Athlete Centered Skating

We just released our updated Athlete Centered Skating Assessments to our juvenile and above athletes.  Below is a comprehensive breakdown of the assessments.

The Process

Following is the Athlete Centered Skating Assessment process:

Step 1: We pass out the Athlete Questionnaire to the athlete and cover page.  The athlete has one week to fill out their scores on the psychological skills page (see below) and cover page (e.g. current schedule).  In some cases, the coaches will assist or ask parents to assist the athlete.  However, it is vital that the athlete directs the process.

Step 2: Coaches make their assessments and scores.  We will do this before we receive the athlete’s completed questionnaire.

Step 3: We meet with the athlete to discuss differences in our scores and determine an importance score for the behavior.  The score will be mutually agreed upon by athlete and coaches. This will ultimately determine a priority score for the target skill or behavior.

Step 4: We will follow up with parents with any questions.

Assessment Sections

The Athlete Centered Skating Assessments have 6 important sections:

Cover Sheet

Psychological Skills

Physical Abilities

Skill Assessment

Program Assessment

Comments/ Proactive Feedback

Cover sheet

The cover sheet contains basic information about the athlete including age, level, and their current skating and supplementary schedule.  A comment section is provided at the bottom to summarize the whole assessment.

Athletes fill in the schedules (see the green circle in the example below) and list supplemental activities that are not part of their skating training.  List On-ice and Off-Ice classes as a total.  For example, if you skate 14 sessions per week, write “14” next to On-Ice classes.

Psychological Skills

We created an algorithm to assess key psychological skills athletes must develop that integrates an athlete score, coach score, and importance score that determines a final priority score for the behavior.  The athlete score (1 = lowest and 5 = highest) is determined by the athlete’s own beliefs, and the coach selects the coach score for the athlete.  The importance score will be determined by the coaches and athlete mutually.  The final output is the priority score, which will personalize and guide learning.  Below we outline each psychological characteristic and several specific behaviors we will measure.  The assessments are meant to be highly specific for each athlete and, accordingly, the behaviors included may be unique in each case.

The Learn to Learn (LTL) core refers to 4 emphases used to develop athletes self-regulatory abilities.

In the example below, the part the athlete fills out is circled.  The athlete can ignore all other boxes.  Athletes use a self-rating of 1( lowest) to 5 (highest).

The algorithm:

{(5 – As) + (10 – Cs)} X Is = Ps

The highest possible priority a behavior can earn is a 100.  See below for a discussion of the categories.  You can keep the actual assessment handy to follow along.


Commitment should uniquely correspond to an athlete’s short- and long-term goals and, accordingly, we assess commitment on micro (daily training habits) to macro (overall training schedule and adherence) levels.

C1: I arrive at training sessions/ classes early and prepared (mental, physical, equipment).

The athlete arrives early to be ready to train right when the time begins.  This includes having equipment ready, being mentally and physically prepared, bathroom, tissues (every skater needs them) and so on.

Learn to Learn (LTL) Core

Observe.  First, the athlete has to understand the expectation to arrive early exists.  We verbalize this expectation in a non-controlling and informationally-functional manner appropriate to the athlete’s development.

“If you arrive for training early you can organize your goals for the session before you begin your work”

“Did you know that the hardest workers arrive early for their training?”

We are fortunate to have a fantastic group of committed athletes of all ages and abilities who love to challenge one another to be the first on the ice.  This is a model performance at its most influential because the community (at least within our program) engages this behavior.  We point this out to athletes new to our program or who have yet to develop this ability.  Sometimes, we encourage the newcomer to observe a particular athlete in our program who demonstrates commitment effectively.

Explore.  Next, we ‘allow’ the athlete to arrive early.  When the athlete emulates early arrival, they may engage the behavior because everyone else does so or they know they are supposed to but they might not yet have internalized the value of the behavior as their own yet.  They will engage the behavior as they see others engage them.

Own.  Now the athlete engages the behavior and they understand why this behavior is important.  They arrive early and prepared in their own way –they bring specific equipment, and prepared questions to ask the coach and exercises they wish to target.

Flex.  The athlete arrives early and prepared for various contexts.  On-ice sessions, off-ice jump class, stretch, ballet class, peer stretch classes, visualization.  When the schedule changes (time or location) and so on.

