Most families are unfamiliar with figure skating – how much training one needs to partake at a young age, what the competitive expectations are, the purpose of the testing system, and what the end game looks like. This blog offers a glimpse into several basic stages of progress within the sport with an intensive commitment.
Exactly how much time must one commit to figure skating to be competitive? The answer certainly varies from case to case but an average commitment for competitive skaters at the juvenile level (the entry level for US Figure Skating’s qualifying events) is two on-ice sessions per day and at least one off-ice session per day, five days per week. The cutoff age for competitive juvenile skaters (qualifying events) is 13, which means that children that are older are not eligible. One can expect to see children on the podium at regionals who have mastered double axels (that’s a 2.5 rotation jump) and level 4 spins (the highest tiered spins in figure skating). At higher levels (intermediate, novice, junior, or senior), skaters are generally expected to add more on-ice and off-ice sessions each day, and even add a sixth day of training. That is an incredible commitment of resources and it is not just the parents that must sacrifice to support such a schedule – coaches must make huge sacrifices as well. They give up vacations, holidays, and family time to accommodate competitive figure skating schedules. Following is a basic timeline for what to expect as a competitive figure skater in Athlete Centered Skating.
Stage 1: Learn the Two Foundations (No test through Preliminary)
What to expect:
We recommend a 2-3 day per week trial commitment for new skaters to develop confidence, to progress, and measure whether or not the sport fits for them. Anything less and they are not likely to develop these qualities and make an accurate assessment. Expect to come to the rink, have a lesson, perhaps supplement it with an off-ice class, then go home.
What you’ll learn:
We teach beginners 1. the fundamental skills of figure skating and 2. how to learn for themselves. Fundamental skills include stroking, crossovers, all the basic turns and steps such as three turns, and basic spin and jump exercises. There are many of them and to a layperson they probably all look the same and are not exciting to watch. Progress will appear to be very slow. We will also lay the initial groundwork for teaching skaters how to be self-sufficient learners so they one day will not need to rely on us to tell them what to do. We call it learning how to learn and this takes a lot of time, support, and patience.
Pre-preliminary freeskate; Pre-preliminary, preliminary, pre-juvenile moves in the field
There are many moves in the field and freeskate tests in the first few years of skating. Check out our blog on US Figure Skating tests to learn more about them.
While competitions can certainly act as a developmental tool, they should really take a back seat to general practice at this stage. First, its vital to develop children’s motivations to work hard for the sake of personal improvement (they call it a ‘mastery or task orientation’ in psychology literature). This is the healthiest form of motivation to develop in individuals if they are to become dedicated and resilient workers. Figure skating is a sport and there will be plenty of time to nurture those extrinsic motivations (called ‘performance’ or ‘ego orientation’) through competition in the years to come.
Stage 2: Take the Plunge (Preliminary- Pre-Juvenile)
What to expect:
Believe it or not, the commitment jumps significantly for competitive beginners. Expect to commit 4-5 days per week, multiple sessions per day, and to supplement with some off-ice training.
What you will learn:
In this stage, we will continue to carve out the fundamental skills, and this includes the introduction of difficult turns and steps with cool names like rockers, counters, and brackets. Skaters will develop their ‘air position’ (literally, the position one achieves in the air on jumps) in on and off-ice training, learn axels and their first few double jumps. We will continue to nurture skaters’ self-regulative learning skills: they will learn to monitor progress; how to develop conceptions of quality; how and when to seek feedback; and how to set goals.
Preliminary, Pre-Juvenile freeskate; Juvenile moves in the field
Skaters will enter local non-qualifying competitions several times per year including the Colonial Open (Acton, May); Ocean State Open (Rhode Island, July); Cranberry Open (Cape Cod, August); Providence Open (August); Boston Open (at SCOB, September)
Stage 3: Enter the IJS (Juvenile and up)
What to expect:
Upon entering the Juvenile level skaters transition into the world of the International Judging System (IJS) (though they may have had a glimpse of it at the pre-juvenile level if they competed at that level) and also entering qualifying events (Regionals, Sectionals, Nationals). Qualifying events are extremely competitive and there are several unnecessary bottlenecks (read about them in another blog). However, if the training environment frames these events effectively, they can still serve vital developmental roles in teaching skaters 1. How the IJS works and how to use it to help them improve 2. How to further develop their conceptions of quality 3. Learn how to train for competitions and how to compete. Winning should not be a priority of any kind (though if it happens- great!) and should take a back seat to learning and development.
What you will learn:
Skaters will continue to master the fundamentals and learn challenging combinations of turns and steps. They will learn all their double jumps and hopefully some triples and develop difficult multi-feature spins. They should know how to self-regulate their learning and our role as coaches shifts to a more supportive role than to one that leads the way. This is a very important step in the development of young athletes!
Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, Senior freeskate and moves in the field
A competitive season is established (Spring-Winter) and in the off-season new skills and programs are developed. Non-qualifying events include: Colonial Open (Acton, May); Ocean State Open (Rhode Island, July); Cranberry Open (Cape Cod, August); Boston Open (at SCOB, September). Qualifying events start with Regionals (October) and progress through Sectionals (November) and Nationals (January)
Stage 4: Your Day Job is an Athlete (Nationally to internationally competitive)
If you ever reach this stage it means you had great competitive success at the US Championships and are entering international competitions. From here, the day is scheduled to facilitate your training and this includes comprehensive off- and on-ice training and lots of supplemental activities.