This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

- scorekeeping


After the Sochi Olympics everyone who watched skating had scorekeeping on their mind, so LA SkateDad and Figure Skating Advice had an email conversation about the subject. Well not specifically about the Olympics' scoring, but more about scorekeeping in general. (Both of us published this on our blogs).


FSA > Did your child ever compete under the 6.0 system, and if so, how did you and your kid adapt to IJS?

LASD > My daughter skated from around 1993 to 2003 primarily under 6.0; they were just talking about IJS toward the end of that time. She seemed a bit anxious about the change but didn't really experience it as she stopped skating to dedicate herself more to her school studies. Even under 6.0 I felt the judging paid slightly too much attention to element detail. I tended to compensate by discussing stylistic concerns with her rather than element execution "correctness."

I notice that many local events still score some flights on 6.0 with others on IJS. Do you think it's okay for a less competitive skater to just skate the 6.0? When you switch to IJS do you have to relearn everything and change your program?

FSA > It's absolutely okay to only enter 6.0 competitions; not everyone has the aspiration, time, or energy, to pursue the more competitive form of skating IJS. Switching to IJS competitions does require that you optimize your program for it, but if your coach is well versed in the IJS rulebook it shouldn't require more than a week of your training to reorganise things. You don't have to re-learn everything: the skating skills that you have mastered will stay with you for your lifetime (isn't that a lovely thought?!) and IJS isn't about learning a new way to skate. It will help you push your boundaries though, because as you aspire to higher levels IJS confronts you with elements that you may not have had the foresight to attempt previously. (I remember the first element I started training when IJS was rolled out was changing edge in a parallel spin, which seemed impossible on that very first practice session!)

LASD > What's the right thing to do when a skater feels that the judges scored her unfairly? Should her parents do anything? Did you ever complain to your coach or mom about your scores?

FSA > I'd say the first thing to do is go home. Unless you're at a high level competition with a complete panel of IJS judges and technical specialists, you most likely won't be able to contest the results of the competition that you just skated in. You need a clear head (and heart) to be able to objectively analyse the scores you were given, and you can't do this standing in your glittering dress and sneakers while the competition is still going on. Get together with your coach and go over the score card. If you scored a -3 GOE on an element that you feel you executed quite well, go back to the rulebook to understand what constitutes a -3. Sometimes you might receive a score you didn't deserve – GOE gives judges wiggle room. This is the eternal plight of an artistic sports athlete, as it were.

With regards to parents doing something, this depends. My instinct is no, because you'll get a name for yourself (or your child) and these kinds of political tactics can come back to haunt you (especially on the smaller circuits where everyone knows everybody else's business). If anything is going to be done in an official manner, the initiative should lie with the coach. However, I do admire skaters who speak out for blatant injustices at the top elite levels; we need skaters who are in a position to raise attention to any problems in our sport... but don't expect it to come without a price.

Of course I complained to my coach and mum about my scores! I don't think I ever met a skater who didn't. Artistic sports are subjective and even with the IJS system trying to be better at this, GOEs and component scores still leave room for personal interpretation. The advice they gave me was almost always "train harder and come back stronger," although this didn't necessarily help me feel better at the time (it's a great life lesson though). What did you do when your kid felt that she was scored unfairly?

LASD > Well mostly I would just shrug my shoulders. I guess I was more interested in giving my daughter a wider perspective, and dealing with the vagaries of how folks judge you is a part of your whole life (not just skating). In some sense I think IJS scoring may be harder on parents to shrug off as it gives (maybe the false) impression of being more ''objective" and less to the whim of the judges. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised though to hear parents comment all over the spectrum on this; I've run into many parents who were much more high-strung about scores than their kids were!

FSA > Were you able to understand your child's score sheets?

LASD > Even under 6.0 competitions I didn't really understand the scores they posted. It seems they showed relative ranking by number of judges or something like that. I would generally agree with around two thirds of the final standings so I didn't have any strong complaints overall. In IJS the USFSA is pretty explicit about the whole scoring process, see for example http://www.usfsa.org/New_Judging.asp?id=289. It does seem highly involved but I guess given the complexity of the sport that makes sense.

When you were practicing for competitions did you focus more on what you thought you might score, or were you guided more by creative expression and showmanship? How did you balance the two?

FSA > To me, skating is a performance: it should tell a story and convey a mood or emotion. It should be just like going to see a ballet or watching a great actor. I wanted to give the audience (and judges!) a moment of profound emotion, whether that be intense passion (to a Chopin sonata) or just pure fun (I skated to a Queen medley in my last competitive year, and hope the audience enjoyed watching it as much as I enjoyed skating it!) Showmanship was incredibly important to me not only because it allowed me to "tell my story" (or that of the character I was playing) but also because it offered me complete escape into my passion. However, no skater prepares for a competition thinking "it doesn't matter if I place last". Everyone wants to do their best, so naturally strategic planning influences a program's design. I balanced the two by first of all laying the foundations with my coach – making sure we maximised all the elements to the best of my ability – and then I let loose on the "artistry". It was quite enthusing to think that with IJS scoring you'd get graded on your program in a very precise way (of course that adds a bit of a scary element to things too!)