C2: I participate in the type and number of training sessions suitable to my competitive level and personal goals (daily, weekly, yearly)

The athlete participates in the training schedule set by the coaching staff and in accordance with the athlete’s goals.  This includes all types of training sessions and adherence throughout the year.  This display of commitment shows that the athlete remains dedicated to the necessary training to achieve the goals they’ve set.

LTL Core

Observe.  Coaches outline the training schedule for each athlete.  We share the schedule with the athlete and discuss what to expect and why different components (e.g. off-ice classes) are in place.  Athletes that already adhere to a similar schedule become the model to observe.

Explore.  Similar to C1, the athlete now follows the training schedule and, at this time, may or may not value all of the components of the schedule or the number of training hours.  We continue with discussions on the value of the schedule in the athlete’s quest to achieve their goals.  This can include general informationally prominent statements.

“If you stay committed to this schedule you will better achieve your long-term goals.

However, if there is a component of the schedule the athlete does not yet value, we will provide more specific support

“The ballet classes are in place to help you Explore your performance qualities at competitions.

Explore is an important subskill for us coaches to observe in our own feedback cycle.  We want to see the athlete eventually internalize and endorse their schedule out of their own free will.  In cases where the athlete is challenged, we may need to have another discussion about altering their goals more appropriately to the commitment they are willing to make (perhaps they cannot stay committed to the full schedule on a consistent basis).  This is vital because the athlete (and parents) must learn that improvements come through hard work.  In many cases, parents expect their child to ‘keep up’ despite a lack of a consistent commitment and is not fair to the athlete.  It sends the message, “Your schedule isn’t that important.”

Own.  Now the athlete internalizes why they are following the schedule set for them.  They value each component (even activities that they would otherwise not engage if it weren’t for their goals in the sport).

Flex.  The athlete adapts their schedule when they feel necessary.  They might add or reduce training hours based on upcoming events or the feedback they receive (e.g. from coaches, competition outcomes).

Proactive Coping

Proactive coping refers to when an athlete sees risks, obstacles, and opportunities in the future but and perceives them as challenges (rather than threats to their well-being) (Greenglass and Fiksenbaum 2009).  They accumulate resources for the future and construct a path of action to Flex and create opportunities for growth (Schwarzer and Taubert 2002).  The proactive coper is someone who interprets stress as a vital energy that arouses the individual in a positive way (Schwarzer and Taubert 2002).  I wrote a coaches course on this subject for the PSA continuing education exams: CER ACP 401 – Proactive Coping Skills.

P1: I approach events (competitions, tests) with optimism; I appraise stress as a challenge rather than a threat.

According to research, the most successful athletes over the long-term had a slow and non-linear progression and they encountered many obstacles along the way (Collins, MacNamara, and McCarthy 2016). For stressful events to have a positive influence on development, the athlete must perceive those stressful events as a challenge (and not as a threat).  The athlete must adapt to prepare for, and cope with these events by seeking resources (e.g. support network) and developing skills (e.g. how to respond to a poor competitive performance) (Greenglass and Fiksenbaum 2009; Sohl and Moyer 2009; Kerr and Stirling 2017).

LTL Core

Observe.  We regularly inform our athletes about the value of challenge in their development.  We provide opportunities in our program for athletes to meet, as a group, with the coaches to discuss major events such as competitions.  These discussions provide a means to Explore all LTL Core skills, especially observe.  Athletes new to our program get to listen to other athletes talk about upcoming events- goals, concerns, nerves, and also the strategies they engage to prepare (e.g. visualization, cue word preparation).  We find there is no greater tool than peer support and getting to hear that other athletes share similar feelings normalizes them.  We like to say, for example,

“Being nervous or not has nothing to do with whether you will perform well or not.  It’s just a different feeling than what you experience in your day-today training.  You could be extremely nervous before a competition and perform your career best or worst.”

Explore.  The athlete engages the behaviors of others, but perhaps they do not value the behaviors yet.  They may start to speak at the group discussions but they may say what they think they should say.  This is still an important transition for the athlete because they Explore experience talking in front of others.

