Category Archives: Figure Skating Parents

QnA: What is an appropriate age to start teaching my child to skate?

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Tot IceSkating

Q. What is an appropriate age to start teaching my child to skate?

A. This is a common question, but one that varies greatly depending on the particular child. I have occasionally seen children under 3 in skates, but 5 or 6 is probably a good age to sign them up for a tots class to see how they enjoy skating and to find out if they can handle lessons. Most children are attentive and coordinated enough to make good progress by the time they are 8. It is important to remember that most children who start figure skating will not ever enter upper-level qualifying competitions, so they should be skating for the enjoyment and challenge that ice skating offers

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How Do I Choose a Coach?

by Candyce Mairs

Skating Coach

copyright Bruno Rosa

The selection of a figure skating coach is an important one and should be thoughtfully considered. The combination of personalities between the skater and the coach is very important in determining whether the arrangement is a successful one. The coach should be a good role model both on and off the ice and foster positive growth in the skater. Your skater will spend a lot of time with their coach. Many skaters go their entire career with the same coach.

If you are considering a coaching switch, the method listed below can assist you in choosing a new coach. Never switch coaches if you are in a highly emotional state. If you are presently unhappy in your situation, go through the checklist below to help you determine if a coaching change is really needed. Plan a conference with your present coach to discuss the situation and try and work it out. A coaching change can be very disruptive to the skater. A good suggestion is to take a month to walk through the steps below carefully before making any major decisions.

Before approaching any coaches, go through the following questions and document your answers to determine your needs. Even if you are a beginning level skater, the steps below will assist you in finding the coach that is right for you.

  1. Determine the present goals for your skater. Do you want to test and advance in levels or do you want to be highly competitive?
  2. Are you willing to compete? If so, how far are you willing to travel?
  3. What are your long-term goals? Is it Olympic level competition, judging, professional shows, or teaching? The coach you choose must be prepared to help your skater reach his/her goals.
  4. How much time and money are you willing to commit to the sport of figure skating?
  5. How far will you travel to a rink on a daily basis? Make a list of rinks you are willing to travel to. (If you are unfamiliar with rinks in your area, the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) at http://www.skateisi.com or the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) at http://www.usfsa.org, can supply you with a list of rinks.)
  6. Determine the Professional Skaters Association (PSA) ratings level you require for a coach. These ratings assure that the coach is qualified to teach that level. Call the (PSA) at 507-281-5122 if you are not familiar with the PSA/USFSA coaches ratings system. They can give you a list of coaches in your area who are PSA rated and can answer any coaching related questions you may have.
  7. Determine your minimum requirements in a coach in terms of the test qualifications of the coach, past student levels, ratings, commitment, availability, etc.
  8. Obtain a list of coaches and their resumes from your rink list above.
  9. Narrow down the list of potential coaches. Eliminate coaches without the appropriate skating background, test level qualifications, PSA membership or rating qualifications that you require.
  10. Go to the various rinks to observe each coach on this list.Make a log of the following observations for each of these coaches:
    • Observe them on the ice from a discreet area of the rink to determine their teaching style and present student-coach relationships with various students.
    • Observe various students of each coach during their practices. Does the skater appear happy? Is there a positive situation? Are the skaters able to structure their practice time?
    • Observe the coach off the ice. Are they available for questions? Are they open to comments? Do they appear to get along with the other coaches and people around them?

Eliminate coaches based on your observations. You now need to begin the phone interview process to get a feel for their personality. If you presently have a coach and are definitely looking for a new one, have you notified your present coach you are planning to switch? If not, be sure to mention in the phone interview that you are only considering your options at the present time. Do not go into the details of your present coaching arrangement with any potentially new coaches.

