Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ice Mom's Guide to USFSA Test Sessions

Note to readers: this post is long and detailed. Be sure to read the comments for other parents' insights and opinions.

Watching a Moves in the Field figure skating test session is like watching grass grow – but in a tense, high-stakes sort of way. Unless you can recognize deep edges and perfect lobes, a Moves test is going to look like high-stakes grass growing in a foreign country.

I’m going to catch a lot of flack for writing that moves tests are so boring, but for parents, we just don’t speak the language. We don’t understand the subtle movements that figure skaters, coaches, and judges do. Ice Girl loves moves. Good for her. For me, they’re a snooze fest. In Greek.

Why moves? Even though they’re boring to watch, they could be much worse. Moves in the Field replaced the school figures (which gave figure skating its name). Skaters used to create figures on the ice with their controlled body movements and edges. Viewers hated them because only the judges could really see whether or not the skater had succeeded. They also counted in a skater’s overall competition score, so sometimes a lousy freeskater could win first if she had a big lead in the figures. This was a huge source of confusion to skaters and spectators.

Moves is an attempt to ensure that the good bits from the figures – the grace, carriage, and edge control – are still encouraged in a skater’s development. Some moves also incorporate ice dance steps as well.

Skaters must pass the moves test at one level to be eligible to take a USFSA freestyle test. In other words, to hop on the testing ladder, a skater must first pass the pre-preliminary moves test before taking the pre-preliminary freeskating test and so on. Don’t expect to take the preliminary freeskating test without passing the preliminary moves first. Skaters can test up in moves without affecting their competitive freeskate level. For example, Ice Girl is a pre-preliminary level skater, but she’ll be testing her juvenile moves soon.

Testing up is a pretty good thing because it teaches skaters good control and good skating habits. That doesn’t mean you need to force the moves, but 15 minutes of practice a day makes it much easier to pass the test than a big cram session two weeks before the test session. When Ice Girl says she’s having some ache or pain, I ask her to finish out the session with some moves practice.

What a USFSA Test Session Looks Like
I can’t help you stay awake, understand the complicated patterns, or teach you Greek, but I’ve been to a figure skating test session before, so I know what to expect and what to do.



  1. Night before. Polish boots, make sure tights don’t have holes, and encourage your skater to study the order that the moves patterns are listed in the rule book. At two test sessions, the judges told Ice Girl what pattern to skate before each pattern. At another, the skaters were expected to skate the patterns in order from the rule book by memory. Ice Girl wasn’t really prepared for that. Better safe than sorry.

  2. Arrive early. Like a competition, you never know if someone has scratched and the event schedule is running ahead. Arriving early also helps with the jittery feeling that the figure skater will have. I say lots of stuff like, “You’ve been practicing hard, Ice Girl. Let your muscle memory be your guide.” She does lots of eye rolling, texting, and tissue twisting.

  3. Rink’s pretty empty and quiet. Unlike the party atmosphere of a competition, skaters, coaches, and families hang out in somber groups and talk in low voices. They show up for their skater’s event and take off right away. Folks don’t often hang out to watch the moves tests, but they will stay in the stands for the freestyle tests. Bring a pack of tissues in case your skater doesn’t pass or someone you know doesn’t pass.

  4. Find the judges. Most of the time the judges sit in a predictable spot. Once, however, they were in the stands with us parents. It really threw skaters off when the judges hollered from the stands for the skater to repeat a pattern. So, locate the judges and point them out to your figure skater. Then sit far away from them. You don’t want to eavesdrop (poor manners) or have them hear you chatting softly to your neighbor about how dull the moves tests are. Worse: snorting when your neighbor tells an inappropriate joke. Very frowned upon.

  5. Warm up, put on skates. Whatever your competition routine is for this will work fine here. Remember: calm, soothing voice with lots of platitudes.

  6. Watch the grass grow. Even if it’s a freestyle test, you’ll probably not see your skater perform her most complicated jumps and spins. Moves tests are dull, as I mentioned, so behave yourself. If you can’t behave, sit by me. I’m the one falling asleep.