Own.  We encourage athletes to keep notebooks where they can track planned events, such as tests and competitions.  Seeing the schedule allows them to strategize in the period leading up to the event.  When the athlete takes ownership, they now value the activities associated with proactive coping.  They write in their notebooks, visualize, and look forward to the group discussions.  They start to share thoughts and concerns unique to themselves and value the support and feedback from their peers.

Flex. We observe athletes adapting their proactive coping strategies to different events.  We also provide learning opportunities through unplanned (to the athlete) events that we can control and Flex to the current abilities of the athlete.  For example, we might inform an athlete that they have to perform a run-through of their program five minutes after stepping on the ice.

P2: I approach daily practice with optimism; I appraise stress as a challenge rather than a threat (struggling with a skill; crowded sessions).

This behavior looks at proactive coping at a micro level: within daily practice.  How does the athlete respond to daily struggles such as mistakes or crowded ice sessions?  Importantly, the athlete must not only persist but also in an effective manner to convey proactive coping.

LTL Core

Observe.  On the micro-level, we coaches act as models because the behaviors we engage can influence whether our athletes value daily practice struggles or not.  For example, if we react negatively to an athlete making mistakes, we are sending the message, “mistakes are bad.”  Instead, we continually encourage exploration and find positive ways to frame mistakes:

“Making mistakes can lead to some of the greatest learning.

There are always athletes who cope proactively within a given period (there tend to be fluctuations regarding exactly who is setting a model proactive coping behavior).

Explore.  The athlete attempts to proactively cope with mistakes in their training.  They might persist, but perhaps maladaptively.  We engage conversations with the athlete to guide them through the struggle.

Own.  When the athlete owns proactive coping, they now engage coping behaviors on their own.  They prepare for day-to-day stresses.  They might engage in self talk.  Our athletes like to say, “I give myself permission to make mistakes today so I can learn something new.

Flex.  Now the athlete adapts their day-to-day proactive coping behaviors to a range of obstacles – not just the initial context.

Quality Practice

Quality practice is an extremely important skill especially given the many misunderstandings about ‘what’ constitutes quality practice.  Our program recognizes practice as a setting to explore, to experiment, to make change and, to achieve this, we must promote these qualities to athletes and parents.  The conditions that influence the greatest learning are not necessarily those that influence the greatest performance.

Q1: I work effectively from start to finish of lessons.

The athlete remains engaged and, not only do they work hard, but they also know what to work on to make the full lesson effective.  If they are really tired, they would still be working hard if they persisted with a difficult jump but not necessarily effective.  In this case, effective training might mean doing something that requires less energy but is equally important such as basic skills work or visualization.

LTL Core

Observe.  We provide the athlete with a realistic list of skills and activities they should accomplish in a training session- if they train effectively.  We discuss strategies they can employ to get the work done.  We point out athletes who work effectively to observe.

Explore.  The athlete works hard from the start to the end of the lesson but perhaps not effectively yet, or not without the coach’s encouragement

Own.  The athlete trains effectively from start to finish of lessons.

Flex.  The athlete adapts to the daily struggles in unique ways.  When they struggle with a particular skill, they engage effective behaviors, which might include visualization, self-talk, exercises or basic skills work, or even moving on to another skill.

Q2: I work effectively from start to finish of self-practice

The athlete remains engaged and works effectively from the start to finish of practice time (see above for more detail).

LTL Core

The LTL core for Q2 is similar to Q1 and applies to practice in the absence of a coach.

Goal Setting

G1: I use warm-up and in-between session time to reflect and set goals for the next practice and week.

The athlete sets short-term goals (for the day and week, for example).  These are the task/ process goals – the specific areas they need to target to improve their skills and physical abilities.  For example, if the athlete is working to improve the outside edge on their Lutz jump, the athlete would set appropriate practice goals for the week to facilitate this improvement including setting time aside to work on it, which exercises they should engage in to make the improvements, and how they can measure or monitor improvement.  The goals should be appropriate to their skill level and commitment.

G2: I set, monitor, and adapt medium (in the next month) and long-term goals (this season and beyond).

The athlete sets medium- (land a new jump, achieve a level 4 spin) and long-term (participate in a competition next season; achieve a specific level in the next few years) goals.  These goals are more concrete outcome-based goals and we believe short- and long-term goal-setting involve different skill sets.  The goals should be appropriate to their skill level and commitment.

