Glossary of Skating Falls

Have you noticed this week that even Olympic skaters fall? One of the things I write about in my book, First Day on the Ice: Tips from a Professional Coach (and Mom), is the fact that everyone falls…little kids, big kids, skating coaches, and yes, even Olympians.

As someone who has fallen on the ice too many times to count (thousands?), I can attest to the fact that you get used to it. Skaters fall in just about every way imaginable. Backwards, forwards, sideways, and (sometimes, unfortunately in my case) upside down.

It’s said that skaters “learn” how to fall, in other words, in ways that are less jolting, and it’s true. We conform to it…we slide with the falls. When we are at our peak, we are flexible, our reflexes kick in, and we get our hands out quickly to break some of the impact.

This is not to say that experienced skaters don’t ever get hurt by falls – and of course, you are quite welcome to wince and shout out “Oooooohhhhhh!” in your living room – but if you see an elite level skater fall on TV, the chances are good that they’re far more upset about the loss of points and ranking than any pain they might be feeling.

In my job as a skating coach, I see all kinds of falls all day long. Some of them look terrifying and some of them look downright…well, funny. At some point, I decided to try to catalogue all the different types of falls and I’d like to share them here with you.

The Splat: In this fall, usually best performed from forward skating, you hit the ice like pancake batter hits the griddle. In the more sophisticated version, there is an involuntary flip at the end.

The Sidesaddle: This fall is the one most highly recommended for adults and simply involves sliding off to one side or the other with grace and a bit of dignity. The affected hip and wrist will never be the same, but at least you’ll still have your teeth.

The Bellyflop: This is one of the more exciting falls, often associated with the entrance to a Camel Spin. If the skater has temporarily forgotten that she is at the rink and not the swimming pool, this will surely remind her. This fall is rendered even more breathtaking because it literally takes your breath.

The Geyser: This fall is unique in the way it first shoots you up in the air, causing you to momentarily defy gravity before you plummet back down. In order to get your money’s worth, stick around for the exciting grand finale, which is usually a full-bodied whiplash.

The Jackhammer: In this vertical fall, the tailbone makes first contact with the ice with a velocity and force that shakes the entire building. In response, the spinal chord will continue to vibrate for days.

The Pretzel: Many physicists have tried, but it is impossible to explain how skaters accomplish this complicated fall and likewise detangle from it. This human knot is twice as common and complex for pair and dance teams.

The Slide: This is the fall that reminds you just how slippery the ice is. If there are other skaters on the ice, the challenge is to steer yourself away from them. In other words, you want to avoid impersonating a bowling ball heading straight for the pins.

The Surprise: This fall is not your fault. There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it and no way to see it coming. The ice quietly sneaks up on you, swiftly grabs you from below, and pulls you down. All of this transpires in a nanosecond, so any witnesses who observe it will be just as surprised as the skater.

The Slo-Mo: This is the exact opposite of the previous fall. This one seems to take forever and you’ll see it coming from miles away. You’ll try to flap your arms in an attempt to fly out of the situation, but this will only put you more off balance. In the meantime, your life will flash before your eyes. You’ll have time to wish you’d done all those good things like taken better care of your childhood goldfish… tape-recorded your grandmother’s voice… spent more time laughing and less time working.

Mostly, you’ll wish that you’d invested in a set of… butt pads.


Alternative Names for the Figure Skating Kiss and Cry

The Figure Skating events of the 2018 Olympics are underway and the sport is reaching its graceful tentacles into the minds of millions. During this time, skating insiders may be called upon to answer some difficult questions, such as: What’s up with this judging system? And: Why did beautiful so-and-so get beat by that robot who fell twice? Or, one of my favorites: Is there actually such a thing as a “Kiss and Cry” area? Is that what you guys really call it?

Yes, this is where skaters and their coaches anxiously await their scores then react to them. This rink-side nook is usually decorated with black or royal blue carpeting and a few fake plants. The term Kiss and Cry apparently originated in Finland in the late 1970’s and was bandied about while they were setting up the rink for the 1983 Worlds. Kiss and Cry is now an official term utilized by the International Skating Union.

