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

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

Moving Balance

Yesterday I talked about moving balance. You might have thought, what the heck is that?! Well, I don't like to make it too easy on you. I'm a coach after all. I'm hoping that you reach a little to see what you can find on your own before I start telling you how I see everything. After all, a lesson that you learn from your own exploration, experimentation and experience is far better than anything you can pull from a book. But now that you've had a bit of time to imagine moving balance on your own, I'd like to give you my take on this concept in ice skating and in everything else.

I once heard walking described as "highly coordinated falling". With every step you are falling forward, but you catch yourself before any disaster happens and then you allow yourself to fall forward onto the next foot. But, of course, we don't focus on the falling part. Walking is a great example of moving balance. Each step is an opportunity to fall, but we don't, because we are in balance even as we move.

It takes longer to learn how to walk than it does to just stand up on your own. That's because moving balance is more complex than balancing yourself when you are completely still. There are more muscles involved and more variables to deal with, too. But you aren't going to spend your whole life standing in one place to hold your balance. You learn to walk and then you move confidently through life.

Moving balance is that equilibrium which is always in flux. It's a controlled fall that doesn't feel scary because you are confident in your ability to hold it, to stand upright throughout the motion, and to continue to move in the direction you want.

Ice skating is all about moving balance, of course. It's about working with the forces that work on your body: gravity, acceleration, inertia or momentum. When you have learned a move it becomes comfortable as you become confident in your ability to control the fall, to manage the equilibrium throughout the entire process.

Life is all about moving balance, too. Life is always in motion, and you are always balancing yourself within it. Your mental, spiritual, and physical health are all affected by your equilibrium in life. Work-life balance is only a piece of this big puzzle. You balance your desires, your dreams, your family, your beliefs. You balance what you want to do with what you can do and what you must do. You shift your weight, sometimes subtly and sometimes drastically, in order to continue to move onward. 1 comments

The Layback

Layback spins are a particularly difficult challange in equilibrium for a lot of skaters. By the time you are working on a layback spin, you have a pretty good idea of what good balance in a spin feels like. But, face it, this spin is weird.

First off, this spin is strange because it completely messes with your sense of direction. In a moderately good layback you'll be looking at the ceiling, but in a really good layback you'll actually be looking at the world upside down. You can get used to that feeling of disorientation by practicing headless spins before you start doing laybacks.

A headless spin is just a regular one-foot spin, but you tilt your head back to look at the ceiling and hold your hands together in front of your throat, with your elbows pointing outward. This spin is a lot easier than a layback because, other than your head getting tilted back, your whole body is straight the same way it is for an ordinary scratch spin. You may find it takes a little practice, though, because the disorientation from looking up can make it hard to keep that perfect straight-spine position.

Once you are comfortable with the headless, you are ready to move on to the layback, but here's the catch: The layback is NOT just a headless that you lean back further. In a layback, your whole spine curves backwards. But we've already learned that you have to maintain equilibrium -- equal balance/equal forces -- in any move on ice. So, if your whole spine is curving backwards, how do you maintain balance?

The answer is in the hips! In a layback spin you push your hips in front of your skating foot to counterbalance the weight of your upper body leaning backwards.

The thing is, this is not a natural or a comfortable position for most skaters when first learning this spin. Most skaters who are just learning a lay back end up keeping their hips too much in line with their skating foot as their head leans back and they curve their back just below the shoulder blades. The thing is, your body is very smart. It's not going to let you spin like that, because your brain knows that it can't hold you up in that position. So, you push forward on the rocker of your blade, and next thing you know you're all the way up on your toepick and the spin is a mess.

Center, Leg, Hips, Back

These are the steps for a perfect layback:
  1. Center yourself
  2. Get your free leg back
  3. Push your hips forward
  4. Lean back from the waist

Practice layback balance everywhere until you get it right. When you are standing in line, waiting for a bus, whatever -- whenever you have a couple of seconds to spare. Start by standing on your skating foot. Put your "free leg" behind you. Push your hips forward and lay back from the waist so that your whole back is as curved as you can get it.

When you first start practicing this, you'll need your "free leg" to stay on the ground, even if just your big toe is there for balance. As soon as you can, though, start lifting that free leg into the air until you can balance in the layback position anywhere and any time.

Now you're ready to take it to the ice.


I'm always saying that ice skating is like yoga, and it's not just because of the positions that you have to hold when you do moves, either. The layback spin is like a mini-meditation on accomplishing anything really difficult.

