How to Think Like an Ice Skating Coach

LoveURcoachAs an NCCP certified figure skating coach, I receive regular emails from the Coaching Association of Canada. Here are some excerpts from a recent interview with Canadian figure skating coach Michelle Leigh on pre-competition preparation. As adult ice skaters there may be times when we are competing without our coach so it’s good to know how to think like a coach.

Less is More

“Inexperienced coaches have a tendency to share everything – every nugget of knowledge, every tried-and-tested solution. It’s way too much. Experience teaches you to make sure you keep to the key points and reveals the importance of trying to get an athlete used to being out of their comfort zone.” Great coaches share the right information at the right time. Keeping your coaching plan and feedback simple, particularly in preparation for competition, is important.

Minimize Distractions

“This is common for athletes at all levels; the distractions are just different at various stages of the game. Less experienced athletes will worry about judges and how cold the rink is, while the elite must manage extensive travel, responsibilities to sponsors and the media, and the pressure of representing their country. The key is to give them the tools to take control, stay focused, and be confident. Keywords and cues are a great tool to bring back focus: “Elvis (Stojko) taught me that and he used to look at his left hand as his cue coming into his first jump and had a key word for every component of his routine,” explains Leigh. She often has athletes share their competition plans and has a conversation with them to maintain focus. “Treat every athlete as they need to be treated – there is no one blueprint. Everyone is different and you need to tailor the approach.”

Find a Quiet Space

“The designated warm-up area isn’t always the best. Find an area you can use for the duration of the event to meet with the athlete, discuss the program, and rehearse. A safe, comfortable, and preferably familiar space will help with 1-on-1 conversations and keep the athlete’s attention on preparation. The space should be close enough to the competition area so that the athlete knows what’s going on, but removed enough to keep them focused on their preparation. A good space helps athletes open up to coaches. Difficult conversations are sometimes the most important ones over the course of an event and a good space contributes to a positive outcome.

Next week, I’ll post the remainder of the article, plus some personal reflections.

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News Clip: Canada’s Fiercest Adult Pairs Figure Skating Competitors

Canada has always been known for the depth and strength of it’s pairs ice skaters: Duhamel and Radford, Brasseur and Eisler, Underhill and Martini, but this clip introduces a little-known Canadian adult figure skating pair. Unlike the first three pairs these two have had to fight an up-hill battle to rise to the top, most noticeably lack of talent and absolutely no idea what they are doing on the ice.   You have to love their optimism and determination though :)

I can totally relate!

PS No actual figure skaters were used in the making of this clip and last I heard the Russian judge bore the team no ill will.

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Adult Ice Skating Basics: Correctly Lacing Figure Skates

Oh, the things I find on the internet in the name of website research!

Here’s a nifty little video explaining how to tie figure skates. I had plans to do a video on this topic, but never got around to making it.

You might think, “I don`t need anyone to tell me how to lace my skates; I`ve been doing that for years.” You may be surprised to hear that I`ve seen a lot of questions and comments about this. Lacing up figure skates seems so basic, but the cardinal rule is a bit like Goldilocks finding her optimal porridge temperature: the skate should be laced neither too tight nor too loose, but just right.

You also might not be aware that there are minor variations in lace-tightening technique specific to different brands of figure skate. Below are some videos for specific brands and models.

Jackson Elite

I only have personal experience with Jackson, Edea, Risport and GAM so I can’t comment on other brands. I never had any issues with Jackson but like many people with Edeas, I do find that they tend to loosen up after about 45 minutes of skating, but not all the time. This was also more of a problem when they were new. I’ve had them almost a year now, and every now and again, I’ll have to re-tie the skate on my landing foot.

One thing that remains consistent is my need to re-lace my skates before I get on the ice. I always lace up my skates, walk around a bit and then re-lace them or they don’t feel right. If I don’t do the second re-lace, I find they are too loose after 5-10 minutes of skating. The other thing I do without fail is always put my right skate on first. There is absolutely no scientific, kinesiologic or physiologic reason for this, it`s just me being a creature of habit and having it feeling just wrong and weird if I don’t do it.

