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The Future of Figure Skating Coaching

Figure skating has become more and more popular over the years. It seems everyone knows Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano.

And recently there’s been a few rule and judging changes.

But not much else about the sport
has really changed for decades!

And that’s especially true of coaching.

The exact same coaching techniques that were used 50 years ago are still in use today. The typical process of how to take a young athlete and create a talented figure skater has not really changed.

Coaches still teach their skaters the way that their own coaches taught them. In essence, the process is:

  • A coach explains what to do or shows the skater what to do.
  • The skater tries it.
  • Usually the skater fails, which in skating often means a painful fall.
  • The coach watches the attempt and decides what went wrong, based on one or two seconds of observation.
  • The coach then tells the skater what changes to make for the next attempt.
  • The skater tries again.
  • Usually the skater fails, again and again and again!

Experts in other sports raise their eyebrows
and shake their heads at this process!

Most other sports have experienced a “research period” where optimal technique has been identified. As a result, the majority of coaches in those sports are aware of optimal technique and how to teach it. Golf is a classic example. And because of this, teaching methods have become more consistent and standardized.

The “research period” is just beginning in figure skating.

Today, if you put 5 coaches together in a room and asked them to define optimal double axel technique, you’d get 5 different answers. That’s not very encouraging, especially for skaters and their parents. Even more alarming, most coaches seem proud of the fact that there are “many ways to teach the same thing.”

But skating coaches are losing sight of the fact that there is usually a “best way” to teach something. If there truly is a “best way,” that way will eventually dominate the higher levels of the sport. As coaches see that domination they adjust their teaching accordingly. And teaching methods within the sport will become more standardized over time. This is happening in skating, although very slowly.

“This blog is dedicated to helping encourage
research within the sport of figure skating.
It is dedicated to finding the “best way.” It
is dedicated to helping promote the “best way”
and educate coaches to use it.”

The “best way” is now more easily determined than ever before due to the prevalence of inexpensive consumer digital video cameras, laptop computers and powerful video analysis programs. With frame-by-frame comparison available to all coaches, it is now possible to accurately model the most successful skaters and coaches.

Creating A Model

Creating a model is relatively straightforward by following a process of methodical tests and analyses. For example, consider the double axel. A typical double axel has a flight time of only about half a second. Even adding the critical portions of the entrance and exit edges, the jump only takes a couple of seconds. Yet the jump can be broken down into phases. And the common characteristics of each phase of the successful jumps can be determined through observing frame by frame video.

By determining exactly what these common characteristics are, we can slowly but surely build a model of the “best way.” But it isn’t just skating technique that’s changing.

The process of coaching is changing. Rapidly.

Those skaters that get to attempt challenging elements only in the safety of a harness and only when their skills are ready have a huge advantage.

  • They have fewer injuries.
  • They have less fear of falling.
  • And they don’t “learn to fall.”

Practice Makes Perfect?

The old saying that “practice makes perfect” is nonsense. “Practice makes permanent” is more accurate. And skaters that practice jumps and repeatedly fall are teaching themselves to fall.

The phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” illustrates the real goal. In a perfect world, a skater would learn difficult and dangerous jumps without risk of pain or injury. Without the risk of pain, the skater doesn’t hold back and fear becomes a non-issue. The skater can focus on the “best way.”

Imagine how much faster a skater
could learn in that environment!

Do you think skating parents will start demanding that? You can bet on it. And coaches that don’t deliver that will lose out to those that do.

I’d like to make sure that all coaches have the tools and knowledge to teach the “best way” and give their skaters every possible advantage by using the best processes available.

Trevor Laak

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15 comments

  1. I got a good one for you to analize, go to youtube and type in triple axel Jenkins. This was done in 1957. Very interesting…. Also check out the delayed axel, which you can analize by clicking on and off the play button. Looks to me like the blade leaves the ice when he is sideways to the direction of travel. This creates the illusion that the skaters is taking off traveling forward, but is he at the point of lift off? Some interesting concepts were talk by Gus Lussi in Lake Placid New York. Most of your great jumpers have the same look at the take off as Jenkins in 1957. Peggy Flemming, Dorthy Hamill, Gordon Mckellon, Charlie Tickner, many of these axels look the same in slow motion…Just though you might find this interest…


  2. Trevor are teachers still teaching the salchow take off from a back inside edge, impossible. Please analize this jump when you get time…
    Gary Forman


  3. Good points made…

    Although my doctorate and post doc research examines performance coaching – emphasising the psychology and artistic aspects of figure-skating, my performative approach and performance structure echoes your work – repetition without intervention is just imitation – performative practice structures require a physical action that goes beyond the original – video analysis can be part of this – a crucial intervention – re-iterated within physical practice to reinforce and explore ideas.

    I believe this goes deeper into coaching techniques too – basing ideas on past successful approaches only goes so far. Contexts and expectations are changing and more research and – crucially funding for research – is needed to move coaching forward.