First you need to center yourself in the comforts of your normal life: family, home, friends, faith, routine, and whatever else brings you to your point of moving balance.

Next you step out of this safe space, and create a new balance that is out of the ordinary. If you travel far from home, you might find comfort in the presence of new and old friends. A travel buddy may become your lifeline of normalcy as you explore new foods, new languages, and new cultures. Or you may find that you rely more heavily on calls home to mom than you normally would in your workaday life.

Finally, knowing that you've found a balance that you can hold comfortably for a while, you relax into whatever adventure you are on. You reach for those stars, throw yourself into an ambitious task, and rest assured that this odd equilibrium that you have will keep you steady until it's time to return to your center and get back to ordinary life. 0 comments

A Balancing Act

A lot of people think that ice skating takes some special feat of balance. In reality, just basic skating around the rink isn't all that difficult as long as you have a decent pair of ice skates on your feet. You should have strong boots and the blades should be balanced properly under your feet. Notice, I said that the blades should be balanced under your feet, not that you need to balance on the blades. If your boots are supporting your ankles and the blades are positioned correctly on your boots, you shouldn't have any difficulty keeping your feet upright. Standing upright on skates doesn't take any particular balancing skill, but controlling where you go and what you do on your skates, that's another issue entirely.

It seems a bit unlikely that you should be able to stand up on a small blade under your foot. It's not that hard to understand, though, if you take a pencil and balance it on your finger. You know that there is a point on the pencil where the weight balances perfectly. You can even balance it on something smaller -- a pin or the point of another pencil.

In Hebrew, the word for balance, shivui mishkal, literally means something like "equivalence of weight", much like the English word "equilibrium" which comes from the Latin words for "equal" and "weight". That mental image helps me lot when trying to understand how any given move actually works.

But what is weight, anyway? It's not how big something is. That's size. It's not how much matter is in something, that's mass. Certainly you learned in school that the mass of a thing isn't the same as its weight. Weight is the force that is exerted on a thing by gravity. In physics that's the mass of the object times the local gravitational acceleration. That's why your weight is different on Earth than it is on the moon. The moon doesn't have as much gravity to pull you down.

So, what we can say, then, is that equilibrium, is really about evening out the forces on the two sides of some specified point. In ice skating, that point is somewhere on your skate blade, but where?

If you take a look at the bottom of your blade you'll see that you don't really skate on 5mm or so of steel. You're really skating on two, much thinner edges. When you go straight you are fully on both edges. When you turn to the right you are putting most, if not all, of your weight on the right-side edges of your blades. It doesn't take a lot to push you onto an edge. Moving your arms, shifting your shoulders or hips, leaning a little, or even changing where your eyes are looking can all change your balance and push you over onto one edge or the other.

But still, whether you are on one edge or two, you are balanced because the forces that are pulling you in one direction are equal to the forces that are pulling you in the other direction, whether that force comes from gravity or muscle power in any given position.

Tomorrow I'll talk about balance in the layback spin. But first, tell me, what are the challenges to balance in your life? How do you equalize the forces that pull at you? 2 comments

Yoga in motion

Not long after I started coaching figure skating in Moscow, Idaho, I signed up for a yoga class at the Moscow Yoga Center This was the first time I ever took an entire series of yoga classes as opposed to just a one off class here or there, and it totally changed the way that I thought about ice skating and has influenced my teaching ever since.

The thing I realized in that class was that a lot of ice skating is essentially just a string of postures that you have to hold precisely in order to accomplish the most with your body. If you don't hold yourself properly, you often end up exerting more energy and always get less benefit. What's more, if you are doing things exactly right, people looking at you will have no idea how much work you are actually doing because your moves will look absolutely effortless.

Like yoga, ice skating properly will use muscles that you rarely use in any ordinary context. Crossing your legs just right and holding a rotational position in a spin or a jump takes a lot of muscular control, but it definitely gets easier with practice.

Yoga also taught me a few things about getting bodies lined up properly for various moves in ice skating. Hearing the yoga instructor in that first class tell us several times each day to fix our posture by lifting our shoulders up and then rolling them back and down into proper placement gave me a great tool for getting skaters to straighten their backs while stroking or preparing for toe jumps. It also taught me to check in with my own body regularly to sense whether I've lapsed into a lazy posture. That same instructor had descriptions of getting into the right position in a pose that helped me to think of the lines in our body that create the best balance for each move. It's because of that class that you will often here me explain to a student how they need to get the "nose-knee-toe" line fixed in one foot swizzles, pivots or the start of two foot spins.

