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!

The Boomerang Effect

September 30, 2008

Boomerang: n. a kind of throwing stick, primarily associated with the Australian Aborigines. When thrown correctly, it travels in a curved path and returns to its point of origin.

I’ve never seen an actual boomerang, or held one in my hands, or tossed one into the air to see if it will return (with my luck, it would probably bonk me in the head.) But I have had several skating students venture out into that big, wide world then boomerang back.

In many cases, it’s because they left the sport with unfinished business, mostly skating tests they now want to check off their lists. Hard as I try to convince kids to finish their skating goals (whatever they may be) before high school graduation, I can’t always adequately impart the urgency I feel on their behalf. Some think, “Oh, I’ll just get that test later, maybe while I’m at college or when I come back for the summer.” And maybe they will…

Of course, what they don’t realize is that, as the months and years pass, there will be all kinds of distractions and a shifting of priorities. (And let’s face it, the body changes in ways we can’t possibly imagine when we’re 18 years old…usually not in ways that are ideal for figure skating.) With panic in my voice, I say things like, “Trust me, it’s not going to get any easier!” And, “Do this now, while you still can!”

Sometimes this message falls on deaf ears and other times skaters do everything they can to get that last test, yet can’t close the deal before leaving for college. I’ve had students in each of these categories, and a handful of them have circled back to finish what they started. When this happens, it’s gratifying, to say the least.

Not only is it generally wonderful to help skaters reach their goals (and especially sweet when delayed), it’s fun to get to know students as they become adults. They are simultaneously the same kids I used to know and also quite different. They’ve gained some perspective while away and independence. Now they’re involved in different pursuits, so their worlds have widened, yet they have become more focused and also more self-motivated.

Granted, this whole boomerang effect in skating is far easier when it comes to Moves in the Field and Dance (what I primarily teach). Coming back to jumps and spins is a whole other story. My sister-in-law, Bobbie Anne Flower, is a rare exception: after quitting skating at age 18, she came back to take her Moves in the Field test at age 29, her Senior Freestyle at age 30 then her Senior Pair test at 31. So this is not impossible, just rare. 

Anyway, this summer, I had three students boomerang back. Two returned from college where they skate on successful synchro teams. One took her Silver Samba International Dance and another passed two Gold Dances. A third, Eric Karnani, took a few years off from skating and recently finished high school. He has just moved to Australia (how perfect for this boomerang metaphor) to ice dance with a partner there. This summer, before leaving, he passed his Senior Moves and his Starlight Waltz after only a few short weeks back on the ice.

I decided to ask Eric and a few other “boomerang skaters” what coming back to skating has meant to them and they were kind enough to answer with the following…

Eric: Skating is like an addiction. It is something that you either consciously or unconsciously try to move on from, but somehow get drawn back because you miss it so much. I worked with two amazing coaches before I “quit” skating, and thought that I would never look back. But like all habits, I eventually knew I needed to skate. I knew I needed that feeling of power and passion all combined into one. And so I took that first step back onto the ice to go and pass my Senior Moves, a goal of mine for a very long time. It’s incredible coming back to a sport you used to love and realize you still love it just as much, or even more; you come back with such a different perspective and appreciation for it. 

Another skater, Sam Mortimer, e-mailed me a response to this topic hilariously entitled: “Trying to Skate When You are Poor, Lazy and Realize that you can Sleep In.” He first practiced his Dutch Waltz with me wearing a baseball cap and cargo pants at the age of 12 and has now graduated from college. Since high school, he has come back to skating to take three Gold Dances.

He writes: Why is it so hard to skate when you stop skating all the time? I’ll start with my biggest reason, which is when I stopped skating competitively and went to school I realized that there were other things to do. When I was skating all the time I did not think about other things like hanging out late or playing other sports more or even just sleeping in. At New York University, I started doing things that I did not do in high school. Besides, college takes up A LOT more time than high school does, as far as workload. I think part of that comes from going to school in NYC but it also comes from the fact that when anyone goes away to college you all of a sudden feel so much more freedom to do whatever you want to do. So when you have been skating for the past 8 years and then you get the chance to take a break it feels good to just breathe and rest and kind of do nothing and then when the novelty of doing nothing wears off, you do something other than skating.

