Apr 30, 2013

Skating camp

Most figure skating programs now offer summer camp.  These may be half or full day, be solely focused on figure skating, or be more traditional "day camp" that includes a figure skating component either specifically instructional, or just as a regular activity in a more "public skating" sort of mode. In a camp that is focused on figure skating, with a couple of hours of ice a day, your skater can pass a couple of tests easily over the course of the summer, as well as just achieving a solid comfort level on the ice and improving their basic skating.

Camps are generally divided into Learn to Skate levels (beginner through Beta/Basic 5 or Gamma/Basic 6) and Freestyle levels, usually starting with students in Delta/Basic 7 (because those students will achieve freestyle levels during the course of the camp). The exact division will vary from program to program.

Less common are rinks that allow staff to form their own private camps.  I ran such a camp at a prior rink. Any camp will offer some combination of the following components.

At Xanboni camp freestyle students (although I never had many of those, by choice) learned USFS Moves-in-the-Field patterns for the Pre-Preliminary and Preliminary Tests. For Learn to Skate/Basic Skills students I used the "moves" periods to work on strong edges, crossovers and stroking, as well as learning basic skating patterns like periphery stroking.

Skating skills
My camps were small, so all classes were mixed level, but in a regular facility-run program there are usually enough skaters to divide students into discreet levels.  The skills classes will be pretty much exactly the skills classes in an after school program. They just move faster because the kids are on the ice so much. Skating skills classes will also generally include skills from higher levels and so-called uncaptured moves (an ISI term for tricks and skills that are not included in the testable curriculum).

Stretching, cardio, outdoors games
As a personal philosophy, I do not condone dedicated strength training for children under the age of 10, and frankly consider it a little pointless for kids in a recreational program. And calisthenics can be boring. This does not mean strength training and calisthenics can't happen-- you just need to find ways to make it age appropriate and interesting.  Lots of really fun activities, like Dance Dance Revolution, soccer, races, touch football, et cetera, give you all the benefits of cardio and strength training, at a level that young children enjoy. Sometimes I did off-ice on the playground, with the only rule being that the kids had to use every piece of equipment at least once.

Crafts and story telling
Even at a sports camp, engage their creative and quiet side for part of the day. Read them a book, or do "round robin" stories (where everyone contributes part of the story, line by line), or drawing, sewing, etc. One of our favorite activities was sidewalk chalking.

Field trips
Look for programs with extras like occasional (or regular) swimming, or rolling blading, museum or theater trips,  a skating show, or the beach. (Make sure you have lots of parents helpers and a signed waiver, by the way). All skating and no play makes Susie a dull girl.

Private lesson time
While most camps will not specifically offer private lessons, many work lesson time into the day so that students who have private coaches don't have to make a separate trip back to the rink for their lesson; it's simply arranged as part of the camp day.  In some camps these are designated times; for others the student may be allowed to take their private lesson instead of any given camp activity.

Other ideas
For older kids, see if your program offers a weekly or bi-weekly "how to teach" session to train future coaches. Look for camps with a supervised practice session, so kids get time to organize their own practice without being told what to do every minute.  Over the years I've been teaching, I've observed kids getting less and less able to work on their own. I have no idea how they get through college, let alone a job. Some programs will offer kids a chance to learn a program, or get a taste of a specialized skill like synchro, dance, figures, or couples.

Does your skater go to skating camp? Tell us about it!

Apr 20, 2013

Using IJS

I created a twitter hashtag during the last U.S. Championships:


Well-known for creating inexplicable outcomes, the International Skating Union Judging System, or IJS (also known as Code of Points or COP) has replaced the overly subjective and equally (though differently) impenetrable 6.0 system with a nearly impenetrable table of "protocols" that parse out the art into minute judgements on technique.

For fans, it's infuriating.

But for skaters it can be an incredibly useful tool, because it allows you to see what the judges are focusing on for you.

Personal best and seasons best
Know these scores. First of all, it gives you an instant idea of how you did, and whether you should be happy or disappointed. Second, your season's best score tells you how this program is doing. If you keep not matching your personal best in a given season, you may want to rethink the program. IJS not only rewards/punishes skating skills, it also rewards good choreography. If you consistently miss your personal best, it might not be you. It might be the choreo.

Using knowledge of points to know your prospects
First of all, you can use your own point history to judge how  how well you are likely to do. If you know your personal best and season's best scores you can have a pretty good idea of what your standing is going to be throughout the season (taking a lot of the agony out of waiting for the judges sheets). You can look at your competitors scores and know when you're going to have to blow it out of the water to win (and it does happen-- look at Dennis Ten at the recent World Championships).

Component scores
As far as I'm concerned, for your own skating, the component scores are where it's at. These tell you how good the judges think your basic skating skills are. While these scores are notorious in elite skating-- there have been indications that judges are pressured to score skaters based on their "seed" or standing-- at local and qualifying competition they can be used to help you understand whether judges just think you skate well, regardless of your performance on specific skills that day.

Don't just look at your own protocols (judging sheets). Look at your competitors as well. See what kinds of scores are being achieved by skaters you admire.  Where do they excel; where do you best them?

