Some Skaters Need More Supervision (Michelle Leigh)

World and Olympic coach Michelle Leigh talks about a very common problem for both skaters and coaches in figure skating. Some skaters really struggle with effective practice and self-analysis, and this typically causes slow progress due to wasted efforts and repeated corrections. Many skaters don’t take clear ideas away from lessons, and their subsequent practices may be unfocused and actually counterproductive (practicing the wrong things). Simply asking skaters to practice hard is often a recipe for disaster, because if they are practicing incorrect technique (practicing wrong), it will ingrain issues that need to be corrected later.

Michelle offers insights about this situation as well as suggestions for coaches to address it. She believes coaches should give skaters advice and specific instruction and direction to practice on their own. She suggests devising a “system” with specific detailed instruction for skaters with these issues. The more detail the better, as it keeps these skaters focused on specific criteria while minimizing distractions. This is particularly important during skill development, and may even be helpful after a skill has been learned correctly but needs accurate repetition. Michelle also suggests offering rewards for skaters who accomplish all their tasks during practice.

It’s helpful to take into account the age of the skater. For young skaters, Michelle encourages coaches to write down the tasks for the skaters (sometimes it’s faster that way and nothing is lost in translation). It takes a minute or two at the end of a lesson, but it’s worth it because it means they will make better use of their practice time. But Michelle also wants skaters to “take ownership” of their skating and their practice, so as they improve she gives them more space and responsibility, while continuing to check in regularly. Not surprisingly, she is encouraging and supportive of her skaters and wants them to know when they’ve made good decisions. She says, “You want the athlete to drive their own success.” So as much as possible as skaters develop and improve, give them more and more responsibility to set their practice. Just keep an eye on them to ensure they are constantly moving forward.


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