Second, skating costs LOTS AND LOTS of money and when I am trying to budget myself for food, fun, laundry, transportation etc., all the items that I have to pay for, skating is not factored into my budget. So everyone should be really thankful that their parents paid for them to skate. And I think lastly, I really like skating NOT on a schedule. I treat skating as more of a social event than a rigorous practice. I think that when I want to get back into skating it will be hard but for the time being I like taking it easy. I am sure that a lot of people feel the same way I do: that skating without pressure from parents or coaches makes for a more pleasurable experience. I don’t expect anything out of myself so I can just skate the way I want. I cannot say that I regret how I skated in high school at all and it gave me a really great basis for how I view life in general but I am happy with where I stand with skating now. 

Cortney Rosenberg came back to skate with me every summer break from college. She is now a teacher and has her own flock of little prodigies, third graders. She writes: 

I don’t remember anything about starting skating. It has just always been there, a part of me. Skating was always a calming influence in my life. No matter what was happening outside of the rink I could always count on my time at the rink and the people that surrounded me there.

Growing up I took for granted how lucky I was to have found something in my life I was so passionate about. Luckily, my parents supported this passion and made sure that I was always enjoying myself. When, in college, I became too hard on myself to enjoy the sport anymore, I decided to take a break from it. I missed it every single day I was away. Life was just not the same. It was only then that I realized I would never be able to take skating out of my life completely. It has become engrained in my spirit. During my summers, I made a conscious choice to spend summers at home so that I could get back to the rink. I would return to my old rinks purely for the love of the sport and the feeling I got stepping on the ice surface. I was always welcomed back. After all, skating was never just a sport but a community.  Now that I have a real job, and live a few hours away from the rinks that I grew up training in, it is harder to be able to go skate. I still wake up some mornings wishing I could skip out on work and get on the ice for a couple of hours or that my coaches miraculously lived closer. I beg my friends to join me at public skating sessions just for the burst of cold air and the feeling of gliding that I get from nothing else. Deep down I will always be a skater.

And finally, while I was working on this very CSOM installment, a student named Alyson McGee, who I haven’t seen in years, coincidentally e-mailed me out of the blue. She has just returned from Ethiopia where she was in the Peace Corps. She wrote: 

I thought of you today because I just laced up my skates after about two years of not getting on the ice- pretty terrible of me, it was just hard to find the time in college with no skating rink nearby (well actually there were lots of skating rinks near Tufts but they were hockey-ONLY rinks). I recently went to a rink by my parent’s house to see if I still remember how to get around the ice. Thankfully I do and it was really great to get back out there.

I really have missed it a lot since I last competed synchro in 2005. I think it was kind of a shame that I never passed my Senior Moves so I’m thinking about committing to train and finally take that test. Although I am woefully unemployed for now my parents have promised to help me with the costs of skating again (for a limited time only) so that I can accomplish this goal, which I think they have been holding onto for me as well. I definitely have a lot of work to do on my own and I’m expecting that it will take some time to get back to my old self on skates but I’d be interested in having a refresher crash course on Senior Moves and then maybe we can take it from there…

I say to Alyson and to all lapsed skaters who want to test or simply get their “rink legs” back: Of course – boomerang back! Will it be easy? No. Will it be rewarding? Definitely. So call your rink for the schedule and get those blades sharpened. Just remember to take it easy at first. I suggest (from my own experience) that you stretch out your dormant muscles beforehand and also afterwards…

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Thanks so much to the skaters who contributed to this.

What has been your own experience with skating’s Boomerang Effect? Click on the word “comments” below.

Update: New Moves in the Field

September 23, 2008

My, what a nice loop she just completed, and in turquoise skates.

My, what a nice loop...and in turquoise skates.

Is it strange that I love the Moves in the Field as much as I do? Okay, don’t answer that.

