(Figure) Eights Are Enough….to Drive One Mad

skatecatLast week I explained why compulsory figures might be a good idea for adult ice  skaters. Having said that, I have to say that figures are not for everyone, and that it is possible to become an excellent ice skater without the benefit of practicing figures. Please don’t throw your scribes at me!

How do I know this? Apart from personal experience, consider ice dancers of the past and present. They master edges and turns with skill and speed, and create magic moments for the viewer while doing it. For several years now, I have worked with coaches who specialize in pushing ice skaters of all ages and levels to perfect their edges and turns at faster speeds. This training allows skaters to build their strength, skill and agility for the demands of the transitions and footwork sequences that are now needed to succeed under the IJS system. Often we will do the exercises to music to learn to match our movements with the nuances and tempo of the music. Other times, they will be done in silence so you can hear how bad you are on your toe picks or scraping your turns!

The down side of figures is that they were always done very slowly, with the upper body held in a rigid checked position. Turns were always done in isolation. For example, in the bracket figure, the turn is completed and held until returning to the centre where the same turn will be repeated on the other foot. In ice dance or a footwork sequence, turns are never done in isolation but always quickly followed by another element or a quick change of direction. Higher levels of competition also require a change in body position.

Another thing that bugs me about figures is that you are always looking down at the ice and obsessing with minutiae of flats, scrapes and wobbles. I suppose that means I just don’t have the personality for figures. Those who know me know that I’m a “Big Picture” sort of person; details are delegated to minions, or in my case, my husband whose middle name is “Nit-Picker.”

The Canadian Skating Skills tests were supposed to combine the need to acquire competence for edges and turns with speed and agility. Many older coaches I speak with feel that Skills tests have not adequately met this goal. To be honest, they are not that hard to pass. I passed my gold skills test after having completed my Diamond Dance test (that would be international dance tests for Americans). Compared to that, or even the Gold Ice Dance tests, the Gold Skills test is a walk in the park. From what I have seen of the American Moves tests, these do look a lot harder, especially the higher level ones.

So should figures be restored? Sure! In fact, let’s raise the bar on figures. The classical compulsory figures are well and good, but let’s be honest, I can’t see myself spending the rest of my skating life repeating the same ones over and over… especially if those figures are loops!! I’m really looking forward to new creative figures, back to the future as it were, painting all sorts of creative shapes and creatures with skate blades.

What do you think? Would figures help your skating skills? Would you prefer to work solely on figures? Are you like me? “NO WAY, NOT HAPPENING!” Share your thoughts with us!

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(Figure)Eights are Enough

1525436_10152151021075827_2011134256_nI’m a big fan of Ryan Stevens’ blog “Skate Guard.” He’s at his best when excavating historical figure skating gemstones. I’m hoping one day, he will write the definitive history of modern figure skating.

In a recent post, he described the history of the elimination of compulsory figures from competitive figure skating, as well as reporting on the World Figure Championship and Festival held in Lake Placid in August. From what I hear, those who participated had an awesome time and there are plans to make the event an annual affair.
This is great news for adult figure skaters for many reasons.

Many of us adults are old enough to have skated figures as kids. In principle, I do have some unfinished business with figures, having passed my sixth test. It would be nice to work towards another gold test, but this is a moot point given there is no longer any test structure that supports figures. That’s the official reason: between you, me and the lamppost, I really find them boring!!
But for figures devotees that’s beside the point — where there’s a will there’s a way.

Figures could be a great way for newbie adult ice skaters to master edge and turn basics, without the fear of being broadsided and taken down during busy public or freestyle sessions. Many adult skaters do not feel safe with a lot of other skaters around. Or, they do not feel safe or physically able to attempt jumps and spins due to injury / health reasons, but may feel very comfortable with figures. As they gained confidence, they could then progress to ice dance or free style.

Figures are also great for improving core strength, both physical and mental. It’s my personal experience that learning to control nerves during figures tests just about guarantees that you will never again be nervous about anything, except maybe major surgery and you are allowed drugs for that!

The increased interest in figures does seem to be paying off too, just today I received information that a local club is thinking of bringing back patch sessions.

So what do you think? Are figures just a necessary evil, or like vitamins or musical scales – they’re good for you, but nobody wants to take/do them?

Next week I’ll provide help for those figure-averse souls on how they can still ice skate with style and grace.

Posted in adult figure skater, Adult ice skater, competitive figure skating, compulsory figures, figure skating, How adult figure skaters can handle their nerves during competition, ice dance | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ice Skating in Middle Earth

kiwiCouldn’t resist another post about another case of AOFSS (adult onset figure skating syndrome), in fact this gentleman should be awarded a life-time achievement award for tenacity.

