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Short & Long Term Planning

Creation of a Career plan
     Creating a plan is more than just a wish list of goals and objectives. It must have specific objectives and a time line of how and when you project to accomplish each item. It should realistically have backups in case problems are encountered. Anticipation of potential problems is not being negative. The analysis that identifies what might occur allows time to devise a way to prevent or mitigate the problem. This is called a risk assessment analysis in the business world.

Planning a Sports Career
     Approaching a career development plan like any business investment should be objective and not emotionally based. Consider the annual and total costs to fund becoming a test gold medalist versus achieving an international elite skater at the senior level.

     Most skaters can physically acquire the skills to earn a figure, MITF, and or compulsory dance gold medal.  For some there is a mental negativity known as "testing panic" that they must overcome.  Achieving  a gold medal in free skating favors skaters whose personality is more assertive and have no fear of jumping. Pair skating favors a female skater who is small and compact and has no fear of falling from heights (throw jumps and overhead lifts).  Both pair skating and free dancing sometimes requires a willingness for one or both skaters to relocate to form a partnership.

A Business Model
     Every business model contains financial projections for the current year's operation (Revenue and Expense Statement), plus future predictions for five and ten years. Specific assumptions should also be attached to these analysis's. Financial planning allows the organization to structure its debts and cash flow to pay for the business's loans, provide day to day operating capital, and funding to develop future business opportunities necessary to maintain the viability of the business.

     Few parents have any idea enrolling their child in beginning group classes, may eventually lead to hopes of becoming a national figure skating champion. Most parents will fund lessons, ice time, and equipment as long as a child enjoys skating, practices, and makes progress. Rinks are well aware that having recitals and competitions are valuable in keeping skaters in the sport and pleases parents.

     The "no test" and lower test events at non qualifying open competitions are very important encouragement events that serve to inspire children and adults to stay involved in the sport of figure skating. The costs are a "slippery slope" as the level of training gradually increases based on expectations that the child excels in the sport.

Financial Planning
     Eventually parents need to consider adopting a financial plan to support and develop the talents of their child. Such a plan should focus on the time, energy, and financial resources needed to encourage an individuals figure skating talents while earning their high school diploma. Unfortunately a figure skater does not have the status of a winner of high school athlete conference or university NCAA recognized sport, except for a few cases of University sponsored Synchronized Skating teams.

     Skaters and parents should arrange a meeting with their coach to discuss the idea of developing a training plan for the coming competitive season which officially starts on September 2 of each year.  Such a plan should include the following development stages:
  • Acquiring new skating skills while continuing to maintain their previous free skating, pair, and free dance programs to maintain caridio vascular performance levels and element performance consistency.

  • Exploring new musical scores to expand the choreographic and interpretive range of the skater.

  • Strategic planning to see what the theoretical element core values (base value plus levels) combined with GOE marks plus factored Performance Component marks.

     Each development stage should include both on and off ice training with the primary emphasis on a weekly/daily schedule of activities with performance expectations to track the skater's progress.

Alternating Training Leading to Peaking
     The concept of periodization is a way of alternating or cycling training leading up to peaking for a competition. After the competitive season ends, a secondary plan must be established for the athlete to recover both physically and mentally from the months that lead up to the US national championships and possibility of being selected to represent the USA in Junior and Senior level international competitions.

     The concepts used to create a successful short term plan can also serve as the basis for developing a plan, which represents a skater's entire competitive future. The athletic community has used Hans Selye’s  General adaptation syndrome (GAS) as a model describing biological responses to stress since the 1950s.

     Each summer an increase in stress levels can be seen in many skaters and their coaches, especially at rinks with a high competitive atmosphere. Part of this stress is caused by coaches establishing extremely high levels of expectations in their skaters as to what skills are necessary to place and move on from the regional to the sectional competition. At sectional competitions the stress levels are ratcheted up even more and continues to build as skaters attempt to establish themselves as a potential winner at Nationals.

     Stress is a term in psychology that refers to the our body's response to real or imagined emotional or physical situations that trigger high levels of adrenaline production, elevated heart rate, pronounced irritability, muscular tension, lack of concentration, and exhaustion.

Financial Stressors
     Financing a career in figure skating is very expensive and can be extremely stressful for a skater as they become aware of the sacrifices being made by his or her family. To raise financial support from outside of the skater's family requires a detailed analysis of training (ice and coaching fees), housing and meals, traveling, and equipment/costume expenses.

     Dividing the training into stages, with each having a different and specific focus, can make the process more manageable for the athlete and parents to contemplate.
  • Train to Train 
To rush the training process only sets up the athlete for acquiring poor technique and/or overuse injuries.
  • Train to Compete
Some athletes increase their practice schedule and intensity of your training when their body is not capable of handling the stress without major setbacks.
  • Train to Win
It is important for the athlete to know they have not reached the stage of training to win, but are still at the Train to compete stage. It is highly desirable to work with coaches who make sure you learn and build on a solid foundation of good form, technique, and training plus training strategies that include the necessary recovery and periodization phases.