I have mixed feelings about this term. As someone who grew up in the sport and has now made it my profession, I naturally want skating to be taken seriously. After all, this is a challenging and rigorous pursuit.

Then again, as someone who grew up in the sport and has now made it my profession, the term “kiss and cry” also seems…well, pretty funny. After all, what everyone loves about skating is the human drama and the reactions afterwards are a big part of the show.

But I wonder, could there be other names for this area? Here are a few possibilities…

The Hug and Sob

The Smooch and Sweat

The Huff and Puff

The Sit There and Smile even if You’re Devastated

The Celebrate and Regret

The Wave to the Camera and Wiggle the Arms of a Teddy Bear as if it’s Dancing

The First Minute of the Rest of your Life

The Squint and Try to See Your Scores

The I Didn’t Get to go to Prom

The Oh Well There’s Always Next Year, Except for the Olympics, which Actually Won’t Happen for Another Four Years and It’s Statistically Unlikely Your Super-fit Yet Also Fragile Body Will Hold Up that Long

Podcast about the Olympics


Thank you to the Coffee and Bars podcast for inviting me to be a guest host on this round-up of the Olympic Figure Skating Team Event. This was fun and unexpected.

In addition to chatting with Sylvia and Joe about the performances…I quote Adam Rippon regarding the rodeo, then talk about how my brother Brad and I got started in the sport, my memories of Maia and Alex Shibutani when they were little, and my unwavering faith in Nathan Chen. First time for everything! #FirstDayontheIce.

Coffee and Bars hit my radar recently due to their brilliant 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Drinking Game. If you haven’t read it yet (or played it!), check it out!

New Book for Beginner Skaters: First Day on the Ice


I am excited to announce that my new book, First Day on the Ice: Tips from a Professional Skating Coach (and Mom) is an Amazon #1 Bestseller! It’s available on Amazon as a paperback (3.99) and an ebook (1.99) that you can read on your phone, computer, or kindle.

I’ve been skating for a looooong time, and I’ve been writing for even longer. This has been so fun to work on, and I hope it will provide exactly the right information for parents who are ready to take their kids skating. In this short read, I cover what to wear, what to talk about beforehand, how to lace the skates, and I even give parents insider techniques to try with their children, both on and off the ice. The goal is for the first day in skates to be a positive one and to lead to more fun in the future. I tried to make this guide clear and, of course, also a bit humorous.

I formerly competed in ice dance and pair skating with my brother, Brad Cox, and we made the national team four times together at the junior level. I’ve now been coaching skating for over 25 years. In that time, I estimate that I’ve probably taught hundreds of skaters through both group and private lessons.

I decided to write the book when my friends were asking me questions about taking their toddlers and pre-schoolers to the rink for the first time. Even though I have been coaching for all these years, I only started seeing it from the other side, in other words, the parent’s perspective, recently, when I started taking my son (now five) out on the ice.

I realized that there’s a lot you can do to prepare your child for a fun day of skating before they even step on the ice. What I’ve written in First Day on the Ice may seem obvious to skating insiders, but isn’t obvious to people who have no experience with skating, and that’s who I’m hoping to help. For example, even small details like the right length of socks can make a big difference on that first day.

Check it out here! And thanks to everyone’s support on this project!

Why I Bawled Like a Baby for the Last 10 Minutes of I, Tonya

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I saw I, Tonya even though I was kind of dreading it. As a skating insider, depictions of the sport on the big screen have always bothered me, and most of my skating friends. (The exception is Blades of Glory, which was wildly off base and also hilarious.) The I, Tonya trailer made me cringe for several reasons, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit the embarrassing “incident,” i.e. when Nancy Kerrigan was famously attacked at an ice rink.

I competed in figure skating during the same years as Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, albeit in different events and I quit a few years before “the incident”. I was loosely acquainted with them — more with Nancy than Tonya since we were both on the East coast and therefore crossed paths at training camps and qualifying competitions.

