It’s GOE time: a look at the new guidelines

Let’s talk quality.

It took a few years after the implementation of the new judging system for many coaches to really start to pay attention to Grade of Execution marks and begin to strategize with them in mind. GOE has always been part of the equation, but the learning curve that came with understanding the newly invented technical requirements was initially so large, and the rules seemed to change so drastically each season, that GOE (and PCS) often took a back seat. The past few seasons, however, judges have been extremely pleased to see a significant increase in the number of coaches who are placing a high value on quality, displaying a more wholistic approach to choreography–teams are seeing greater rewards when levels of difficulty are chosen according to the GOE that’s likely to be awarded based on the skaters’ actual abilities. From my perspective, this is leading to a more enjoyable experience for both skaters and officials, as well as the development of a stronger foundation in basic skills across the sport.

With that in mind, I want to draw attention to some changes to the GOE guidelines that have been implemented for 2011-12. Once teams start competing (and in some countries, many already have), a greater emphasis is typically placed on GOE by coaches. I believe the changes that have been made to the guidelines this year may make the higher GOEs more difficult to achieve, but the new GOE bullets also progress in a more logical way, and make it easier for skaters to focus on specific aspects of quality while they’re skating the program.

The GOE guidelines for 2011-12 can be found in ISU Communication 1696. In brief, the changes from last year are as follows:

  • The number of GOE bullets for each element has been reduced from eleven to eight.
  • The number of bullets required for base (zero) GOE is 1 to 2, instead of zero to 2.
  • There are now mandatory bullets that must be achieved to earn a base or positive GOE.

The addition of mandatory bullets is the most significant change, and is, in my view, a positive one. Previously, judges could all arrive at the same GOE in a multitude of different ways. That’s still the case to some extent once reductions (also in Communication 1696) and optional bullets are factored in. But now, a team can no longer be given a base GOE or higher in, for example, a Block, Circle, Line, or Wheel, if they do not display “good shape”–which includes “line up, roundness, equal and close spacing of spokes.” Similarly, “good line up and shape” is the bare minimum requirement to get a base GOE in an Intersection.  If a team doesn’t manage at least that, they’re automatically looking at a number in the negatives.

Any time the rules are made more specific, consistency is improved among judges, coaches are able to better understand where the marks are coming from and make adjustments accordingly, and skaters are better equipped to be able to focus on their exact jobs on the ice. Though specificity can at times also be stifling, that’s not the case here. The bullets are ordered in a way that makes sense (having good line up and shape in an element does need to come before adding power and speed), but coaches can still exercise freedom in the way they teach and design programs, since there are plenty of optional bullets available for each GOE. Though “creativity and/or originality” is the eighth bullet, that doesn’t mean programs need to remain dry until the first seven bullets are mastered. “Creativity and/or originality” can always be combined with mandatory bullets in an attempt to achieve a higher GOE. Of course, the impact will be greater if the other bullets are already strong–creativity isn’t worth much if reductions are stacking up due to a lack of quality in other areas.

The new mandatory bullets also have the potential to be excellent teaching tools for teams that are just starting to break into base and +1 GOE territory. Explaining to skaters why it’s important that they strive to have good shape and line up in all of their elements, and helping the skaters understand how they contribute to the GOE scores on competition day, allows them to take some ownership of a program that they probably weren’t involved in choreographing. And when a team that typically used to be in the negatives starts to see some zeros on their report cards, the skaters will be able to take that much more pride in the pay-off.

Key words to pay attention to in each bullet are the adjectives. Base or positive GOE is not simply awarded for a recognizable shape–it requires good shape. Flow, speed, and power must be good and consistent. Uncontrolled and sporadic won’t cut it. It’s also important to note details such as “all skaters” and “in all elements/moves.” In step sequences, judges won’t just be watching for unison of timing–we’ll be looking for “unison of the bodyline/positions.” I know of coaches who in past years have tended to just skim the GOE document, to get a general idea of what the judges are looking for. But as teams start to gain more equal footing in terms of technical base values, it’s worth spending time getting to know the GOE guidelines intimately. It makes a difference.

It’s equally important to become familiar with the GOE reductions. Judges want to award positive GOE whenever possible, and look for the good aspects in each element. But there are reductions we’re required to take, not just for errors, but also for poor quality execution. Getting a negative GOE on your report card doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t get credit for any of the positive bullets. It may mean that we did give credit for the positive bullets, but then had to reduce the GOE due to factors listed in the document. And there are many reductions listed that are entirely avoidable, from either a choreography or execution standpoint.

So. Pull up Communication 1696, grab a hot drink and warm blanket (it is cold right now where I live!), and get cozy with quality. Consider which bullets your team is strong at, and where they might be facing reductions. Check out the scale of values–you probably already know what the base value of each of your elements is, but do you know what they’re worth if they’re performed well or poorly? GOE and PCS (a topic for another day) truly have become the great differentiators on competition day. Time spent learning about GOE is time well-spent. Always.

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