      Tudor Bompa is considered the ‘Father of Periodization’. During the 1940s the Russian scientists tried dividing the training year into different training periods. Previously, the conventional training wisdom was to maintain the same constant stresses performing the same workouts week in and week out all year long.

      In the early 1960s Bompa refined these ideas to create periods of training that were easier to promote rest and to let the body recover to increase strength levels. Periodization involves variables such as:
  • Frequency - (how "often" you train in a given week or cycle)

  • Duration - (how "long" you train at one session)

  • Volume - (how "much" you train in a given week or cycle) 

  • Intensity - (how "hard" you train at any given session).

      Five phases are generally used by trainers involved in developing an annual training plan. There are variables which change within each phase.  The following is an example of a typical  plan:

Length Frequency Duration Intensity Volume
Phase 1 - Prep 4-8 weeks High Short-Medium Very little Low
Phase 2 - Base 12-24 weeks High Medium- High Moderate Moderate to High
Phase 3 - Building 4-8 weeks Moderate-High High Heavy Moderate
Phase 4 - Peaking 3-5 weeks Moderate Short Heavy Low
Phase 5 - Off Season Rest
 1-6 weeks
 all activity ceased
all activity ceased all activity ceased all activity ceased

     There are five distinctive phases or stages that an athlete cycles through as part of the training process to achieve the endurance/stamina and consistent performance levels necessary to win competitions.
  • Phase one is called the "Preparation or Prep". The period of time can range from three to six weeks long. It involves increasing aerobic activities at a low heart rate. It is designed to prepare the body for the rigors of an intense training program. This time can be well spent by working on drills. Practice sessions are shorter in duration and lower in intensity, but scheduled at frequent intervals. The volume for this cycle is low.
  • Phase two is called the "Base" and can last anywhere from twelve to twenty four weeks. This phase is designed ramp up the aerobic fitness of the body to start key training sessions that mark the start of the official competitive training season. The Base Phase usually consists of three to four week "sections" with up to six sections within this phase. The number of blocks you have in this phase is dependent on the level of individual training skills with an emphasis on the continued increase aerobic capacity while improving your skill levels.
     The intensity in this cycle remains low or non-existent, while the frequency may drop, and the duration of your longer workouts keeps extending itself. The volume in this cycle starts out low, but will eventually be the highest of the year as you get closer toward the end of your base phase. Once the Base Phase is completed and you get closer to your your first open competition, you are ready to proceed to next stage - the Building Phase.
  • Phase three or the "Building" cycle increases in intensity while lowering the practice volume. The schedule may keep the same or drop off in duration during this phase to avoid over training. The key to this phase is "interval" training. The intervals can be multiple run through of a free skating, free dance or pair program, compulsory dance, MITF element, etc. In this phase, the volume is consistent, the intensity high, and your duration for your long workouts should be at an all year high. This phase lasts about four to eight weeks and comes as you "peak" for a qualifying competition.
  • Phase four is known as "Peaking" and is the final cycle that is difficult to plan and accomplish, especially when a series of competitions are necessary to qualify for a final, season ending championship. It is especially hard when there are two (pairs and dance) or multiple people (synchro or Theater on Ice) that must peak together if winning championship performance is to be achieved.

     Everyone wants to perform at their best. It may seem contradict conventional ideas about training, but cutting back allows our body to physically, mentally, and emotionally rest and restore itself. The volume of practice is reduced, but the intensity remains high of a brief duration. Different athletes will find this approach is a personal choice that suits them. This decision must be one that the athlete, pair, or team totally supports and embraces.

     Allowances must be factored into winter travel plans which can experience weather related delays that can cause elevated stress levels. Competitions that cross time zones can be another stressor. Training at one altitude and competing at another can also require acclimation to avoid performance from being affected.

  • Phase five is a "Rest and Recovery" cycle that occurs, after the last competition of the season, when the athlete ceases all training activity.
     The Rest and Recovery cycle, for some athletes, takes from a few days to a few weeks for the athlete to physically and emotional recover. For school children it usually means completing makeup assignments and taking tests they missed while participating in competitions.

NOTE: As adults age, the body's ability to quickly recover diminishes.

     Skaters, coaches, and parents need to start organizing your plans for the upcoming season. This starts by determining when and where the first competition of the next season will start. Dates varied depending if a Winter Olympics is held in which case all of the qualifying competitions are held earlier. 

     The second season using this regime is easier for everyone concerned because they have gained experience from the previous season, thus making it easier to make adjustments to the contents and length of the various phases.

Annual Training Plan or Matrix:

     The following generic, periodized annual training plan is divided into eight phases with Macro and micro cycles:
  • General Preparation
  • Specific Preparation
  • Pre-competition
  • Tapering off
  • Peaking
  • Competition
  • Relaxation transition to off season
  • Off-season
 Circuit Training vs Periodized Resistance Training in Women
       Both short and long term plans need to incorporate the major forces which drive a skater's success in figure skating. 