Here is a list of questions to ask a potential new coach:

  1. Their personal skating background.
  2. Are they a PSA member? This ensures the coach abides by the PSA Code of Ethics & offers a grievance procedure if there are problems.
  3. PSA ratings. Are they rated, and if so, for what level? If not, do they have extensive experience in the field?
  4. Do they attend educational events regularly to ensure their teaching methods are up to date?
  5. Are their present students reaching their goals?
  6. What is their personal availability and commitment level?
  7. What do they require of their students?
  8. Are their present students able to get enough lesson time?
  9. Can lesson times be added throughout the season?
  10. Previous students’ test achievements.
  11. Injury record of past students.
  12. Inquire of names and phone numbers of previous students no longer skating (for reference).
  13. Do they offer a trial lesson without any form of commitment?
  14. Are they accepting new students?

Once you have interviewed your entire list, review using the following criteria:

  1. Personality compatibility of skater & coach. Would your skater and this coach be compatible?
  2. Teaching style of the coach. Would your skater respond well to them?
  3. Coach’s communication skills. Are they easy to talk to?
  4. Ask around about the reputation of each coach in the community. Are they respected?
  5. Do they meet your coaching requirements?
  6. Call at least two prior students to get a feel for their experiences with this coach.

It is important to follow the PSA guidelines regarding switching coaches. Do not start lessons with the new coach until you have notified the previous coach and all lessons are paid in full.

Going through the steps above should help match your needs to the coach who can best fulfill those needs. Nothing can ensure that every situation is perfect, but rest assured that by following the above methods, you have done everything you can to ensure the chances of a positive and rewarding experience for your skater. As in any good relationship, the skater-coach relationship must be built on trust & respect.

Candyce has served as PSA State Education Director for Minnesota and is Master-rated in Figures, Freestyle, Group and Program Director.

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QnA: My child is struggling. Should I let her quit figure skating?

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Q. My 8 year old daughter has been skating for a year and a half. She just recently moved up to the Gamma level and has expressed a desire to quit skating. She has a history of quitting things when a greater effort is required (e.g. dance class, horseback riding), and I do not want this to be just a continuation of a pattern. She has competed successfully and likes competitions, but said she doesn’t like the work required. Do I insist she work through this or just let her off the hook? I think she can do this, but is just getting lazy! Thanks for your input.

A. As a pro I see this very frequently. Here are some of the things that I suggest. If you are not taking private lessons, I suggest that you try a few. Private lessons can provide the instructor with the option of introducing new skills that may be more fun than practicing three-turns! Skating must be fun and sometimes that means throwing in a few advanced skills even if the student is not quite ready for them. If you are taking privately, speak with your instructor about how both of you can add some fun to the learning process. Mix it up.

Games like skating with beanie babies on the head teach proper body alignment and posture while the student gets a fun challenge. A second part of “fun” is the social aspect. If your child does not have any friends at about the same level who skate, it’s highly unlikely they will continue. Having a friend to practice and play with is an important factor. Inquire about a club. Many rinks have figure skating clubs and junior clubs which could help you find some friends. They also give exposure to higher level skaters which might motivate your child to work harder to improve. Finally, if at all possible try to allow your child to request to go skating instead of prodding them to go. (Anything you want them to do, they won’t be interested in.) Good luck and let me know how it all turns out.

Note: Readers please feel to comment and offer your suggestions!

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Tips for Photographing Figure Skating

[Another oldie but goodie article]

In many ways, photographing figure skating is similar to photographing hockey because both sports are performed inside an arena on a rink.

But there’s one big difference. While hockey pictures usually concentrate on the brutal aspects of the sport, figure skating photos typically emphasize the grace and beauty. Having said this, however, we must admit that audiences (and judges) seem to be far more concerned with athletic prowess in the jumps than they are with the delicate balletic movements between jumps.

How can you best capture this athleticism as well as the beauty?
Where are you sitting? If you’re ringside with your camera, that’s one thing. If you’re sitting back in the stands, that’s another. Fortunately, sitting in the stands in a typical skating arena is not the same as sitting in the stands at a football stadium or Madison Square Garden. Usually, skating arenas are smaller and more intimate, with seating perhaps only ten rows deep. So being in the stands at most figure skating competitions or exhibitions is not as photographically challenging as being in the 50th row of a large football stadium.