LASD > How did you and your coach negotiate what elements to include in a program? Does she say "this element is easier but you'll score better on it?" How do you feel about that?

FSA > We used to negotiate by a) knowing my skating abilities and, crucially, my limitations, and b) trying out new things. If I really wanted to go in with a level 4 spin, then we'd compromise: we'd place the level 3 spin in the program, and I'd train the level 4. When it came to submitting the paperwork for the competition, we'd re-evaluate the situation and make a decision. Sure, she'd sometimes say "do this easier element because you'll score better" and I would almost always agree. This didn't vex me in the slightest. The first rule of mastering your performance is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

LASD > I think my daughter also was partway assertive in what elements she liked to skate; I remember she had a couple strengths that she liked to incorporate. At the same time her coach was definitely pushing her to include new elements that she was learning if my daughter was comfortable with them.

Do you think that IJS scoring has too large of an influence on skaters' style?

FSA > The short answer is yes. But this isn't necessarily the fault of the IJS. If anything, IJS has perhaps helped introduce variation and expression into skating performances because these now carry points. The one thing that's always bugged me right up to top-level skating is how few athletes treat their programs as true performances, preferring to "go through the motions" from jump to jump. I think one of the easiest ways to see how IJS promotes individuality is to watch the spins in high level competition. Back in 1999 when I saw Plushenko perform a Biellmann spin at the Euros in Prague, he was the first man I'd ever seen who did something other than camels, sits, and uprights. Now the scoring quasi-demands Biellmann in the ladies' category, and it's pretty standard fare in the men's competition. But my prevailing feeling is still that IJS throttles artistic creativity. Some of my favourite skaters (those who move me and touch my soul with their art) have never climbed that top step on the podium at major events because they couldn't "do the jumps". To me this shows that no matter which way you wrap it up and tie a nice bow on it, it's always going to come back to how many jumps you can land in 4.5 minutes. What do you think?

LASD > Well IJS certainly delineates the sub details of the components in finer slices. Overall though it seems to make skaters try to cram too much into their program. You never see a skater spiral across the length of the rink in a competition any longer because the time is too precious. And I'd agree with you that it seems that the top level skaters aren't as inventive and experimental as they used to be. Well a couple are, but for the most part you've got a triple, a 3+2, a short spiral, a donut, sit, Biellmann, footwork, and a flying camel. Maybe a couple sweeps of the ice. Somehow musical expressiveness and flow dynamics have been lost.

FSA > Did you feel confident that your child's coach "knew what she was doing" when it came to IJS skating? Did you carry out any coaching changes to try and maximise your daughter's scores?

LASD > I always felt that choosing a coach was more in my daughter's domain of expertise rather than my own. I think a lot of how well your kid learns depends on the chemistry between her and her coach, and it probably takes a few months to get accustomed to one another. When my daughter did become competitive she chose her coach because she had a record of coaching up skilled skaters and her style was one that she respected (some coaches were known for yelling at students, and her coach was not one of them). It seemed that each coach had their specialty, whether it be jumping, edge work, or choreography, so most skaters employed several different coaches for different areas of skill development.

FSA > Did you hire a separate choreographer to deal with the "choreo" (and indirectly the transitions) components of the score?

LASD > I was very fortunate that due to the location of my daughter's rink (Burbank -- we're talking entertainment city here) that all the coaches were well versed in at least some choreo. But choreo is only about 50% of transitions. In other words choreo is "this element will look nice after that one and it fits the music nicely" but it isn't the intimate details of the interim arms, attitude, hands, and flourishes from the first element to the subsequent element. I used to spend a lot of my own attentions on my daughter's transitions.

Do you think skaters have enough input (like feedback) into the methodology that judges use for scoring?

FSA > I don't think that skaters or coaches should necessarily have input into scoring methods, because they aren't judges. They aren't tech specialists. Each role has its own specificities. Allowing these parties to provide feedback to the judging panel or governing body about those things they don't understand however would be incredibly constructive, and provide a platform for skaters and their entourage to try to air their frustration that they may feel after a disappointing result. This would need to be very well designed though, in order to avoid the feedback from becoming a rant-form.

I do feel that the creation of scoring methods should be more transparent: a decade after the ISU rolled out IJS a lot of skaters still don't fully understand how it works, or how or why the ISU designed it the way it is. I think this is dreadful; the more understanding each and every player in the skating community has about what they are doing, the better off we'll all be. Having said that, the way the 6.0 system worked was even more of a mystery in many ways, because the scale of scoring could vary enormously from one competition to the next; at one competition you'd score between 2.8 and 3.6, and at another you might score between 3.8 and 4.6, which made tracking performance and progress through the season (and across the years) very difficult.

LASD > Thanks Gigi, these were great thoughts and it's been good hearing from you. I look forward to our readers' comments!