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Thread: Does Skating miss School Figures?

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    Does Skating miss School Figures?

    Does the sport of "Figure Skating" miss the school figures?
    This topic was just mentioned on another thread and I wonder what others think about it.

    Here are a few comments from Janet Lynn's controversial address to US Skating a few years ago.

    "The joy of figure skating," says Lynn, comes from "the graceful culture of figure skating" and " the graceful language of figure skating."

    When Janet was asked how did she and others of her time learn the "graceful language of figure skating." Her answer, "school figures" -- speaking passionately about what school figures brought to her skating.

    "Many of my very distinguished colleagues and I don't wonder, we know skating has taken a turn that is not correct or healthy."

    Janet strongly advocated the position that due to the loss of school figures, many skaters do not possess the necessary skating skills and body control needed for graceful, safe skating, or to present graceful sophisticated choreography in their programs.

    She further advocated that the current scoring system, with its quest for points pushes skaters away from the graceful language of figure skating, and not towards it. "Skaters and coaches are working hard and are not at fault. They simply don't have the benefit of a structure or incentives to learn the essence of figure skating as my colleagues and I understand it to be," she said; and further, "It is time to study how to skate, instead of studying a massive rulebook and how to gain points."

    She closed with an appeal for U.S. Figure Skating to create a commission to assess the current state of figure skating. As its purpose, she said, "The commission should define the best structure and incentives for safely learning the complete language of figure skating. Their task should also include defining the kind of system and requirements that are healthiest for our rising athletes, and most enjoyable for those who watch."

    Janet's speech caused quite a stir as most thought she would deliver a "feel good" talk about how wonderful skating is.

    My thoughts about this tend to center on the safety issue that Janet brought out.
    This could also get into the age factor as well. Seeing so many young skaters getting injured today, particularly after they grow would tend to support Janet's concerns. We can also see how learning skating skills has been replaced with a rush towards triple jumps.

    Watching Caroline and Mirai (and so many others) struggle the past two years with injuries and faulty techniques seems to further support Janet's call for a change.

    Many are against a return to figures and I wonder if it might make sense to include a fairly tough figures requirement as part of the testing that skaters undergo when they jump from the Junior to Senior level. This might insure better and safer technique from skaters without bringing figures back into the competition.
    Last edited by janetfan; 11-30-2009 at 07:18 AM.

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    Off the ice Buttercup's Avatar
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    First of all, I must point out that figure skating is the English name; in many languages, it's some variant on "artistic skating" - I think we can all support that!

    That having been said, I do feel that figures need to be brought back for younger skaters, to teach proper technique and use of the blade; I would like to see them integrated into some of the lower-level skating tests. I don't think it should ever be brought back for seniors, though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kunstrijdster View Post
    I find the safety point interesting.

    But would the re-introduction of figures appeal to children taking up the sport. I can remember reading a lot of interviews very skaters said it was the jumping that was most interesting for them. And with the decline in the US already in full motion, this will even speed things up.

    Problem is from a medical point of view we should perhaps enforce a Quad and triple prohibition for all juniors, or even seniors, if you will. Will having good figures, change jumping technique in a way that preserves the joints and hips and other body parts? If good and proper technique helps lessen the strain, then this could already being achieved through better jump training.

    I will admit, I've watched Caroline Zhang for the first time in her last GP, and it was painful to lock at how she jerked her hip and leg arround when doing the Lutz or Flip. Why haven't her coaches worked with her on that? If the answer is, they rather wanted the quick succes and feared taking their time to work on it lest it takes her too long and out of contention for the Olys or whatever competition, then it's perhaps time to enfore an age/technique/health control panel.

    If you introduce a figures test it would force the skaters to spend more time on figures. Effectively taking away time from jumping. But they could try the triple jumps in practice anyway. Or they could just train even more and harder. Just put the figures on top of the rest.



