I often come across skaters who have had to take an enforced break in their training, sometimes due to illness or injury – or maybe to focus on exams. They almost always seem anxious about how they will keep up the momentum of their progress. How they will be able to continue to skate at the level they are training at if they take such a break.  And then there are rinks which close for temporary refurbishment, leaving skaters without ice for long periods.

Some years ago when we lived in Croatia, my daughter was coached by the lovely Ivana Gagro. During the summer, curiously, the ice would ‘disappear’ and there would be no ‘on-ice’ training for a couple of months. And yet, I noticed that it didn’t have a negative impact on the skaters’ training when they returned. In many ways they were stronger and ready to put 100% into the next season – and they were certainly refreshed.  I asked Ivana if she would tell us about their ‘off-ice season’ and how roller skating actually helps the ice skaters stay in training…

As soon as the skating season ends, we put on roller skates and start working on our steps

Hello everyone! My name is Ivana Gagro and I am a Figure Skating coach and choreographer from Zagreb, Croatia. My dear friend Elizabeth asked me to write something about our Off Ice Season and how we cope with that. So here goes!

Every summer we have a month and a half break, and sometimes even longer. Kids in my club start to Roller Skate during that time. At first, I was also a sceptic and thought it would mess up their skating and jump technique but then something happened that changed the way I thought about Roller Skating.

How hard can it be?

I got a phone call in the middle of our skating season from a Roller Skater (senior level) who lived and trained in Pula (a town on the Croatian coast where they do not have an ice rink). He ( Leo) was coming to study in Zagreb and he wanted to try Figure Skating (since it was winter). I asked him: “So Leo, do you know how to skate?” and he said “I’ve been to one or two public sessions, but I am a Roller Skater – finished 7th in the Europeans and how hard can it be?”. I laughed and said – “OK come and we’ll see how it goes” (thinking, “this guy is out of his mind!!”).

He came to our practice and when he got on the Ice it was a struggle with every push but he was determined to do it. Half way through the practice I called him over, just to politely say that maybe it would be best if we finish a bit early, but at that moment, another of my students came and needed help with his double Axel. As I explained what needed to be done so he could have a clean landing, my skater was like…”oh it’s so hard..”  Leo was standing right beside us and he just said….”Tomi, it’s not that hard, I’ll show you. It’s pretty easy!” We both turned to him and said – “Yeah right!!” So Leo stood in front of us, did a little push and jumped a perfect clean double Axel. My jaw dropped and Tomi wouldn’t speak to me for two days, but little by little my attitude towards Roller Skating changed.

The little ones learn steps much quicker on roller skates

Now, as soon as our skating season ends, we put on Roller Skates and we start working on our steps. We do a lot of figures and we do jumps. I find that it helps my kids with their self-confidence because they find it easy to master another sport and get pretty good at it with not much practice. The little ones learn steps much quicker on roller skates and everyone gets over their fear of falling much easier – if it’s ok for you to fall on hard concrete from jumps, then on ice it’s a piece of cake. Spins are a different story – they are pretty hard to do on roller skates and are really hard to learn (that’s where Leo comes in and helps!!). They are completely different from skating spins so we struggle with that and don’t do a lot of them.

We actually go to roller skating competitions during summer and I am always amazed at the things that roller skaters do at international level. They are jumping Quads and Triples, and what Pairs and Couples do is breathtaking.

Roller skating rules and regulations are evolving every season and are actually getting closer and closer to skating rules. This year they need to have clusters in the step sequence and the Lutz jump needs to be executed from the outside edge…and so on.

Some of my skaters can do all double jumps on roller skates, and I teach all jumps exactly the same as if they had (ice) skates on. In addition to roller skating, we also do conditional training, ballet, dance and off ice rotations. My skaters have two or three weeks off and then Skating Season starts again.

Thanks to roller skating, when they come back from vacation they start jumping pretty soon

…And it doesn’t affect their technique at all. If you ask them, they will always say that they love roller skating almost as much as figure skating but that it HURTS a bit more (it’s not easy to get up after falling on hard concrete!)

In conclusion, we don’t have ice all year round, but we compensate for it with roller skating, going to ice camps and the thing I find most useful is they have a good long rest, they have fun, but still work hard.

My message to all of you reading is: no matter how hard it is, or what your obstacles are, if you love your sport, if your heart and eyes light up just by mentioning what it is that you do, then absolutely NOTHING should  stand in your way and stop you from achieving your goal.

One more thing – always remember to have a little fun doing it!

Ivana pic

Ivana is married (to a ski coach!) and is a mother of two little angels – Noa (8) and Lea (5). Ivana stopped figure skating competitively at the age of 12 due to injury. She started working as an assistant coach in 1999. She studied English and Phonetics at Zagreb’s “Filozofski Fakultet” in Zagreb and is now majoring in figure skating at the “Kineziološki Fakultet”. She was a dancer until the age of 25 at Teatar ITD in Zagreb. At her club KK Medveščak, she works as a coach and choreographer and also helps with choreography for the synchronised skating club Zagrebačke Pahuljice – the Zagreb Snowflakes.