We have had several interrelated blog topic questions from parents regarding Moves in the Field. This blog addresses several of those questions and continues from previous posts about stages of development and basic skills training.
What are Moves in the Field?
Moves in the Field (MITF) are a set of tests that require skaters to perform specific patterns on the ice to show mastery of turns and steps (e.g. three-turns, brackets, or counter turns) – basic skills. Each skating level has a corresponding MITF test (pre-preliminary, preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, senior). The MITF test must be passed before a skater can take the corresponding freestyle test (the test with the jumps and spins). However, skaters can take as many MITF tests as they choose without regard to their freestyle level. Therefore, a No-test freestyle skater could, in theory, pass every single one of their MITF tests!
What Moves in the Field are Not
MITF practice is absolutely not a replacement for basic skills training and development. When skaters learn basic skills they must learn them from a wide range of contexts– different speeds, patterns, edge depths, with different pro- and preceding movements and so on. A Moves in the Field test pattern provides one isolated context that, in many cases, is far removed from how the target skill (e.g. pre-juvenile three-turns) is performed in regular practice or competitive routines. In other words, a MITF pattern provides one specific context for learning. However, to be an expert figure skater requires the mastery of many.
Decades of research shows that narrowly focused learning (called “blocked practice”) may prove beneficial to that single context only at the onset of learning the skill. Research also shows that learning a skill through a wide variety of contexts may be less effective to any single context (say, a target MITF pattern) at the onset of learning, but the wide variety of contexts instills deeper and more meaningful learning overall: better long-term retention, greater transfer for to different situations – especially completely new ones [see these motor learning textbooks for more: (Schmidt and Lee 2013, Schmidt and Lee 2005, Magill 2011, Davids, Button, and Bennett 2008)]. For example, one influential study showed that practicing a basketball free throw from different distances from the hoop proves more beneficial to one’s free throw shooting ability than simply practicing from the free throw line only (Shoenfelt et al. 2002)!
What does this mean for figure skaters? This means that if a skater is introduced to and practices a ‘bracket’ turn only from the Intermediate MITF test pattern, that skater might improve the bracket on that exact pattern quicker than another skater who is introduced to brackets in many different contexts – but only at first. Over time, the skater who is challenged to practice that bracket from many different speeds, patterns, angles etc. will learn the bracket more deeply; more functionally. That second skater will eventually perform the bracket better on the MITF test pattern or any other pattern – especially new ones – than the first skater. The second skater will retain what they learned and be able to apply this wisdom to new conditions – say, for example, when they must perform the bracket in a step sequence or before an axel in a competitive program. In contrast, the first skater would have to re-learn the bracket turn again in each new context (we see this happen all the time).
Training basic skills only through MITF test patterns is essentially a form of “teaching to the test”. The goal of teaching to the test is to focus on the specific details that will pass the test and nothing more (Dochy 2009). Thus, passing a senior MITF test is not a true reflection of any skater’s knowledge and mastery of basic skills- only on their ability to achieve a ‘passing grade’ on that one specific pattern in that one specific situation.
How to Move Along the Moves
The greatest strategy to make MITF test training effective and worthwhile (which means that MITF practice doesn’t interfere with regular training) is to develop skaters’ basic skills mastery to a general level that is already above a specific test. This would mean that a skater’s quality of basics should be above, say, a Novice MITF test level before that skater is even introduced to the test patterns. In such a case, the skater would need a week or two to train the patterns (sometimes even less!) and pass the test. Unfortunately, there are a handful of tests to plough through in the lower levels of skating (pre-preliminary, preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile) and children tend to have to work on these tests when their skill levels are still below the passing standard for each test level.
On the contrary, if skaters simply push along through all their MITF tests- one after another- they will no doubt spend much more time and money than is necessary to train the patterns and pass each of the tests. They will have to train for the tests, wait while their general skating ability catches up, and keep up with their freestyle (jumps and spins) training. Unfortunately, this means they spend more time on those test patterns and less time developing a well-rounded mastery of all basics. This is really unfortunate.
Moves in a Sequence
Another issue with the use of MITF tests as the major source of basic skills training is that, by following the MITF test structure, skaters must learn three turns, then brackets; then counters, then rockers. In other words, they learn their basics in a sequenced progression that narrowly focuses on one or two types of turns per test. The reality is that children should be introduced to all the basics as soon as possible and to develop all the turns and steps together! This develops a relationship between the different turns and steps. These basics form the basis for their jumps and spins and are a vital part of development.
Learning basic skills is much like learning a new language. To deeply learn a language, one must practice new words in many different sentences and structures. However, one could also learn how to say isolated phrases for key situations. For example, when I trained in Russia for several weeks, I learned the phrase “Drop me off after this house, please.” I used it every day to inform the bus driver where to let me off when a went home from the rink. In this specific case, I spoke the language; I ‘passed the test’ in the specific context so-to-speak. However, did I learn how to use those words in different ways? Could I restructure the words if needed? Nope. I didn’t even know which part of the phrase referred to which word!
Bottom Line: Skaters should practice their basic skills in many, many different contexts: from different speeds and angles, edge depths, with different preceding and proceeding movements and so on. They need to be trained in a way that transfers the learning to their jumps. MITF tests should be taken only when the necessity arises such as to skate on a higher leveled session or to move up to a higher level.
Davids, Keith W, Chris Button, and Simon J Bennett. 2008. Dynamics of skill acquisition: A constraints-led approach: Human Kinetics.
Dochy, Filip. 2009. “The edumetric quality of new modes of assessment: Some issues and prospects.” In Assessment, learning and judgement in higher education, 1-30. Springer.
Magill, Richard A. 2011. “Motor learning and control.” Concepts and Applications.
Schmidt, Richard A, and Timothy D Lee. 2005. “Motor control and learning: A behavioral emphasis.”
Schmidt, Richard, and Tim Lee. 2013. Motor Learning and performance, 5E with web study guide: from principles to application: Human Kinetics.
Shoenfelt, Elizabeth L, Leslie A Snyder, Allison E Maue, C Patrick McDowell, and Christopher D Woolard. 2002. “Comparison of constant and variable practice conditions on free-throw shooting.” Perceptual and motor skills94 (3_suppl):1113-1123.