    Sounds good to me. I wonder which of our current day skaters still had to learn figures? Did all countries abandon them after they were abolished in 1990/91?
    Some interesting points.
    Frank Carroll recently made some interesting comments about growth spurts and jumping technique. He mentioned that since Mirai has grown from 4'10 to 5'3 he has had to change her jumping technique. He said she had to start over and relearn eveything about jumping. He said he has had to do this with just about every young skater he has ever trained or taken on from another coach.

    I think Caroline is an even better example as you pointed out. I have to wonder if she had been forced to learn better technique from the start, including better skating skills taught by figures - would she be a better, healthier and happier skater today?

    Janet did say that learning figures taught skaters how to balance themselves better which helped reduce stress on their bodies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kunstrijdster View Post
    But would the re-introduction of figures appeal to children taking up the sport.
    Only a minority. And probably not the same kids who will prove to be good at jumping.

    Problem is from a medical point of view we should perhaps enforce a Quad and triple prohibition for all juniors, or even seniors, if you will.
    This would be seen as "lowering the bar" on technical difficulty and no competitive athlete would support banning elements that have been staples of the sport for decades.

    What I would like to see, though, is tweaking of the well-balanced freeskate rules, and the scale of values, so that skaters who have maxed out the amount of rotation they can achieve in the air at an average level would have the option to push the limits on quality, combinations of jumps and other moves, and difficulty of other moves besides jumps so that they can still be competitive with the natural jumpers without pushing their own jump content beyond what's safe or even possible for their bodies.

    If you introduce a figures test it would force the skaters to spend more time on figures.
    This can't be imposed internationally. The ISU only makes rules for international competition at the junior and senior levels, with guidelines for novice that individual federations often deviate from.

    Those rules do not include any kind of testing.
    It's up to the individual federations to decide how they determine which of their own skaters are eligible to be considered for international assignments. Many federations require tests. Many do not.

    The US required figure tests up through entry to novice or intermediate level until 1994 and continued to offer separate figure competitions at the higher levels until 1999. I think Canada required figure tests (at all levels?) until 1995.

    Most other countries dropped figure requirements as soon as figures were dropped from international competition in 1990-91.

    There isn't any way to force all federations to reinstate figure requirements at the lower levels short of requiring them for international competition again at the higher levels. And that isn't going to happen.

    Some coaches do still use figures as teaching exercises.

    Sounds good to me. I wonder which of our current day skaters still had to learn figures?
    John Baldwin Jr. was pretty good at them.

    Anyone who's currently under about age 25 probably didn't have to learn figures even when they were first starting out as little kids. They may have learned and maybe even tested some along the way as training tools, depending on their interests and their coaches' philosophies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    "The joy of figure skating," says Lynn, comes from "the graceful culture of figure skating" and " the graceful language of figure skating."

    When Janet was asked how did she and others of her time learn the "graceful language of figure skating." Her answer, "school figures" -- speaking passionately about what school figures brought to her skating.

    She further advocated that the current scoring system, with its quest for points pushes skaters away from the graceful language of figure skating, and not towards it. "Skaters and coaches are working hard and are not at fault. They simply don't have the benefit of a structure or incentives to learn the essence of figure skating as my colleagues and I understand it to be," she said; and further, "It is time to study how to skate, instead of studying a massive rulebook and how to gain points."
    First of all, with respect to Janet's words. I think she has said some interesting things that seem very wise to me (although I'm not a skater so I can't say for sure!) But in almost any endeavour, by principle, I support the proper learning of fundamentals before people turn to creativity. When we learn English, for example, we start with the ABC's, and then (most of us learn) correct syntax, spelling, grammar, etc. before we are able to try our hand at beautiful compositions, poems, essays, stories. Is the "language of figure skating" something like this?

    Structure can often be a good foundation for creativity. It's not always necessary, and there will always be exceptions who don't need to have a systematic method of learning to intuitively grasp certain concepts. Others are strong self-directed learners. Most people, however, need to be taught what is the ideal and what is less desirable or wrong.

    What is the current state of Figure Skating testing, anyway? If they do already incorporate some rudimentary Figures teaching then I don't know what to say. My impression is that it's pretty much been completely removed from the Skating curricula. I feel that skaters may benefit from having it taught even at the most basic levels.

