Athlete Centered Skating

In the previous blog we presented another common feedback scenario in a skating rink (though from what we hear, these exchanges are very common in any sport!).  In this blog, we present the second story one more time and then below we address the “red flags”.  Unlike the first story, we did add several positive feedback experiences.

Common Scene 02

A skater arrives at the skating rink for practice.

First, she has a lesson with her main coach.  She performs an axel, double salchow, then double toe loop.  Next comes the double loop jump.  On the first attempt, her arm raises over her head as she “loads” the takeoff edge.  Then, when she jumps her body leans out to the left.  She falls.  (1) She skates over to the coach for feedback.  (2) “You let your arm fly over your head again and you leaned out.  We talked about this before.  Stop doing that.”  The skater tries several more attempts at the skill and receives the same comments each time. (3) “That still wasn’t right.  The arm is flying up and you are leaning out.  You gotta fix that if you want to land this jump better. Are you listening to my feedback? Do you know what I’m telling you?” The skater nods and says “yes.” “Then why don’t you fix it?” the coach asks.  The skater shrugs.

On the next session the girl hops on the ice and starts to practice.  Her second coach calls her over for another lesson.  (4) “I saw you working on that double loop last session. Let’s work on that.”  (5) The second coach has her perform several exercises meant to address the takeoff of the loop jump, one of which involves using a different approach (set-up) to the jump.  They practice the exercises together for several minutes and then the coach says, “OK – let’s try this on the double jump now.  I’ll get the harness.”  (6) The skater puts on the harness and they go practice the double loop several times.  She lands every attempt.  The coach then states, “These jumps are better.  Try it off the harness.”  The skater tries the double loop off the harness and it does seem better to her.  (7) “Something must be working.  The harness really helps me,” she thinks to herself.

The session finishes and, after a break, the skater has one more session.  This time she has a lesson with her 3rdcoach- the “stroking and edges” coach. (8) This coach has her work on crossovers and three turns through a handful of repetitive but isolated exercises.  First, they start with forward turns.  The coach explains how to use the knee action on the turn to develop rhythm, how to lean on the edge and create edge pressure.  Then they work on back outside three turns in the same way.

The next day, the skater arrives at the rink for her lesson with the main coach.  (9) The girl performs her axel, double salchow, and double toe loop and then starts the double loop again.  (10) The skater knows that with the main coach, she should use the standard approach the main coach prefers.  (11) She attempts her first double loop.  Her arm raises over her head and she leans out to the left on the takeoff- just like yesterday…

RED FLAGS (the numbers correspond to their placement in the story above)

  1. Just like in the common scene 01, the skater here is used to playing a passive role in her learning. She looks to the coach to provide answers and, as a result, has not developed her own error-detecting abilities.
  2. The coach mentions the skater’s mistakes but not the corrections (the behaviors the skater should try to achieve). How can someone “stop doing that”?  As we previously stated, when a skater thinks of a behavior, the action is “primed” in their brain – even if it is a behavior they want to avoid.  Why not prime the correct behavior rather than the mistake?
  3. The coach correctly states that if you do the correct behavior you will improve the skill. This is a positive psychological approach.  However, the coach still never conveyed what the correct behavior is.  The coach also made no effort to explain the issue in a different way.  If the skater didn’t understand one approach, the coach should try another until something ‘clicks’.  However, in this case, fault is placed directly on the skater for not understanding. To make things worse, the coach implies that the skater has an issue with attention/ learning.  This negatively impacts her feelings of competence and motivation.  In these situations, children often cope by “playing the role” given to them.  In this case, she is “the kid who doesn’t know how to fix things.”
  4. The second coach didn’t take time to ask the skater what the main coach’s feedback was on the double loop before starting to work on the skill.  There may have been a strategy that was particularly helpful or several that didn’t work at all.  This would inform the second coach’s own strategies.  Instead, the situation compartmentalizes the work of the two coaches and the skater is forced to switch “hats” from one coach to the other: this coach does that and that coach does this.
  5. Here is another potential positive: the second coach used exercises to break down the main skill into smaller parts. The vital question is: how do these smaller parts integrate with the main skill? This refers to the term “learning transfer” from the research literature and the form of practice is called “part and whole practice.”  Typically, the elements of the smaller pieces should share some identical elements (e.g. rhythm) with the main skill.  However, there are cases when the smaller parts are quite different but, when put together, trigger the intended whole skill behavior.
  6. Ahhh, the pole harness! The pole harness is another form of physical guidance and we will dedicate at least one whole blog to pole harness use in this feedback series.  For now, we will state that there certainly may be benefits to the pole harness but there are plenty of cautions.  One caution is that the pole harness changes the feelings and sensations of performance.  A skater might not develop a “reference of correctness” when practicing with it because the pole harness corrects or adjusts errant behaviors. For example, if she leans out considerably on the loop takeoff – she would most likely “tilt” in the air.  The harness straightens her out so she does not feel the result of the errant takeoff lean. She does not develop her own reference of correctness.
  7. Because the skater landed all her jump attempts on the harness, she believes that the harness really helps her. She might even start to think she can’t do the skill without the harness.  These types of “quick” fixes are called “within session improvements” and rarely do they result in lasting changes.  Unfortunately, coaches, skaters, and parents tend to overvalue progress made within a single lesson or practice session.  There are no quick fixes to lasting improvements.
  8. Its wonderful that someone is working on stroking, edges, and turns- this is such a lacking focus in training. The stroking coach is indirectly helping the skater with her double loop takeoff when they work on back outside three turns (pretty much any turn!).  The issue here is that the work is, again, compartmentalized. Though it might seem obvious that the basics reinforce correct jump takeoff technique, skaters fail to make a connection – in almost every case.  After all, skaters are used to the ritual:  go to one coach and then another and then another without any integration.  Coaches should unify their skaters’ technique by using the basic skills as a foundation for all other skills to build from – not as some separate training.
  9. The skater warms-up in exactly the same way the next day: the  jumps follow the same exact progression.  This develops an “I need to do this skill before that” mindset in skaters which reduces their adaptability to unknown situations.
  10. When the skater switches back to the original set-up the main coach prefers, it reflects the lack of integration within her training. Also, did anyone ask the skater which set-up she prefers?  On the plus side, skaters should practice their skills from a wide variety of set-ups and speeds (even those that are uncomfortable) to develop their skills and their ability to be adaptable.
  11. To survive this compartmentalized learning environment, learners either shut down and become extremely passive or, in rare cases, they step up and ignore their coaches to find their own way. This is great in that the skater develops their own self-regulatory abilities but then, if they have to ignore all the feedback – why spend the money on the lessons in the first place?  Coaching teams should be integrated; they should communicate, be open to new ideas and, most importantly, they should be most concerned with developing their skaters’ inner voices rather than making sure their own voice is the most heard.

In upcoming blogs we will examine the topics from these two stories (Common Scene 01 and 02) more deeply.