When Is a Skater Ready? (Michelle Leigh)

World and Olympic coach Michelle Leigh talks about the process of determining whether a skater is ready to move on and learn a new jump. This discussion is similar to that of Audrey Weisiger here, and coaches who struggle with this issue should watch both videos. Michelle starts by acknowledging the decision is “very individual” and depends on “where the skater is mentally and physically.”  The mental side of the equation is often overlooked by coaches, but it’s as important or more important than the base jump readiness.

She continues by stressing the importance of the backspin, which is particularly crucial when learning an axel and double jumps. Having a good backspin, as well as backspin variations such as traveling backspins or twizzles, can dramatically speed the process when learning the axel and doubles. She notes that twizzles that travel across the ice are particularly valuable for learning awareness of air position and landing direction.

Michelle also measures air time for jumps, particularly in cases where she knows the base jump isn’t high enough but yet the skater really wants to add a rotation. Next, she discusses the importance of single, double, and triple loops because they assist with the development of all the other jumps. She suggests teaching these as early as possible while going through the typical sequence of jumps. In other words, learn a single loop at the same time as learning a salchow or toe loop. In particular, she recommends using a 3 loop combination jump, loop-loop-loop, to get comfortable with keeping the feet crossed and being aligned over the axis side. Similarly, she recommends using variations of the double loop to prepare a skater for the double axel, including low and very tight double loops from relatively low entrance speeds.

Although Michelle does take minimum air times into account, she also works with skaters on new jumps before they have enough air time for a clean jump. She says, “I don’t always wait until they’re totally there because jumps go through progressions and you want to get started.” By teaching safe “cheated landings” it makes sense to allow a skater to press on, as long as they don’t spend a long time cheating the jump. She stresses that you don’t have to “wait until everything is perfect” because it never is. But she also talks about muscle memory and the need to be cautious about allowing skaters to be sloppy, or not making progress for extended periods. In those cases, she recommends just changing up the training methods.

Michelle adds, “Just be very careful that in your jumping philosophy you’re clear with what you want.” She continues with the process as long as she “can still see the framework of the jump.” She adds, “You can still see, OK, we are on the right track. We’re not creating more mistakes.”


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