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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    Does the sport of "Figure Skating" miss the school figures?
    This topic was just mentioned on another thread and I wonder what others think about it.
    I don't think the sport misses them and I know that skaters absolutely do not. Figures were horribly painful to do - especially when you are training in an arena that is -20 degrees (yes I've been there). I have never once met a skater who loved, or even liked figures.

    When skills were introduced we were all absolutely thrilled. It was something that still focused on turns and edges but it was fun!! It was a pain having to get on the ice, wait for the scribe to come around, try and measure out and draw your circle, and then practice for an hour in a freezing cold and deathly silent arena - this is especially hard when you are 8 years old. No, thank you! I'm happy I only had to do the darn things for a year...

    When you look at the quality of the skaters today I think their turns are better than ever. Look at 10 year old Nam Nguyen - he has FANTASTIC edges and turns. He probably has no idea what figures even are and skills haven't hurt his development!

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    Quote Originally Posted by i love to skate View Post
    I don't think the sport misses them and I know that skaters absolutely do not. Figures were horribly painful to do - especially when you are training in an arena that is -20 degrees (yes I've been there). I have never once met a skater who loved, or even liked figures.

    When skills were introduced we were all absolutely thrilled. It was something that still focused on turns and edges but it was fun!! It was a pain having to get on the ice, wait for the scribe to come around, try and measure out and draw your circle, and then practice for an hour in a freezing cold and deathly silent arena - this is especially hard when you are 8 years old. No, thank you! I'm happy I only had to do the darn things for a year...

    When you look at the quality of the skaters today I think their turns are better than ever. Look at 10 year old Nam Nguyen - he has FANTASTIC edges and turns. He probably has no idea what figures even are and skills haven't hurt his development!
    It is more than obvious to me watching many skaters this season that they don't necessarily like jumping. I could include Joannie and Yuna on that list if we went by their facial expressions after missing jumps in this season's GP events.

    As a musician, I would equate shool figures to practicing scales. I don't know many young students that actually enjoy the hours of tedious practice necessary to master scales, arpeggios and other technical drills. But most musicians need to master these drills in order to better express themselves when playing a composition.

    There is a reason Oscar Peterson is considered the greatest jazz pianist of all time. He had a strong technique developed from classical training at an early age that allowed him to play very difficult solos and passages with the same skill seen in top classical pianists.

    Others might favor someone like Thelonius Monk for his innovative style - but for me Monk would have been much greater if his technique had been better. He was very limited in what he could play because his early years did not include much technical training.

    I don't know if figure requirements would improve skating today , but I believe Janet is right that it would make for healthier skaters by way of teaching them better balance and a sounder overall technique.

    ETA: I don't feel too sorry for today's pampered skaters. In the earlier eras alot of figure training was done outside where it was much colder - and windier at times
    Last edited by janetfan; 11-30-2009 at 10:41 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    I don't know if figure requirements would improve skating today , but I believe Janet is right that it would make for healthier skaters by way of teaching them better balance and a sounder overall technique.
    The majority of the senior skaters have very good balance and technique on their turns though. Where the injuries come in is when skaters are over training or practicing jump technique that is not correct and harmful to the body (ex. Zhang). Figures would do nothing to help prevent these sorts of injuries.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kunstrijdster View Post
    <snip> I will admit, I've watched Caroline Zhang for the first time in her last GP, and it was painful to lock at how she jerked her hip and leg arround when doing the Lutz or Flip. Why haven't her coaches worked with her on that? If the answer is, they rather wanted the quick succes and feared taking their time to work on it lest it takes her too long and out of contention for the Olys or whatever competition, then it's perhaps time to enfore an age/technique/health control panel.

    If you introduce a figures test it would force the skaters to spend more time on figures. Effectively taking away time from jumping. But they could try the triple jumps in practice anyway. Or they could just train even more and harder. Just put the figures on top of the rest.



    Sounds good to me. I wonder which of our current day skaters still had to learn figures? Did all countries abandon them after they were abolished in 1990/91?

