Mar 25, 2013

Triples at 9

You'll see me complaining a lot on this blog about pushing kids too hard, too young.

To a large extent that's because I like to focus on what ordinary kids can get out of the wonderful sport of figure skating, and also to help parents keep in perspective exactly how extraordinary their kids are (or, ahem, are not).

But some kids are extraordinary. We've seen the phenomenon over the past few years of elite boys pushing the age envelope downward, with younger and younger kids winning at Intermediate and Novice before they run up against minimum age restrictions at Junior.

As an email I received queried,
"What if you're talking about a reasonably talented 6 y/o with solid single jumps and axel and there seems a bit of time yet to worry about triples but they've been bitten by the competition bug. ... Do you go with that and delay and possibly limit progress or do you pull them away from competing so they make hastier progress but barely compete for the next few years?"
In fact, I had this exact question from my Alpha students this week. They all claimed to "be really good" at cross overs. And y'know, they are really good at cross overs.

But their cross overs can be better-- more confident, more advanced.

And that's really the crux of the matter.

Whatever skill you're working on right now-- whether it's simple cross overs or a double axel-- it can be better.

So the first answer to "why not move on to the next thing" is actually another question, namely, are you properly identifying what the next thing is? If you've got all the doubles, is the next thing really the triples? Or is it consistently landing all jumps in competition, or improving your GOE, or landing more difficult combinations, or improving the technique?

I like to point out the brilliantly managed career of Jason Brown, a skating phenomenon who was one of those 9 year-olds with all his doubles. But, knowing that he had tons of time because of his young age, his coach has parsed out his milestones. The goal was not "national champ by 17" which he arguably might have pushed for, but rather to hit specific measures-- land the triple axel in competition, then land it in a major competition, then skate a clean program that includes a triple axel, etc. Jason's going to have a long, injury-free career because his coach understood that his youth was not a goal in itself, but rather a gift that allows them time to develop a brilliant skater.

Skating skills in and of themselves are not the goal. They are sign posts along the way. A child with doubles at 9 is certainly going to be landing triples by the time they're done with high school.

The reader asks, essentially, "do you delay their progress or do you have them compete with their age group."

I ask, in return, what, exactly, do you consider "progress?"

What choice have you made, or would you make, with a skater who pulls ahead of their age restrictions in competition?


  1. This is a GREAT question and a fantastic response.

    I know jumps and spins are the WOW of skating. But experience is showing us that at Juvenile and even Intermediate level, kids with all the jumps and trying double axels in competition aren't necessarily winning. The judges actually do look at what is going on in between the jumps, and strong skating skills, presentation, good edges, speed, flow in and out of jumps, footwork in and out of jumps will all beat a program with a solid double axel and a few contortionist spins.

    Also, a great level 2 or 3 spin with speed and strong positions will beat a level 4 spin that looks like a struggle.

  2. great post, keeps the marathon in perspective...

  3. This is a great post Xan, and something of a hot topic.

    This struck me:

    "If you've got all the doubles, is the next thing really the triples? Or is it consistently landing all jumps in competition, or improving your GOE, or landing more difficult combinations, or improving the technique?"

    This is exactly right! I competed against many kids of the same age when I was a youngster, who were hashing out doubles and I had a wobbly axel. But a few years later, when I had my doubles, I also had solid skating, long edges, and confidence. Those other kids might have been breaking their necks trying to land the double axel, but their doubles still looked shaky and were inconsistent, because they were never allowed the time to develop them further, before being pushed into the next thing.

    Really good points, thanks for the post!

  4. I have a 4 year old who can do Salchow and toe loop and a combination of these, but she clearly would not be competitive at that level as she lacks artistry (which I think is normal at her age). We chose to keep her at the basic skills level for this season, and keep working on things like listening to the music better, and improving all of her basic skills elements. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that we delay her progress in learning new elements. She is still learning the freeskate-level jumps, spins, and footwork in her lessons.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: pre-pre and FreeSkate 1

  5. Excellent post, Xan! I also agree 100% with Josette and Gigi, and the anon who reminds us that this journey is indeed a marathon, not a sprint.

    Investing time in developing edges, skating skills, speed, etc. is absolutely essential - for everyone. From the adult skating perspective I'll add that I've practiced with more than one fellow adult skater who can do impressive tricks (axels, doubles, flying spins, etc.) but who are surprisingly lacking in basic skating skills. Working on those aspects of your skating may not be quite so much fun, but I'd rather see quiet, powerful crossovers and good edgework in a program any day. Personally, even though I have essentially the same jumps this season as last, I'm really enjoying working on more detailed and difficult entrances/exits in this year's program.

  6. As an adult I will hit a wall jump wise. I currently have salchow, toe loop, a dodgy loop and a two footed dodgy flip. I would like one day to get lutz. But then will I kill myself trying for axel? Not really, I will focus on improving the singles, spin variations, field moves, maybe try some ice dance, exhibitions, new and more complex step sequences etc

  7. I would say maintaining the emotional and physical health of the skater should be the overriding concern.

  8. I think we focus so much on jumps that the kids who don't have doubles quick sometimes get left behind... which is a huge shame. Luckily, as an adult, I don't have this problem :P My skating skill and dance levels are way higher than my free skate level and I'm fine with it. But I've seen the same situation in many kids and they usually quit. Who's to say that kid will never be a jumper? Plus, there's dance and sychro that might be appropriate. And it's a shame that we lose so many kids so early.

    Plus, I know nine year olds with major overuse injuries!!! THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO A NINE YEAR OLD!!! And it says something about our sport.