  4. I am the webmaster for California Gel Concepts, LLC, the maker of Bungapads. I found your site, and it has very good content, and relates to our website theme. So I have already placed a link on our link directory to point to your great site, and would like to follow up but in order to do so, i need to receive your email address, so that I can complete the posting and send you a confirmation message. thanks for working with me. -ken


  5. Dear Trevor,
    your analisys are verry interresting for me –
    I’m a parrent’s skater (8 years) – it would be interresting if you were complete all jumps analisys – including the simple ones because there’s a lot a begginers -and this will help a lot.
    S.


  6. Kudos for putting free, evidence-based, figure skating resources on-line Trevor. I also appreciate that you have targeted areas and topics that many coaches (and parents) don’t have proper information on. I hope this encourages more sharing and consensus on the sport techniques, standards and methods. This is traditionally not something that figure skating is known for.

    I hope your site can help convince coaches and parents that it is important to apply sport science right from the beginner level, rather than only at the elite level.


  7. Dear Mr. Laak,

    My daughter, 9 has been learning FS since she was 5. Right now, she can land all 5 double jumps and a single Axle, but some double jumps are still not clean. I would like you to give her jumps an analysis or evaluate to see how to improve those cheated jumps at some times this year. Are you still a coach now? and which club you are at? I like to set up an appointment with you soon. Please advise.

    Regards,
    Yen


  8. I read you dont use Dartfish Software. What software do you use. I would like to purchase software for a local skating club as a donation. I would like to purchase something that would become a valuable training aid. Dartfish seems to be costly. I know that there are other softwares out there that work. But what would be your opinion on what is needed and has proven to be a good tool to use. Also simple is best. Thanks or all your knowledge on the internet. You should know that your advice is so valuable.
    B.Williams


  9. The question about what motion analysis software I use has come up a lot lately. I use Pro-Trainer from http://www.sports-motion.com. It does all the basic things that I need to do on a daily basis. It’s not quite as slick as Dartfish but it costs about one tenth the price. Apparently this software is very popular for Minor League Baseball. The features I like and I think are necessary for what I do: 60 fields per second resolution, side-by-side video comparison with lock, easy capture feature for use on the ice. My laptop is over 3 years old so the software runs fine on older computers. But you have to make sure the camera and computer are compatible with the software. You’ll need a computer with a Firewire connector and a camera that records to miniDV tapes and also has a Firewire connector. These cameras are getting hard to find. To get a discount on the software, make sure you use the discount code SKATE. Good luck and I hope this helps.


  10. Hello, my name is Erik Schulz and I am a coach at the Colorado Springs World Arena as well as founder of FigureSkating360.com. FigureSkating360.com is a networking site built for Skaters (and Fans) by Skaters. I would like to exchange links with your site. My URL is http://www.figureskating360.com/links.php. Please confirm and I will get your info up on our site.


  11. You’re the only coach I have ever encountered who enabled me to do a controlled reliable flip jump – I would love to contact you again.


  12. Hi
    I am a skater`s parent. Your comments are interesting and make sence. My daughter is 10yrs old and I think she has outgrown her coach. My daughter currently holds the current national champ title. She has lost a bit of her oomph. It feels like she has reached the ceiling. She would like to work towards the Junior Worlds, but we do not have enough top level coaching. My question is : If there is any coach who would like to come and coach in Johannesburg, I would be thrilled. As I mentioned preferably we need a well rounded top well skilled coach to train for world champs. They can reply to my email. Thanking in anticipation.


  13. Well, I would like to say you do have a bit of a grass is greener on the other side type of mentality about this. There’s arguments all the time in other sports about technique ideas and what’s ideal. Go to any forum about weightlifting, for example. People there nitpick like crazy about everything and do slow motion and bar path analysis with every pro lifter, and argue about S pull vs straight line pulling and all kinds of stuff.

    HOWEVER, I think what makes figure skating very different from other sports is how basically “closed” it is. Very few books are written about the technical aspect of figure skating. Very little debate happens about technique. Very little analysis of professional technique. And I think in the end, not many people actually scientifically know what’s going on in figure skating. As in, they cannot explain *why* you should or should not do something. How exactly things work. It’s simply “do this just because” with many coaches.

    As far as the research period of figure skating, well, one place you might have luck looking at is Russia.
    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ru&u=http://skating30s.narod.ru/books/hvostov.htm That’s from the 1930s Soviet book and mostly about compulsory figures, but it’s some pretty cool info nonetheless.

    художественное катание If you enter that in google, it’s “artistic skating” you might find some interesting stuff.


  14. I was very pleased to discover this website. I wanted to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! ddaeagkebbfb


  15. Wow. This has exactly spelled out and explained the issues I am running into. I have only been taking lessons for two years and I’m thinking, there is something wrong with this coaching philosophy. Now you put in words what I couldn’t. Thank you!



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