I was in the audience, sitting with my friends, when Tonya Harding landed her triple axel in the 1991 National Championships (three years before Nancy Kerrigan was attacked.) That historic performance in 1991 earned Tonya the gold medal, meaning she was considered the best female figure skater in the United States. I had performed/competed on the same sheet of ice in ice dance either earlier that day or maybe the day before. I didn’t know much about Harding’s family, I didn’t know she was abused by her mother and her husband, and I don’t even think I realized that she was married. What I knew about Tonya at the time was that she was a bundle of energy and athletic talent. My friends and I reacted to that performance with amazement. She skated fast, she exploded into the air, and she landed (miraculously, given all that velocity)…on her feet.

I watched the film in a sold-out theater in the center of Manhattan. I have been a skating coach now for over 20 years, and my own competitive years feel like several lifetimes ago. Our story lines and family details are very different. But it was bizarre and almost surreal to see such a familiar persona and familiar world depicted on the big screen with some realism. It was strange to see someone I kind of knew portrayed by an actress. The movie was done surprisingly well; I winced throughout, not so much because of the inaccuracies of the sport (and sure, there were many), but more by the accuracy.

Here is scene that captured the essence of skating for me: [SPOILER ALERT] Near the end, as she is preparing to compete at the 1994 Olympics, Tonya sits in an empty dressing room, rubbing far too much make-up on her cheeks. Looking at herself, she grits her teeth, and smiles through tears.

I have never decided whether skaters smiling through pain is pathetic and fake or the ultimate display of strength. It’s something I had to do; most competitive skaters have. The truth is that figure skating is physically painful and filled with a level of pressure that is difficult to explain or express. Even if you’re not an Olympic contender, you and your family have to sacrifice for so many years to get anywhere near the top…and your success rides on these singular and very public performances that last only a few minutes. The smile is a way of pretending that you’re confident and also an attempt to convince yourself, too. Very few other sports demand this level of composure and this scene managed to capture that challenge for me.

[CONTINUED SPOILERS] A few scenes later in the film, my heart broke as Tonya, in court, tried to convince the judge to give her jail time instead of banning her from skating. This is how much she loved and needed the sport despite what it did to her. This was her level of fearlessness. My heart broke again as they showed her in the boxing ring, making ends meet after her skating career was over. We see her fighting just as much, and getting hurt just as much, in another brutal venue.

But here was the kicker and what took me from merely crying to full-on sobbing: When the movie was finished, they played the real video footage of the real Tonya competing and winning in the 1991 National Championships. Even though the credits were rolling, the entire sold-out audience in that Manhattan theater sat and watched her performance to the very end, the performance my friends and I also marveled at, live, in the arena 27 years ago.

The details and the facts of the Nancy-Tonya incident are still nebulous; the movie doesn’t fully answer the question about what Tonya knew or didn’t know regarding the attack. But here is what was crystal clear: there, on the big screen was the actual person, bursting with raw talent and undeniable strength amid ridiculous odds. We were all watching, and acknowledging this, every single one of us.

If you see something…

Skate Something

I saw this poster in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week. It’s obviously a spoof on the Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something say something,” campaign. A closer look at the fine print revealed that it was targeting skateboarders, but…I just can’t resist a little skating wordplay.

(The fine print says: If you see a possible ledge spot, rail, or gap on the street or in a park, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t tell a cop, tell a friend or an NYC Skate Employee. Or call the toll free Shred Hotline. All calls will be kept confidential, for shredding emergencies call 911.)

And, for the record, I don’t think any Williamsburg skateboard/hipster types were around when I so dorkily snapped this shot. Or if they did see me, they decided not to…say something.

Bravo on Passing New Senior Moves!

Congratulations to Alyssa Cambria (L) and Vida Weisblum (below) on passing their Senior Moves in the Field tests! They are my first students to pass the new, updated versions of this test and they skated wonderfully. Coaching the new material has been fun – I think the changes are excellent and very relevant to today’s step sequences for singles, dance, and synchro. It seems that most skaters are adapting well to the revisions implemented in September. In general, I’d say that they are finding the loops and the twizzles to be the most challenging. But all that work and repetition is paying off – Bravo!