Athlete Centered Skating

Athlete Centered Skating teaches skaters to practice their skills as if each ‘repetition’ is a new experience.  We encourage them to be adaptable; to embrace change.  According to modern motor learning theory (and our own beliefs), movement variability is the key to achieving consistent performance outcomes because every single performance context is different from the previous one and, as a result, requires a unique solution (Davids, Button et al. 2008, Glazier and Davids 2009, Davids, Araújo et al. 2013, Chow, Davids et al. 2015, Seifert and Davids 2017).  The Russian physiologist Nikolai Bernstein described this type of practice as “repetition without repetition” (Bernstein 1967).  The rationale is that no two ‘repetitions’ of a skill are ever the same – not even a single jointed movement such as hammering in a nail.  Research even shows that not only do elite athletes rely on movement variability to improve their skills but also that that when variability is encouraged by coaches in practice, learners make lasting improvements (Scott, Li et al. 1997, Barris, Farrow et al. 2014, Greenwood, Davids et al. 2016).

To promote adaptability, we create practice sessions that motor learning research refers to as “variable” or “random” – even “novel” experiences.  We encourage skaters to practice different approaches, speeds, orders, numbers of trials (repetitions), and even goals for each skill.

We want our skaters to experience their skills from different perspectives to broaden their understanding of how to do it.

The traditional approach to learning skills, especially in figure skating, is to repeat skills over and over again to develop muscle memory of the exact movement.  The goal is to reduce variability and to zero in on perfection.

Instead of training our skaters to be perfect (which is impossible), we train them to be adaptable.

The research of Ellen Langer is not specific to motor skill acquisition yet presents a similar perspective to what we described above.  She argues that, rather than making conclusions and assumptions as passive responses to our daily experiences, we should approach each moment as if it were a new experience.  According to her research, ‘mindfulness’ relates to welcoming new information; it means putting the process before the outcome.  Mindfulness means not only to accept uncertainty but to expect it.

To integrate Langer’s research with Bernstein’s, we could say that repetition should mean that we approach training with mindfulness.




Barris, S., D. Farrow and K. Davids (2014). “Increasing functional variability in the preparatory phase of the takeoff improves elite springboard diving performance.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport85(1): 97-106.

Bernstein, N. A. (1967). “The co-ordination and regulation of movements.”

Chow, J. Y., K. Davids, C. Button and I. Renshaw (2015). Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition: An introduction, Routledge.

Davids, K., D. Araújo, L. Vilar, I. Renshaw and R. Pinder (2013). “An ecological dynamics approach to skill acquisition: Implications for development of talent in sport.” Talent Development & Excellence5(1): 21-34.

Davids, K. W., C. Button and S. J. Bennett (2008). Dynamics of skill acquisition: A constraints-led approach, Human Kinetics.

Glazier, P. S. and K. W. Davids (2009). “On analysing and interpreting variability in motor output.” Journal of science and medicine in sport12(4): e2-e3.

Greenwood, D., K. Davids and I. Renshaw (2016). “The role of a vertical reference point in changing gait regulation in cricket run-ups.” European journal of sport science16(7): 794-800.

Scott, M. A., F.-X. Li and K. Davids (1997). “Expertise and the regulation of gait in the approach phase of the long jump.” Journal of sports sciences15(6): 597-605.

Seifert, L. and K. Davids (2017). Ecological Dynamics: a theoretical framework for understanding sport performance, physical education and physical activity. First Complex Systems Digital Campus World E-Conference 2015, Springer.