|By the time a skater reaches the Senior level they are likely to be in the Athletic Formation phase. Skaters will continue to stress the acquisition of good technique, improve their flexibility and co-ordination and increase their enthusiasm and determination. This level includes STARSkate and Competitive stream skaters up to and including the Gold test- skaters who are working on double jumps.
This level usually coincides with the start of high school which sometimes has a negative impact on a skaterís attitude towards training. Balancing skating with the demands of more homework, more responsibility and less free time plus coping with a new school, new schedule and an older peer group can overwhelm many young people.
Also during this time, adolescents experience a growth spurt which can wreak havoc with their consistency. This because their co-ordination, timing, balance and strength are changing constantly and they must adjust to their new bodies on a daily basis. An inability to perform previously learned skills as well or as frequently exacerbates an already low tolerance for frustration. These physical problems can create great mental challenges; the difficulties are very real but usually temporary. This period of time demands great attention to mental training- necessary but problematic because the focus on mental issues can siphon valuable training time- time that would be better spent practicing skills. The technical problems are then compounded by reduced practice time if the skater spends his ice time standing at the boards crying and complaining or practicing without focus which is the same as not practicing at all- maybe worse because he is effectively, practicing things wrong. This situation also reduces exposure to performance feedback; a skater may begin to lose fitness, skill and eventually interest.
Balancing the skaterís emotional regressions with their drive for independence can be tricky for coaches. Some days skaters co-operate and others days they will not hear a word. So for many this marks a time of slowed skill improvement while their personality stabilizes. Raw talent as previously defined is a combination of heredity and personality. In the Initiation phase, one saw the impact of heredity on performance. In the Athletic Formation phase (many Senior skaters) one sees the impact of personality. Later, in the Specialization or High Performance phases, one will see the impact of training. How well a skaterís heredity and personality has allowed them to take advantage of proper training through the years leading up to the Specialization and High Performance phases will determine in large part how far he can advance in this sport.
All of this is further support for how important it is for skills to be as highly developed as possible as early as possible in part so that skaters have the best possible chance of withstanding the challenges of the Athletic Formation phase. Conditions are not ideal at this time for skaters to be trying to learn skills for the first time or trying to fix skills that were learned incorrectly.
Inconsistency in free skating skills can occur for other reasons. Apart from a disruption of the usual correct movement pattern due to growth and hormonal changes skaters may also have fundamental flaws in skill execution to begin with and will suffer even greater disruption during this time. Because the test structure allows skaters to advance quite far without being able to perform a single Axel or Flying Camel, skaters, especially older and stronger ones, can get through the early test system without necessarily having to do very much, very well. Once double jumps are required though skaters who have squeaked through without an Axel and cannot yet do double jumps or do them poorly will have difficulty advancing. The length of time that many must spend at this stage can be very frustrating and discouraging.
There are also skaters at this level who are still in the Initiation phase. These are likely to be the ones in or considering the Competitive stream. Young skaters with the potential for exceptional development must be encouraged to learn more difficult and complex skills. Their training will include greater variety as well as difficulty because it is likely they will also have increased ice and lesson time.
As skaters mature they may wish to volunteer to help other skaters and their club. For example, they can volunteer to help out in the Beginner programme. This experience, apart from helping the young skaters, can be a source of pride and inspiration and may even reinforce their own lessons. Interaction with coaches, parents and other volunteers helps them develop their interpersonal skills. By volunteering for jobs such as Ice Captain, Timer or Runner at club competitions skaters may gain more insight into how competitions are run and so become more comfortable with certain aspects of their own competitive experience.
By the time a skater reaches this level the extent of their talent and commitment is evident. Skaters are finding their niche- possibly switching emphasis to another branch or stream. They will have made fairly accurate assessments of their own talent, goals and commitment. Many of these decisions will have been made for them through their parents earlier choices of ice time, lessons and equipment.
Those who remain committed to free skating will begin to Ďowní their skating. They have more independent practice time and they know (to a certain extent) what to do with it. They can see the relationship between effort and reward and the rewards are moving from extrinsic to intrinsic ones. Skaters who have learned self-discipline are now able to reap the benefits because their practices include a higher quality as well as quantity of repetition.
