Tie on your skates and jump on the ice. We've got lots of life lessons to discuss today...

Moving the site

I decided to move this blog over to my main website. You can now find my ice skating blogging at
http://www.alwayssababa.com/taxonomy/term/1 or just go to the main page at http://www.alwayssababa.com and look for new posts at the top of the left hand column.

If you've been reading this blog in an RSS feed reader, you'll want to change your subscription to http://www.alwayssababa.com/taxonomy/term/1/*/feed

While you are over there, you can check out some of the other things that I get up to when I'm not on the ice. There's technical stuff about computers, my ideas about education and work, random rantings about life in general, and even poetry and short fiction. Everything is in its own space over there, with its own block and page and feed, so it'll be easy to find just what you want to read and ignore the rest.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at the new site! 0 comments

The power of breath

Spending two weeks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada was so good for me. I needed some time off between my regular life in Tel Aviv and my work this Summer in Seattle. It was a grat vacation spent with my long time friend Julie and her partner Sebastien.

Juli and Seb are Yoga instructors and are working towards opening their own studio soon. Julie was also a competitive gymnast and a coach for many years. As you can imagine, we spent a lot of time "talking shop" as well as catching up on personal stuff. The super bonus was learning some Yoga postures and breath techniques from Julie that I had never done before. Of course, I've been taking those lessons and thinking about how they apply directly back to the ice.

One of the keys to strength, endurance, and health through yoga is the concentration on breath. When and how you breathe is as important as simply remembering to breathe. Yoga isn't alone in this teaching, either. In karate, taekwondo and other martial arts, attention is paid to exactly how proper breathing can affect the power of every hit and kick.

It struck me that ice skating should be no different. By paying attention to your breath you should be able to increase your power and endurance, and in some case even improve your technique instantly. With the theory in mind, I tried some experiments. You can bet that my students will be seeing more of these experiments in their future training sessions!

The next time you are on the ice, try this exercise on for size:

First, do two laps of power three turns in each direction as you normally do. This is just to establish a baseline of your performance and feel what your three turns are like normally.

Next, do a lap of power three turns in whichever direction you prefer using a special breathing pattern.

  1. As you take your preparatory steps, breathe deeply a few times.
  2. Just before your first three turn, breathe in through your nose
  3. As you perform the three turn, breath out through your mouth.
  4. Breathe in through your nose as you do the back crossover.
  5. As you step forward and through each three turn, breathe out through your mouth, and then breathe in through your nose during each back crossover.

Try this exercise for a few laps in each direction.

Did it feel different? 0 comments

The frustration factor

One of my students came to me a few months ago as a newbie skater. She could go frontwards and backwards and could do two foot spins, but she hadn't been able to figure out a one foot spin yet. The problem is, before we could get her one foot spin to work, she had to undo some unhelpful muscle memory she'd picked up in her two foot spin and teach her how to center a spin correctly. Then, we started working on the one foot spins. But still, it took about three weeks before she got the spin to last more than a couple of revolutions, and a couple of more weeks before she had enough balance and centering to turn that one foot spin into a nice, fast scratch spin.

The whole way through the process she was so frustrated with herself. She wanted the spin to be perfect now. I had to show her that even advanced skaters had to go back and tweak the basics from time to time. A truly centered scratch spin is not so easy!

When, a few weeks after getting her scratch spin she was having troubles with her sal chow, she confided, "Before I got the scratch spin, I thought that I just had to get that one thing and then everything else would get easier."

That student is not alone. Last week I had a conversation with another coach at iSkate in Luna Park, Tel Aviv about how our students deal with the frustration of learning new things. Both of us have seen students who work super hard on some element, thinking that once that can do this one thing everything else will be easy in comparison. They work and work and get so frustrated when the move doesn't come to them in a day or a week or even a month. And then suddenly, the get it. The element is mastered and they move on to the next challenge...

At which point they discover that the next element is the hardest thing ever, that everything else in skating will be easy in comparison, that this one thing is so dastardly difficult that it takes weeks of frustrating effort to conquer.