In addition, skating audiences are usually more polite than their counterparts at more aggressive sports, which means that, when the skater leaps and gyrates, the spectator in front of you is less likely to stand up and block your view and knock over your camera.

copyright @NYIP

With these thoughts in mind, let’s turn to taking ice skating photos. While the “normal” lens on your point-and-shoot may give you a nice wide-angle picture of the arena, you will need a telephoto lens to get in close to the action – that is, to fill the frame with your subject. What if your point-and-shoot has a zoom lens, and you can zoom out to 105mm or even 180mm? Can you rely on it? Probably not…for another reason!

Most point-and-shoot cameras have a delay of up to a second between the time you press the shutter-button and the time they snap the picture. During this momentary delay, the camera has to automatically set the focus, automatically set the shutter speed and aperture to produce the “right” exposure, and automatically “decide” if you need flash. While a second is not long in a lifetime, it is far too long when it comes to snapping the shutter and getting a picture of the “decisive moment” – in this case, the high point of a jump or other maneuver. Unfortunately, you’re likely to end up with a picture of the skater back down on terra firma – or, at least, down on the ice…if the skater is even in the field of view at all!

This problem of delay can also afflict some SLR’s when they are set for autofocus and autoexposure. So our advice is to use an SLR, but set it to Manual Mode if possible. This way, you’re in charge of focusing and exposure, and you should set them in advance so there won’t be even a millisecond delay when you snap the shutter.

How do you set focus and exposure in advance?
Pre-focus on an area of the rink near you. You won’t be focused for the fireworks that occur farther away, but skating routines bring the performer to your side on each oval, and you’re prepared to shoot whenever the performer is in your pre-focused zone.

Set your exposure in advance too. Remember, you are aiming for correct exposure of the performer in the glare of the spotlights – not for correct exposure of the ice or the spectators in the stands. Even if your seat is not ringside, we advise that you walk up to ringside before the festivities begin. Take your reading at ringside. Perhaps, you can get a reading of your own skin in the glare of the rink lights. Or you can get a graycard reading in that light. Use this reading as your exposure.

Now return to your seat, and set up. You will be using a long lens. How long? This depends on the size of the arena and the location of your seats. Probably 180mm or longer.

Of course, when you use a long lens, you cannot safely handhold. You want to avoid camera-shake. Our suggestion is that you set your camera on a monopod to steady it. If the spectator in front of you jumps up, you’ll end up with a great picture of his back…but, as we’ve mentioned, this is far less likely at staid figure skating events than at raucous hockey or football games.

Since you are using a long lens and you will often want to freeze the action with a fast shutter-speed. That means you may need to set a higher ISO on your digital camera. If you’re using a film camera, ISO 800 film from either Kodak or Fuji is extremely good.

copyright @NYIP

Now, what about shutter-speed? As we just said, you will often want to freeze the action with a fast shutter-speed. But not always. We suggest that you also try to capture the feeling of speed and action in your picture by using a slow shutter speed to blur the skater and the action. To do this, bracket different shutter speeds – starting at 1/15th and getting slower – 1/8… 1/4… 1/2… etc.

Also, try panning some shots by following the movement of the skater as you press the shutter-button. A good pan will produce a sharp image of the skater against the blurred background of the spectators. During panning, use a slow shutter speed – 1/15th…1/8…or 1/4 – and keep the skater in your viewfinder as you press the shutter. A monopod or tripod is essential for good panning, otherwise the skater will be blurry as well as the background. There’s an example of a well panned picture taken during a speed-skating race.

What about flash? Many arenas don’t allow it. Even when they do, be aware of the limitation of your flash. The typical built-in flash has a range of just 10 to 15 feet. Will this be enough to light the skater subject from your seat? If you use a separate flash — rather than a built-in — know its maximum range. Can it reach out 20 feet‚ 30 feet‚ 40 feet‚ or even farther? The answer depends upon the particular unit, so read your unit’s specs and know its limitations in advance.