I know that Moves are basically the piano scales of skating. I know that many skaters and some fellow coaches find these required, fundamental exercises boring beyond words. Yet for some reason, I enjoy teaching them, maybe because I like the challenge of trying to make them fun. I like showing my skaters how the Moves skills relate to other areas of their skating, such as their step sequences and transitions in the Freestyle, Synchro, and Dance programs. And it’s very gratifying to see them climb the Moves testing ladder.  

Last year, we started to hear that United States Figure Skating was going to restructure the Moves. I think this news was received by most coaches with a mix of excitement (something new to teach!) and trepidation (uh oh, something new to teach…). I certainly felt both of these things, especially in light of all the new concepts we’ve had to digest due to IJS. Skaters and parents of skaters frantically wondered if they should try to test all the way from Pre-Juvenile level all the way through Senior within the next year in order to avoid the changes.

In fact, the new Moves were proposed at the 2008 Annual Governing Council Meeting last May. However, they did not pass. At the PSA Conference later that month, many coaches got a look at the proposed (yet unapproved) changes during presentations by coaches Damon Allen and Janet Champion, both of Colorado Springs.

Curious about the current status of these changes, I contacted Wayne Hundley, who is the chairperson for the new Moves Task Force. He is a Technical Specialist, a Controller, a National Judge and former competitor located in Riverside, California. The task force includes about 22 people, including USFS Committee chairs, USFS Board Members and PSA Representatives. Hundley was kind enough to update me with a lot of specific information and he encouraged me to pass it along here.

Turns out that since May, they have basically started over from scratch. They are taking into consideration lots of feedback they have received from members-at-large and have been working to address some of the most common concerns.

Among these concerns, is the length of the tests and the amount of ice time clubs need to purchase in order to host these test sessions. In response, Hundley’s committee is now proposing that approximately eight of the current Moves are simply condensed so that they take less time. For example, in the Preliminary Moves, instead of doing two figure eights of Forward and Backward Crossovers around the hockey circles, the skaters would do only one figure eight forward, then flow directly into a backwards figure eight without stopping. Another example of this is on the Juvenile Eight Step Mohawk Sequence: instead of stopping between directions, they are proposing that this is set up as a figure eight and one circle simply flows into the next, similar to how the Juvenile Backward Power Three Turns currently work.

In this new plan, some moves have been taken away all together, such as the Intermediate Back Perimeter Power Crossovers with Backward Power Three Turns, the Novice Bracket-Three-Brackets and the Junior Forward and Backward Power Circles. This is meant to make time for the addition of some entirely new moves, which feature Loops, Twizzles, and some Circle Eights reminiscent of School Figures. They believe that these will be helpful to competitive skaters using IJS for Freeskating, Pair, Dance and Synchro and that they will also impart important skills for skaters on the test track.

Along these same lines, there are also some revisions to the Novice and Senior Spiral Sequences to incorporate more kinds of spirals. Specifically, the Novice test would include all eight spirals (i.e. now there would be Forward Outside Spirals and Back Inside Spirals on both feet in that sequence). And the Senior test would change slightly at the end of the pattern to include a Forward Outside Spiral. At both of these levels, the skater would be required to hold each Spiral for a designated number of seconds, in some cases three seconds and in some cases six.

In all, there are approximately 16 changes, and this number includes those eight Moves that aren’t really changed, just condensed. From what I can tell thus far from Hundley’s extremely clear and organized proposal, the changes are not very drastic. And they make sense. I like the idea of incorporating twizzles, loops, and some old-school figure eights into the Moves and getting rid of a lot of the restarts.

I think what would take the most effort to learn would probably be the proposed Junior Straight Line Step and the new Senior Circular Step Sequence. This latter pattern does use some of the current version, but with the addition of a few new turns, like Twizzles and Counters. Hundley underscored the fact that the Senior test is the culmination of the whole process, so it’s important that this test incorporates as many of the Moves skills as possible. Truthfully, it doesn’t even seem like these two Moves are very complicated, nothing to get anxious about.

Hundley said, “Skating is constantly evolving and we want the Moves to reflect that progress.” He emphasized that the Moves are meant to improve basic skating skills, such as better turn quality et cetera, for all skaters, not just competitors.    

