Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rolling Stone Asks Why We're Losing

The Thirteen Votes are in, and I'm disappointed in the 67 of you that didn't vote, but that's okay. We had a lot of votes for "Experience" and "All of the Above." So, Experience seems key for a lot of people. And of course the comments brought up the all-important "How well they work together" factor.

But here's an article from Rolling Stone that is relevant to our discussion:
"Why is American Figure Skating Losing the Cold War?"

From the article:

"They don't teach individually in Russia from the beginning. They don't have private lessons for six year olds, seven year olds, eight year olds. They have basically group lessons," Vlassov says. "Working in a small group, they start to compete against each other. And kids like to compete.

In other words, competition is completely entrenched in a Russian skater's training. Not only that, Russian skaters must attain a particular rank in competition to advance to the higher levels. This is wildly different than the USFSA testing system, in which skaters show that they can complete the elements in a noncompetitive setting and are even permitted a certain number of re-skates for failed elements. It's all very nice to get second chances, but there are no second chances in real competition. The FFKKR, Russia's figure skating federation, knows this. It's one reason that they schedule their skaters to compete within the country far more often than is customary in the U.S.; they want their skaters to practice competing. They don't want to bestow gold stars. They want fierce competitors.

The American A-for-effort ethos isn't just a problem in terms of testing either; it's a problem with coaching too. At the Basics Skills levels, some coaches have few qualifications, and even at higher levels, coaches in the U.S. need only pass four online courses, buy liability insurance, join the USFSA and complete a background check. "I can call it babysitting, very expensive babysitting," Vlassov says, explaining that when foundational skills aren't taught adequately, it can mean a lot of retraining later in a skating career."

I've just spent a lot of time retraining mohawks and 3 turns, and I'm still retraining back and forward crossovers so they not only look good, but so they don't cause me injury. (Seriously. My landing knee was taking a pounding due to bad crossover form.) It's really easy to gloss over foundational skills when it seems the flashier stuff is more fun, but you do it at your own peril.

 The "Just Group Lessons for Kids" idea nixes the "How well do they click" factor for the younger set. And I think it may push an Individualistic Strength that may carry a skater through a completely insufferable yet incredibly talented Coach. After all, we can't always work with people we get along with. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

Just my thoughts, but feel free to add your own. All I know for certain is that if Elizaveta wins Worlds I will die of happiness. She is so beautiful, and you can tell she works hard. I love it when a skater gets what she's earned, and all too often it seems USFSA gives a skater what they think she deserves.


  1. I don't think the article is on the mark at all. It seems to me that in in looking at why we had success before and don't know you need to look at what changed. I can only think of two things that have really changed in the last 20 years in American skating:

    1) IJS. Is it really a coincidence that the derailing of American skating happened at the same time (pretty much) as the introduction of IJS at the highest, then lower levels? I really don't think so.

    2) Dropping of compulsory figures. In the past I would give a higher place to this, but I'm rethinking that. I still think that many of today's skaters have crappy basic skills (edges and turns); but realistically Americans/British always gave a lot more attention to figures than the rest of the world but Russians etc. were still competitive.

    So I tend to think a large part of it is that we still have not really adapted our thinking and training to IJS. Whether IJS is a good thing is a (very) separate discussion.

  2. er, that should be "don't now", not "don't know".

  3. I watched some of the Ladies' this weekend. There is just no comparison between Elizaveta and Ashley. Ashley looked like a boring mess, and this has nothing to do with edges or IJS. She spent so much time just gliding and doing crossovers, it's like her program was thrown in at the last minute.

    IJS is another discussion, but when you watch these two, there is just no comparison. At all.