Not every element you work on in skating will drive you crazy and lead you to tears, but you can guarantee that as long as you continue to work on improving your skating skills, you will keep running into new moves that seem impossible to accomplish. Learning to trust the process is maybe the most important lesson you can get from this. As you learn more and more things -- on ice or off -- you learn more about how you learn, about what it takes for you personally to master a new idea or task. Once you know that there is a path from new idea to fully integrated skill and knowledge, you can ride out that path with more confidence and, hopefully, a bit less frustration. 0 comments

Tuesday night half hour off ice classes

Last week at iSkate in Tel Aviv I started teaching a new class. It's a half hour off ice training meant for before or after your on-ice workout.

A half hour isn't a long time, but it's long enough to work on a few exercises, learn some new techniques and take something home to work on to improve your skating. The class pulls from a variety of sources: yoga, pilates, capoeira, and dance. Each week we work on a key issue (or two), learn some new exercises or push ourselves on exercises we've learned before. Not only do you get a workout, you learn what is important in each exercise for helping you reach your skating goals.

If you want to try it out, be at the rink and ready for class at 7:25. Class starts promptly at 7:30 and ends at 8. Wear comfortable clothes. Athletic shoes are optional. (Some students wear athletic shoes, others go barefoot. I usually go barefoot.)

Cost 10nis. 0 comments

Visualization Technique #2

Watch and learn

Sometimes you don't have the opportunity to "feel" all of the pieces of a move while working with your coach. Maybe you are in the early stage of learning a new move and you haven't had the opportunity to break it down into its component pieces yet. Or maybe your coach hasn't found the right way to communicate the move techniques to you yet. Maybe you know how to do this move, but your coach is saying that you have to do it a bit differently before you can progress onto the next level, another rotation in your jump, or just better technique in general. Whatever the reason, all you have is a visual reference for this move that you want to get right, and you want to make it your own. This technique is for those times.

The first step is to watch people doing the move correctly a bunch of times. You can search YouTube for the name of the move you want, but that will often give you as many bad attempts as quality examples. One of the things I've found is that searching for videos of tests which skaters passed can help find a move done technically well. Watching top skaters' performances in shows or competitions can also help, though sometimes it's harder to find precisely the move that you need to watch. You can also try a search for "video figure skating how to [move name]" and you may find some very useful videos for this exercise.

Once you have something to watch, spend a good fifteen minutes just watching that move over and over again. Watch it frame by frame if you can. Imagine yourself doing that move. Imagine what it would feel like to move like that.

After you've spent the time watching that move over and over again, close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the move exactly as you've seen it done. Sometimes you'll start out by "seeing yourself" from the outside doing the move just like you saw it in the videos. If that's the case, try to shift your point of view to the first person perspective and imagine yourself moving just like you saw that other skater moving.

Some of my students get frustrated with me at this point and say, "How can I imagine it? I don't know what it feels like. That's the point!" And all I can say is, "Practice, practice, practice."

Your imagination develops as you use it, just like any other skill that you develop. If you take the time to try to imagine what things feel like in between skating sessions, and then feel what things are really like on your skating days, you'll start to develop more skill in imagining the way things feel. Some people will feel silly trying to imagine what something feels like just from watching videos of someone else doing the move, but if you keep at it, you will see results. You will see results both in terms of improving your ability to know what your muscles feel like when they move in certain ways, and you will see results on the ice when your off-ice imaginings develop into faster learning times. 0 comments

Visualization Technique #1

It should feel like this...

Let's take an example of a common skating problem and consider how you can work through it with visualization. Along the way we'll see how you can combine your physical training with off-ice visualization practice to improve your skills over all.

A lot of skaters have trouble with toe pushes. Generally speaking, you don't want to push through your toe pick. Whether you are doing straight stroking or front crossovers, the sound of toe pick scritches on the ice is anathema. Your pushes should go through the edge of your blade, nearer to your heel than to your toe. But if you've been pushing through your toes for a while, you've built up that motion as muscle memory. How do you make yourself push through your heels instead?