Most of all, yoga taught me that breath is important in every posture, and that knowing when to breath and how can give you more power in everything you do. When you get tense and nervous, you tend to take shallow breaths or forget to breathe entirely. Part of that comes from tensing your throat and chest. Breathing in deeply as you prepare for a jump, and breathing out just as you launch into the air can both release unwanted tension and give you a burst of power right when you need it most.

Of course, whether you are in a yoga pose, ice skating, or running down the street trying to catch a bus, you don't want to stop breathing. In fact, you don't want to tense up any muscle that doesn't need to be tensed for what you are trying to accomplish. And that, is the real trick to relaxing even in the midst of difficult moves or difficult situations. Don't waste energy on worry or unhelpful tension. Breathe through your fear and keep your muscles trained on exactly what they need to do -- nothing more and nothing less. It's a delicate task, but it brings spectacular results! 0 comments

Work with physics, not against it

At first glance, today's title might seem like an obvious bit of advice. In reality, human history is full of us trying to fight physics. Think of the dream to fly, and the many early attempts that were doomed to fatal failure. Or think of the aesthetic idea in many cultures that the harder you make something to do, the more civilized or refined it is.

That second idea is what was behind the rule in early ice skating competition that all skaters had to keep their hands below their waist. You see, keeping your hands up helps you to work with physics and therefore makes skating easier. By keeping your hands low and trying to avoid using them at all you were increasing the difficulty of ever move. Thing is, if competitive skating had maintained that rule, we never would have gotten the rich variety of spins and jumps that we see in figure skating today, nor would we be able to choreograph in the beautifully expressive ways that make figure skating and ice dance so much fun to watch.

If you want to make a plane fly, you have to work with physics to create an aerodynamic vehicle and get it up into the air. If you want to ice skate you have to cooperate with physics in order to create the most spectacular moves. We pull our hands in tight and cross our legs to rotate faster and check our spins with open arms and pointed free leg toe to stop rotation. We use leverage in toe jumps to get up into the air. We use our legs and feet like springs to launch on edge jumps. We control our center of balance in order to minimize the effort put into any move.

So, if you want to understand what's going right or wrong with your skating moves, you should think carefully about the physics of the move. Take a look at videos of top skaters who can do what you are trying to do perfectly and at videos of skaters who are making mistakes. Take a look at videos of your own skating. Think about what the physical forces in play are, and learn to skate smarter, not harder.

Of course, skating smarter doesn't mean you don't need a lot of strength and coordination to do the moves. It's a lot easier to contemplate the physics behind a move than it is to actually accomplish the move itself, but understanding what you need to do is definitely a step in the right direction.

And really, all of technology is a result of wanting to do something that seemed impossible before someone figured out how to use the resources around them and the laws of physics to accomplish their goal. Airplanes and cars, modern construction equipment and robots are all amazing inventions, but none of them work without a source of energy and without being properly constructed themselves. There is a huge gap of learning between understanding how an airplane flies and actually being able to design and build one of your own. But the journey is half the fun, so it's well worth the time and the effort. 0 comments

Books and Skating Stuff

You may have noticed that there is a section in the right hand navigation called "Books and Stuff". That's a menu of links to the Two Edges, One Pick Amazon store. Shopping at this store helps to support this blog and helps me continue coaching on ice.

I have hand picked a selection of books for relevance and usefulness to skaters. Some of the books describe skating moves, others have helpful information about cross training techniques, and some are just about the history of the sport itself. The books are categorized so that you should be able to find what you need pretty easily.

There is also a selection of skating gear available through Amazon. I've tried to make sure that most of the gear is shippable to Israel, but not all Amazon Market vendors will ship things here. Please leave a comment here to let me know if something you tried to order was marked "not shippable to your address" in your Amazon checkout process.

Of course, I'd love to hear from you if you think that I've missed something important or if there is anything I can do to make this store even better for you.

Thanks for your support! 0 comments

Looking to the future

In the context of jumps and spins, there are two places where you will find yourself looking to the future, and they map onto two places where you should do the same in ordinary life.

The first is right before you step into a spin. You usually set up a spin from back crossovers and then hold a back inside edge for a moment right before you step onto your spinning foot. Before you step onto that spinning foot, you ought to be looking at the spot where you intend to center your spin. You need to have that spot in your vision before you step into it, but as soon as you've stepped toward it, your eyes need to move up "to the present" so that your body will be straight and your spin will be fast and centered.