How do you lace up your skates? Do you have any figure skate lacing rituals?

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Physics for Adult Figure Skaters

Even if you are not a science geek/geekette, as an adult figure skater, you know intuitively there is nothing like sliding around on frozen H20 to teach you the basics of Newton`s first and second laws.

This short video explains the physics of ice skating from two perspectives: the need for balance and stability, and projectile motion.

The centre of gravity (mass) in the human body is in the middle of the lower abdomen. Needless to say, while figure skating, the muscles and ligaments in this area are in constant use no matter what you are doing. Everything from the simplest of turns to maintaining a solid position while spinning, both on the ice and in the air, demands stability and strength here. No wonder hip and groin injuries are so common in figure skating. Effects of repetitive movements and consequent muscle imbalances that can ensue all take their toll. Working in a cold environment doesn’t help either.

Even as adults, if you are going to train seriously, you should consider Pilates, ballet, or yoga to build strength and maintain flexibility in this area. We don’t heal like the youngsters do. And yes, even the youngsters are prone to injuries to this area.

I`ve been battling a torn psoas muscle  for over five years now and truly believe that I never would have sustained the injury if I had continued to take ballet classes. It is easy to gradually lose muscle tone in this area without noticing, until something gives out. Recently, I’ve also come to appreciate the role and necessity of upper body strength in figure skating.

Ice dance and pairs skaters will appreciate the effects of projectile motion and how it affects lifts and throws, but singles ice skaters also know that your horizontal ground speed does affect the height of your jumps.

Adult ice skaters will appreciate the nice slow-motion single flip that Evan Lysacek does at the 2:46 mark of the video.

And if all else fails, just remember to:

Keep Calm
Keep your centre of mass over your feet!

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There’s a Whole Other World Out There! (Part two)

The ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Obertsdorf, Germany wrapped up last month and so for the next few weeks I am reposting my experiences from 2012.

This week, I am continuing my series of reports on my adventures at the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Last week, I told you about two nifty things you can do when not figure skating at the Eislaufzentrum such as the cable car ride up to the Nebelhorn and eating.  This week, some things you can do to work off all that weisswurst, spargel and brew you have been enjoying.



Go for a hike.

We decided on a side trip to Breitachklamm, since it was only a short city bus ride from the town.  If you have issues with height and vertigo then maybe this may  not be  for you, but it is a 3-4 hour easy walk through a magnificent gorge.  The trail eventually crosses the border into Austria,   for those of us who don’t live in the Eurozone this is akin to crossing a state or provincial border, no customs or currency exchange to worry about.  This is just one of many hiking possibilities; many trails start in town and are well marked. Continue reading

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There’s a whole other world out there!!!!

The ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Obertsdorf, Germany wrapped up last month and so for the next few weeks I am reposting my experiences from 2012.

By now I think we can all agree on one thing:  if there is an adult figure skating heaven it must be in Oberstdorf!!

No it’s not LEGO land! Oberstdorf view from cable car

And as hard as it may be to leave the ice and go outside, there are lots of wonderful non-figure skating things to do.  I was fortunate that my events at the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition were  over by Thursday so that gave me two full days with no real reason to be on the ice (but really, who needs a reason!). Continue reading

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Being there…

Eislauffzentrum….fun factoid: you can get WiFi at the base of the flagpoles.

The ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Obertsdorf, Germany wrapped up last week and so for the next few weeks I am reposting my experiences from 2012.

This week, I thought I would share a little of my experience as a first time competitor at the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany. Continue reading

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Planes, Trains and Cable Cars.

Note: The ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Obertsdorf, Germany began earlier this week and so for the next few weeks I am reposting my experiences from 2012.

Can life go back to normal after competing at the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition?

Returned home last Thursday and immediately was catapulted back into reality due to the fact that I had to work Friday and Saturday.    Today I can finally start sorting through all the notes, photos and memories….not as exhilarating as actually living them but all good things must come to an end in one way or another. Continue reading

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Mind Games: Challenge of Figure Skating

So, what do you think? What percent of ice skating is a mental game?

