10/13/2023 0 Comments
I’ve been observing skating progress accounts on social media over the past couple of years, and I’ve noticed how much focus there is on “achieving” new tricks.
I haven’t asked why, but I have a hunch it’s the same reason younger skaters and parents fixate on new jumps…
Seasoned coaches will agree, though, that it’s even more important to practice the “simple” stuff.
Below are five reasons why.
In figure skating, the little things are key to GOE
If you currently test or compete or want to in the future, you should know that the GOE (grade of execution) is what counts.
Positive GOE’s garner more points, and the higher the GOE, the more points.
The only way to raise the GOE on an element (jump, spin, or step sequence for singles skating), is to develop good carriage, beautiful positions, and excellent technique to execute the elements with ease.
In other words, practice the little details over and over.
Basic skating exercises allow for breathwork
When you’re learning a new element, most likely you’re not breathing because you’re nervous. But not breathing creates more anxiety in the body.
This is why one of the main tenets of yoga is to only go as deep in a posture as you can while maintaining a smooth, steady, and full breath. The postures should be a balance of effort and ease—you teeter on the edge of your comfort zone to keep pushing the boundaries of where you feel comfortable.
But if you don’t ever slow down to focus just on the breath, then breathing in difficult postures or movements becomes next to impossible.
When you take time in your skating to focus on stroking, gliding, slower edge drills, and sections of choreography, you can begin to incorporate proper and effective breathing into your skating. This lowers anxiety and leads to a more efficient performance.
Breathing is the first thing we do when we enter this world, and it’s the most important.
Basic figure skating drills teach body awareness
Some figure skaters develop great skills without having a clue about what they’re doing. These tend to be kinesthetic learners. And even kinesthetic learning skaters have a degree of body awareness, albeit sometimes an unconscious one.
To be in control of their skating and have the most consistent results, though, skaters must constantly work on developing different types of body awareness–interoceptive, proprioceptive, and spatial.
It’s much easier to tap into these three areas when working on basic skating drills. In yoga, we often do body scans while holding different postures to develop interoceptive awareness (and practice pratyahara).
In skating, we can do this by regular body check-ins, too. (“What did you feel on that takeoff?”)
This is easier when we slow down and isolate positions and movements. Of course, we have to eventually apply the drills to the elements, but without the drills, we can’t build awareness.
Good skating drills make the hard stuff easier
Any master of their craft will tell you that a solid foundation is key to success.
Drills build awareness and muscle memory, improving basic technique.
When a skater’s basic technique is strong, the hard stuff becomes easier.
If a skater’s technique is weak, inconsistent, or incorrect, results are inconsistent and risk for injury is higher.
Skating is an odd sport. It involves movements that are unnatural to the human body.
This may be why the brain always wants to access the strongest, easiest-to-access muscles first. The quadriceps dominate over the glutes, the upper body moves more easily than the ankles bend, and the head often tries to initiate rotation.
Counteracting these tendencies means developing good technique. And that requires daily diligent training of different muscle groups and neural pathways.
As Coach Audrey Weisiger says, “more drills than spills.”
Practice basic skating to develop confidence AND humility
So often skaters try to disguise balance and control by adding fluff and speed.
Fluff and speed do have a place in skating, but they can also take away from the ease of performance and make timing and expression difficult. And when skaters are off balance, whether they realize it or not, there’s no way they can feel confident.
I love it when my advanced skaters lose their balance on an edge drill!
Falling on stroking and edge drills are reminders to slow down and notice ourselves. That little (or big!) loss of balance is a reminder that no one is exempt from the basics. Technique and alignment always need to be refined, and the brain always needs to be aware of the body and its surroundings.
Often, skaters resist practicing the basics because the level of focus and refinement it requires is tedious and uncomfortable.
Improving balance and technique develops stronger, more confident skaters.
It’s also important to know that the easy stuff is just as valid as the “hard” tricks.
What’s easy for you today is probably hard for someone else and may even be hard for you at some point–after an injury or illness, as you age, or when you’re stressed or sad.
If we are lucky enough to skate for many years, we will all have difficult days when the brain can’t handle anything complicated.
It’s on these super difficult days that practicing the basics is especially useful for boosting our mood and for self-awareness.
I like to picture what is going on inside the body as I do the drill… either picture the breath moving in and out of the body as I stay still–gliding or posing on the mat–or picture how I think the bones and muscles are working when I move.
Think of it as pratyahara on ice.
Even though skaters sometimes resist slowing down and working on “simple” edge exercises, basic spins, or single jumps, doing so is an important part of progress. Practicing the foundation is not a step backward… it is a step towards higher GOE’s, improved body awareness, refined technique, more humility, and at the same time, greater confidence.
Learn simple exercises for conquering performance anxiety with my FREE GUIDE: Anti-Anxiety Tools for Skaters.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.