I’m finding that there are millions of different ways to explain skating techniques and millions of ways to try and verbally convince skaters to change their positions and habits. For example, I think I’ve come up with at least 45,000 ways of describing appropriate skating posture, involving eagles, giraffes, trees, prairie dogs, toboggans, starfish, pita bread (bad) versus a slice of bread (good), walls, arrows, guards at Buckingham Palace, and the list goes on…
I’ve even managed to plug good old Starbucks in the posture discussion. I’ll say something to my student like: “Don’t you stand straight and look up in order to place your order of… <Depending on the season, I insert hot chocolate or frappaccino, here, both of which are more advisable and kid-friendly than the Double Tall 74-Shot latte I’m currently drinking>?” I continue: “Don’t you look up at the sign while you’re walking toward the barista? If you can walk without looking at the floor, then you can skate without looking at the ice. That’s all we’re asking for, here.”
Still, despite all the various tricks I pull out of my (wool) hat, I can’t always get my messages across. Sometimes, I’m downright stumped. I’ll scratch my head and wonder how on earth I can get such and such skater to straighten her free leg. I mean, she knows what “straight” is, she knows what I mean by “locked”…she even knows she should be emulating spaghetti noodles before they go into the pot rather than afterwards. And, she can straighten her leg while standing at the boards. Then, out on the ice: Bent! Loose! Limp as a cooked noodle!
Well, I asked the universe for a solution and it recently came to me: Champion Cords invented by coach Sheila Thelan. These are basically bungee type cords that attach skaters’ hands to their feet. These cords create tension and resistance that help the skaters to be more aware of their limbs and torso. Thelan, of Minnesota, got the idea in 2003 while teaching a student who was struggling with her axel. She wanted to tie the skater’s left hand and left foot together so that she would move as a unit. She found some bungee cord in the rink and did just that. The results were immediate.
The cords are easily attached to the laces with a hook, then looped around the bottom of the skate and hooked again to keep it secure. Champion Cords offers a few different types of hooks, including the Triple Hook and the S-Hook. I have tried both and have found the S hook to be a little easier to work with, once your hands are cold. On the other end of the cord, there is a loop that just fits around the wrist like a bracelet.
Before trying them out on my students, I took them for a test run, myself. It was a strange sensation for the first few strokes, to be connected to these strings. Though there was no Gepetto in the rafters, I felt like a marionette. After stroking around for a while and doing a few basic exercises, I started to notice a few things. For one, my arms were getting quite tired: it was taking a surprising amount of strength to hold them up. (Oh the gym, the gym, that dreaded and oft-avoided destination.) I could imagine that this challenge would also benefit my students. Second, I noted that I was stretching my limbs and my neck a bit longer than usual. Aha! I felt like the “starfish on skates” I’m always blabbering about. Finally, I experienced a heightened awareness of how I was positioning my body and, as a result, an overall sense of deliberateness. It was a very cool feeling.
I was even inspired to try a spiral, something I haven’t dared to attempt in public for several years. I’m not going to say that the cords helped me get my leg to Sasha or Nancy elevation, or anything, but the tension created a sense of security and a bit more balance. I think I looked pretty decent, for such a long hiatus. (The plexiglass wouldn’t lie, would it? )
In fact, these are all the things I noticed in my students when I proceeded to rig them up with cords for stroking, for pulls, for spirals, etc. Suddenly, shoulders were back, arms were straight, and legs were lifted higher. At first, they giggled and skated a bit hesitantly, just like I did. And, by the way, almost every single one of them commented (unprompted by me, I swear) that they felt like a marionette or a puppet. I could see that they were experiencing that increased awareness in their limbs and shoulders. Then, when I took the cords off, this awareness seemed to stick. I’m not saying the lesson is miraculously long-lasting, or anything, but we’re aiming for muscle-memory, here, and these cords are an extremely helpful tool. They’re like flashcards in the game of memorization.
Since I teach mostly moves and dance, this is what I have used them for, so far. But each set of cords purchased on the Champion Cords website comes with an instructional DVD featuring skaters wearing the cords (either on just one side of the body or both) for jumps and spins. I can imagine that the tension of these cords would help to create similar awareness and alignment for these as well. The DVD also demonstrates an alternative way to use the cords to assist with posture: looping the cords around both wrists so that it’s behind the shoulder blades. This helps skaters feel that line and horizontal stretch.
Anyway, I’ll keep using this new contraption. I’m interested to see what results I can get from here (though I’ll probably also keep racking my brain for new analogies.) The kids have enjoyed using them, so it’s a nice breath of fresh air in my teaching regimen.
I recommend these for you or your skaters. They are endorsed by the PSA and lots of coaches: Frank Carroll, Audrey Weisiger and Paul Wylie have used and applauded them. ‘Tis the season of gift giving and I for one am swinging toward the more practical rather than the frivolous end of the spectrum. These are a great pick. Click here to learn more and to purchase.
What about you? Have you tried Champion Cords? Are you an actual marionette by trade, birth, or profession? If so, remember that imitation is the best form of flattery. Finally, if you are the one person in the world who looks down at his feet when ordering at Starbucks, and you’re planning to poke a hole in that brilliant posture analogy of mine, please don’t click on Comment below. All others: you are very welcome to do so.