Hundley assured me that none of this is a secret. They already have the diagrams finished and coach Gerry Lane is helping to get the video clips ready. They hope to have lots of the information for these newest proposals posted on the USFS website as early as mid-November. They will be presenting these New Moves yet again at the 2009 Governing Council Meeting next May, so they are hoping to have lots of input on the proposal before then. The Professional Skaters Association would, as always, put together the manual, which outlines the focus of each Move and the common errors.

If this newest version passes in May, these Moves will go into effect September 2009.

Thanks so much to Wayne Hundley for so generously sharing all of this info and providing lots of much-needed clarity. It will be interesting to see if this all goes through and fun to play with some new (and slightly tweaked) tricks.

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So what do you think of all this? Please leave a comment below.

If you subscribe to Professional Skater Magazine, check out page 8 for a humorous essay I wrote about the PSA Ratings process…

And, this weekend I went to Oktoberfest in Central Park. To read The Informer report, click here.

Test Session 101

June 3, 2008

Lately, in my capacity as a skating coach, it seems like I’m always on my way to a test session, coming back from a test session, or printing out applications for the next one. To be exact, I’ve coached at six test sessions in the last two months, an unusually high number for me, and it seems like I have 52 more sessions on the calendar (okay, 4.) This means that I’m often on my cell phone in my car (of course utilizing my hands-free ear contraption…except for that one time) trying to explain skating tests to my non-skating friends.

I usually say something fairly abstract like, “They are judged performances designed to determine if the skater is ready to move up to the next level.” Even as I’m saying it, I know this description falls short; it doesn’t even begin to do justice to the unique adventure that is The Test Session. So I’ve decided to work on this.

As I have mentioned here before, I am a fan of the USFS(A) testing system and how all these smaller, more manageable goals lead to larger ones. Going through all these tests as a kid may very well be the reason that I am now a proponent of the “Bit by Bit” method of approaching most projects in life, in other words, taking one thing at a time, compartmentalizing, etc. Test sessions may also be why I believe that everyone should occasionally…scare themselves {insert menacing thunder clap sound effect.}

Anyway, here are some other possible ways of describing test sessions to skating outsiders. Feel free to use any of these in your own travels:

  • Test sessions are like the invisible ladders of skating. In order to climb from one rung to the next, you need written approval from two out of three supervisors. If you do not receive this majority when you first apply, you have to wait 27 days before applying again, so hold steady and pack a sandwich.
  • Or: It’s kind of like tap dancing at the foot of Mt. Rushmore. The judges are made of stone (or ice) and everything you do with your feet seems to echo throughout the universe.
  • Or: It’s like testifying in a Skating Court of Law. You’re the defendant, the judges are the jury, the rink is the courtroom, and instead of the Bible, you swear in on the USFS(A) Rulebook before taking “the stand.”
  • Or: It’s kind of like going to the dentist. The lights are bright and you can’t really speak up for yourself (read: make excuses.) Sometimes you leave smiling and sometimes…not.
  • Or: It’s kind of like getting silently interrogated by a well-coifed government agency. The primary methods of torture are extreme cold and a pack of butterflies specially trained to invade your stomach.
  • Or: It’s sort of like taking the S.A.T.’s. It seems like your entire future hinges on your performance in the next few hours (or moments.) But, of course, that’s not really the case; you can always meet up with your tutor (or coach) again in order to gear up and “Retry.” Besides, though it’s hard to believe this at first, in several years time you won’t even remember your score.
  • Really, test sessions are classic demonstrations of Murphy’s Law. The more prepared the club Test Chairman, the judges, the coaches, and the skaters are, the more things that seem to go wrong. Still, you’re advised to arrive ready for anything, and don’t forget to throw an extra pair of laces in your bag. 

Granted, when my students are about to step onto the ice, I don’t mention any of this, no, no, no. Instead we talk about how taking this test is not a big deal, how it’s just like any other day of practice, how it’s all about having fun. And, of course, all of this is true as well.

“Good luck!”

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Any other ideas? Please share by clicking on “comment” below.

FYI, this weekend, I went on a wild and crazy road trip of not-so-cinematic proportions down to Delaware, USA. Read all about it by clicking on Cusp of Greatness in the column over to the right.