Compulsories and Competencies

I was tootling around Facebook last night when one of my friends mentioned the Torvill and Dean ice dancing gold medal performance from 1984. Of course, I had to watch it again; mesmerizing fluid movement. In the related video list, there was also a clip of one of their compulsory dances, a waltz, which is embedded below. They received three perfect scores for this performance:

Ok, so most people don't realize I have a soft spot for artistic skating. My first structured team sport experience was as an artistic roller skater. From 3rd through 5th grade, I competed for the Kingsway Royals, in figures, dance and freestyle. There were kids as young as 6, up through high school age. We all had a USARA membership card. We had royal blue team uniforms for certain events and then we had our individual dresses (sequins anyone?) for solo competitions. It was the only time I would voluntarily wear a dress. My sister and I spent hours and hours at Kingsway Skateland, in team practice, individual lessons ($6 a session) and open skating. Just don't ask me about the time she broke all of my skating trophies!

The programming was very structured and we received pins and patches for achieving competency in various compulsory figures, solo dances and free skating moves (Mapes, salchow, axle). I had a warm up jacket with all my patches and pins. I loved it. Especially when I got to do a compulsory waltz or tango with one of the older guys. It was like being a grown up--just like Torvill and Dean; but we had to work at it and earn the right to move to the next level of competition and competency. It was all very dignified. If you've never seen compulsory figures in roller skating, check out figure 7B in the video below:

Now where am I going with this? Well unless they are gymnasts, artistic skaters or maybe a martial arts student, many young athletes today don't have the opportunity to go through structured progressions (and competitive groupings) of fundamental movements that require basic strength, balance, coordination and poise. Stand on one leg, spin, inside edge, outside edge, go backwards, go sideways, coordinate your movement with someone else and don't get your legs tangled up with them--and keep your head up, smiling! They also don't have to learn to follow protocol, rules and do their thing--all alone--in front of judges. I had the opportunity to do these things from age 9-12. And I think it was a very important part of my general athletic development, along with ballet, flag football, baton twirling, volleyball, basketball and softball.

For so many kids, it is just run and chase a ball, try to look cool and bad-ass like the guys on ESPN; and the kids who happen to be the tallest and fasted at whatever age, usually dominate. The emphasis is on winning NOW, not on progressing through physical competencies and attaining mastery of skill and technique in order to be successful as a senior level athlete. I guess I am old school in finding satisfaction and joy in mastery of the basics, and of passing on the appreciation of patience and purposeful practice to our young athletes. In my opinion, our young athletes are in great need for good leadership from adult coaches and governing bodies. We have to take the time to invest in building our physical and psychological foundations and infrastructure.

I know USA Weightlifting used to have patches for meeting certain performance requirements in meets. They don't anymore. I would imagine USA Gymnastics has something. Does anyone know which NGBs still have structured performance testing and rewards for young athletes?


Orie said…
As you point out, this approach is alive and thriving in some dojos. In Judo, kids and adults alike have a set list of throwing and grappling techniques/movements that must be mastered for each belt test.

My 6-year-old daughter and I are both playing Judo here in Ann Arbor. It's a great sport (and martial art) for kids for the very reasons you highlight in your excellent post.

It's tatami time!

Anonymous said…
Part of me wonders if there is evidence for this assertion. That is, are young athletes who are forced to go through physical progressions more coordinated than young athletes who train for similar durations but are not?

A gymnast has a much different skill set than a basketball player. But if you were to somehow divorce each from his/her respective skill set, and find young athletes that put in similar numbers of hours, do we know that there would really be a difference in body awareness or coordination?

Having said that, a good friend was a national team gymnast. He is one of the best all around athletes I've ever met. He said he trained at least 5 hours each day until his mid-20's. "It's just what I did", he tried to explain. It wasn't work. Interacting with him makes me dearly, dearly wish I had done something like gymnastics as a youth.

But he can't throw a ball to save his life (it's funny to watch him try). That makes me think that each of these skill sets is pretty specific.
Keith Sutorius said…
I have seen this with my 8th grade daughters BBall and VBall teams.

The kids considered the best athletes don't know how to control there movements.

One girl is recovering from a broken ankle. She sprained one ankle earlier this year. She also has a knee that bothers her. At least her dad listened to me when I gave him some advice about the knee.

One of her friends is an ACL tear in waiting. I have talked to her mom and she doesn't see anything wrong since her child is the biggest and strongest on the team.She plays select volleyball and her coach has not taught her how to land. Her coaches on the school team have no idea how bad her mechanics are either.

Vern would love to work with these kids.

Popular posts from this blog

The Waiter's Bow

Rethinking Load & Intensity: Valuing Bodyweight Work and Effort

A Primer for Building Foundational Squats