The same can be said of the entrance to some jumps, actually. Most of the time, people enter waltz jumps or axels from backwards crossovers and then turn around and step forward into the jump. There's a moment before you turn around where you just look straight ahead, away from the direction of travel. That's the moment when you are "looking to the past". But then, just before you step forward, you look over your shoulder and check out the place where you are about to jump.

Life takes planning. Even the simple things have to be thought through before you do them, and you don't want to act rashly without looking. On freestyle practice sessions, not looking forward may get you into a head on collision with another skater. At work, not planning your day well might cause you far bigger problems. This is the realm of task lists and thinking before you speak.

But there are times when you need to look forward even more intensely. Sometimes you want to do something really big, something harder than your average task, and just planning ahead isn't enough. In those cases, you may need to hyper-focus on the goal you are trying to reach while you are on your way to it. Double jumps are like that.

In order to get the maximum rotation on double jumps, you need to turn your head in the direction of your rotation and "look to the future". It seems so unintuitive after you've spent so much time working on keeping your head straight on all your previous jumps and spins. But this time, that little bit of extra reach helps you get the hard stuff done. 0 comments

Looking to the past

Last time we talked about being always present in the here and now, but sometimes you need to look to the past to know where you are heading next. That's like the lead up to a spin or a jump. Nearly every spin or jump is started from a backwards skating position. Even jumps that actually start forward are often prefixed by skating backwards and then stepping forward to start the jump. In all of those situations, you have at least a moment where you are facing backwards and your view and attention are all on the place where you've just been. This is the moment where you align your mind and your body and prepare for the move you are about to do.

When you look to the past, it shouldn't be to hem and haw over your mistakes or your past glories. Living in the past won't help you have a good life going forward. But looking to the past is important for those times when you need to see where you have been in order to figure out where you are now and what you are going to do next.

As Thanksgiving approaches in the US, this is a good time to look backwards for a moment right before you launch into a new year. It's been a tough year for a lot of people with all of the economic turmoil and plenty of personal drama to boot. There are things to be glad of, though, and that sense of gratefulness can give you strength for your next move.

This is the lead up to your next great jump. Don't let recent falls or stumbles make your morale waver. You can still make this program a great one. Line yourself up, think of all the things you need to do to pull off your next move, and then enjoy this holiday season like a long, deep breath to center you right before you dazzle everyone's socks off. 0 comments

Eyes on the present

Every self-help book and guru out there will tell you something about how you shouldn't focus on the past, how you should plan for the future, but how you should always be in the present. Of course, I have some insights into that, too.

This insight comes from spins and jumps on ice -- really, any rotational move. The lesson is that there is a time to look at the past, a time to look to the future, and a time to keep yourself firmly planted in the present. And the source of the lesson? Head position before, during and after rotation. No, seriously, there's something to this.

When I teach beginners how to do a two foot spin, there is a very common mistake where the skater looks back away from the direction of rotation. If they are turning counter-clockwise, their head turns to the right. I call this "looking to the past", and it completely messes up their spin. We can't move onward until that's fixed.

In the midst of nearly any spin, you want to make sure that you are "in the present", not looking to the past (away from your rotation) or to the future (into your rotation). In order to make sure that you have your head in the right place, it's useful to try to see specific features on the walls of the ice rink as you go around. They may blur past you, but if you are watching for them, you will always know where you are.

In the midst of the main tasks of life, your job, spending time with your family, or chores around the house, the advice is the same. Attention to detail and being fully present make you better at whatever you are doing, and will help you to reach your full potential.

Be here now is such cliched advice, but it really does make a difference. In fact, I'd say that one of the great things about ritual practices and rules is that they can help you to develop that mindfulness, that full awareness of the present moment. Whether you are a religious person or not, you can keep your eyes open for the markers in your day, the metaphorical walls of the ice rink in your constant rotations. 1 comments

Keep your hands out

The third law of ice skating is "Keep your hands out to your sides" (but don't wave them about). That may seem like a strange rule, especially if you see advanced skaters running around with their hands in their pockets, but there's a lot of sense to it.

When you are just getting your confidence on the ice, and you are feeling like you might fall at any moment, keeping your hands out to your sides helps give you better balance. Like a tight rope walker using her arms to give her extra balance as she crosses from one platform to the next, you can feel more confident and in better control with your hands out.

