Oct 19, 2012

Conditioning for very young children

I hear it all the time at the rink.

Coaches telling parents that their 8 year olds need to do weight training and conditioning class.

And it is, not to put too fine a point on it, bull hockey.

Pre-pubescent children not only do not need weight training and strengthening, it's pointless because they don't have the hormones yet that make weight training in particular useful. They simply will not build muscle no matter how many push ups they do.

That said, you can, and should do stretch, strength, and aerobic activities with very young children. However, it doesn't have to be run by the skating coach, it doesn't have to happen at the rink, and it doesn't have to be boring.

The playground
The best strength equipment for little kids is monkey bars and climbing walls. Further more, it's a lot more fun than hand weights and push ups, which is the number one thing you need to do to engage young kids in "exercise." Playgrounds in general have everything you need-- equipment that encourages strength (monkey bars), coordination (various climbing apparatuses), cooperation (see saws), etc.

Here's your aerobics. If your Juvenile or lower skater is competitive, talk to your coach about making her "season" the non qualifying events in late fall to early spring so she can do field sports in the fall.

If she or he is already doing the qualifying events (which happen in the fall right on top of soccer), then you're switching your aerobic sport to spring. In-season, your little competitor should be running or doing other aerobic activity before getting onto the ice. Don't worry too much about things like Maximum Heart Rate for little kids, but if you're interested, here's a nice description of the issue that also deals with children and their specific needs.

Dance is great conditioning for kids-- it's fun, there are many reputable, vetted programs to choose from, and it covers strength, balance, muscle tone, conditioning and aerobics as well as great lessons in focus and discipline. Most skaters choose ballet, but for boys in general and for girls who balk at ballet, you can get the benefits of dance training from hip-hop, jazz, tap, or modern dance classes. (Older, competitive skaters should take ballet.)

Martial arts
Martial arts are another great multi-benefit activity for kids too young for dedicated weight or aerobic training. It offers all the benefits of dance, and is a good alternative for boys.

What do your younger skaters do for off- ice training?

Oct 6, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Hey Xanboni fans! It's my third anniversary and I have a job for you!

Take a look back through the archives and post a link to your favorite post in the comments. In a couple of weeks, (when it looks like it's petered out) I'll do a random.org thing on the comments and send the winner a Xanboni water bottle!

Thanks for a great three years!

Oct 4, 2012

Who should know what about IJS?

Ah, more alphabet soup.

IJS, or the International Skating Union Juding System, is the mind-bogglingly complex attempt of the ISU to standardize judging, following the Salt Lake scandal.

The unassailably positive motiviation behind the system was to create transparency-- while you don't know which judge is giving which marks, you can see in numbing detail exactly what the marks are for every single second of a program. I won't get into my opinion of the system (as one friend put it "math has stolen my sport").

Here's a sample "protocol" or judging sheet:

Behind all this is nearly 300 pages of rules, supplemented by endless tweaks and changes to those rules.


What does it all mean.

Well, I'm not going to tell you. What I am going to tell you is what you should learn, on your own, depending on who you are in the skating world.

Go crazy. Learn every single nuance of the system. Know it better than the most experienced international judge. Give the top Tech Specialist a run for his money. Follow every competition on "you be the judge" (a website that allows you to judge using IJS in real time). Be sure to tweet about how wrong the judges got it.

Competitive Coach
You need a post-doc level of understanding. Unfortunately, you're going to have to relearn it every year, because they change minute details of it on a rolling basis.

Class coach
Appear to know what you are talking about. Beyond that, thank your lucky stars if you have no students in competition and don't need to load down the gray matter with this stuff.

You need to know one thing: positive GOE.

Other than that, have a basic familiarity with the jump, spin, footwork and moves requirements for a program at your level and the next level up. Forget about where you've been--by the time you're a coach it will have completely changed (heck, by next year it will have completely changed). Know the terminology, and how it applies to your own programs. Know how to read a protocol (i.e. learn all the squiggles and abbreviations). But don't try to achieve a fan-level of intimacy with it. More important that you spend your time learning not to cheat that jump, than to be worrying about whether you've repeated a feature. (For instance, you should have been able to read this paragraph and know what I was talking about).

In the meantime, repeat after me: positive GOE, positive GOE, positive GOE.

Skater, redux
Know exactly why your competitors' scores are complete bull shit if they did better than you, and how the judges totally used the system to let them win.* If your scores are better, be able to point out how you and your coach worked with the system to create a win.

