Fall 1999 PSA Seminar

I attended a seminar for coaches and judges sponsored by the PSA at the ISCC in Simsbury on August 29. It was also open to skaters but it turned out there was only one other skater besides myself who showed up, along with a couple dozen coaches. And the only judge was one of the presenters, Scott Cormier. The other main presenter was Diana Ronayne (who squeezed it into her schedule while she was on her way to Nebelhorn in Germany).

Disclaimer: I didn't take any notes during the seminar, so this is all from memory. I hope I'm not misquoting or misattributing anything.

Most of the morning was spent on on-ice demonstrations, with about half the time spent on going over the MITF revisions. There were about 4 or 5 local skaters acting as demonstrators and John Thomas was also pressed into helping out. I think all of the handouts we got for this section are available on the USFSA web site.

The word is that moves are now supposed to be judged to the same standard as figures used to be -- they're trying to discourage any variation from the patterns in the rulebook, the skaters have to do turns on true edges without scraping, etc.

Scott gave a rant about juvenile-level skaters taking senior moves tests and being passed by the panel of judges even though the skater had clearly not mastered the skills that the moves were supposed to teach and reinforce. (Gee, I wonder who he might have been talking about. :-P)

The descriptions of several of the moves have been changed to put the focus on power and edge quality rather than quickness. The term "quickness" has also been redefined to put more emphasis on the ability to maintain an even cadence or rhythm instead of just the rapidity of the steps. Also, "extension" has been redefined to refer to the carriage of the entire body, not just the free leg.

The one move that the most time was spent on was the new intermediate bracket pattern. Generally, the intent for this pattern is to skate it in a figure-like manner, with a standing start and figures-type pushes and not a huge amount of speed. But everyone was puzzled by the bizarre transition at center ice in the pattern in the rulebook -- Diana said that the best thing she had been able to come up with was for the skater to do a crossover in a tight loop to start the second half of the pattern, instead of coming to a dead stop and turning around. People seemed to think it would have been less confusing for everyone if they'd defined this pattern to be exactly the same as for the 3 turns in the field except with brackets.

After the MITF demonstrations, John led a participatory power stroking exercise. I was doing OK with this until he had us do power 3's on the side that I can't really do the choctaw on :-( plus I had to bail out of pattern entirely halfway down the rink to avoid colliding with a pack of other skaters. At least when we did the "see how far you can glide on a single push" exercise, I made it farther than several of the pros, even though I realized right away I'd done a really lousy push. What saved me on that was getting balanced right over the center of the blade so I could stretch out what momentum I had.

I can't remember if it was during the MITF or power stroking sections or both, but there was some general discussion about how it's unhealthy for students not to do anything other than jump all the time. Diana talked about how in the old days figures served as a warmup for free skating, and that without them skaters need to do a thorough off-ice warmup instead. One of the other pros said that at her rink it was policy that the first 10 minutes of every freestyle session were for practicing moves only. John said that his skaters do 2 sessions a week where they work only on connecting elements like spirals and spread eagles, and no jumps at all.

Next we had a demonstration of techniques for teaching axels and double axels, including various exercises intended to work up to it and to fix various problems. I thought the most interesting thing to come out of this section was that there seemed to be general agreement that jumping off the edge over the toe pick is the "right" technique instead of skidding the entrance, which Diana said everybody initially copied from Brian Boitano just because he was the first US man to start landing triple axels regularly. The problem with skidding is that it dissipates speed and causes a loss of momentum on the landing. Scott was also highly critical of skaters who skid so much that they're turned backwards by the time they take off. Anyway, several of the exercises were things that were intended to teach skaters how to jump off the toe pick from the very beginning.

After this we had a demonstration of a novice short program and Scott went over various deductions on the ISU sheet. I think I missed about half of what he had to say because I couldn't hear very well from where I was sitting.

Over lunch we had an extended question and answer session with both Diana and Scott. Some random things that were covered:

Scott said that in free skating the judges really want to see the skaters doing fewer but more powerful strokes and more connecting elements instead.

Diana talked about "core strength" in the abs and back as being essential for skaters to begin working on the more difficult jumps, and discussed some cross-training techniques.

There's one rules change that affects everybody in every level: in free skating, the rules now allow a maximum of only 3 jump combinations and/or sequences. According to Scott, the problem was that too many skaters were using combinations as a way to disguise an inability to do a controlled check and run-out on a jump landing with decent speed and flow. The rules change will also force skaters to put more variety and connecting elements in their programs.

Coaches grumbled that their students were not being adequately rewarded for quality spins and footwork as compared to jumps. Scott seemed to think this was mostly a problem with inexperienced judges. He also made the point that it is better for skaters to plan their programs around elements they can do well. He said skaters won't get any technical merit points at all for crappy double jumps that are cheated and two-footed, while a good single counts for *something*.

One of the coaches asked Diana about how consistent an element had to be before it belonged in a program. She said it was important to also consider whether the skater could do the element consistently in the context of the program. She says she has her skaters keep a journal of all their program runthroughs so that they can spot persistent problems with certain elements.

I asked Scott about MITF judging standards for adults vs. kids. My perception is that some of the moves elements are lot easier for adults than kids and vice versa. For instance, it's easier for a big strong adult to gain power than it is for a little kid, but I'm finding that one of the side-effects of getting older has been a loss of mobility in my hip joints, which causes me endless trouble on those choctaws I can't do, for instance. Scott said that right now they are still working on just establishing a standard at all for MITF and that nobody has thought very much about this issue yet.

After lunch, Diana and Scott left and there was a talk by one of the other pros about PSA rating exams and various professional issues, such as how to handle billing and cancellation policies, etc. BTW, from my perspective, I find some of the conventions on "soliciting" pretty idiotic. I don't think it's appropriate to treat skaters, and especially adult skaters, as the "property" of some coach, instead of as thinking individuals who can make their own decisions about who they want to take lessons from.

Anyway, to end the day we got to watch a video of an Annie's Edges class from this summer's PSA conference. It looked like fun, and something I would be interested in if I heard about a class being held in this area.

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