Smart Pads and Phones

by: Terri Milner Tarquini

February 1, 2014

   In The Loop Extended Articles

It wasn’t that long ago that portable video cameras, with their slow motion wizardry, were seen as revolutionary for coaches trying to point out a skater’s mistakes. In somewhat short order, those bulky relics have been passed up by smartphones and tablets that work at near-lightning speed and can be held with one hand.

“The laptop and video camera were great back then, it didn’t matter how cumbersome they were,” coach Trevor Laak said. “But the iPad is so much easier. Now, every coach who wants to can use video. Technology is accessible to just about everyone.”

Laak, who uses the ubersense app because videos can be added for side-by-side analysis, is also the creator of a website for coaches,, which has over 500 videos with tips on how to teach everything from a forward crossover to a quadruple jump.

“For someone like me who’s a visual learner, to actually see the jump and the breakdown and the jump analysis, is very beneficial for me as a coach and as a skater,” said Holly Nudelbacher, coach and Adult U.S. Figure Skating Championship medalist. “I also like that the stuff on the website mirrors a lot of the G2C (Grassroots to Champions) seminars. At the conferences and seminars, you learn so much information, so it’s nice to be able to log back on and refresh your memory on certain techniques

.” With the original video technology, it was the visual aspect of being able to record a skater and play it back that attracted coaches and skaters alike, but not much more than a decade ago, a lot of image capturing was still solely of the skater being taped.

It was the dawning of Dartfish, used at the 2001 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the live ESPN and ABC broadcasts, that ushered in a new era of being able to see skating’s elite performing certain jumps and compare them to a skater’s own elements.

“I think it’s good for them to watch someone else and use that person’s body to demonstrate,” said Molly Olson, former show skater and current coach, who uses CoachMyVideo. “I feel like they understand it more when they see it done right. It’s more productive than seeing themselves doing it wrong over and over again.”

While CoachMyVideo is very similar - on an iPad scale - to Dartfish, the Dartfish technology is still used and seen as valuable at rinks across the country.

“It’s still cool to be able to lay a skater’s jump over Michelle Kwan,” said coach Sandra Johansson, who also uses the ubersense app. “We know from using Dartfish that .50 is the height you need for a double Axel. We have Dartfish at our rink once a week so everyone tries to get to the .50 on their single Axel so they can go on.

” And there are facets of jumps and spins, much more indisputable with actual hard video evidence, that skaters of yesteryear did not have the benefit of knowing and seeing.

“What I learned over time was that what actually happens in jumps is different than what my coaches told me,” Laak said. “Through video analysis, we now know that our legacy of how we were taught to teach is often looking at the wrong things.”

Laak points to the classic “h” position traditionally taught on the takeoff of an Axel.

“Video of the double Axel shows that there’s a pre-rotation that the ‘h’ takeoff doesn’t allow for,” Laak said. “So now some coaches are teaching the single Axel like that.”

But are the technologies of today the answer to all of figure skating’s complexities?

“I think sometimes using too much technology might not always be the best thing,” Johansson said. “We used to just jump it. Kids today want doubles so fast, they forget the importance of the singles. It’s still all about the basics. If you have good basics, you can do it. Sometimes you still just have to jump.”

But in the end, technology has changed coaching permanently.

“There are all kinds of different ideas that are accessible to coaches that can get them out of their ruts and resources that can push them outside the way they’ve always done things,” Laak said. “There’s a whole new revelation in how we teach.”