So much for figure skating. One final point about these winter sports: When it comes to early-morning hockey practice, we think your best shots may be of those sleepy-eyed moms and pops!

 

Reprinted with permission of the New York Institute of Photography

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QnA: How do we keep my son’s feet warmer on the ice?

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Q. My 6 year old son just started taking lessons, his feet freeze…what type of socks should he wear?

A. Usually we wear one thin pair of socks, similar to dress socks. The blade conducts the cold from the ice up into the boot. If you have room to put in an insole, that may help a little. It also is helpful to warm the boots up before putting them on. I sometimes use the blow dryer in the bathroom to blow hot air down into the boot. You could also use a hairdryer.

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Plyometrics: Beneficial for All Disciplines of Skating, Singles, Pairs and Ice Dance

 by Carl M. Poe

Reprinted with premission from :The Professional Skater Magazine
July / August 1996 - pp. 37 – 38.
©1996 by Professional Skaters Association

With the emergence of various off-ice training program theories, a handful of ideas or concepts are available for skaters to utilize in their training. The method of Plyometric training should be among the main training components (along with strength, flexibility and endurance conditioning) for complete development of the skater. More specifically, plyometric training is not just for the singles skater who wants increased explosiveness for jumping, or greater eccentric leg development for landing strength. Plyometrics is just as valuable to utilize for pairs and ice dance in order for performance enhancement.

Pair skaters can utilize plyometric training not only for jump performance but to increase upper body dynamic power for their respective skill movements on-ice (lifts, throw jumps, etc). Ice dancers can perform plyometric training drills for Hip/Leg power and speed of movement performing various footwork drills, lateral hops and bounds and other related movements. Also, ice dancers can benefit from upper-body plyometric (arm drills) for enhanced dynamic power to enhance on-ice lifts and arm positioning. The importance of plyometric training specific to these three disciplines, involves speed/strength enhancement of the Hip/Leg, Torso/Abdominal and Arm/Shoulder and Upper Back areas.

Example of Plyometric Drills for Singles, Pairs and Ice Dancers may include the following:

A. Singles-

  • 1. Double-Leg and Single-Leg Jumps in Place
  • 2. Double-Leg and Single-Leg Horizontal and Vertical Bounds
  • 3. Double-Leg and Single-Leg Box Jumps
  • 4. Rotational Jumps (weighted)
  • 5. Medicine Ball Rotational Drills
  • 6. Abdominal Plyometric Sit-Ups

B. Pairs-

  • 1. Same as Above (singles, 1 – 6)
  • 2. Medicine Ball Chest Pass
  • 3. Medicine Ball Throws and Catches
  • 4. Medicine Ball Push-Ups
  • 5. Drop Push-Ups

C. Ice Dance -

  • 1. Double-Leg and Single-Leg Strides
  • 2. Double-Leg and Single-Leg Hops (lateral and horizontal)
  • 3. Alternating Foreward and Backward Bounds
  • 4. Med Ball Rotational Drills
  • 5. Medicine Ball Abdominal Sit-Ups
  • 6. Med Ball Throws and Catches
  • 7. Medicine Ball Push-Ups

Finally, coaches and skaters should understand specific principles (guidelines) of off-ice plyometric training. In order to benefit from the training adaptations of plyometrics, the following guidelines are recommended for safety and proper execution of Plyometric Training:

I. Safety

  1. Training drills need to be appropriate for the age and level of the skater.
  2. A general and specific total-body strength training phase should be implemented 6-8 weeks prior to beginning jump/ Plyometric training.
  3. Proper progression (intensity) of drills from general motor-skill development to sport-specific.
  4. Proper Equipment
    • a. Footwear: skaters should wear shoes with adequate ankle/heel support (i.e. basketball or cross-training shoes).
    • b. Soft Landing Surface: mats, cushioned aerobic floor, sprung wooden floor, or soft grass should be utilized for performing drills.
    • c. Boxes: jump boxes should be durable with an adequate non-skid landing surface – Heights for skaters (Preliminary – Senior level) can range from 8″ to 35″ respectively.

