Archive for the ‘Rules’ Category


Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules! (Figure Skating)

November 21, 2007

If you’re reading this blog post, the chances are you’re a member of the figure skating community.  As such, you probably take many things about this great sport for granted.

Whether you’re a spectator, a skater, a skater’s parent, or even a coach, I’ll bet you assume that the most critical aspect of our sport has very clear definitions and rules.  What is this critical aspect?  Jumping, of course.

It seems logical that everyone knows exactly what an axel is.  Or a toe loop or a lutz.  In fact, it seems logical that there would be legally binding definitions and rules regarding each of these elements.

But quite astonishingly, there aren’t!

How do I know?  Because I’ve been doing some surveys of coaches at SkatingCoachQuiz.comI’ve been asking the coaches there for precise definitions of “perfect” jumps. And the survey results are all over the place.

This really got me wondering:  Why do coaches disagree so universally regarding precise definitions of jumps?

I figured I could help clear up the confusion by digging out the formal, legal definitions and sharing them with the coaches.  But what I found, really surprised me.  And disappointed me.

There really are no formal rules.

Don’t believe me?

If you own an official US Figure Skating Rulebook, you can read it from cover to cover and you won’t find a formal written definition of any of the jump elements.  The best you’ll find is the amusing and childish “List Of Jumps” at the start of the Glossary.

You may say, “Well, all you need to define the jump is the entrance edge, the exit edge, the total rotations and whether there’s a toe assist or not.”  But I’ll immediately argue that that definition is really weak.  It says nothing about the critical moments just before, during and after lift-off.  It also says nothing about the critical moments just before, during, and after touch-down.

These critical moments remain blissfully undefined.

Not sure what I’m talking about?  Everyone agrees the entrace is a back inside edge because the rules say so.  But from there on, nobody seems to agree on anything…most likely because there are no rules!

  • There are no rules to state whether it must be a clean edge take-off or whether the skater may push off the toe pick of the skating foot at lift-off.
  • There are no rules to state whether the skater must take-off facing backwards or whether the skater can pivot forward before lifting off.
  • And if a skater is allowed to pivot forward, either doing a very short three-turn or actually spinning on the toe pick or blade, how much pre-rotation is too much.
  • If a short three-turn is allowed, can the three turn exit edge touch the ice or only the toe pick?

Due to it’s artistic nature, figure skating is a very subjective sport.  But are you starting to understand that even the technical aspects of figure skating are totally subjective?  There are no written rules!

Still don’t believe me?

  • In a step sequence, exactly how long and how deep must the edges be for the skater to get credit for a rocker or a counter?  Don’t bother looking that up…there’s no rule for it.
  • In a sit spin, the bottom of the seat must be below the top of the knee, but how exactly is the bottom of the seat defined?  Last time I checked (on video today, by the way) the seat is curved, making my estimate of “bottom of seat” totally different than someone else’s.  Again, there’s no rule for it.

The added complication of the new International Judging System was justified by claiming that it would be more fair.  But can you see how the lack of precise definitions means that even the technical aspects of skating are totally subjective.  We are now using frame-by-frame video analysis to judge our competitions.  Every aspect of take-off and landing can be reviewed.  But with no formal definitions, the results of those reviews will depend on the subjective opinion of the technical team.

It’s probably pretty clear from the tone of this post that I think this is completely unacceptable.  When I have some time, maybe I’ll submit some formal definitions to US Figure Skating and to the ISU.

My goal is to help coaches teach better.  But that’s close to impossible without formal definitions and rules for the elements we teach.  Today good technique and biomechanics for one coach are totally unacceptable to another.

If we can formalize the rules, we can also formalize the technique.  Of course, many coaches don’t want that.  Some don’t want to learn new technique.  And some successful coaches don’t want the technique they teach to be standardized…because their skaters will immediately have a lot more competition.

Whether you’re a coach, a skater, a parent, or a spectator, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave a comment by clicking the No Comment/Comments link below.