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Monday, January 30, 2006

Waltz jumps and Axels

Learning the Axel is the first real big hurdle all figure skaters (freestylers) face. The transition from half jumps to one-revolution jumps usually comes rather easily. Multiple revolution jumps are infinitely harder. It is like, on the ground, just about anyone can jump and turn around... but to jump and turn 2 rounds is a totally different story!

The Axel is also intimidating because of its forward take-off. It is sometimes said that the Axel is merely a Waltz jump with one more rotation. However, over the years of learning the Axel and teaching it, I find that it is not just an upgraded Waltz.

A good (beautiful) Waltz jump will have extension in the air. This extension causes a delayed shift of weight on the landing foot. Being just a half-revolution jump, this is not too difficult to achieve. Such extension in an Axel will give a delayed Axel. While a well executed delayed Axel is beautiful, it is (trust me) so much harder to do, and is not what skaters beginning on the Axel should focus on!

So, what does the Axel, need? A quick knee action on the jump, and a quick snap onto the landing side while straightening the landing foot. One of my former coaches said, think of stepping up a stair. Though this is not the only thing I think of in an Axel, I dare say it is one of the most important!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Treading a fine line

Singapore has such a small skating community, and only one rink, but the politics and tension that exist within this community is remarkable. Every so often, some issue would arise between parents, skaters, coaches, and even the management.

Management? The rink is a commercially-managed business, and it is perfectly understandable that profit-margin drives their policies. However, the Association is currently an entirely volunteer organisation, and is driven by other goals - to promote the sport of figure skating and to cultivate elite skaters who can eventually compete for the country. While these goals are not necessarily conflicting, the interaction invariably encounters periods of tension.

With everyone insecure and looking out for their backs, a little innocent comment can lead to exaggarated outcome. Inappropriate use of words can be blown into a full-scale "war". To say anything at all about skating in Singapore is treading a fine line. I will have to be diplomatic!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

How fast does a skater progress?

When starting their children on skating lessons, many parents would ask, "how fast will he/she learn to skate?" Indeed, skating is one of the few sports with a steep learning curve. Just being able to control yourself on the ice requires effort and time to master, not to mention the fanciful acrobatics freeskaters perform!

Basically, how fast a child progresses is entirely dependent on the child. Some kids pick up fast and progress fast. Others start slow, but progress fast. Yet others start slow, and progress slow. It all depends on how quickly the child picks up basic skills, how much effective practise time the child puts in, and how strong the child is.

I read somewhere that children should be able to do single jumps after 8 months of learning. Such a sweeping statement seems hardly reliable, as the other factors are not quantified. Initially, I ignored such statements about how quickly skaters "should" learn certain things. Indeed this has always sown discord between parents who try to compare their childrens' progress. Also, my view is that the skater's ability is the most important deciding factor, that moving on depended on whether the skater was ready to learn more.

Nevertheless, I have been trying to target the 8-month criteria with my students, and gradually I'm beginning to see that, on average, 8 months' of lessons, once a week with at least one other practise time in between, is sufficient for the skater to master the basics and start on jumps (modulo interruptions like competitions and tests). I would say, 14 months would be sufficient for an average young learner to learn all single jumps decently.

I have learnt that knowing how much time a skater should take to achieve a certain level is important for me to know when to move on. The time spent on the ice does contribute to the comfort level of the skater with the ice, and perhaps, while I didn't think the skater was ready, there is no harm in pushing the skater to do a little bit more. I might just be surprised!!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Skaters and School

Now that the school term has started, the rink is once again peaceful in the mornings!

An observation: skaters here have a hard time - with juggling skating (on decent ice), school, homework and other extra-curricular activities at school! Public schools require students to participate in at least one extra-curricular activities - now called co-curricular activity. As the name implies students don't really have a choice not to do it!

Yes, you guessed it - in most schools, figure skating does not count as an accepted co-curricular activity. Most skaters I know have something else they are doing.

However, what is even more interesting is how skaters are affected by the school sessions. Many public schools operate two sessions - the morning and afternoon sessions. Some years, students would be in morning session, and other years they would be in afternoon session. This usually alternates, which means that I would see skaters in the morning one year, and no longer the next!