LTL Core G1 and G2

Observe.  We provide season (long-term) and weekly (short-term) goal setting documents for our athletes and explain what they are for and how they will help.  We also host weekly goal setting sessions with our athletes and again, this provides an opportunity for the athlete to observe the goal-setting behaviors of other athletes.

Explore.  The athlete engages short- and long-term goal setting behaviors with assistance from coaches.  Commonly, the athlete will set goals that are vague.  We help them transform them into specific and measurable goals through a line of questions meant to help them make the changes themselves.

Own.  The athlete regularly engages in short- and long-term goal setting behaviors.  They now do so with their own creative flare.

Flex.  The athlete learns how to Flex their goals based on circumstances.

Social Support

S1: I know when and how to seek social support from others in my community.

The athlete understands the value of social support (coaches, family, peers, teachers…) and knows when to reach out for support.  The athlete openly discusses struggles and challenges with other athletes (when appropriate).  This ‘openness’ normalizes feelings such as nervousness before a competition.

S2: I initiate peer training opportunities when appropriate.

Training with peers can be an intrinsically-rewarding and effective training tool.  We want to see our athletes work together: stretching, visualization, or jump technique; or play some fun process-oriented games on the ice to improve their skills.  We teach our athletes how they can play these games and compete against each other while using personal improvement as the factor to score points.  This way the training is still focused on self-improvement but allows for competitive interaction and can be used between skaters of different abilities and levels.

Motor Imagery / Visualization

I set time aside to use motor imagery/ visualization to rehearse skills/ prepare for new experiences (e.g. competitions).

One major differentiator between highly successful athletes (e.g. World and Olympic competitors) and less successful athletes is the use of motor imagery/ visualization.  There are different types and ways athletes can use imagery.  They can use it to stabilize emotions and focus; to ‘get in the zone’; to rehearse corrections and competitive routines as if they are watching themselves on TV or “feeling” the movements themselves. This category refers specifically to the use of some form of imagery as a practice tool used to improve their motor skills.

Physical Abilities

Physical abilities are the most common category of assessment in sports.  Many sports programs, both historically and more recently, have been criticized for focusing assessment solely on physical abilities in children especially given that a huge influence on physical abilities is growth and maturation.  Children who are developmentally more mature will appear to be more physically ‘gifted’ than children who are less developmentally mature.  Nonetheless, it is still important to measure and monitor physical abilities for any athlete to reach their athletic peak.  Below we outline the physical abilities currently included in our Athlete Centered Skating assessments.

We assess physical abilities with this simple algorithm:

(10 – Score) X Importance  = Priority

Coordination / Aesthetic Movements

The ability to move in different ways smoothly, efficiently, and aesthetically.  Coordination is considered the most vital physical ability (there are many different types of coordination) to Explore in children because it provides a foundation to safely and confidently Explore sport specific skills.  Coordination influences learning efficiency and adaptability.

Relative Strength

Athlete’s strength relative to their body size.  In general, smaller bodies have higher relative strength than larger bodies because height and weight do not increase proportionately.  Therefore, taller athletes may have greater maximal strength than shorter athletes (e.g. they can bench press a heavier weight).  However, smaller athletes tend to have higher relative strength (e.g. they can do more push-ups) than a taller athlete.  Figure skating is a sport that involves manipulation of one’s own body.  Therefore, relative strength is a vital ability.

Absolute Strength

Athlete’s maximal force exerted.  Represents the maximum weight an athlete can lift regardless of their size.


The ability to overcome resistance in the shortest period of time.  Power requires quickness/ speed to generate maximum strength.  One athlete might be much stronger than another but cannot generate that strength as rapidly as the another.  Therefore, this athlete would have less power and might not be able to jump as high as a result.


Ability to move fast in a short time.  Quickness is the second component of being able to generate power.


The athlete’s ability to move a joint or group of joints through a range of motion.  Flexibility allows for the body to move in a full range of motion which has the potential to reduce injury and maximize movement potential.  Figure skating rewards flexibility as if it is a skill because skaters get rewarded for achieving flexible positions – especially in spins.  Flexibility is important to Explore before athletes reach puberty because bones grow faster than muscle


Ability to achieve and maintain different positions without losing one’s axis.  Balance is actually a more complex ability than people might think.  In fact, motor researchers contend there are different types of balance abilities that can be measured separately.  If there is any sport that demands (and Explores) balance – it is figure skating.  Everything figure skaters do – even basic skills- requires a strong ability to balance.