Keith Dickson lives in a country better known for Hobbits, sheep and football than figure skating.   He also has only been skating for 8 years but that hasn’t stopped him from competing internationally during this time.    Nor does the lack of a a training facility with actual ice!    He’s built his own surface out of smooth plastic and sets it up on his property when he needs a place to practice.

May not be ideal but I’ll wager the scenery is a lot more enjoyable and frostbite is not an issue.

Read all about Keith here.

While not usually thought of as a country known for winter sports, New Zealand does have an ice skating community, a national association , five indoor rinks as well as it’s own test system.    The learn to skate program is called Kiwi Skate which looks very similar to a previous incarnation of Skate Canada‘s Can Skate program.  Like the United States, there is a separate test stream for adults as well as a skating club for adult figure skaters.

New Zealand you have always been on  my bucket list!    In fact I came very close to moving there before the babies came along lol.    Will have to make sure to pack my skates when I visit!

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A Gentleman and an Ice Dancer

Bill Todaro, 68, skates with his former partner Margaret Bakke, of Cleveland, Ohio, at the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in 2014. HO

Bill Todaro, 68, skates with his former partner Margaret Bakke, of Cleveland, Ohio, at the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in 2014. HO

Here’s a wonderful article about American adult figure skater Bill Todaro.  A classic case of AOFSS (Adult Onset Figure Skating Syndrome) if ever there was one :)

According to the article, Bill got a somewhat late but but rather interesting start to his ice skating career.

He has participated and medalled at several US Adult Figure Skating Nationals in ice dance.

He also trains like an elite athlete with a full program of off-ice  training activities.

…and according to the article he is that rarest of rare birds: a male competitive ice dancer who is currently searching for a new partner!!

Bill Todaro, you are heretofore declared  Adult Figure Skater of the Month for September!

By the way, I’m always open to receiving nominations for adult figure skater of the month, don’t be shy!  Nominate yourself!  Adult figure skaters are a dedicated and hard-working crew son let’s celebrate our accomplishments.   And please, please,  please…   don’t be thinking that you have to accomplish great skating feats to nominate yourself or others.   Mastering a three turn on your bad foot is a call to celebrate just as much as landing your first triple is!

*photo credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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Putting the Figures Back In Figure Skating


If you are ancient adult figure skater  like I am, much of your youth was most likely spent using one of these.

Back in the day, for every hour that I spent practicing ice dance or free skating, I would have spent two hours on figures.

I’ve read many laments on how figure skating has suffered and the coming apocalypse since compulsory figures were removed from competition and these concerns are certainly valid but I must confess:

Holy Incessant Circles Batman!!!!! I never, ever, ever want to do figures ever again.

However,  for the aficionados out there and you know who you are, today marks the start of the World Figure Championship and Figure Festival at Lake Placid.

“The Figure Festival commences on Tuesday morning, August 25, 2015 and concludes on Thursday evening, August 27, 2015. The Figure Festival is a fun-filled interactive workshop that creates a supportive learning environment for all ages and abilities to learn the Figure Eights. Opportunities abound in this Figure Festival with workshops throughout the day, on & off the ice, covering all aspects of Edges, Turns, Circle Eights, Loops, Serpentines, Paragraph Figures, Figure Tests and ISI Figure Competitions. The Figure Festival is open for enrollment to all levels and fans of the skating community throughout the World. Coaches in all skating disciplines are welcome to bring and teach their students during the Figure Festival. Gliding across the pristine black ice and leaving one’s blade tracings behind will be just the beginning of this amazing experience! Then in the days to follow be inspired when observing the beautiful Figure patterns skated at the inaugural 2015 World Figure Championship on black ice.”

I was working on my 7th figure test when figures were discontinued and have no desire to go back to working on them.  I much prefer to work on stroking exercises since they reflect how basic turns and edges are done at higher speeds.

But to those who will be participating, I salute you!

A special shout out to the pride of Ottawa, world champion adult ice skater Jan Calnan who will be participating as well as the pride of Pierrefonds,  former Canadian champion, Charlene Wong.

Did you ever own the item in the photo?  I still have mine stashed away at the back of my hall closet, do you still have yours?

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Intergenerational Axels

Scott Tolle you are the  adult figure skating Yoda to my Luke Skywalker!

This just made my day!

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Old Ice Skater Muscles

Get BackI’ve decided to take a 6 week break from ice skating to deal with a nagging injury that of late, has been coming more than it’s been going. I am also working with an athletic trainer on a weekly basis and make my daily rehab exercises a priority. Since the summer is so short here, I’ve also tried to include daily walks, swims or bike rides. The good news is that the pain level has diminished but I’m not going to return to the ice until I can walk for more than half an hour pain free and at a reasonably fast pace.

