Dec 2, 2014

Sink or swim warm ups: 5 ideas to keep your head above water

It's been seven months since I dropped all my group classes due to health and business pressures. (Oops, did I forget to mention that? Last April I had to drop all my staff positions due to health and business concerns. I guess I'll do a post about that!)

The result is that I haven't seen a freestyle warm up in seven months. And I haven't seen a warm up at a rink that doesn't train its beginning freestyle students in the challenging warm up skills in even longer than that.

A couple of weeks ago I went to watch my student H, who passed into Freestyle One this session. His mother was a little concerned, because both I and his class teacher had told her he'd be fine with the skills, it was the warm up that she should be worried about.

He, and the other baby freestylers actually do fine. They stumble through the skills, sometimes badly and fast, sometimes well, but slow, but pretty much clueless throughout.

The Ice Rink of the Damned actually got this one right-- they inserted a level between Delta and FS1 called "Pre Freestyle" with the express mandate of teaching the kids the warm up patterns.  At my last rink, you didn't get out of Delta (or out of Beta for that matter) without the flow, speed and skating knowledge to handle the warm up.  (Yes, all those kids skated better than me. It was a little intimidating. Fortunately I'm extremely arrogant.)

H's rink-- man, they just throw them in the deep end, or would have, if it wasn't frozen. Because those kids were drowning.

I don't think the kids knew this, and the coaches were handling it reasonably well, but I don't really understand the point of having kids try to figure out a complex skill like power 3-turns. They're just getting it wrong and are going to have to unlearn it, or they'll feel incompetent and will check out. (haha skating joke).

Here are some solutions:

As I noted, you can simply add a level. The Basic Skills and ISI curricula are not governed by force of law. You can mess around with them. The problem moving from Learn to Skate into Freestyle is that LTS teaches the skills in isolation; Freestyle requires flow, and the ability to move from one skill to another. (This is actually one of the areas where Basic Skills gets it better than ISI, because it does teach more flow than ISI.)

The skills that kids should learn are alternating 3-turns, waltz 3-turns, power 3-turns, alternating mohawks, stopping drills, cross rolls and cross steps, perimeter stroking (PrePre pattern), perimeter cross overs (forwards and backwards), 3-turn tap toes.  That'll do it. Once they have these in their muscle memory, other warm up patterns will become more intuitive.

Divide the ice
If your rink doesn't have enough available ice to add a level, and you've got mixed high/mid and low in a single class, put the new freestylers on one side of the blue line (about a quarter of the rink), with the rest of the class sharing the remainder. Yes, the high skaters will be somewhat restricted, but on the other hand they won't be tripping over the low skaters anymore.  You don't even need to do it for the whole session-- maybe the first month, until the newbies learn the moves.

Add it to Delta
Delta Is So Boring. Start teaching the kids to put the skills together. They'll be more engaged and they'll be more ready for freestyle.

Rearrange the classes
Instead of putting Gamma and Delta on the same ice, put Gamma with the Betas, and create a Delta-FS1-FS2 level. this is another place where Basic Skills gets it right, by putting beginning spins and jumps in their learn to skate curriculum.  FS1 and FS2 (and maybe FS3) shouldn't even be considered "Freestyle" but should still be counted in Learn to Skate, because they are still introducing basic concepts. But nobody asks me.

Divide the ice, part duo
To get around the full-ice problem created by dividing the ice along the short axis, put the high freestyle kids on the perimeter, and run the beginners up the center so they can both learn the skills and go at their own speed.  You won't be able to run any "five circle" warm ups using this traffic pattern, but on the other hand you won't have the highs tripping over the lows. You'll also teach the high freestyle kids to use the whole ice. It makes me insane when skaters avoid the end zone like there's a force field blocking it.

How does your rink integrate or prepare low freestyle into the freestyle curriculum?


  1. How does *MY* rink integrate low freestyle into the freestyle curricula? Well, if you're an adult, they *don't.* And I'm a bit bitter about that. I had to go outside the rink to get someone to teach me a genuine warmup.

    1. You're annoyed about it, but this is actually another good solution! Wish I'd thought to include it in the list!