Practice Endurance

Practice endurance refers to the athlete’s ability to maintain their work as the training sessions/ day progresses.  An athlete with very high practice endurance can get more work done on a practice session and can maintain a higher workload from practice to practice.

Program Endurance

This category refers specifically to the athlete’s ability to complete their competitive routine without looking fatigued.  This type of stamina requires very specific training to maximize one’s potential.

Warm-up/ Recovery

Quality of athlete’s warm-up and recovery work.  The warm-up includes active stretch, jump and other technical skill work, and motor imagery.  Recovery includes stretching, foam rolling, icing when necessary, motor imagery/ visualization.

Technical Skills

Skill analysis is a much more complex process than most people might realize.  For example, what constitutes learning as in, “this skater has learned an axel?”  Must they land it once? Twice?  Ten times?  Then, what happens when the athlete “loses” the skill?  The LTL core allows us to reframe motor skill acquisition into a continually evolving process.


Here we record a specific skill such as an axel, leveled combination spin, move in the field pattern, or step sequence.  Which skills are listed will vary from athlete to athlete depending on their goals and commitment.  We will also list ‘future skills’, which refer to skills they might need next season.

Technical Improvements

Explains specific corrections and focuses the athlete needs to make to improve the quality of the skill.  We provide a checkbox area for coaches and athletes to mark technical progress.  Importantly, technical improvements should be considered as learning-process goals (as in, the athlete pushes off the skating foot on the lutz), whereas areas of learning represent performance-goals (as in whether or not the athlete can land a triple jump).  It is very possible for a jump to improve in performance consistency in the absence of any technical improvements.  This is an issue for long-term progress.

Importance/ Discussion

Explains more details and why the skill is important to train.  For example, the skater might need a specific skill for an upcoming test or the skill has high value on an upcoming competitive season or level


The priority score allows the athlete and coach to easily sort through the skills to see which ones are more important to Explore.  The priority score will be determined by the coaches in some assessments.  Other priority assessments are for the coach and athlete to discuss the scores together and then, ultimately, for the athlete to prioritize the skills themselves.


This section assesses current programs, when appropriate.  There is a separate assessment for each program.


Movement refers to body form within the program.  Does the athlete use their arms continuously and appropriately (to the style and character of their program)?  Do they engage their whole body in the movements?  The judging system in figure skating rewards different levels of body movement (core change) and we encourage our athletes to push the limits of their balance and coordination for this category.


Expression specifically refers to the athlete’s facial expression during the performance.  Is the athlete expressing an identifiable emotion or mood throughout their program?  Is it appropriate to the character and changes within the choreography and music?


Elements refers to the technical skills in the program and includes jumps, spins, and step sequences.  For this category we want to see the athlete perform their elements to a similar standard of quality as when they practice those skills separately from the program.

Comments/ Proactive Feedback

This page allows us to provide feedback on which behaviors should be targeted in the coming training period and offer specific suggestions for our athletes on how they can make improvements.  We will also use these comments as feedback to inform which activities we create in the training environment to support their learning.


Collins, Dave, Áine MacNamara, and Neil McCarthy. 2016. ‘Super champions, champions, and almosts: important differences and commonalities on the rocky road’, Frontiers in psychology, 6: 2009.

Greenglass, Esther R, and Lisa Fiksenbaum. 2009. ‘Proactive coping, positive affect, and well-being: Testing for mediation using path analysis’, European psychologist, 14: 29-39.

Kerr, Gretchen, and Ashley Stirling. 2017. ‘Mental toughness as a threat to athlete welfare’, Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Explorement in Sport: 409.

Schwarzer, Ralf, and Steffen Taubert. 2002. “Tenacious goal pursuits and striving toward personal growth: Proactive coping.” In Beyond coping: Meeting goals, visions and challenges, 19-35.

Sohl, Stephanie Jean, and Anne Moyer. 2009. ‘Refining the conceptualization of a future-oriented self-regulatory behavior: Proactive coping’, Personality and Individual Differences, 47: 139-44.