  7. Reskates. If a skater has only one error, judges can ask the skater to reskate a pattern or an element. Make sure your skater knows that this is not panic time. This is actually a good thing. If your skater had two errors, the judges wouldn’t ask for a reskate. Reskates mean your skater is close to passing. Before the test session, ask your skater to visualize herself once the judge asks her for a reskate. What will she do? Will she nod, take a deep breath, and skate as usual? Or will she break down in tears?

  8. Shuffle out to collect the results. Once your skater’s group has finished, you can leave the stands and join your skater in the lobby. You should not stand up and walk out while other skaters are testing. In the lobby, you’ll shift awkwardly from foot to foot and utter foreign phrases like bracket and three-turn until someone calls your skater’s name to collect her results.
  9. Accept the results with grace. The tests are pass/retry. If your skater passes, smile and pat her on the back, but don’t shout and pump your fist in the air. Lots of skaters don’t pass the first or second time and might be silently sobbing next to you. If your skater is silently sobbing, offer tissues, hugs, and smiles. These tests are tough: be gentle. Don’t compare your skater to other skaters who passed; don’t blame the coach. Many fabulous skaters have to re-take tests; there’s no shame in it. Be proud of your skater’s hard work. Not every outing on the ice will be perfect, but she has a good idea of the direction her work should take. Point out the good comments on the results sheet. Offer chocolate. You get the idea.

  10. Change and go out to eat. While your skater wipes her blades and puts on normal clothes, stand around and decide on a place for lunch. This part might be optional, but it’s what we always do.
What should your figure skater wear? For the moves test, a simple practice dress is fine. The dress should be a figure skating dress, though, and not a dance dress. In other words, the skirt shouldn’t be long and flowy. (Unless your skater is taking a dance test. Then, of course, dance dresses are expected.) The judges need to look at leg positions and you don’t want to make that job difficult for them. Ice Girl wears a simple red practice dress – no crystals. Of course, if all you have is a dress with crystals, that's fine for moves, too. For freestyle tests, your skater can wear her normal dress that she wears for competitions.

Make sure that your skater’s tights don’t have holes, that her boots are polished, and that the laces aren’t trailing. You don’t want any of those things distracting the judges.

Study up on the patterns. I don’t pretend to be a coach. However, I do look at the patterns that Ice Girl is supposed to skate so I can feel like part of the conversation. Just because it’s a foreign language doesn’t mean that I can’t learn a couple of useful phrases and fake my way through a conversation. Don’t ask me about a specific Mohawk sequence or edge pull, though. I, um, might have been sleeping during that part.

Listen for the rip sound. When you hear the ripping sound a skater makes on the ice, that’s supposed to mean good edges. That’s all I’ve got.

Pre-pre freestyle isn’t done to music. At least, Ice Girls’ pre-preliminary freestyle test wasn’t. The judge just asked her to jump, etc.

More judges, longer time as tests become more difficult. Ice Girl had just one judge for her pre-pre moves test. For her pre-juvenile moves, she had three. I honestly can’t remember those in between. I might have been napping… However, as your skater moves up in the levels, the tests are more difficult and the judges are pickier. Retrys are not uncommon. A pass is a real achievement.

PSA’s Moves in the Field DVD. Ice Coach loaned Ice Girl this DVD over the weekend so we could watch skaters who performed the moves in a near-flawless manner. Popcorn, soda, a warm room, and a comfy chair didn’t improve it much: it’s still pretty dull. That kid who skates the juvenile patterns is fast, though.

Update (8/19/09): Moves patterns to change next year.

Season, a loyal reader, always posts fabulous and helpful comments to this blog. I'm excerpting part of her comment here. (India, Season's daughter, just passed Senior Moves - congrats, India!)

"I'm not sure if your coaches have made you or other skater aware but the USFSA are changing the MIF patterns for next year and they will have more difficult patterns some of the patterns that have been added are school figure patterns. For example the Senior MIF will include loop patterns from the old school figure test. I'm so glad my daughter will not have to test the new test patterns. Her coach does want her to learn the new patterns so that if she wants to coach in the future she is aware how to perform the new patterns so that she can teach the patterns to her potential students. You can go the USFSA website and see what the new pattern changes are going to be. You do not have to go back and test the new patterns if you have passed a certain level you only need to learn the new patterns for the test levels you have not tested.

