Jun 10, 2012

Self taught

I love it when my skaters try something on their own because they think it will be cool to do.

I'm less sanguine when they insist on continuing to do it wrong (or worse, when someone barely above their level has taught it to them incorrectly).

Trying things out, believe it or not, is a great way to overcome fear. Adults in particular are not going to try something they feel incapable of doing, so it's self-limiting. Kids need to have fun. But then there's this problem, sent by a reader:
There was a skater who taught herself the Bronze Moves, and she wonders why she hasn't passed it the two times she's tested. She taught herself stuff and thinks she can be her own coach. I've seen other adult skaters try and teach themselves things. It hurts them in the long run usually.
If you are trying to do it by the book, and go through testing, you need a coach. Period. There are very minute and specific "common errors" and proper execution that judges are looking for. It's the rare self-taught skater who is able to overcome or execute these properly, if for no other reason than that no one is watching them, so they can't see what they're doing wrong.

Higher level skills, including moves, but especially jumps, should be learned under expert advice because of the potential for injury. I have a very gifted young student right now, who always wants to do the next thing; a lot of her lessons right now are focused on making her remember the safe way to do the skills she wants to do.

In the long run, though (even in the short run), teaching yourself complex skills is, as I say, self-limiting. Someone who hasn't done the work of learning edges and proper upper body control simply is not going to be able to teach themselves the higher level skills. And if they try to test, it will catch up with them quickly.

What have you taught yourself to do? Did you figure it out properly on your own, or did a coach have to fix it?


  1. Spins are really the only thing I've tried on my own. Mostly arm variations thugh.

    This Saturday I tried out a bunch of sit spin positions. I THINK I can kind of do a pancake, but I need my coach to look at it to tell me if I'm not nearly as low as I feel in the skating knee. But spinning with my free leg crossed over my knee and leaning down on top of it wasn't too hard.

    I did find out that broken leg sit is not for me. :)

    I also am working on a change foot spin, and found I do much better going from a sit spin to a back upright than scratch to back spin. My coach probably wouldn't have had me try that.

    I, however, am like the adults you described. I don't teach things to myself. I don't like to fall, and doing things without knowing what you are doing is a good way to do that.

    1. I find I'm the opposite. I don't try anything new unless my coach is there. I'll vary stuff (like the time I taught myself to do ice dance patterns on figure 8s from a book), but new stuff---I'm too timid. My experience is that there's so many small things (shoulder position etc) that can go wrong, it's best for me to just learn it from a coach.

  2. You can learn to do moves as they are described in the test book without a coach; but the test book does not tell you everything the judges are looking for. I think the test book could be improved to the point where people could pass the tests using just the book and videos. But a coach will always be better. Figure skating culture is heavy on oral traditions, though cheap video is starting to change that.

    I don't think I have learned anything 100% on my own, but I make a lot of progress on training muscle memory when the coach isn't there, mostly because I can get in more repetitions. I think single jumps are actually an area where "teach yourself" is easier for me.

  3. "she wonders why she hasn't passed"

    Judges usually are happy to tell you what you did wrong... but they don't tell you how to fix it.

  4. I can't imagine learning edgework, moves, jumps, or dance without a coach. But I learned several sit spin variations on my own, just from watching other people. Cannonball, pancake, A spin (butt up in the air spin. It looked so ridiculous I had to try it.) Also a catch foot camel.

    I think there's a big difference between trying to teach yourself an entirely new skill and varying an established skill. I had a good sit spin when I started experimenting with different leg positions. It was pretty easy to tell if I was doing it right or not. If it was wrong, I fell.

    I also taught myself different gliding maneuvers, like spirals where you grab your foot, shoot the ducks and hydroblades. I think that shoot the ducks (and probably the hydroblade too) are one of those things where a lot of instruction isn't going to help much. You just have to be stubborn and willing to fall. Once you figure out how to stop falling, you've got the skill.

    However, I know a man who in his fifties who is completely self taught. He has never had a figure skating lesson in his life. Dave taught himself jumps all the way up to double toe (but he only does big singles now), spins, and the ice dances from Preliminary to Silver, plus 2 pre-golds. He also mounts his own skates. He is a better ice dancer than I am, and I'm 22 and stopped testing dance one dance short of passing my pre-silver test.

    Obviously, he's very talented and most definitely the exception to the rule. Imagine how good he could have been if he had had lessons...

  5. We have a lot of basic skills skaters at my rink that are trying to teach themselves jumps and spins that they are clearly not ready for, and spend the entire session working on it rather than doing their crossovers etc. I'm all for having fun but they're setting themselves up for bad habits. One girl in particular just spins the entire time, and automatically brings her arms crossed in front of her face with her shoulders raised. She has asked me to look at her spin before (she has no private coach and JUST got back into group lessons), and I've told her she needs to correct her arm position and demonstrate where the arms should be. She for some reason cannot think about the correction while spinning because she's engrained this bad habit into her muscle memory.