More on personal best
Personal best is to IJS what Judge 5 was to the 6.0 system. By which I mean, skaters used to look at their rankings and say "well Judge 5 placed me 2nd!" (somebody loves me.)  Now you can look at your protocols and see an overall personal best, or most positive GOEs (see next), or increased PCS. You can even take it down to the individual skills-- you can have a goal to get the maximum point value on a specific skill, or achieve a given Level on just one skill, or a set of skills.  Because IJS is so detailed, you can really use the scoring both to help you figure out what to work on, and to say "well at least I did something right."

Evan Lysacek won the Olympics by putting together a program in which he could achieve the absolute maximum points, even if he fell short on various individual skills.  Supposedly a battle between the "technical" Plushenko and the "artistic" Lysacek, they actually had identical PCS (the "artistic" score). Lysacek won it on a brilliantly conceived choreography that maximized technical point value.  Your coach and choreographer should know how to play this game-- whether to go for the higher base value of a Level 3 or 4 or triple jump, or the better GOE of a Level 1 or 2 or double jump. Where to place jumps. How to maximize the value of the footwork sequence, etc.

In this same way, IJS helps you set goals.  Achieving positive GOE, getting the full point value on a skills, increasing PCS base values, getting a higher level on footwork or a spin.  The goal no longer has to be "beat skater X" or, worse, "win." Goals can now be really fine-tuned to an individual skater's needs.

How have you used IJS to help you understand or improve your, or your skaters', abilities?

Apr 17, 2013

Having fun in beginning skating

Ask any skater what they love about skating and they won't give you a skill. Nobody skates because they like brackets, or axels, or spirals.

Skaters like speed.

They like the wind in their hair.

They best thing a coach can do for beginning skaters isn't teaching them how to swizzle or balance. It's just letting them skate.

I sometimes tell beginners' parents to skip the first year of lessons. Just buy your child  pair of skates and bring them to public once a week for a year. It will cost about the same.  If you really don't feel like they'll do anything without instruction, then hire one of the rink rats to babysit on the ice every Sunday afternoon. Just let the kid have fun.

But you can have lots of fun in class too, as long as your coach isn't asleep at the switch, or consider themselves too good for Pre Alpha (and therefore checked out of being an engaging coach).

Back and forth
The worst thing you can see in a beginning skating class is the kids just skating back and forth and back and forth and back and forth doing the same thing over and over. Especially in a class with really slow or really fast kids, just putting the kids on a circle instantly makes it easier to manage and more interesting. Or just switch it up-- sometimes back and forth, sometimes circles.

I'm not saying the kids don't need to drill. They really do.  But drills don't need to be boring. Have them count how long they glide on one foot, and let them count super fast. Make them start their one foot glide as a specific marker (this is very challenging for beginners and requires a lot of concentration, which also keeps the boredom at bay). Offer a challenge: have them see how many of a given skill they can do--how many dips, how many swizzles in a row, how many 5-second glides, or anything else you can think of.

Even the beginningest beginner knows more than one skill. So make up a pattern that combines several skills. And if you only have three skills, or the skater moves so slowly that the pattern only takes them a couple of feet, add a clap, or a stomp, or  jazz hands.

Hard stuff
There are all sorts of higher level skills that lower level skaters can learn. Pre Alpha/Basic 1-3 skaters can do pivots and spins and two-foot turns. Alphas/Basic 4 can do lunges and backward dips; betas/Basic 5 can do bunny hops, gammas/Basic 6 can do shoot-the-duck and backwards two foot turns. The coach needs to know the critical element that makes a skill possible. If you can do a one-foot glide, you can do a modified lunge. If you can swizzle, you can pivot. If you can march, you can spin. (This is one area where Basic Skills gets it right-- it puts choreographic skills in the curriculum, instead of relying on the coach to not be boring, for instance, one-foot spins in Basic 5.)

So here's the coach's oath: First, do not bore. (yourself, or anybody else)

Apr 14, 2013

It doesn't have to be boring

There is nothing worse in the day of a figure skating coach than 15 minutes before the end of a Pre Alpha class.

More than any other level, Pre-alpha (Snowplow Sam 4, Basic 1) is going to have wildly divergent speeds and engagement from the students.

Once they get into the true Learn-to-Skate levels, most kids can at least "keep up"-- that is, move at the same speed as everyone else.  By the time they get into low freestyle, they've self-selected to just kids who are really motivated to skate.

But at Pre Alpha there are days when you just know you shouldn't check the clock because you have another 15 minutes of trying to get the whole class across the ice together.

As far as I can tell, it's worse for the kids.

They get this glazed look.

They start looking wistfully at the Beta class next door that seem to be having so much fun.

They have to go to the bathroom, or give their hat to their mom.

They're tired.

And the classic clue that you are being boring: "how much longer?"

Here's the thing-- if coach is bored (boring), the kids are bored.

And why do that to yourself?  There is simply no reason to run a boring class. Every time I'm helping in a class with a teacher whose lesson plan is "okay one foot glide, right foot. Okay, let's do it again. and again. Couple more times! Now let's do the other foot." For. Forty. Minutes.

I want to poke my eyes out with a skate.

Put the kids on a circle. Have a contest. Make up a pattern. Play a game. Do a challenge. Sing a freaking song.  Make up a program.

It's not only boring to the kids. It's boring to you-- if you're boring them you're also boring yourself.  Being boring, or disengaged, or unimaginative is not going to make Pre Alpha class go away. So you might as well have fun.

Have you had a boring coach? What has a coach done with basic skating that made it interesting?