"I do want all skaters to know how important MIF are for skating, these are the fundamentals of figure skating and will help your skater have stronger jumps, spins, power, and edge quality for footwork patterns and choreography. Work hard on your MIF and listen to music while practicing your MIF it will help with curbing your bordem. Good Luck, Season and India!"

Update (8/21/09): Ways to improve edges

Again from another of Season's comments:

I also think that ice dancing helps with learning better edge control and body movement on the ice. So if you can't find a coach to teach you school figures I highly recommend finding a really good, experienced ice dancing coach.

You could also join a synchronized skating team. This helps you to improve your over all skating skills because you have to learn how to keep up with skaters that are a higher level than yourself. This helps to improve speed, balance and coordination because you have to learn to be synchronized.

Update (8/21/09): Judges try to be fair and helpful

From loyal reader (and coach) Jillybean's comment:

One thing to remember about a test session is that a different panel of judges will see things differently. A test that would be passed by one judge, might be failed by another judge. Some judges just expect a higher quality of skating than another.


If a skater doesn't pass their test, ask the judge(s) what they can do to improve for the next test, then work on what they suggest. The judges want the skaters to succeed, (judges are AWESOME!) and if they don't pass the skater, it's generally because they don't feel they are ready to move to the next level.

Share your experiences! I am not a figure skater, I’m a parent. Do you have insights into testing that parents should know about? Share your knowledge!

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Timely note! My skater just did and passed her pre-pre MIF and it was dull dull dull LOL! But it was great to see one for the first time.

Props to my skater; she did it with a 99 deg fever and right after a competition - and she passed with good comments!

Ice Mom said...

Congratulations to your daughter, anony! She must be a real trooper to pass a MIF test with a temp!

Skittl1321 said...

Great post!
For moves tests, you really need to be prepared for anything.

I've seen test sessions that had 6 pre-pre on the ice at a time, they would have each kid do each move seperately, then move to the next move. (Which likely threw off anyone who had been taught to run through the whole test all at once)

I saw another where 5 kids were on the ice, doing the moves simultaneously, but would move on when they were done. That meant one person was still doing edges across the lines when someone else moved onto spirals down the ice, and there were nearly collisions- very poor planning. (And yet another where all the skaters did the moves simultaneously, but waited for everyone to start the next. Still 6 low level kids doing straight line spirals meant the drifters nearly crashed!)

I've seen tests where two skaters started at opposite corners of the rink and did the same move- most of my pre-bronze test was done this way, and on an intermediate test I saw a skater PASS another skater. Needless to say, on a test that has a lot of emphasis on power one passed and the other did not... (Alone on the ice, that skater may have looked stronger...)


As for knowing the order of the moves- I find that when you go greet the judge it's good to say "can I just check that I have the order right?" that way you can verify. If you do forget, you (should be) allowed to skate to your coach for a few moments between moves, and you can ask then. Some skaters go to their coach EVERY move, others do not at all. As an adult, I generally do not bring a coach to a test, as it is one less expense!

Helicopter Mom said...

Wow - amazing timing. I just sent in the application for my daughter's first MIF test and had NO idea what to expect - Thank you Ice Mom!!!!

Ice Mom said...

Awesome comment, Skittl1321! Ice Girl was at a test session where it was kind of a free-for-all, too. All pre-juv girls were skating the patterns at the same time. I couldn't figure out how the judges could manage to watch them all at once. This was the test session with the judges in the stands with the spectators, too. Kind of weird.

Ice Mom said...

You're certainly welcome, Helicopter! I'm sure that lots of folks are going to be in this same mode - it's the end of summer ice, after all! :)

Anonymous said...

My daughter just passed her Senior MIF last Saturday at age 14 and we are so happy she is done testing MIF. It was a great accomplishment because she passed all her moves before she starts high school and she has not had to retest any of her MIF. She never liked doing MIF because she thought they were boring as many other skaters feel.

I'm happy though that she did not have to learn school figures because they were more difficult to learn and pass then MIF and they took up a lot of practice time and you also had to purchase two pairs of skates with seperate blades for doing your school figures as well as a scribe to draw the figure tracing.

