Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Back to Basics

PS Magazine, July/Aug 2009

At the governing council in Buffalo, an important step was taken that I believe is the most encouraging news to promote the growth of our sport…the limiting of the number of double jumps and which doubles can be attempted at the Preliminary level, rule 3701. Another rule change (Rule 3691) was passed to decrease the number of jump elements from six to five at the pre-juvenile level.

I am excited by these changes quite frankly; we need to get back to basics…we need to prioritize skill and athletic development over winning at the entry levels. The need to win at the Juvenile and Intermediate levels have led to the drop off in numbers at the novice level. Why are we in such a rush to push children out of our sport? As the saying goes, “The race is not always won by the fastest, but the one who runs the longest.” This should just be the beginning. Many of you will recall the Preliminary/Pre-Juvenile survey that was sent to PSA members, with the results published in the March/April 2009 Ethics Edition. Interestingly enough, the results of that survey had been delivered to the chair of the Singles committee and two of those survey questions ended up on the ballot. Thank you to those on the Singles committee who listened!

As keyed up as I am, there is still more to do. If we can take a step back and look at the sport as a whole, where are we and where are we going? Have we made the right decisions over the last 20 years… 10 years? Even though U.S. Figure Skating has taken positive steps to consolidate leadership at the board level, the governing process still has too many components, too many chiefs with their own independents agenda, with no thought as to the consequences of their actions (pun intended). Over and over again, one of the biggest complaints is the inconsistency of the rule book; the result of the afore mentioned problem…to many cooks in the kitchen.

First and foremost, I believe the group coordinators of the U.S. Figure Skating Board of Directors together must look to the chronological progression of our sport and determine if it does in fact “work.” A logical, well thought out progression of skill and athletic development from U.S. Figure Skating Basic 1 or ISI weSkate Tot 1, through the U.S. bridge program, to the competitive and test tracks, and eventually to the senior elite level. The appropriately named “bridge” program itself identified an existing problem, a gap between skill development and competitive skating. My issue is the competitive track has gotten away from skill and athletic development. Jr. Nationals has become the “baby pageant.” Parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy the dream we are selling …to be America’s sweetheart. We have created a culture in which the defining moment of our lives happens before the age of 12. Again, because U.S. Figure Skating is so big, there is not one person who oversees the progression of our skaters from the first timers to the Olympics. There are huge holes in the development of skills, whereas basic skills have a deliberate and well thought out plan, the competitive track that makes no sense. While the bridge program has begun the task of standardizing the transition to competitive skating, those who do use it have chosen to interpret and edit the program to “their” needs. Once a skater has reached the test levels, until the rule 3701 change, there was little difference between preliminary, pre-juvenile and juvenile. There is almost no difference between novice, junior, and seniors.

I always use the analogy that U.S. Figure Skating is like a cruise ship, not a ski boat. We are just not going to stop quickly and change direction. That being said, I respectfully submit to new U.S. Figure Skating President, Pat St. Peters, that she create a new position at U.S. Figure Skating – “the Skating Czar”. One “skating” person, under the direction of Executive Director David Raith, to oversee both basic skills and athlete development, from the first day of class to the moment they step onto the Olympic podium.