At the Olympic level, it is almost entirely mental since on any given day they are all medal contenders, equally capable of completing the big difficult elements.

But can the same be said about adult figure skaters?

Yes and no. Certainly the Olympians have an advantage over the average adult ice skater for no other reason than they are younger, fitter and more talented than we are. In a sense, their entire lives have been leading up to this moment and the only thing that stands between the athlete and a gold medal is found between the athlete’s two ears.

As adult figure skaters, we certainly do not have the expectations of our country / the media / our families weighing on us. In fact on test days, the only person watching you is the judge. The only expectations weighing on you are your own, but that doesn’t mean your heart isn’t pounding and your legs aren’t turning to Jello.

Maybe this is the time to reframe the experience. As sports psychologist, Peter Jenson, puts it, “The situation is hopeless, but not serious.”

On one hand, you do want some adrenaline to get you through the program, but not so much that you stiffen up, panic, or lose your focus. After many years of competing, I know from experience that I’ll always get antsy and worried while waiting to go on the warm up. Experience has taught me that these worries are unfounded, since I have had the experience of having a good warm up despite these thoughts. I have learned that you will always have to deal with nerves, but it doesn’t have to mean that you won’t do well.

I am also learning to create personalized coping strategies when things aren’t working properly. Not that I have a perfect system; I’m quite physically capable of landing an axel, but pop it at least 50% of the time due to a specific brand of mental fog that only occurs when doing this jump.

But this is one of the things I love about figure skating – everything you do is always a combination of mental and physical. I believe that if you can rise to the challenge, it will make you a much better person both on and off the ice.

What are you struggling with more at this point – mental or physical challenges? Share your thoughts with us!

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Thank-you Notes

ThankyouNo report on my figure skating club’s annual show would be complete without acknowledging the efforts of all the volunteers. As with most amateur sport organisations, local figure skating clubs are run entirely by volunteers who put in many hours of unpaid labor and carry significant responsibility. Club officials also often must endure both legitimate and non-legitimate complaints from disgruntled parents, skaters and coaches, often about things over which they have little control.

This week, International Adult Figure Skating salutes all ice skating club volunteers.

Thank you to the planning committee: your job begins early in the year and you are more than likely busy with keeping the club running on a daily basis.

Thank you to the costume coordinators and seamstresses. In some clubs, the costumes are all created and sewn by volunteers. In our case, they were rented from another local skating club. Our dedicated team made frequent visits to the warehouse to pick up costumes, assign them to each skater and make alterations as needed. They also packed all costumes and accessories the day after the show.

Thank you to the lighting and sound technicians and DJ who made us look so good out on the ice. Trust me, you want to be very nice to these people, the wrong lighting can cause you to appear ghastly pale or just leave you in the dark.

Thank you to the room-monitors and small-children wranglers, for keeping all those five to ten year-olds entertained, calm, tidy and costumed for several hours at a time – also to the back stage manager for patiently maintaining calm and order.

Thank you to the set-up crew who transformed a local hockey arena into a beautiful theatre.

Thank you to our photographers for capturing the most beautiful moments of the day.

Thank you to whoever left a table of delicious food in the senior skater’s dressing room and the folks who returned our skate guards from the back stage area back to the dressing rooms. These may have seemed like small things to you, but we skaters really appreciated your efforts!

Thank you to the front of house, ticket / programme vendors and security volunteers.

Thank you to the parents, who transported kids back and forth to the arena on almost a daily basis the week of the show.

Thank you to all the spectators who make the time to come and cheer for us and to our sponsors for their financial and material support.

The virtual bouquet of intense admiration goes to those who I like to think of as “ground-zero” volunteers – the ones who serve on multiple committees, who are the first to arrive at the arena and the last to leave, who take time off from work the week of the show and in short, are the go-to people. As my Aunt Clarice always said, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”

Want to make a volunteer’s day? Just say tell them, “thank you,” for doing what they do. Even better, offer to help!

Do you volunteer at your club? Share your memorable volunteer moments with us.

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