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What Was a Patch Practice Session Like When Ice Skaters Practiced Figures?

How Ice Skaters Practiced Figures


A Skater Practicing Figures

A Skater Practicing Figures

Photo by Michael Gushock - Getty Images
Figure skating got its name because beautiful designs were skated on clean ice in the shape of a figure eight. These complex designs were called figures and that is why Figure Skating is called FIGURE Skating. In this article, the reader will learn what a figure practice session (patch session) was like.

Picture the following:

The Time:

The year is 1973 or 1957 or 1984 (anytime before figures were phased out of competitive figure skating).

Two Pairs of Figure Skates and a Scribe:

It's 5:45 AM and figure skaters enter an ice rink lobby with skate bags that contain two pairs of figure skates. One pair of skates is for figures and the other pair is for freestyle (jumping and spinning). The skates designated for figures do not have the same stiff support in the boot as the freestyle skates and the blades do not have a bottom toe pick. The skaters also carry a device called a scribe into the rink.

A Quiet Ice Arena:

After lacing up their skates, sleepy skaters find out what patch number is assigned to them and head out to a quiet and clean ice sheet. Not a mark is on the ice. No one skates out into the middle of the arena. Instead, the skaters skate carefully next to the rail around the rink's edges and find the area of ice they've been assigned. Each piece of the ice is called a "patch" and each patch has a number. The rink is quiet; if there is any talking at all, it is done in almost a whisper. The atmosphere at the rink feels a bit like a study hall or a library.

Pieces of Ice Called "Patches"

Once the skaters locate their patches, straight lines are drawn carefully with the blade's heel horizontally across the ice. Soon the rink is divided into ten even strips and/or twenty small sections of ice called patches.

Using Scribes:

Next, the skaters open up their scribes. Scribes look like gigantic compasses. Some are made of metal or aluminum and others are made of wood. Each has something sharp that can be stuck into the ice to center the gigantic compass and a handle to hold onto. The scribe is folded up and is small enough to fit in a car's trunk when it is transported in and out of an arena, but is capable of being extended to draw large circles on the ice.

The top end of each scribe also has something sharp on it that will draw a perfect circle onto the ice. Some scribes use a magic marker to draw circles on the ice. The marker is put at the scribe's end and clasped to it face down, but the problem with markers is they dry out, so not all skaters like using scribes with markers. During a patch session, the scribe is left open and placed against the rail next to the skater's patch. Some scribes have stands (like a bicycle kick stand) to allow the scribe to stand up at a patch's center if needed.

Long Axis:

Now, the skaters find the long axis of their patch (this is usually an imaginary line that runs vertically right down the middle of a patch). Newer and younger skaters may actually draw the long axis line on the ice with their blade's heel, but more advanced skaters know where that imaginary long axis line is.

The First Circles:

Some skaters will do a "layout" on completely clean ice by just finding a place called a "center" and will do a forward outside eight beginning on the right foot. Other skaters will use their scribes to draw a practice eight on the ice. Experienced ice skaters have an easy time using their scribes, but newer skaters may have trouble getting a perfect "8" on the ice.

No Skid Stops:

Once the practice circles have been drawn on the clean patch, the skaters begin practicing each of the figures that are on the test they are working on. They don't skate through the middle of their patches even to get to the center of their scribed circle eights, but instead skate on the outside drawn lines that designate each strip of ice. They carefully skate to the eight's center and get in a starting "T" position. In order to stop, the skaters do not scrape the ice or do snowplow stops, but go slow enough that they can stop by stepping down on the ice to not leave a mark on their clean patch.

Practice Time:

Now, the practice begins. (Setting up to begin a patch session pratice usually takes no more than five minutes.) The skaters might first do a warm up forward outside eight before attempting their more difficult figures that are on their tests or before doing their competition figures. Skaters may also practice each figure in a certain order. Figures that start on the right foot are usually practiced before figures that begin on the left foot.


Once a skater has warmed up his first figure, he will step to the right of the scribed circle and designate a new center to do a layout of that figure. The skater creates a new circle eight pattern that should line up exactly with the first scribed circle, but be about a foot apart from that first circle. The first pattern, if laid out correctly, should then be traced two more times. The skater should work hard to not wobble and to not skate on flats. Even the pushes, at the figure's center, that make marks on the ice must be traced, be in line, and leave a certain print. The circles must be lined up and the figure's center must be neat. If turns are part of a figure, the turns must be traced and "clean."

Meaning of "Clean":

"Clean" means that only one line should go into the turn and another line should exit the turn. Clean three turns will be open at the top and their will be no toe pick scoops or tracings on the ice. Bracket turn tracings are crossed. No change of edge will occur before the top of the turns and the turns tips will point straight on the long axis. The shoulders of the turns will be level with one another.

Practice Makes Perfect:

It the first layout is unacceptable in quality, the skater might try laying out the figure once again until some improvement is achieved. The skater's body positions can be an important factor in achieving a good figure, so, although skaters' heads are down to trace figures, their posture may look erect and perfect. Hands, legs, feet, and arms are carefully held in a way that will make a strong figure, with no wobbles or mistakes.

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