Have a solid understanding of how to read a protocol. Know enough to ask the coach about any downgrades or negative GOEs. (Actually, the coach would love it if you didn 't know this stuff, or ask about it, and I agree, but I know I can't stop you, so at least know what you're talking about.) DON'T, by all that is holy, offer advice--to the coach or the skater or god forbid the judges--on how to fix things.

Parents, redux
See Skater, redux

* this is very hard in IJS

Oct 1, 2012

Skating standards

I've worked with  a couple of great skating directors-- creative and engaged, supportive of the staff, nurturing with the kids, firm but understanding with parents. Heck, they put up with me,  'nuff said.

I've also known several who have told me that the PSA (Professional Skaters Association) is bullshit, and that they don't need continuing education because they already know what they are doing. I've observed programs where the kids demonstrably are not skating to the passing standard, whether USFS or ISI.  And I've heard complaints about programs where they do insist on the passing standards as being "too tough."

This week I attended a Nationwide Seminar sponsored by the PSA. These are seminars staged annually and semi-annually, where all of the coaches across the nation are getting the same curriculum, in a largely successful effort to standardize teaching and outcomes across many diverse markets.  Years ago, when I was a baby coach and first started attending these things and others like them sponsored by USFS and ISI, there would be maybe maybe 20 people there-- I got amazing one-on-one coaching instruction from some very well known skaters.

Then PSA got serious about coaching education, using both carrots and sticks to encourage and even compel attendance at these things. There were more than 80 people at yesterday's event.

The main presenter, Diane Miller, spoke eloquently about her coaching methods, and the importance of instilling proper technique early. I believe she was talking, however, about kids who have already made that leap into competitive skating (not necessarily elite skating, but just kids who skate a lot, and do the non-quals and regionals).

And she made a statement that brought me up sharply. She said that "only 2% of skaters will ever achieve a double axel."

Now, there are all sorts of barriers to the double axel, starting with it's really hard. There are competing activities that take away from the level of commitment it requires. There are cultural barriers regarding hard work and focus. There's cost.

But there is one really key barrier that might help kids overcome all the other ones, and that is competent, consistent coaching by knowledgeable coaches at the real developmental level, that is, in learn-to-skate classes at skating schools.

Now. I have not met all that many coaches who don't know how to teach a proper cross over or three turn (I've met some, but mostly we're all pretty good at these). Nevertheless, I see lots of coaches who don't insist on the standards. Maybe they're passing their own students, since they're going to be fixing stuff in privates anyway (don't ask). Maybe they don't care about kids who aren't their students. Maybe they don't care about any of the students. Maybe they're "cuting" the kid up because they don't want to stand up to the parent, or because they're trying to solicit that parent.

And often, the skating directors let them get away with this stuff.

I seldom see the skating directors at these PSA events. A lot of them aren't even members. After all, what's in it for them? The coaches all had to join finally because USFS muscled them-- join PSA or you can't register your students for tests or competitions. It worked-- nearly every coach I know is now a member of the PSA.

Why not do something like this with the skating directors? You want kids from your facility to be able to register for tests and competitions? Then you have to join the PSA and/or attend continuing education.

But I would not make these educational events the same ones that the coaches get. These would be geared to skating directors, and cover things like staff management, safety issues, ice scheduling, and skating school testing standards. Especially skating school testing standards.

There is a skating management certification called iAIM, run by the Ice Skating Institute, and from all reports its excellent, but it's expensive and is not required by any of the federations. It can't be, because it's expensive. You could, however, require continuing education outside the iAIM certification at lower cost, but carrying a penalty for noncompliance. It worked brilliantly for the coaches.

Skating School directors are probably the least represented and most hidden part of the skating equation-- you hear lots about parents, kids, judges, and coaches. But you never hear about the person guiding all these efforts and herding all these cats.

It's time for USFS and PSA to professionalize this aspect of the industry, and give support to skating directors while also compelling these individuals to acknowledge that they are part of a nationwide industry that needs enforceable standards. Nearly all coaches are required to join PSA at this time, and not joining is pretty much tantamount to saying "I'm never going to have a student advanced enough to test." Why not have this same standard for skating directors? Give skating directors the tools and backup they need to enforce basic skills standards, and keep kids in the sport.

And maybe we'd see more kids getting double axels.