Monday, February 27, 2012

Change is Inevitable - Growth is Optional!

Over the Edge Mar/Apr 2012

It seems to be the time of the year when all I read on the internet regarding skating is how IJS has ruined the sport. In an article widely circulated on the web by Monica Friedlander of, former Canadian skating star Toller Cranston was quoted as saying, “The way it's judged now, the more you can do the more points you get, so everything is overproduced and generic.” Also quoted in the article, the beloved Janet Lynn, called the IJS “a totalitarian system of measurement that does not breed freedom on the ice or lift the human spirit.”
Although Toller and Janet have earned the right to speak out, I respectfully disagree. Had Toller or Janet really been involved in the sport during the challenging transition from 6.0 to IJS, the interview and comments may have sounded a little differently and have more merit. From my perspective, I would say that Alissa Czisney’s Dr. Zhivago program from the 2009 U.S. Championships in Spokane would challenge the most esteemed champions of the past. How about Jeremy Abbott’s Day in the Life short program or from last year, Ryan Bradley's Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy? I don’t agree with the statement that IJS does not breed freedom on the ice or lift the human spirit. It just bothers me that critics who don’t like the system take it out on the thousands of skaters out there currently giving it their all.
So let’s say we listen to the critics of IJS and go back to 6.0…how does that make the sport better? The skaters will still be the same and would they not have the same skill set? Back in the 6.0 system, is the quad going to be any less relevant? Back in the 80’s, rules were continually changing to try and limit jumps. In fact, it has been a constant tug of war since the turn of the century…I’m referring to the 1900’s. Then again, switching back to 6.0 will allow fans to boo the judges again directly. What I believe has always been is that there are skating enthusiasts who love the theatre and those who love the athletics.
Under the international judging system, judges award points for five additional components - skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography/composition and interpretation, as well as the grade of execution of skills. Now guess what… didn’t the judges consider those same components as well as the technical ability of the skater to prepare their marks in the 6.0 system? Go to youTube and watch Toller Cranston. Do you think he couldn’t compete in an IJS system? He would kill. Even with his lack of jumps at today’s standard, could Toller be competitive? YES! He may not get the points in the jumps but as Evan Lysachek showed at the Olympics, you can get your points other ways. What has changed?
The only real difference I see between the skaters of today and those of yesteryear is the quality of flow and edges (besides the obvious growth in the number of revolutions in the air). While there are some who have those unique qualities today, it’s not the norm. I don’t blame this on IJS, but on two additional points.
The first, the elimination of figures - those of us who did figures, regardless if we were good at them or not, learned to “sit” on an edge. We learned how to work the ice with our edges, to feel the bite of skating “in” the ice. How about lilt? When was the last time you heard someone use it in a lesson? I’m not even sure today’s skaters, other than dancers, would understand the term. Today’s skaters have difficulty understanding those concepts…but it’s not their fault.
The second - the volume of new skaters beginning in the 1990’s through the mid 2000’s overwhelmed our teachers and coaches. In a frenzy of hiring new coaches to keep up with demand, actual skating skills and a lack of experience was often overlooked. Personally, I was thrust into group classes with absolutely no idea on how to teach basic skills. Teaching a double Axel, no problem; teaching a swizzle to a group of 4-year olds, not so easy. In 1996 when I became a skating director for the first time, the learn to skate school went from 650 skaters to over 1100 almost overnight! I had no idea were to find quality instructors. I was looking for anybody with a heartbeat who could stand up in skates…owning their own skates was a plus! Eventually, many of my older competitive skaters came to the rescue and they brought great energy to the classes. This was not a problem exclusively in my arena. It was happening all over the country and besides the teenagers, many adult skaters with almost no experience or background were teaching. While most could demonstrate the skills, many of these new coaches lacked the knowledge and experience to break down the skills to provide a solid foundation of “skating skills” like turns and steps.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is what it is…I love skating…yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t tell me that these kids today don’t have the heart or passion. Don’t belittle their accomplishments because you don’t like the system. The past is the past and tomorrow is the future. To stay the same or to go backwards…not an option… we have to move forward!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Willful Tolerance

In the Loop, PSA E-Magazine - Issue 1, February 2012

In my “Over the Edge” editorial in last months PS Magazine, I wrote about abuse in coaching, emphasizing that it is imperative that coaches be diligent in keeping an eye out for suspect or abusive relationships. As it was reported regarding the Penn State fiasco, this was not always the case. Many adults in positions of authority ignored the signs of abuse or simply didn’t report what they saw. While it could be considered a criminal act in some instances, willful tolerance, as it is being called, definitely exposes the observer to civil liability.
As I understand the term, willful tolerance is the practice or act of ignoring wrongful deeds. Willful implies intent or purpose. Tolerance implies the allowance or sufferance of conduct with which one is not in accord.
My concern is that coaches and club officials, who understand that they have a duty to protect the skaters, do not report abusive situations to the proper authorities, but instead choose to share the information with their peers. This does little to end a bad situation and generally makes it worse. But why do we not report these issues? It made me curious as to why this happens so I did a little research.Mark Levine, a social psychologist at Lancaster University in the U.K., was quoted in a recent article by Maia Szalavitz regarding the Penn State crisis. She asserts “… that somehow, when we’re with other people, we lose our rational capacity or personal identity, which controls our behavior.” In comparison, coaches and officials are often more concerned with the public fallout of an issue.Penn State football coach Joe Paterno appeared to have either looked the other way or maybe even covered up for the accused Sandusky, rather than reporting him to the police. Said Levine, “[This] suggests that group solidarity with the football team still takes priority over support for abused children at the school.” That is, in a nutshell, willful tolerance.
Another possible factor identified by social psychologist Stanley Cohen is denial. Often, bystanders repress the information or refuse to admit that an incident has occurred. What happened to the witness in the Sandusky case is what Cohen labeled “interpretive” denial – trying to transform or minimize the significance of the action. Research suggests that when a witness’s own perception of the world around them changes negatively, “they often create accounts that deny reality, blame the victim or otherwise rationalize the situation.”
Finally, Levine refers to the ‘50s when all adults took responsibility for all children. Today it is every family for themselves. Most people would think twice before acting, fearful of being condemned for stepping in.
Hopefully, in the future when witnessing an abusive or illegal act, the outcome will be different. The author Szalavitz concludes, “Understanding the psychology of these situations can help increase the chances that bystanders will step up when people need assistance, but it does not excuse the failures of those who do nothing.” We have a duty to put the needs of the skater first; doing everything in our power to protect them from harm. As a person of authority, this is our responsibility ALWAYS!

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