I'm not sure if your coaches have made you or other skater aware but the USFSA are changing the MIF patterns for next year and they will have more difficult patterns some of the patterns that have been added are school figure patterns. For example the Senior MIF will include loop patterns from the old school figure test. I'm so glad my daughter will not have to test the new test patterns. Her coach does want her to learn the new patterns so that if she wants to coach in the future she is aware how to perform the new patterns so that she can teach the patterns to her potential students. You can go the USFSA website and see what the new pattern changes are going to be. You do not have to go back and test the new patterns if you have passed a certain level you only need to learn the new patterns for the test levels you have not tested.

I do want all skaters to know how important MIF are for skating, these are the fundamentals of figure skating and will help your skater have stronger jumps, spins, power, and edge quality for footwork patterns and choreography. Work hard on your MIF and listen to music while practicing your MIF it will help with curbing your bordem. Good Luck, Season and India!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know when you get to your Intermediate MIF the free for all testing usually stops because their are more pattens to perform and they are more difficult so the skater needs more room on the ice to perform the patterns.

The best advice my daughters coach gave her is that she is in control of her own test and not to allow the judges, nervous anxiety or other skaters dictate how she skated her test. This advice helped her to remember to take time to breath between patterns and focus her mind on each pattern and to take time to drink water when she was thirsty. I hope this advice will help other skaters when they are testing. Always remember to take your time the judges are not going anywhere they will wait for you to get ready. Don't take too long you want to respect the fact that other skaters are nervous and want to skate there tests as soon as possible. Good luck Season (mom) and India (my daughter)

Ice Mom said...

Season - thank you for the great comment (as usual). I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to edit the post and include your words of wisdom.

Congratulations to India - a gold medal in moves! What a great achievement!

RedShamrock said...

These are great notes. Our skater is probably a year from her first MIF so this will be one for the files.

On the other hand, I am going to have to either stop drinking my ice team or get a key board cover in addition to my screen cover when I read your posts. The humour is wonderful and at times hits just a bit too close to home!

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Your more than welcome to use any advice from my posts if you think it will be helpful to other skaters. Thank you for your congradulations for India. Keep up the great work you do with your blog and I will try to help in any way I can. Season

Anonymous said...

At our club when we host a test session there are always plenty of ways to volunteer. So I suggest that you become part of the action. Yes moves can be boring to watch but if you volunteer you find that the conversation is happening rink side and its great to be supportive to all of the skaters who have come and I've been able to forge relationships with skaters from other rinks this way. Its a great way to get to know your regional community.

My big tip is if you can get a figures class (oldschool) do get one. It is so boring to watch but it teaches edges in a way that MIF can't come close to and that any skater with those skills shines so much brighter because of. All of coaches learned figures as skaters and they all agree with the MIF changes the tests are being blown through for some with skaters passing 2-3 per year. Figures was so exacting that skaters were lucky to pass one per year and because of that it truly was a woman's sport.
Now you have young girls in the Olympics and Figure skating as a sport has suffered, add in judges getting caught for bribes and you find how the sports interest level has plummeted and rinks across the country are closing left and right. Add a bad economy and you have reason for all skaters to be on edge. So work the oldschool skills and shine bright.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. The old school figures did help you to have much better control of your edges and if you watch skaters like Dorthy Hamil or Scott Hamilton or Kurt Browning or Brian Botano who had to learn school figures their overall skating is so much more fluid, faster and graceful. It's beautiful just to watch them skate and not do one jump or spin. It's because of school figures that you learn that type of control of your whole body. I think it is great that they are including some of the old school figures in the new MIF test patterns to help skaters learn those old school skills.
I don't think that school figures should be brought back because they took alot of time to practice and take alot of time away from freeskate practice. It is also more expensive because of extra ice time, extra skates and extra equipment (scribe).

I also think that ice dancing helps with learning better edge control and body movement on the ice. So if you can't find a coach to teach you school figures I highly recommend finding a really good, experienced ice dancing coach.

You could also join a synchronized skating team. This helps you to improve your over all skating skills because you have to learn how to keep up with skaters that are a higher level than yourself. This helps to improve speed, balance and coordination because you have to learn to be synchronized.