Given that the quiet times, with decent ice, are in the mornings, high-level skaters are elated if they are in the afternoon session at school. Indeed, I have seen skaters improve in leaps and bounds the one year they are in the afternoon session, only to stagnate the following year when they are forced to eke out lesson time from their coach during busier afternoon/evening times.

This year, my coach seems uncharacteristically free in the mornings. The few kids he has are lower-level... but I'm keeping my eyes peeled for their rapid improvement!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Trying to figure out the ISU New Judging System

Now that Mountain Cup is going to use the Code of Points (CoP), ISU's new judging system, I have been trying to figure out how it works.

FIrst of all, the jumps. That seems straightforward enough - each jump is allocated a certain base mark, and judges will grade the quality of the jump. Now, if there is a combination or sequence... Eeks, things get hairy! Apparently, doing a sequence of say Lutz-loop-toe loop is going to get higher base points than a double jump. However, (at least in the senior competitions) I read that skaters are only allowed one 3-jump combination. So, skaters, choose wisely!!

Next, spins. I get the feeling any kind of spin I can do (without falling over on my butt, face or head) will only be a "Level 1". To get a higher level, exotic variations will be needed. Today, L told me that starting a spin with a backspin (e.g. back camel or back sit) would get higher points. Suddenly I realise why Mao Asada enters all her spins from a back camel!

Last, but not least, footwork and spiral sequences. For footwork sequences, the difficulty levels seem to be defined based on how many types of turns or running steps included. Somewhere, a variation in speed is also mentioned. Wonder if I should modify my footwork sequence somewhat!! Spiral sequences also seem impossible to score on unless one can do change-of-edge spirals or are super-flexible! How do the men do this??

As I read on, I think I will have to sit down, list out all the element I am putting into my program and work on optimising them... Maybe working on an Axel-loop-double toe might help... Maybe working on camel spins in opposite directions may help...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Coaching Schedules

New year, new schedule.

Okay, maybe not so new - the regular Saturday and Sunday times are the same, but I have decided to coach on 2 evenings a week... at least until the Nationals. However, my schedule is still FULL!!!

Right now, I would be hard pressed to find any more time for new students. I took one girl for an introductory lesson on New Year's Day Holiday. She showed a great affinity for the sport - I think she will progress very fast and I would have loved to see how far I can go with her... but I don't have any more time in my schedule!

For a while, I have been wondering if, due to my limited coaching schedule, I have the capacity to handle students who are really competitive. After all, these kids would need more than one lesson a week, and with sufficient rest in between. Plus, for competition, they would need music, choreography for programs, etc.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that my time doesn't limit the quality of my students but rather the quantity. In fact, even if I do decide to coach "full time", what's to say I won't end up with the same problem of finding multiple lesson times for students? It'd just be that I have more students to find time for!

Monday, January 02, 2006

What's in store for the SISA pre-Preliminary competition?

The 2006 Singapore National Figure Skating Championships will be held on 11 and 12 March. As a coach, I have two students entered this year, in the pre-preliminary category.

Recently, I have been trying to reason out what the SISA pre-Preliminary level is really meant to be. The test itself is rather easy - yes, to encourage the newer skaters to join the National competition. It does bridge the gap between beginners and Preliminary, which consists of all single-rev jumps (except the Lutz) and even the camel spin.

However, since the abolishment of the "no Axel" rule in Preliminary competition for this year's competition, certain coaches are not testing their students up to Preliminary for fear that they cannot compete if they "don't have" the Axel. From what I know, some coaches are making sure their skaters in pre-Preliminary will be doing all single jumps (including the Lutz) and all spins including the camel. Hey, doesn't that sound like they should have passed the Preliminary test, though???

What's more, upon careful scrutiny of the announcement for the National competition, I have come to the conclusion that there is no "no Axel" rule for pre-Preliminary. Heck, there no restrictions whatsoever! What is to prevent a pre-Prelim skater from staying at pre-Prelim and doing the Axel there too??

I am complaining. I am sour-graping. But actually, no, I will be happy if my students work hard and put up a good program for the competition. Whether they place well or not is secondary to what they will learn form working towards this competition.