       The 300,000 plus USFS female members, who are under the age of 21, generally began actively skating as preteens enrolled in Kindergarten through eighth grades. A much small proportion of this population began skating as teenagers. School curriculums/schedules are a major influence in determining training schedules of skaters. Increasingly there are families that home school their children which allows these skaters to skate during the day when ice is less crowded. The training plan is a theoretical concept provides a view of the process an elite skater can experience as they strive to acquire the necessary physical skills measured by USFS testing and placements in qualifying competitions.

       Ideally every skater will have a supporting family of parents and siblings. Children from broken homes, represented by female heads of households exist in figure skating, but frequently experience limited financial resources, with the parent working long hours that make it difficult to get their child to the rink for early morning practices. In addition to transportation problems, single parents may be especially conflicted in efforts to balance skating with an emphasis in acquiring an education in preparation for a non skating career.

Define or Changing a Training Plan
       A coach, skater, and parents can define and/or modify any of a plan's assumptions. A potential champion may not achieve all the goals or ideal qualities. There is the "luck" factor to consider that is involves the minimum quality and quantity of skills necessary to win or place at any given competition without risking a fall. The draw for skating order in the free skating part of the competition can be a factor coaches and skaters consider the possibility of inserting a risky jump element when skating early in the skating order.

       Another factor beyond the control of the training plan is the annual changing standards, rules, and interpretations made by the ISU that affect elite skaters with relative short notice/ in their careers. Skaters at lower skill levels have more time to adjust their skill training and competitive strategies.

       Free skating is defined largely by technical development of skater's jumping skills, therefore, the entry and exit points for the stages are defined by skill acquisition. There are other factors such as age, education, emotional, social, and physical developmental stages that are relevant. It is obvious that not all skaters will acquire the ideal skill level throughout their skating career. The interaction of the various training factors can affect the skater's performance outcome.

Technical skill development
       Technical skill development is influenced by chronological age and maturity. What appears to be a promising career of a pre-teen can be derailed by puberty's physical and emotional changes.

       Age is used to restrict and to qualify skaters wishing to compete in some events.  Skaters, parents, and coaches may base their competitive strategy and training schedule to enter a competitive event.

       Technical progress needs to be an on-going regardless of age. Skaters should become as proficient as possible, as quickly as possible without ignoring major technical and presentation errors.

       Other qualities, such as life skill development, psychology and physiology, will certainly impact progress at whatever stage of technical development and should be considered but movement through the stages are not defined by them.

       The recent down turn of today's economy has shown how external factors can quickly intersect with long term plans to pursue skating and educational goals.

       Relatively few skaters will achieve elite status. It is not necessary to excel in all stages to have a successful and fulfilling skating career. The vast majority of skaters, even though they may have competed and even won, will not ever reach the elite skating level.  Skaters may quit at or before the gold test stage for a variety of reasons:
  • Graduation from high school to attend a University, join the armed services, work full time, etc.
  • Become interested in opposite sex and/or family financial problems, divorce, pregnancy, etc.
  • Skater lacks commitment to train at a level to pass tests and enter competitions
  • Failure to focus on achieving the minimum, or higher standard to pass tests
  • Unrealistic performance expectations based on limited training schedule and lessons
  • Too much diversity of on and off ice training exceeds available time in any given day
       At any age and skill level, a skater may find that they prefer not to test or compete as a single skater. This does not mean that they must stop skating, they can transfer their skills from free skating and MITF to pairs, dance, synchronized team skating and/or Theater on Ice. Because of their fundamental skating skills, they quickly can acquire the new skills that are specific to the new discipline and rapidly pass the tests necessary to compete in the new venue.

Note: Some skaters may decide to become coaches in order to pursue testing and
competing when their financial resources are limited.

Some skaters who are not elite skaters may become involved in leadership roles
in club management and train to become accountants or judges.

Elite skaters may become interested in training to become Technical Specialists.

Recommended Reading:

Developing A Plan for Success

List of Brian Grasso Articles

Flexibility For Young Athletes - Q & A With Chris Blake  
Are there different kinds of Flexibility besides bending over to touch my toes what all young athletes should be doing? There are seven different ways of going about flexibility:

The Functional & Athletic Aspects Of Training Figure Skaters
Within the sport of figure skating there seems to be a dichotomy in terms of the conditioning efforts prescribed by training experts or professionals.

Global Development Vs. Sport Specific Training It's All In The Science   
No one can learn how to create 6 or 12 month training plans in a day. It takes time and diligent effort to acquire this skill, but your ability to get better over time will have a direct and positive impact on both your young athletes success rate as well as your businesses ability to attract new clients.

Flexibility - Are We Hurting Kids? 
The scope of confusion regarding flexibility can be seen when considering the assessment tools most commonly used to test one’s suppleness.

How To Warm-up Your Young Athletes    
Warming up for sport or activity is, in essence, preparing the body for the task it is about to do.

Plan For Success - Youth Training
The most common problem facing Trainers & Coaches today with respect to developing young athletes over time is the ability to plan long-term.


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

    Developing A Plan for Success
PDF  Nov, Jr, & Sr Skaters Periodized Plan
PDF  Trainability of Children
PDF  Trainability & Overtraining
PDF  Overtraining in  Youth Sports

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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