    ETA:


    Now, I came across a used edition of an old figures rulebook and bought it. I couldn't resist and I can tell you that was no easy reading either

    First bold: I posted on the Caroline Zhang thread a couple of links, one of which was an article from a couple of years ago that said the year she was intermediate (pre-novice), she went coachless. That is an important level to have a good coach, and it would have been about when she would have really started working on triples. If she was coachless at that time and left to her own devices to pick up bad habits, well...it explains a lot. I think since that point (arrival of Mingzhu Li on the scene), Caroline has pretty much done what she wanted on the ice. I'm surprised Li didn't throw up her hands long ago and "fire" Caroline.

    Second bold: Alyssa Czisny would have had to train and test at least some figures. I remember seeing her competing at juvenile level in the mid 1990's, and at that time you had to have passed 2nd figure test to skate juvie free. She probably discontinued after even the testing requirements went away.

    Third bold: If you think reading the book was hard, try doing them! Figures are insanely difficult to do well especially at the upper levels, but even to pass a good 1st Figure Test requires some precision and body awareness/control that so far we don't seem to have found a good substitute for on the ice. I know more than a few people who think passing figures to test standard was harder than jumping, spinning, or any purely freestyle element.

    Much as I lament their passing (and as an adult skater, I luuuvv to do figures), they aren't likely to be coming back in a big way anywhere. In most locations there isn't enough ice time and it is highly cost-ineffective to run patch sessions, for both clubs and rinks. My personal dream is to get rich enough to have my own indoor mini-rink with REAL ICE--big enough at least for practicing figures and spins.
    Last edited by bigsisjiejie; 11-30-2009 at 10:43 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by i love to skate View Post
    The majority of the senior skaters have very good balance and technique on their turns though. Where the injuries come in is when skaters are over training or practicing jump technique that is not correct and harmful to the body (ex. Zhang). Figures would do nothing to help prevent these sorts of injuries.
    Why are so many Ladies falling and popping jumps this season if their balance is so great? Gravity must be considered and good balance is required or a jump will fail.

    UR's and edge problems seem to be caused by faulty technique and good balance as taught by figures could help many Ladies solve some of their obvious problems.
    Last edited by janetfan; 11-30-2009 at 10:47 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    Why are so many Ladies falling and popping jumps this season if their balance is so great? Gravity must be considered and good balance is required or a jump will fail.

    UR's and edge problems seem to be caused by faulty technique and good balance is taught by figures.
    Popping jumps usually has to do with confidence or a faulty entry. If your toe pick slips when you jump you are going to get less height and therefore feel as if you can't make the rotation. It could be a timing error - most likely rushing it - or a skater just doesn't have the confidence to turn the jump in the air (ie. Lepisto's double toes at Skate Canada).

    Falling often has to do with under-rotation or leaning in the air. In this regard, balance could come into play but learning how to do a rocker on circle at a VERY slow pace isn't going to help you fix your position in the air very much (for example).

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    Quote Originally Posted by i love to skate View Post
    Popping jumps usually has to do with confidence or a faulty entry. If your toe pick slips when you jump you are going to get less height and therefore feel as if you can't make the rotation. It could be a timing error - most likely rushing it - or a skater just doesn't have the confidence to turn the jump in the air (ie. Lepisto's double toes at Skate Canada).

    Falling often has to do with under-rotation or leaning in the air. In this regard, balance could come into play but learning how to do a rocker on circle at a VERY slow pace isn't going to help you fix your position in the air very much (for example).
    I never learned jumps or figures as I was a recreational skater and played a little hockey when I was younger.

    But in almost any athletic endeavor balance plays a role.
    Skaters who have edge problems on their jumps might have benefited greatly on edge jumps simply by having better control and command of the ice.

    Janet Lynn states that figures teach how to balance and unbalance yourself as needed when changing positions. The balance on a jump entry will change as a skater enters the air and again as they land. It is hard to imagine how learning better skating skills and balance through figures would not help improve the balance adjustments required for jumps.

