|After the Beginner level skaters advance into strictly figure skating sessions. The first of these, the Junior session, has many kinds of skaters; some young, some older but all at about the same level of proficiency. Some want to pursue figure skating as a sport, some as a pastime, some don't know and others don't care. A child's attitude toward skating may change as he becomes more involved. His personal experience of skating will have the greatest influence on these changing views. Training factors like attendance, equipment and lesson content will affect his performance but intangibles like coaches' personalities and enthusiasms, group dynamics and session structure are also very influential in shaping a child's notions of what figure skating is for him. Skaters who are already motivated may find even greater satisfaction through a deeper involvement. Those who were previously unsure or did not care may begin to find reasons to skate that were not previously revealed. And of course there are those who will inevitably drop out for any number of personal, financial or scheduling reasons.
Skaters who are provided with an opportunity to have an authentic experience of training are better equipped to decide whether to continue because they have a more accurate understanding of what the sport involves. And for skaters who do continue, the best possible foundation on which to build the later more complex skills is a necessity. This would apply equally to the very talented skater who may some day represent his country in International competition or the skater who simply wishes to complete his tests and enjoy skating into adulthood. In either case, proper technique is valuable if for no other reason than safety.
By participating in the Junior session skaters have chosen to figure skate. These sessions provide ice time and possibly group instruction as well as eligibility to try Skate Canada tests. As skaters progress these tests will not only measure proficiency but determine eligibility for competition right up to the World and Olympic level.
Figure skating is divided into several independent branches-Singles (Men's and Ladies), Skills, Ice Dance, Interpretive, Pairs and Synchronized Skating. It is not necessary or even recommended that skaters participate in all. Competence in one branch does not necessarily improve performance in another. In fact, participation in several branches in the early stages can even hinder progress if a skater has insufficient practice or lesson time to learn the various skills correctly. (see Training for Free Skating)
Branches Of Skating
Singles skating (also called free skating) is divided into Mens and Ladies events. It is the branch in which skaters perform jumps and spins in a solo.
Pairs skating comprise a man and a lady skating together with the focus on athletic overhead lefts, throws, jumps and spins. Pairs skating is not applicable at the Junior level as skaters are not yet proficient enough to participate properly.
Skills is a relatively new branch of figure skating known only in Canada and instituted a few years ago to replace Figures (the figure 8s skaters used to do). Skills exercises measure a skater's edge and turn competence, they do not train it. Basic skating movement needs to be learned and executed properly before combining it into the complex patterns offered in the Skills branch. It is unlikely this would occur before a skater reaches the Intermediate session. In the Junior session, the time allotted by clubs for Skills practice can be used to train and reward work on fundamental skating technique. This learning can be transferred to the Skills branch later.
In the Interpretive branch skaters focus on the use of movement and music. Interpretive skating is not applicable at the Junior level as skaters are not yet proficient enough to participate properly.
Synchronized Skating uses twelve or more skaters performing together to emphasize unison and group patterns. Synchronized Skating is not applicable at the Junior level as skaters are not yet proficient enough to participate properly.
In Compulsory Ice Dancing couples focus on musicality and excellence in executing set steps.
Ice Dance, like Skills is a separate branch which has little to offer novice free skaters in terms of developing good jump and spin technique. Since time spent in these activities depletes the amount of time available for jump and spin practice, skaters will need to skate at least three times a week before considering adding Dance or Skills to their schedule. Since transfer tends to flow from the complex to the simple, time spent free skating is not wasted even if skaters eventually specialize in other branches. The edge control developed through Junior level free skating training is transferable to other branches.
The Junior session looks different. For one thing skaters use the entire ice surface for practice and lessons. Junior sessions are often divided into segments dedicated to the practice of certain aspects of figure skating as follows,
Skills lessons might be offered in a group format with one coach or in several groups each with its own coach. If they are offered they are usually at the beginning of the session. This time is used to work on edges, turning, twisting, stopping, gliding, balancing, leaning and pushing. These skills are essential for all skaters whether they pursue the Skills branch later on or not.
Junior Stroking and Dance sessions, if they are included as part of a Junior programme, usually occur at the end of the session. Stroking sessions are supervised by a coach; dance sessions are often unsupervised. Stroking at the Junior level incorporates simple combinations of crosscuts, turns, straight strokes and edges. Stroking is not a branch of skating, it is a series of drills. Proper execution of well-designed stroking drills promotes the proper use of the body for figure skating including, but not limited to, edge control, power acquisition, balance on and use of the blade, posture, and use of the torso. Although speed is an important component of figure skating, stroking must be trained for accuracy before speed. A good Stroking session at this level will not emphasize speed to the detriment of technique. The use of games as drills should be used very judiciously as skaters should never be required or encouraged to skate incorrectly.
Dance sessions are a period of time during which the official music for the Skate Canada dances appropriate to the skaters' level are played. Skaters have the opportunity to practice the dances they have learned with the music. A good dance session is one in which the skater can fully participate, aware of the correct steps and their proper execution. A preferable alternative to having skaters practice Dance unsupervised (when they may not even know the steps) is to provide Dance Stroking classes. These classes are directed by a coach and allow skaters to practice fundamental dance drills in much the same way that skaters practice fundamental free skating drills in regular Stroking classes except that the movement is derived from Dance technique.
Many clubs now offer Dryland or Off-Ice classes. These classes usually involve aerobic activities or stretching. Since Junior level skaters are still unlikely to derive fitness benefits from their skating, these classes can be beneficial, especially for skaters who are not active elsewhere in their daily lives.
Official Skate Canada tests, which qualify skaters for competitions, begin with the Preliminary Free Skate, Preliminary Dances and Preliminary Skills tests and are judged by an Evaluator. It may be one to three years after completing a Beginner programme before a skater takes his first Free Skate test. To help bridge this gap the Junior Curriculum can help skaters develop the necessary skill. The criteria are organized into five Free Skate and five Skills levels which include a variety of twisting, turning and leaning tasks. At this level skaters are still very much in a developmental stage. Skaters are not yet ready to specialize in any branch, including free skating. Acquiring a range of relevant general motor patterns is the priority. As with the Beginner Curriculum, coaches can provide skaters with stickers, badges or certificates as they complete skills in a horizontal or vertical direction.
A skater at the Junior level with a view to learning Free Skating should consider skating a minimum of twice a week, preferably three or more, regardless of age or competitive intention. Skaters with this schedule who attend regularly and punctually can expect to satisfactorily master the skills contained in the Junior curriculum and be ready to seriously consider their Preliminary tests within one or possibly two years.