On the other hand, you don't want to wave your arms about unnecessarily while you skate, as that will do exactly the opposite. There's a little demonstration I do for new skaters where I move forward by using just my feet, then I go back and, with my feet firmly held together, I wave my arms around and I move forward again. Then I show how moving your feet and arms in opposite directions, as you normally do when you walk, actually sets you in opposite directions top-to-bottom, and makes you more likely to fall.

The thing about ice skating, and you'll hear this from me lots, is that it's all about the small, subtle things that you do. When you make big movements or add extra things into the equation, you are more likely to fall than to do what you wanted to do.

And speaking of small, subtle things you do on ice, having your hands out helps you to steer your body better. Whenever you want to go around a curve, you can put the hand on the outside of the curve in front of your body and the other hand behind you, and you will go around the curve much more efficiently. If you watch figure skaters, you'll notice that they do that while they are doing crossovers on a curve. Hockey skaters will have their hands on their sticks, but if you pay attention, you'll see that they are actually doing the same move with their shoulders. I call this "hugging your circle".

In life you have to keep your balance, too. Know how to move forward with a minimum of effort and maximum results. Another way to say that is, "Work smart not hard." When you work too hard on something that could have been done more simply, you wear yourself out and you might not accomplish what you need to at all!

If you don't know how to work smarter? Ask your friends who seem to be doing it better than you are, or get yourself a coach of whatever flavor makes the most sense for your situation. Remember, coaches do two great things for you: they teach you how to do things more effectively and they push you to do the things that you want to do but don't think that you can. You can! So get out there and do it!! 0 comments

Sit down!!

OK, so "tomorrow" kind of got stretched out by a few days. Sorry about that! But, at long last, here's the promised post on the second rule of ice skating. (And no, it's not "Don't talk about ice skating." That's something different, entirely.)

The second rule of ice skating is that whichever foot has your weight on it, that knee should be bent. That's a lot of words, but the gist of it is, "Sit down!"

No, seriously, sit down. If you are a beginner, you will probably feel pretty funny doing this, but really bend those knees when you are standing on the ice. You should feel a bit like you are sitting in a straight backed chair. Don't lean forward, just bend your knees.

When you push, stay down. The pushing leg will straighten out as it goes behind you, but the skating leg (where your weight is) should stay exactly as bent as when you started the push. When you bring the pushing leg back toward your skating leg, bend your knee and put it right next to the skating leg.

Sometimes you might feel as though you are going to fall backwards. If that happens, Sit down! Bend your knees more, and you will almost always keep yourself from falling. But, if you do fall, at least you'll fall down on your tush which will hurt less than falling on your head!

Keeping your knees bent under you is so important for lots of reasons, but the number one reason that we'll look at today is that it gives you flexibility of movement overall. Your knees serve as shock absorbers when you skate. If your knees are straight, every little bump and divot in the ice will threaten to knock you over. But with bent knees, you are able to make little adjustments all the time without even noticing it. That keeps you on your feet and in control.

In life, you need to stay flexible, too. If you are too rigid in your plans, your ideas, or your actions, you will have a very hard time dealing with the bumps that life throws you. If you relax a bit and let yourself make the tiny adjustments needed to get through life's adventures, you'll fare much better. There are times when you have to bend a little more than others, and sometimes you just have to sit all the way down and take a little break. Having a warped sense of humor can help sometimes, too. 1 comments

Beginners' Advice

When I first meet a brand new skater I teach them the 3 fundamental laws of ice skating:

  1. Wherever your eyes are looking, that's where you are going.

  2. Whichever foot has your weight, that knee should be bent. (This rule is also known as, "Sit down!" )

  3. Keep your hands out to your sides, but don't wave them around.

The first one seems pretty obvious, but almost no one puts it into practice. Nearly ever new skater, most intermediate skaters, and a frighteningly large number of advanced skaters spend all their time looking at the ice. You do not want to go down there. Why are you looking there?

An ice skating blade is not like a knife with just one edge. A skate blade has an edge on each side with a hollow space in between. It's a bit like an upside down U. When you are moving straight, you are on both edges at the same time. When you are moving to the right you are on the right-side edge(s) of your blade(s). When you are moving to the left, you are on the left side edge(s) of your blade(s).

Here's the tricky part: any little shift in your weight can push you to one side or the other. When you turn your eyes in one direction, your body moves in subtle ways to put just a little more weight on that side. That makes you tip onto that edge of your blade, and then you find yourself moving in that direction.