Many coaches may not agree with joining a synchronized skating team because it is taking money and time away from practicing and learning freeskate skills but I think a skater should learn all areas of skating to help improve their skating and to help them determine which style of skating they would like to become specialized. Team sports also provide life long friends, social skills and team building skills. This is an argument for another blog post. Have a great day on the ice. Season

Anonymous said...

Ice Mom,
I am sure you can guess who this reply is from and yes I will be napping next too you or throwing trash at the judges if "my" little "ice girl" doesn't pass....anyway, you did not list any judge's gifts one might offer prior to testing....is that not acceptable??? hugs girly...love this blog!!!!

Anonymous said...

My daughter just started taking MIF. I think it has helped her, but it is boring to watch. I'm hoping she continues with it because I think it will help her in her overall skating.

Ice Mom said...

Dear Anony: You naughty thing. I'm pretty sure we shouldn't bring the judges gifts. We shouldn't taunt them with our coffee and muffins, either.

Prop me up next weekend Anony! I'll bring the blankets; you bring the pillows!

______

Dear Season. You are awesome. I think that dance and synchro are fabulous for moves, too. I'm adding chunks of your wisdom to the post again. Thanks!

Jillybean said...

I agree with the others commenting about the school figures. MIF does help in learning edges, however, they do not make up for what is learned from figures.
Back when figures were required, not only did we practice them for the test, but we competed in figures, which meant that we were working on them constantly, not just cramming for the test then never doing them again.
For both competitions and tests, judges were on the ice when you skated your figure, and closely inspected your tracings when you were finished. They saw if you were on the wrong edge, or changed edges too soon. They didn't miss anything.
Figures are boring to watch, cost more $$ to extra ice time, and (you're not going to like this) a second pair of skates just for figures. (the blades are different than for freestyle)
I have also heard it said that figures helped strengthen muscles which made it less likely for overuse type injuries from freestyle.
Every edge and turn in figures carries over to a move in freestyle, making it better. When figures were first done away with, I heard one of our local judges (a National and Olympic level judge) tell someone that she could tell which skaters were still doing figures, just by watching them skate freestyle.
When I first heard that figures were to be eliminated, my first thought was that this sport would turn into a jumping competition between twelve year olds. We now seem to see more serious injuries in younger skaters due to the more difficult jumps they need to have in order to be competitive.
I'm glad that the USFSA is making the MIF tests harder, and including some elements from figures.
(stepping off soapbox....)
Whew, got that off my chest.

One thing to remember about a test session is that a different panel of judges will see things differently. A test that would be passed by one judge, might be failed by another judge. Some judges just expect a higher quality of skating than another.
If a skater doesn't pass their test, ask the judge(s) what they can do to improve for the next test, then work on what they suggest. The judges want the skaters to succeed, (judges are AWESOME!) and if they don't pass the skater it's generally because they don't feel they are ready to move to the next level.
If your skater doesn't pass, try to make it a positive learning experience.

Here's a link to a video showing the last figures skated in a world competition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNJ88dpH_L4

Ice Mom said...

Thanks, Jillybean, for reminding us all that judges volunteer because they love skating and want to see the next generation of skaters succeed.

I've excerpted a portion of your comment to the post, too. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Anonymous said...

Thank you ice mom for your nice response to my post. I hope I can be of some help to other parents and skaters.

I'm not sure if anyone knows this but they are starting to develop school figure synchronized skating teams. I read a small artical about this in Skating Magazine. I'm not sure which issue it is in but if I find out I will let you know.

Also if your skater likes MIF they have MIF competition events at most competitions. They are not competitive events required to advance at the regional, national, world or olympic level like the school figures were, but they can be a fun secondary event if you have a skater that likes MIF.

They also have competitive MIF events during high school and collegiate team competitions.

These events are also good ways to get more feed back from judges to help you determine if you are ready to pass your MIF and to encourage skaters that do not like practicing MIF to apply more attention during practice to MIF (most skaters are more driven to be sucessful in competion as opposed to during a test). Thank you, Season

Anonymous said...

I am an ice mom, too. My skater just passed her Sr. MIF test. It took her about 3 1/2 years to do them all. That's a lot of growing grass!

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Anony!

You must be so proud of your skater! 3 1/2 years for all of her moves tests! Wonderful!

And now you don't have to watch those patterns any more!

Ice Mom