II. Technique (emphasis should be placed on the following)

  1. Explosive takeoff, good knee-bend, arm-swing and appropriate vertical positioning of the trunk, back and head.
  2. Control of landing, absorbing (eccentric) the landing with a good positioning of the upper body (arms) head, back and trunk.
  3. key to success for jump/ plyometric training involves emphasizing the following:
    • a. Maximal effort on jump / drill attempts
    • b. Appropriate use of both upper body (arms) and lower body (hip / legs)
    • c. Correct posture or body positioning.
    • d. Quickness (speed) – When landing and taking-oft for another jump attempt, the skater must ‘Minimize” the amount of time spent on the ground or floor. Must be a quick rebound jump.

Cad M. Poe, M. S., C. S. C. S., served as the office strength and conditioning coach for the Colorado Springs World Arena, Colorado Spdngs, CO. Mr. Poe has been involved with strength/power training and conditioning training ofskaters beginning with his work at the United States Olympic Training Center and currently through the USFSA at the Elite and Regional Training Camp levels. For any questions regarding plyometric training for figure skaters, please contact Mr. Poe via the PSA directory.

Recommended books: Progressive Plyometrics for Kids

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QnA: When should my child start competitive skating?

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Q. My daughter is turning 6 yrs old and has been figure skating for the past four months. She passed Basic Level 3 skills test. She has a lot of speed, does a good waltz jump and spiral. Her instructor says she has progressed quickly and is ready to compete. Since I have nothing to compare her skill level to, it sounds a little soon to me to talk about competition skating. What do you think?

A. It sounds like your daughter is progressing quickly! Four months does seem a little soon, but realize that it may take several more months to get a program perfected enough to compete with. Most competitions do break down the groups by level and sometimes by age. In other words, she probably won’t be competing against someone with a far superior skill level. Many coaches encourage competitions early to keep students motivated and give them goals to pursue. Frequently, a competition will add new excitement and enthusiasm to skating. Explain to your coach that you want competitions to be an encouraging and a confidence building event. Knowing this, hopefully, they will make sure that your student is prepared before that very 1st competition!

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What You Need to Know About Skate Sharpening

by Eric Neubauer

How frequently should skates be sharpened?
Typical sharpening frequencies range from every 5 weeks for a daily skater to every nine months for a once-a-week skater. In general, skates need sharpening about every hundred hours of skating as long as care is taken to avoid damage from stepping on metal, concrete or any other hard or abrasive material. Pond ice may contain dirt and stones. One accidental step on concrete will probably ruin the last sharpening. Hard guards and soakers can be used to protect the blades while walking to and from the ice and when the skates are carried in a bag. Always dry off the blades after skating to prevent rusting and make sure the hard guards are also dry if they are going back on the blades. Skates need sharpening when they start to slide sideways too easily. An experienced skater can often tell when the skates are getting dull but beginners can’t, so look for feet skidding sideways when pushing or doing crossovers.

sharpening ice skatesWhat do I need to know about getting skates sharpened?

The first thing to find out is where. The right place in your area might be the rink, a skate shop or a sharpening specialist. The simplest approach is to ask several more advanced skaters where they go. At a minimum you should make sure that you can get a correct hollow radius and level edges. If the sharpener doesn’t know what a hollow radius is or have a square to check the levelness of the edges after sharpening, it might be better to go some place else. The grinding stone is dressed to a circular shape to make a hollow along the bottom of the blade. The hollow radius usually ranges from 3/8″ (deeper) to 3/4″ (shallower). Beginners usually prefer a 5/8 or 3/4″ hollow. Advanced skaters usually use a 3/8 to 1/2″ hollow.

Can I tell if my skates have been sharpened correctly by looking at the blades?