The distinction between STARSkate and Competitive stream skaters will be much more obvious at this level. Competitive skaters can execute more difficult jumps and spins and will generally display better basic skating skill. For older skaters in the STARSkate stream time may be running short to finish their tests before University so towards the end of the Senior level a greater commitment to complete Skills, Dance and Interpretive tests may be appropriate.
Lessons at this level will move towards a greater proportion of private in relation to group. Some skaters do not like this- they prefer to work together but specific and individual corrections are increasingly necessary and appropriate and for this reason group lessons do not always serve the skaterís best interests. Each skaterís movement is unique and by this time each will have developed much more specific and individual movement patterns. Group lessons that attempt to address individual needs in sequence can degenerate into queues of people waiting for feedback reducing focus on the task at hand, the potential for fitness benefits and the number of repetitions possible per session. Group lessons at this level ought only to be considered when the best interests of all the members are served. This is not to say that group lessons are never appropriate. Groups are valuable for stroking, edge turn exercises, spins, creative movement, programme training and even jumps but only if the level, age and attitude of the skaters participating are compatible etc. and the skatersí yearly plans are taken into account.
Lesson plans will need to take skatersí ice time into consideration as well. Having less ice time means not only fewer lessons but reduced and/or modified lesson content. Since skaters need to continue developing basic skating skills as well as work on double and in some cases triple jumps a reduction in ice time and therefore lesson content means that some of these skills will be covered with less intensity than they require or not at all.
Competitive skaters generally enter different competitions that STARSkaters and their competitive seasons are heaviest at different times of the year. Coaches strive to see all of their skaters as much as possible, however, some competitions are essential to certain skaterís yearly plans and cannot easily be missed. Because competitions are always held on the weekends and most skaters practice at least one day on the weekend some skaters will miss lessons sometimes. Skaters can use this time to practice on their own.
Independance and Responsibility
As skaters move up the test and competitive ladder they will be expected to address the artistic component of their programmes with more finesse. In keeping with their growing independence and self-direction skaters will be encouraged to participate in the selection of the music and the choreography of their programmes. However, this must be done under supervision so that the skaterís suggestions, comments and requests do not contradict rules or otherwise jeopardize his success. As part of a skaterís artistic development Creative Movement classes may be introduced depending on the amount of ice time in the skater's schedule and the skill of the coach.
Input from athletes will be solicited by parents and coaches concerning the planning, management and organization of individual training. This shift towards athlete-centred training means individual desires, goals, strengths and interests all need to be taken into consideration when goal setting.
Skaters at this level will be gaining much more test and competitive experience. It is likely that by this time they will have passed and failed many tests and will have won and lost many competitions. A broadening of experience helps put competition into perspective and reinforce the value of striving for oneís personal best since decisions over who will receive medals is for the most part out of the skaterís control.
For most skaters at this level, skating will form a larger proportion of their overall physical and social activity. Skaters will notice that they may be required to give up certain other activities in their life in order to fully and properly participate in their chosen sport; this should be done freely. Parents must guard against forcing skaters to compete or even skate when the skater clearly shows no interest in it. A lack of interest is expressed through things like forgetting when skating is scheduled, not showing parents test or competition forms that are sent home, rarely being ready to go on time, poor work habits over a long period of time, not talking about skating or always talking about it negatively, not wanting to increase ice time and of course, the obvious, saying repeatedly that they do not like skating. Signs that indicate skaters do want to skate include a general interest in the subject- for example, watching it on television when it is on or wanting to go to ice shows, wanting to get to the rink, concern when skating has to be missed, taking care of and a general interest in skating gear, participating in activities surrounding skating such as volunteer work, enthusiasm for the training process, showing an interest in the process more than the product and or course, talking about liking skating.
For most skaters this level will mark the end of their figure skating careers. Only those with a very large personal investment in skating will continue into the Advanced level and the High Performance phase.