With lots of practice you can overcome this tendency, but most of the time you are better off using it to your advantage rather than trying to fight it. Fighting it means that you are working less efficiently. Looking where you want to go means that you are using small, subtle, light-weight things to help you get big jobs done instead of strong-arming your way to whatever it is you want.

Looking down at the ice is generally the most deadly thing you can do. You see, ice skate blades don't just have a hollow with two edges on either side, they also have a rocker. On the front of a hockey skate, you can lean right over and just run out of blade. When that happens you go *splat*. On figure skates, you have a toe pick at the front of the blade. When you hit that, you will also fall over and go *splat*. Either way, this is not the direction you want to go. Don't look there.

This isn't just beginners' advice, either. All of these three laws are things I repeat again and again to students at every level, just in different contexts.

When you jump? Don't look down. You can't get up in the air if your eyes are looking down. That's not just because of your edge and your rocker. It also has to do with the body mechanics of launching yourself into the air, getting the most spring out of your legs, and making your body straight enough to go up and turn around while you are in the air.

When you are concentrating on footwork? Don't look down or you will go *splat*. Do look in the direction of travel or in the exact opposite of your direction of travel -- with only a few rare exceptions.

When you are working on edges, figures, three turns and brackets? Look in the direction of travel and you will stay on your lines better, keep your body straighter and have more control over your edges.

All of this advice about looking where you are going goes just as well for the rest of life. The things that you concentrate on are the things that you are going to become. The actions that you focus on are the things that you will do.

If you don't want to be like your evil stepmother, then don't think about her. She's the ice that will make you go *splat*. Keep your eye on the people that you do want to be like. Focus on the person that you would like to be, on the actions that you think make for a good person, and that is what you will become.

If you want to get good grades in school, or make a certain goal at work, then focus on that goal. Don't think about failure. Don't worry about what will happen if you don't make it. Don't think about the mistakes that you've made in the past or the way that someone else is trying to cause you problems or any other tangential or disconnected matter. Keep your eye on the prize, and you can reach it.

Tomorrow I'll talk a bit more about the second of the 3 fundamental laws of ice skating. In the meantime, tell me, what are you looking at these days while you skate through life? 0 comments

Do what you love

Life is too short not to do what you love. That doesn't mean that what you love necessarily has to be what you do for a living, or that you have to do what you love 24/7. It doesn't even mean that you should never do what you hate. Even the things you love most in your life are going to include some component in them that you don't like to do. What it does mean is that you should make a commitment to yourself to do the things you love on a regular basis.

Ice skating is a really addictive sport. The tag line for the ice rink in Tel Aviv is totally true, 'It's cold but you crave it.' I see a lot of people who show up to the ice rink completely terrified the first time. They might barely be able to stand up on their skates. For a few times around the rink they hug the wall like it was their best friend. But then they gain a little confidence, move away from the wall, take a few baby steps, and before you know it, they've fallen in love.

People go from thinking that they could never possibly stand up on the ice to loving the sport so much that they come back two or three times a week. It's not just kids, either. My oldest student right now is 62. I've had older students before. Most of these people have a million things going on in their lives: work, school, family. But ice skating becomes an important part of their life, one of the key things that they look forward to every week.

They don't get paid for skating. They don't make it their life's work. But they love it, and it does improve their lives. Sure, it's good exercise and it may help their health, but that's not what I'm talking about. Everything else in their week takes on a bit of the joy of skating, and that makes the whole week a little better.

What is your love? Do you make it a regular part of your life? How does that change your life? 0 comments

Life lessons from the cold edge of a blade

My name is Lisha Sterling, and I am a figure skating coach in Tel Aviv. One day I started thinking about all the ways in which skating affects people's lives and all the lessons that you can take away from the ice, and I realized I had to share these insights with the rest of the word.

You don't have to be a figure skater to learn the lessons from the ice, just like even a vegan can enjoy Chicken Soup for the Soul. If you are a skater, though, you are bound to pick up some useful skating advice along the way.

A lot of the titles here are refrains that my students hear me say all the time. "Where ever your eyes are looking. That's where you are going." "Know when to commit." "Straighten your spine." (Actually, there should be exclamation points after each of those, since I'm usually competing with the loud music on a public session. But you get the point.) These sound bites aren't the whole picture, though. They are just mnemonics, reminders of larger concepts.

This blog is about the larger concepts, one the ice and in life. 0 comments