    Timing comes typically from technique. The confidence is only possible when the technique is solid.


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    Yes, balance is important, I never meant to imply that it wasn't. I'm just saying that you can get balance from a number of areas in skating - not just figures. Even learning how to do the basics takes an incredible amount of balance.

    Look at the current crop of Canadian skaters - Patrick Chan, Joannie Rochette, Dube/Davison, Virtue/Moir, and Crone/Poirier. I think this group of skaters has some of the most solid, secure, and deep edges and turns that I have ever seen. The majority of them have never done figures and maybe only one or two did figures for about a year. Their level of skating skills is exceptional, in my view. Chan, V/M, and C/P never really competed under the "old" scoring system either.

    Just because Janet Lynn thinks that figures need to be reinstated, I don't think that makes it the end all and be all. Also, as someone else previously pointed out, ice time is so hard to come by that there is no way that figures will be making a comeback (in Canada at least), IMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by i love to skate View Post
    Yes, balance is important, I never meant to imply that it wasn't. I'm just saying that you can get balance from a number of areas in skating - not just figures. Even learning how to do the basics takes an incredible amount of balance.

    Look at the current crop of Canadian skaters - Patrick Chan, Joannie Rochette, Dube/Davison, Virtue/Moir, and Crone/Poirier. I think this group of skaters has some of the most solid, secure, and deep edges and turns that I have ever seen. The majority of them have never done figures and maybe only one or two did figures for about a year. Their level of skating skills is exceptional, in my view. Chan, V/M, and C/P never really competed under the "old" scoring system either.

    Just because Janet Lynn thinks that figures need to be reinstated, I don't think that makes it the end all and be all. Also, as someone else previously pointed out, ice time is so hard to come by that there is no way that figures will be making a comeback (in Canada at least), IMO.
    Many people think they should be reinstated - Janet just happens to be better known in skating circles than most others. Of course it is ironic that a skater who could have won more titles had her figures been better is defending them so emphatically.

    I am sure there are just as many who don't want figures back.

    I am not sure what top coaches are doing but I would bet Frank Carroll has Mirai working on figures or variations of figure drills that he thinks will strengthen her skating skills.

    Looking at Michelle and Sasha - I might wonder which girl had more exposure and training of figures or figure related drills?

    Here is another point that I feel is very important. Recently mathman stated that when figures were eliminated several of the larger federations were against it including USA and Russia.

    I believe it was the TV sports executives who had the most influence in eliminating figures. They were worthless for TV viewing back then. Better technolgy today might make them easier to be shown on TV but there is still a snooze factor to consider for the majority of skating fans.

    The second issue was one that ISU had to address. Janet and a few other skaters were thrilling arena crowds wherever they appeared and skating fans were not happy to see skaters with limited free skating skills and creativty dominating the podiums.

    Sports sometime evolve for different reasons. In the case of school figures, it was related to TV ratings and for arena crowds it was becoming difficult justifying leaving the best free skaters off of the podiums.

    In earlier eras it didn't matter as much because free skating was little more than an expanded version of the figures.

    But I believe the changes had most to do with the lure of big TV money.
    ISU made the changes in several stages and I wonder if money is always the best factor when it comes to changing the rules of any sport.

    I find watching most sports in USA unbearable due to all of the commercials. I actually became a soccer/football fan so I could watch a game without commercials.
    Last edited by janetfan; 11-30-2009 at 12:17 PM.

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    Has there ever been any precedent for any governing organization to jettison such a historically important part of competition for purely monetary reasons (when the sport was already booming?)

    I really have the idea that simply eliminating figures over the course of three years was an unprecedented kind of self-amputation. Sort of like tennis organizations deciding overnight that doubles aren't paying their way and eliminating them entirely from all competition (or have they already done that?)

    The sensible solution would have been to create three competitions, figures, free skating and combined and to lobby to get all three into the olympics. But the ISU has historically thought small and was flustered about how to cut the pie into smaller pieces (rather than try to make the pie bigger).

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