the judge's sheet and the ref's sheet as a zero, and the ref must initial the judge's sheet.

Skater 5 messed up her change foot spin. She might have had insufficient rotation, or left off the second forward spin. A recognizable attempt at a skill that is not completed gets a penalty mark of 5. This is NOT the same thing as a fall, or a badly executed skill. A fall on a completed skill will just put you at the bottom of the marks range (assuming someone else isn't even worse) and will cost you placement under "correctness" and "general overall"; falls on completed skills in ISI are not specifically penalized unless it prevents the skater from completing the skill. When there is any question at all, every panel I've ever been on will put a disputed skill at the bottom of the marks rather than giving a penalty mark. ISI judges try their hardest not to give penalty marks.

Again, all penalties must be agreed upon by the entire panel, and initialed by the ref. Some rinks also complete "penalty sheets" to back up any penalty calls in case of disputes.

And this is how it happens: Skater 3 had the highest marks across the board, and didn't do a pivot. Maybe she just forgot it. Maybe her coach is an idiot and didn't choreograph it. Notice that this error also cost her on Correctness and General Overall.

Skater 1 loaded her program with tons of extra content and apparently had great choreography, because her Pattern mark is also high, knocking her to the top of the heap with all her extras. That's a smart coach, and a good choreographer, focusing on this skater's strength.

Skater 5, also a good skater, needs to fix her pivot. But she's feeling pretty good right now, because she doesn't usually beat Skater 3.

Skater 3's parents are standing at the Skating Director's door, screaming at her. After she shows them the video, demonstrating that their kid missed an element, they're going to scream at poor Skater 3 all the way home for forgetting her pivot, and then fire the coach, even if it wasn't her fault.

Skater 1, who always comes in last, even against the book, as well as her parents and her coach, having no idea that all this is going on, now believe that she has a shot at the Olympics.

Sep 3, 2011

The Joy of Coaching

The Professional Skaters Association is putting together a book for their 75th Anniversary, coming up in 2013.

They're soliciting stories to include, and supposedly will include "grassroots" coaches (I guess that would be me).

Do you have a favorite post, especially one with a story, from the Xanboni blog? If so, put the date and/or title in the comments and I'll submit.

If you've got a coaching story, from coach's, parents' or skater's perspective, the link for submitting is here: There doesn't seem to be a restriction as to who can enter; if you're on an figure skating forums, I'd say post the link!