The simple answer is practice, practice, practice. If you can push through your heels enough times, you will have re-written your muscle memory. The problem is that your existing muscle memory keeps kicking in and you have trouble consistently pushing the correct way. This is where a combination of real practice and visualization can help you build new muscle memory faster.

First, you want to learn what pushing correctly should look feel like. As a coach I use a few different tools to help students with this challenge. First I use other exercises to show a skater which part of the blade gives them the most power. Two foot swizzles are really good for this because you get power in your swizzles when you push through your heels. I also take skaters up to the wall or to the bar to feel what a good push feels like. I help them feel what it's like to keep hips and shoulders "squared up" and facing forward, turn the pushing foot to the side and push correctly at an angle back and a bit to the side. I help them feel what a good extension feels like after the push, too. Once the pattern has been set, I have my skaters practice that in place at the wall a few times.

Now that you know what the move should feel like, you are ready to work on the visualization. Imagine yourself skating perfectly. Remember what it feels like to push through your heels. Remember which muscles work when you hold your extension correctly. Remember what it was like to practice the push correctly against the wall, or what it felt like to practice pushing off ice. Where are your hips? Where are your shoulders? Where should your hands be? Imagine what it feels like to skate like that. Imagine yourself skating, pushing through your edges correctly, holding your body correctly, and feeling the power that comes with proper stroking technique.

You might find that when you first start imagining a move that you want to fix that you actually imagine yourself doing it wrong. Don't worry about that. It's just your mind telling you what it knows so far. You will teach it better. Keep reinforcing the idea of what you want to do over what you have been doing in the past. Just as you would do while practicing on the ice, think about what you want to do and how you should do it. Keep practicing in your imagination, even after you "get it right". Reinforce that positive visualization as much as you can while you are off ice if you want the improvements to be seen on ice as well. 0 comments

Visualize Whirled Peas

Back when I was first learning how to skate, my coach told me that visualization was an important tool for an athlete. She talked about a study where two groups of athletes were given skill tests at the beginning of a study and at the end of a study and their improvements compared. One group worked on their sport for an hour every day. The other group worked on their sport one hour every other day, and on the days that they didn't go practice they sat still and just imagined practicing for an hour. The group that spent an hour every other day just visualizing their practice actually improved more than the group that actually worked out physically every day.

One of the suggested reasons for this difference is that visualization can help you overcome the problem of uncorrected mistakes causing bad muscle memory. Every time you do an action you are building or reinforcing your muscle memory for that move. Muscle memory is part of what makes a complex action easy with a bit of time. Learning how to eat with chopsticks might like a major challenge to your coordination when you first start, but once you get the hang of it, muscle memory kicks in and you don't have to think about how to hold your hand or how to pick up food. When you learn how to skate you are building up all sorts of muscle memories. But if you learn how to do something wrong, you have picked up a "bad" muscle memory.

Imagine if the way that you learned to eat with chopsticks made it impossible to pick up single grains of rice. A friend shows you how to hold the chopsticks correctly, but try as you might, you don't seem to be able to get this new technique. Your hand seems to always do what you learned before, and it's very frustrating. Your muscle memory is kicking in and it takes a lot more work to re-learn this physical action than it did to learn to eat with chopsticks in the first place.

You can use visualization to help you overcome this problem. You can imagine the right way to hold your chopsticks, the way it feels to bring the sticks together like your friend showed you, what it feels like to pick up a single grain of rice. When you first try to imagine this, you'll likely find that you are even imagining yourself doing the action the wrong way. That's how strong muscle memory is. But as you keep at it, you start to imagine that you are doing the right thing. Once you can imagine yourself doing this action correctly, you have a better chance of actually doing it correctly. It seems as if you are re-wiring your brain, creating a sort of virtual muscle memory.

Over the next few posts I'll share some visualization techniques to help you overcome bad muscle memory and to build new skills. In the future I'll also make sure to tag any post with visualization techniques in it. 0 comments