You can compare the radius of the hollow with the edge of a penny. If the penny fits exactly, the radius is 3/8″. If it can roll back and forth a bit, the radius is greater than 3/8″. If it touches at both sides but doesn’t reach the bottom, it is less than 3/8″ and a beginner will have a lot of trouble stopping. You can also check the levelness by balancing a pen or pencil across the blade. If the pen slopes toward either side, the edges are not level. Two other easy things to check are to make sure the bottom of the blade curves smoothly from front to back with no sub-curves and that the bottom toe pick hasn’t been ground off. Both of these problems will make the blade virtually useless for edges, spins and jumps.

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What Things Do I Look For in a Coach?

by Gina Oesterlei

Coaches are usually former competitive skaters; while no former training is necessary to be a coach, most coaches have passed tests as well as competed during their skating career. Being in group classes at your facility is a great way to get to know some of the coaches on staff. Be sure you read any information on the coaches in your facility as well as talk to the skating director.

When looking for a coach be sure to ask for a few of the following details: Is the coach a PSA member and if so do they carry any ratings through the PSA? The Professional Skaters Association offers continuing education in the sport of figure skating. A coach with a PSA rating is one who has maintained their training and is constantly working to better their teaching as well as their students. A good coach should be professional and serious about their job. They should constantly come in when he or she plans to, and are always prompt for their scheduled lessons.

Watch a lesson with a coach and see if you like the way that coach conducts themselves. Ask them questions about their skating history as well as the level of students they teach now. You want to find someone you think you can develop a rapport with. Be sure you state your specific needs, you want to make sure they know your goals. Good Luck!!

– Gina is the Skating Director at U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights, IL and PSA Master-rated in Group and Senior-rated in Freestyle.

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How Can Synchronized Skating Help my (or my child’s) Figure Skating?

by Dierdre Dizon

Drill teams and precision have received a bad wrap. While some parents may have let their daughters join a team for a year for fun, if your child was serious and had a future in skating (read “Olympics”), you would never waste her time or your money on a team. It was for skaters who couldn’t hack it. Right?

Well, it never really was. But that’s the reputation synchronized skating seems to have. It’s for those who just aren’t good enough to compete individually and it’s a waste of time for anyone who is. That is completely untrue.

If your daughter (well, actually it is a co-ed sport, but its like 90% female in the US) has a passion for skating and the talent to go with it, spending some time on a team may actually improve her skating and move her ahead of her peers.

Consider this. You’re shoulder to shoulder with a line of skaters zooming down the ice–crossovers, three turns, edges, mohawks and everyone is still standing and in line at the other end of the ice. This takes incredible control from every member of the team

Adult National ChampionshipsSkaters learn how to do neat footwork right under their own bodies, not sprawled out all sloppy and crazy. You can’t get away with that in a line or you will trip your neighbor. Learning how to skate at exact speeds and put each step at the correct time in the music (so everyone does the steps at the same moment) will improve a skater’s accuracy and performance in an individual routine. The skaters are having fun while practicing moves in the field and other maneuvers at the same time.

Team practices also help stamina. Skaters have to skate for 2 to 4 minutes or more straight through. There is usually no “slow” part in the middle for catching one’s breath. And during precious on-ice practice time, you repeat sections and finally the entire program over and over. After that kind of workout, an individual program is a piece of cake.

Serious USFSA teams also know the importance of performing. The coach probably says “smile” almost as often as “keep those lines straight.” And since the judges sit high up in order to appreciate the formations, team members learn from the beginning to keep their heads up and smile. Skaters also need to maintain excellent posture and strong arms to look good and maintain the proper formations.

These are just some of the benefits. Being on a team also has other advantages. Single skating is an individual sport–one that often puts “friends” or acquaintances against each other. Being on a team not only gives skaters the opportunity to work together and learn from a team experience. It also get ever member (and parent) of the team routing for teammates, anxious for their success and improvements. After all, as each individual skater improves, it brings up the level of the entire team. So don’t scough at team skaters and don’t ignore it until you give it a try.

Dierdre is member of LA Express, an adult synchronized skating team. In 1995 they took the silver at Pacific Coast and the pewter at Nationals

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