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

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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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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 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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QnA: Recommendations for Diet and Exercise Programs

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Q. My daughter is 10, and she has been skating for two years and she is now on her Axel but not landed it yet. I want a diet and exercise program for her that she can do in her room before school using the VCR. Can you recommend a video for her to work along with in the mornings. Also any videos that she can look at for extension of arms, landings etc and body, hand posture. I do not have the extra money for ballet lessons. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!!!

A. Hello, and thanks for your question. There are instructional videos on the market for both ballet and pilates. Three for Ballet are : The Ballet Workout, Ballet Class for Beginners, A Fantasy Garden Ballet Class (for younger kids). We plan to have these available on our site soon, but for right now you may search through Amazon and do a video search for ballet. I also recommend Pilates for ice skaters. This is an exercise method designed to develop strength and flexibility.

Ann-Margreth Frei instructional video series on DVD

Learn from a Champ

Some videos for Pilates are: Denise Austin- Mat Workout, Hillary Burnett’s: Mind, Body Mat, and The Method:Dynamic Toning. You also might check at the YMCA; frequently they offer classes in ballet or pilates at inexpensive costs.

We also have a set of videos on our site called the Magic of Style, which are very good and I highly recommend them. We have numerous books on diet and health in our Skater’s Library so please refer to it for diet information. I hope that I have been of some help.

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The Use and Abuse of Plyometrics

by Kim Goss

When Dorothy Hamill skated at the 1976 Olympics, I recall the TV announcer’s extensive praise for her tremendous jumping power. Certainly Hamill’s flawless artistic presentation played a role in her victory but what the announcer was trying to impress upon us was how Hamill had introduced to the sport a level of athleticism that was unprecedented. Dorothy Hamill was a pioneer, an athlete who was unquestionably ahead of her time.

Nowadays, of course, the performance that won Hamill the gold medal at those Olympics would barely place a skater in our least-competitive regional competitions. Triple jumps for women and quad jumps for men have become the competitive standard-and if you don’t have at least a double Axel by your 12th birthday, you might as well forget those Olympic dreams. With such expectations forced upon our athletes, ever-growing numbers of skaters are being encouraged to participate in off-ice conditioning programs. Of all the oft-ice training options skaters have to improve their performance on-ice, the one that has sparked the greatest interest is plyometrics-and with good reason. Plyometrics is considered to be one of the best ways, if not the best way, to improve jumping ability.

Unfortunately, the manner in which this type of training is being implemented in some off-ice conditioning programs may cause more harm than good.

What are Plyometrics?

Plyometric jump training, or more appropriately the “shock method” of training, refers to activities characterized by an intense jump that is preceded by a relaxed state. Dropping off a box and landing on two feet and then immediately jumping upward is an example of a true plyometric training exercise. Skipping, hopping and most jumping exercises and medicine ball throws do not fulfill the requirements necessary to be considered true plyometric training exercises.

The person most exercise scientists regard as the father of modern-day plyometrics is Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky, a Russian scientist who developed this training method to improve athletic performance. Dr. Mel Sift, a South African exercise scientist who has worked with Verkhoshansky on several projects, told me that Verkhoshansky is appalled at most of the material being published about plyometrics in this country. He believes our coaches have, quite simply, misinterpreted the original research on this subject.

One reason for this problem in communication is that often the original material published by respected Russian scientists like Verkhoshansky is not translated accurately in the US. Sift says that the Germans, who recognized the value of Russian research, often had entire teams of linguists and scientists working full time to accurately analyze the writings of scientists like Verkhoshansky. In the US, when such material became available, often only a single individual would translate it-and then only as a part-time assignment. One example of poorly translated research is when American coaches recommend that an athlete should be able to squat 1 1/2 times bodyweight before performing plyometrics. Although this is an excellent safety guideline, Russian sports literature presents several specific types of true plyometric exercises that can be performed without possessing such an advanced level of strength. (For those interested in learning more about Verkhoshansky’s work with plyometrics, I recommend Siff and Verkhoshansky’s exercise textbook, SuperTraining.)

The Abuse of Plyometrics

The most common problems I see with U.S. coaches who prescribe plyometric exercises (or, at least, what they think are plyometric exercises) are that they underestimate the intensity level of plyometrics and don’t take into consideration the athlete’s training schedule, work and recreational activities. For example, an intense plyometric training program should not be undertaken if a skater is in a summer program that requires him or her to perform three freestyle sessions a day, five to six days a week, along with ballet and power skating.

Another problem I commonly see is that the plyometric exercises most coaches prescribe to skaters are not biomechanically specific to their skating jumps-and as such often have little carryover to skating performance. For example, all legal jumps in figure skating take oft from one leg and most require that the skater take off backwards. The majority of exercises I see prescribed in plyometric programs for skaters have the athlete jumping forward from two legs.

Plyometrics can be an extremely valuable training method if used correctly. Unfortunately, too many strength coaches do not understand what this type of training is or how to properly prescribe these exercises. And the injuries and mediocre performance improvements that result from their incompetence has often led skaters and their coaches to become skeptical about the value of all oft-ice conditioning programs.

Just as Dorothy Hamill trained hard to become the greatest in her era, the champions of tomorrow have to train harder and use every resource to their advantage. The trick is, when using a resource like plyometrics, you have to know what you’re doing!

Kim Goss was the strength coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy for eight years and is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Council on Exercise. He has served as the Senior Editor at Dayton Writers Group.

Reprinted with premission from : The Professional Skater Magazine May / June 1997 - p. 17. ©1996 by Professional Skaters Association

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How Old should my Child be to Start Ice Skating?

by Michelle Wilkin

Age four is best to start. There are some children who are ready at 3 years old. Consider the following criteria:

Children figure skatingAttention Span - most group classes will last 30 minutes.

Separation from parent - Separation anxiety is still developmentally appropriate until approximately age four. If your child can be comfortable accepting instructions from another adult, then you should be fine.

Balance - both in skates and in regular shoes.

My recommendation is to start with your child walking in skates on the floor only. If this goes well, then your child is physically ready. Check with your local ice rink for age requirements. Many rinks will not accept children for group classes who are under 4 years of age. If your child is eager and can meet the basic criteria before he is 4 years old, you may consider private lessons. They are more flexible with the length of lesson and can adapt to the age of the child. To ensure quality instruction, make sure to ask for a Professional Skater’s Association rated instructor.

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