Looking back to plan ahead: tips for effective reflection on your season

Though 20 or so of the globe’s best synchronized skating teams are still gearing up to peak at the World Championships in just a few weeks, the 2012-13 competitive season is winding down for most team skaters. Watching my Facebook and Twitter feeds become flooded with try-out notices, I’m prompted to encourage coaches and skaters not to forget to spend some time reflecting on the past season before being carried away by dreams of what lies ahead. Whether your season was successful, dismal, or something in between, taking a hard look at what did and didn’t work over the past several months can help you make smart decisions about how to approach the coming year.

The end of the season can be exhausting and the tendency may exist to simply want to move on, but it’s important to attempt a retrospective while memories are still fresh, report cards still have context, and judges may still be familiar enough with your program to provide some additional feedback. In no particular order, here are a few suggestions, from an official’s perspective, to help you tackle a post-mortem on your season.

Look for trends. Your report cards are your friends. Whatever frustrations may still exist within CPC/IJS, surely no one can complain about receiving detailed feedback on paper immediately after every competition performance. When comparing report cards from different events, and even different skates, it is extremely important to keep in mind that there are several changing variables — including, but not limited to, where the judges are physically located in relation to the ice; the size, qualifications, and experience of the panel; and most importantly, how you skate — that impact the scores. Still, comparing report cards can reveal some interesting answers if you ask the right questions:

  • Throughout the season, which of your elements received mostly positive GOEs, and which received mostly negative?
  • Which elements received calls most often? Which received calls the least amount of the time?
  • What was the correlation between technical calls and GOE? When you received high technical levels, were GOEs high or low? When you received low levels, were GOEs high or low?
  • If you made changes to an element, what was the result? Was the technical call different? Did the GOE improve?
  • Was one of your five PCS always the strongest? Was one always the weakest?
  • What was the usual spread between your five PCS? Did the spread increase or decrease throughout the season?

Doing this type of comparative analysis with your report cards can help you determine what to keep and what to “kill” for next season. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel (or the Block, Circle, Line, etc. for that matter) every year — difficulty groups no longer change drastically each season like they used to, so if you had success with an element this year, chances are good you can use a version of it again next year. And, spending less time strategizing about how to construct elements leaves more time for giving some attention to things like transitions between elements, which can really set teams of similar ability apart from one another.

Look for relationships. Some elements that may seem very different from each other on the surface contain components that are actually quite similar. For instance, backward rotations, where the skaters’ bodies and blades enter and complete a 360 degree or more rotation while facing backwards, are required for changes of rotational direction in Circles and Wheels, as well as for pi3 in Intersections. If your team attempted each of these, what was their success rate? If they struggled with backward 360 rotations in one of these elements, you may need to rethink your strategy for others. The same can be said for step sequences and the Block pivot — if your team routinely struggles to get a one-foot series called in a step sequence, consider whether achieving B3 or B4 is realistic.

Taking a close look at the relationships between elements, and the calls you received, can help you make smart decisions about what levels to attempt next season.

Ask an official. Often by the end of the season there is at least one official who has seen your program several times and may be able to provide some useful feedback about how they saw your team progress over time. Don’t be afraid to ask! But don’t delay — our memories aren’t perfect, and many officials dispose of the paperwork burden we acquire from competitions very quickly after the season wraps up. Be specific about the kind of feedback you’re looking for, and be clear about why you’re asking — firing off an email that simply says, “Do you have any extra feedback for me?” probably won’t get you a very enthusiastic response.

Get your skaters involved in the process. Does what you’re finding in your report card analysis jive with what the skaters felt on the ice? Which element did they find most challenging? Which element did they find easiest? Do the scores (technical and GOE) reflect their thoughts? Don’t forget PCS — independent of the scores you were awarded, which of the five components do your skaters feel was their strongest, and which do they feel was weakest? If they (or you) aren’t familiar with the criteria, do some homework. Improving PCS requires knowledge of PCS criteria, just as is the case with technical calls and GOE.

Pay particular attention to the Skating Skills mark. No other mark has such a direct relationship to every aspect of your program. The quality of the relationship between the blade and the ice is obviously a factor in a team’s ability to achieve technical calls with good GOE, but it also plays a major role in the performance aspects of the program. The better a team’s balance and flow on the blade, the more the skaters can feel the music with their whole bodies, and project to the audience without having to waste energy thinking about staying upright.

Makes sense in theory, right? I see you all nodding your heads.

In reality, I see the following happen all too often:

  1. A team shows me strong skating skills on the warm-up, but the skaters are inhibited by poor choreography and/or music choices in the program. 
  2. A team has weak skating skills that are made to look even weaker by poor choreography and/or music choices.
  3. The technical aspects of the program show off a team’s strong skating skills, but the choreography and music are all but ignored while the skaters “get the job done.”

For comparative purposes, it’s less important to note what the hard value of the SS was, and more important to consider its relationship to your other scores. Take a look at how your SS mark stacked up against your other PCS. Was it consistently the highest of the five? The lowest? Was there a large spread between the SS mark and other marks? How did your SS and other PCS compare to your TES? Did you have strong PCS but get nothing but Level 1 calls? That may indicate the foundation is strong, but strategy is lacking. The numbers will tell a story specific to your team’s performances and programs.

This list of tips isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it sparks some new ideas about how to approach a season review and make the most out of the feedback you received on your report cards.

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