    I like to play a game when I go out on public session to practice a little. It's called "How many people will copy what I'm doing". If I do a spin, suddenly all the basic skills kids are trying to spin like that. If I do a lunge, suddenly they all do it. It's quite entertaining.

  6. I think Shauna outlined a bit of an issue with "self taught". Often they aren't totally self taught, they are asking the kids who are practicing "How do you do that? Can you help me? What am I doing wrong?". It's a practice interruption.

    My skater has to maximize her ice time (it's expensive!) and cover her coach notes, routines, testing and class topics.

    She doesn't want to sound rude or stuck up so she usually just blames me (My mom said I have to work on xyz right now). She does have "play time" on the ice but it's generally with the girls in her classes. Since they are covering the same things they are working together vs one playing "coach".

  7. Hi Xan,

    I think self-teaching has *some* value, but not the way most people think. It's primarily best for embellishments and small expressions of style (arm movements on laybacks, for example).

    What it's really good for is learning what /not/ to do. You learn quite a bit about why some things are simply impossible, but you don't figure that out until you try it a couple of times and fail.

    Self-teaching is mostly about pushing the envelope and finding your limits. And you *do* have to find those limits...

    1. This. Variations, pushing yourself a little bit-- can I do that jump with a more powerful entry? Can I skate into faster? Can I come up with an alternate spin entrance? These are all great things to teach yourself. A death drop, not so much.

    2. The reason why a lot of people self-teach is something I've noticed as an Adult Skater the past 4-5 years:

      My smartphone camera is better than 98.6% of "coaches" out there.

    3. Mmph. I have to disagree. Sure, video can show you a lot -- my coach videos me all the time to show me what I'm doing. A video won't tell you *what* to do, it won't break an element down into pieces that you can practice individually, and it won't prioritize for you which of those pieces you have to learn first and which you can improve later.

      So by all means, use video and other tools -- but they don't replace a good coach. And most coaches that I've met (not all, certainly, but most) are better than trying to teach yourself -- at least if you want to test and compete. If you just want to have fun skating, that's a different story I guess.

    4. I'm not sure what to think about video being better than a live coach. Part of me is surprised that many adult skaters haven't experienced a good coach, the other part of me is sad that they haven't had that experience. I am doubly blessed that our rinks have so many really good coaches. ~Meg

  8. When I saw my first local skating competition, at nine or ten, I became obsessed with an older girl named Gwendolyn in a green dress. She did an amazing lutz (yes, a single lutz) and it motivated me to teach myself the same jump. I was only doing waltz jumps and salchows at the time. When I showed my coach my snazzy new lutz, she laughed because I was jumping the wrong way.

  9. That reminds me of when my coach taught me a toe loop. I am a lefty and she should be how to do the jump from a RFI 3-turn, I found the jump so difficult to even try that I only realized the next day, that I should be doing a LFI 3-turn instead. I was essentially trying to do a lutz from a 3-turn, which is quite difficult. So no need to feel bad about jumping the wrong way, even coaches do things wrongly.

  10. Hi! I just started skating regularly in January as a 40-something. I'm inspired by my local professional hockey team and the moves they can do on the ice. I tried to teach myself skating basics so that I could skate with my team recreation-ally after their Sunday games. I tried video taping myself, watching on-line videos, and taking advice from other adult skaters during coffee club sessions to learn what I need to do. I realized after tripping over my toe picks too many times that I really needed proper instruction. I also knew I would progress much faster if I worked with a coach, but I was shy about finding one, asking one to help me and not knowing what fees they charge. I took my time to see who was teaching whom around the rink and tried to get a feeling for who I would be comfortable learning with. I asked other skaters about the coaches I saw to get some inside info. That was the best part; once my pals knew I was coach-shopping they were giving me the low-down all of them. I have a coach now who is a wonderful lady the same age as me.
    Admittedly, I've had to wrap my brain around learning moves like a figure skater when I really want skate like a hockey player. I've had to set my hockey skater ideas aside for now, and just learn how to do a proper cross-over. And I'm really okay with that!

  11. Great post Xan.
    I could not agree with your last comment regarding learning good edges more. This is such an over-looked aspect of our sport, but truly the foundation of all skating disciplines, I simply cannot understand why more emphasis isn't placed on getting kids (and adults) more excited about them.
    I taught myself the US senior MITF because I planned on coming to the States to test it. I worked on the moves with my coach, but also intended on taking lessons with an American coach for 3/4 days before the test in order to have any major errors and quirks picked up and rectified. I never did get 'round to getting to the States before I hung my boots up though. Oh well, maybe one day...