Training For Free Skating
Figure skating comprises several independent branches- Free Skating, Dance, Skating Skills, Interpretive, Pairs and Synchronized Skating (Synchro). It is natural for skaters to want to explore more than one branch, however, it is important to remember that each branch is distinct and separate with its own unique demands and although there is some transfer between them, excellence in one branch does not imply excellence in another.

Skaters participating in Free Skating are involved in an activity that is primarily judged on one's ability to jump. Unless skaters learn to jump it is unlikely they will remain in this branch. Many more skaters than one might think can learn to jump well enough to pass a Gold Free Skate test but they must be willing to participate in effective training. Still, jumping is highly complex and demands a large number of training hours over several years to reach the Gold standard so it is wise for children to begin working on Free Skating as early as possible while they have an increased capacity for learning. Other branches may not require skaters to be quite so youthful as Free Skating does.

It is especially important for skaters with competitive ambition to acquire good technique. Most skaters who have not made a sufficient adaptation to Free Skating by nine or ten years of age will have difficulty ever mastering the skills necessary to be successful in the Competitive Stream. An adaptation to Free Skating is the ability to control and manipulate the course of an edge and to push the ice and create rotation effectively and efficiently. This adaptation requires training. Training is a process in which an athlete undergoes enough correct repetitions of skills to produce consistent, correct motor patterns. These patterns will have the potential to withstand growth with a minimum of disruption and incorporate future complexities with a minimum of change.

In the Learn to Train stage skaters should train a broad, general range of movement both on ice and off. Other branches of figure skating are different from Free Skating but different is not necessarily broad or general. An activity can be different from the area of specialty but in a very limited and specific way. For example, Compulsory Dance and Skills both have limited and fixed movement patterns that include almost no working edges (edges in which the skater pushes from the edge itself and not from transferring weight from one foot to the other) and very little twisting. Most Free Skating skills are, however, based on precisely these types of movements. Free Skating also requires skaters to plant their toepick, jump, rotate, spin, use levels, manipulate curve size and accelerate and decelerate rapidly. It also allows for greater freedom of expression as each solo is unique in its choice of music and movement. Interpretive Skating provides an opportunity to explore a fairly comprehensive range of movement (excluding jumps) but is not a branch suitable for beginning skaters as they are not yet proficient enough to participate in any meaningful way. Synchronized Skating relies almost exclusively on the transfer of skill from other branches to which partner and group skating skills are added. Progress through Free Skating tests is likely to be particularly slowed or halted if Synchro is added prematurely. The amount of time spent training and competing in this branch is not negotiable as skaters are part of a team. The reduction in individual practice time this inevitably causes makes any real simultaneous progress in the Free Skating branch nearly impossible.

In the Learn to Train stage little specific adaptation to the various branches is required to be successful in each. Skaters are at their lowest level of proficiency and any time spent on the ice has the potential to improve performance. Assumptions should not be made though that because a skater participates in more than one branch and is improving in Free Skating that the improvement is a result of participation in any other particular branch. STARSkaters can and should participate in other branches if they like but with the limited amount of practice time they usually schedule, a judicious decision about when to commence participation in each will allow these skaters to take advantage of the real transfer that exists between branches. In this way, maximum progress in all branches, including Free Skating, is promoted.

Transfer tends to flow from the complex to the simple so in the STARSkate Stream opportunities for transfer are more likely flow from Free Skating to other branches, not the other way around. For example, a skater who can do double jumps could pass several Dances and Skating Skills tests with very little instruction beyond learning the steps. The reverse is not true- a skater who only participates in the Skating Skills or Dance branch would not be able to do double jumps without a great deal of additional jump practice. Although in Compulsory Dance it is important to keep time, the expression generally learned in STARSkate Compulsory Dance is insufficient to make any difference to the expressive capacity of a free skater. Those interested in improving their presentation in all branches are better served by good
Creative Movement classes. Those interested in improving their edge control, speed, power and turn ability are better served by good Edge/Turn and Stroking classes.

Compulsory Dance does include an expressive component at the higher levels but only within a limited range- strict tempo ballroom dance. Competitive Ice Dancing trains and values expression very highly but participation in Competitive Ice Dance and off ice activities like ballet with the hopes of transferring musicality and grace to Free Skating are unlikely to be highly successful simply because the amount of time required to receive any benefit prohibits most people from participating fully in either the ancillary activity or free skating training. All Competitive Stream branches require intensive training and skaters will experience more and more demands to adapt specifically to the particular and increasingly complex movements each branch requires. Adaptations for each branch are different and must occur if success is to continue. For competitive skaters who participate in more than one branch there will eventually come a time when the standard of performance necessary for success will demand a volume of training that exceeds the skater's ability to keep up. At this point the training demands and conflict between the movement patterns of the competing branches will begin to hinder progress in each. Since STARSkaters are unlikely to ever skate enough to suffer from a conflict in the movement patterns the different branches of STARSkate Stream skating presents, their participation will be determined more by interest and ice and lesson time.

This is not to say that other activities like ballet or gymnastics are not useful. Good ballet classes can, in time, develop body awareness and gymnastic and stretch classes can improve flexibility but skaters who eventually excel at ballet and are also graceful on ice are likely to have started with an innate talent for body movement that will be evident in any activity they pursue. Body awareness, expression and carriage, line and form can be improved through training but superior, exceptional body movement is not likely to be highly trainable in ungifted athletes. Skaters, parents and coaches need to be realistic about the amount of improvement possible given the skater's talent and time he is willing to devote to these extra curricular activities. Engaging in supposedly beneficial activities both on ice and off which have no direct benefit or relationship to the main focus can, in fact, siphon training time from more productive areas, degrade energy resources which could be better applied to real training and in some cases, hinder free skating progress due to negative transfer. In any case, when an extra activity is added, extra time must also be added to the overall training schedule to properly accommodate additional lessons and practice otherwise participation will be a waste of time.