In the past, my off-ice training/rehabilitation would have included running but due to the injury I can’t run due to pain. Turns out running may not be as effective as it was in my younger days anyhow according to this article on high intensity training for seniors, and by seniors they mean anyone over 40!!

“High intensity training has become extremely popular among fitness enthusiasts in the past few years, with an increased interest in performing challenging workouts to enhance fitness and reap the benefits of short intense exercise. Traditionally this type of training was reserved for athletes to enhance sports performance, but now it has become a common method of fitness training. The benefits of this type of training are well documented in research. This short intense workout style can increase aerobic capacity faster then steady-state training, and increase fat utilization for energy causing a bigger changes in body composition, just to name a few benefits. This has lead to questions about whether older adults can experience the same benefits in a safe way.”

Since my athletic trainer Wendy is a proponent of this philosophy, workouts are intense. I train with two mid-life ladies, one is and avid runner and the other is a hockey player. We all have different injuries and rehab needs but the common denominator is that we are all nearly dead after our sessions. Wendy has the ability to zero in on wonky muscles that are not doing their job and it’s a given that at the room will be filled with effort-filled groans as we flop about trying to persuade striking muscles to go back to work.

Being an adult figure skater I’m used to intense bursts of anaerobic energy for 3minutes, it still doesn’t make Wendy’s regime any easier, it’s like a never ending series of run-throughs!

On the other hand, here’s an added benefit I never thought of:

“Higher intensity exercises not only do wonders for the muscular system it stimulates hormone production. Research indicates seniors that performed power-training workouts with more explosive movement such as throwing a medicine ball or kettle bell swings had an increased production of the hormones testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factors, which all lead to a muscle growth and more youthful appearance.”

This is week four, hopefully if I keep improving at this rate I can start back on the ice at the end of August.

Posted in adult figure skater, figure skating injury, Ice skating | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Oh Boo Hoo, Cry Me a River

sad cat Click to read article.


As we say in my corner of the world,  bunch of bébé-la-las!!! (cry-babies).

Raise your hand all you ice skaters out there who have a hard time feeling sorry for these guys!!!

Hands up all you figure skaters who skate on early morning ice that is seldom  properly maintained or  resurfaced after the beer-league game that ended after midnight the previous night!

Hands up all you ice skaters who have been asked to find another rink to practice at because the holes from are jumps upset and frighten the hockey players.   (True story…happened in my neck of the woods  a few years ago).

Hands up all figure skaters who have ever caught their edge in a rut or hole going into a jump or spin.    Bet you managed to complete your element and bet you it wasn’t half bad either.

Guess when you are paid a ba-jillion dollars a year it’s OK to be an ice diva…

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How to Think Like an Ice Skating Coach, Part Two

Peppermint PattyAs promised, here is the second part of the interview on preparing for a figure skating competition with Michelle Leigh. The same strategies are also effective for ice skating test situations.
Have a Plan and be Flexible Too

“Athletes who have a planned pre-competition routine may be more confident, because of the perceived control. But, it’s also important for them to be flexible in where and how they execute their pre-competition routine. A well prepared athlete can carry out her pre-competition routine anywhere. Even practicing doing a warm-up in a different location in her home rink can help the skater to train for this. A lack of adaptability isn’t a problem until suddenly an athlete begins to feel uncomfortable. “Sometimes we spend so much time on skill development that we forget about stress management in a new environment,” says Leigh. There’s room for this kind of training at the developmental level; you don’t have to wait until the elite stages to start thinking about it.

“Don’t Become More of Yourself

“Coaches get nervous too, and that’s normal. As the person the athlete looks to in their moments of vulnerability, a coach needs to be just as focused as the athlete. Not becoming more of yourself means that if you’re usually loud, don’t get louder; if you micromanage, keep it in check. Be conscious of the behaviours that will be magnified and manage them. “If you’re going to be the ‘rock’ you can’t be distracted and you need to look and feel like you’re in control.”

Great advice and I can honestly say that these elements are the basis for my competition warm-ups. As an adult skater, I very rarely have my coach present. So, I have to be able to enter into my competition mind-set pretty much as soon as I walk into the building. Like many things in life, having routines and rituals can be calming and comforting when you are experiencing stressful situations. The other essential element is the actual physical warm-up: both on and off the ice. Again, you need to experiment with particular exercises and routines that work for you.

I also recommend the Coaching Association of Canada’s website, as there is a wealth of information on all aspects of coaching. They have some great information that we can use as athletes, but many of us are coaches as well. If you coach your kid’s baseball team, or have an interest in participating at this level in any sport, this is the website for you!

Do you and your coach have any special pre-test or completion routines that are helpful? Share them with us!

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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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