Synchro Skills Evaluations Explained

When Head Coach Leah Pinette arrived on the scene of ANA Synchro for the 2013-2014 season, one of the first things she did was implement a regular evaluation of fundamental synchro skills for all the athletes.  “I think the girls were a little hesitant at first because they thought we would use the results to select athletes for small routines and team routines,” says Pinette.  “But once I told them ‘no,’ this has nothing to do with routines, that it’s just information for them as athletes, they started to understand the value.”
Head Coach Leah Pinette uses evaluation results to show ANA Synchro athletes how they've improved over the year and what they still need to work on.

ANA Synchro recently kicked off its 2014-2015 season, and once again, one of the first things the athletes did was – you guessed it – evaluations!  ANA Synchro athletes are right now receiving their individual evaluation reports from their coaches, and this blog article is to help athletes and parents understand the evaluation report, the skills themselves, and why we do evaluations.

ANA Synchro:  Why are skills evaluations important?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Because synchro athletes need something to know how they’re doing and what their strengths and weaknesses are.  Synchro is a subjectively judged sport at competitions, which can make it difficult for athletes to see their progress.  But skills evaluations – especially repeated, regular ones like we have implemented – give the girls some objective ways of tracking their development as athletes.
ANA Synchro athletes work on "V-Up's" for a strong core.

ANA Synchro:  What exactly are they being evaluated on?

Head Coach Leah Pinette:  We measure core building block skills that are the foundation for high performance and injury prevention.  There are six land-based skills – push-ups, V-ups, right split, left split, bridge, which is like a backbend, and headstand.  And seven water-based skills – ballet leg, eggbeater, torpedo, bent-knee vertical, double-leg vertical, water split, and 200 individual medley (200-IM) swim.  I know some of those terms may be unfamiliar to parents.  Several are described in an earlier blog entry, and I encourage parents to ask their kids about them or even to demonstrate them at home.

A person who is strong out of the water will be strong in the water!

ANA Synchro:  Why are land-based skills even part of a synchronized swimming evaluation? Shouldn’t we just focus on water skills since being in the water is what we do?

Head Coach Leah Pinette:  If an athlete is strong out of the water, they’re going to be strong in the water.  If you really look at the land-based skills, collectively, they are measuring strength, core, and flexibility.  These are the very qualities an athlete needs to hold verticals in the water, have good height in the water, and move quickly through the water.  Pretty much everything they do in the water is affected by how well they can do the land-based activities, which is why we have land-training every week as regular practice and which is why we include them in the regular evaluations.
A Synchro "Bridge" - not your ordinary backbend!

ANA Synchro:  OK, so what’s the measure of all these skills?

Head Coach Leah Pinette:  It varies by skill.  For push-up’s and V-up’s, we measure how many they can do in 30 seconds – in proper position, of course.  Right and left splits are judged 0-5, with 5 being a perfect flat-split position. Bridge is on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being a perfect position – feet together, knees straight, arms in the 12 o’clock position.  A perfect bridge is really hard!  And it requires great back flexibility.  The headstand is also judged 0-10, with 10 being a perfect hold, with no wavering, for 20 seconds.
Bent-Knee Vertical - one of 7 water skills.

ANA Synchro:  And the water skills?

Head Coach Leah Pinette:  With the exception of the 200 IM, which is just a straight time measure, all the water skills have multiple, measurable components to them.
Ballet leg, for example…we measure how long they can hold the position, the height of the leg, and the quality of their extension.  Some girls have good height but need to work on extension, or vice versa.  So, by giving a score to each aspect of the skill, the girls and their coaches know exactly what they have to work on.
ANA Synchro:  Who determined what a “5” or a “10” is or how high a leg should be out of the water?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  USA Synchro has a point system for the skills that they use to determine who gets to be on the national team, so we have adopted that.  We’re talking the “national” team here, so we are definitely holding our girls up to a very high standard.  I tell athletes all the time that they should not get discouraged if they see a zero or a low score on their report.  They are doing things they’ve never done before so everyone is going to start with low scores.  It’s just an indicator of what they need to work on.  I can’t emphasize enough that these standards are very challenging.
Coaches evaluate ANA Synchro athletes about three times a season to help them track their development.

ANA Synchro:  Is it just you evaluating the girls?

Head Coach Leah Pinette:  We try to have three coaches to give independent scores, and then we average them together for a final, combined score.  The report that people get will show the three scores as well as the average.  And, in some cases, the report will also include some judges’ notes and comments to help the girls – things like distance off the floor, if a move was performed too fast, etc.
ANA Synchro:  Is all this really worth it?  Don’t evaluations just take time away from working on routines and figures?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Evaluations do take time out of practice, that’s for sure.  But I definitely think it’s worth it.  When you just do routines, you can go all season without knowing if you individually made any gains or not.  By regularly evaluating the girls, they get a good sense of where they were when they came into the season and how they progressed throughout.  Having that knowledge should be both satisfying and motivating at the same time.
ANA Synchro:  You have a whole year of data from last year…did people improve measurably?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Yes!  This has been a great experience for me, too, seeing where we were as a team at the beginning of last season and where we are now.  Together, we’ve come very far on torpedo, verticals – everything really. You know, no one becomes a great athlete overnight, no matter what the sport.  And, you can ask any accomplished athlete – they’re always working to improve on something.  When I was competing, I always had to spend extra time and effort on height.  At only 5’2”, I had to be the highest to be even with everyone else!
These evaluations are just one part of a bigger process to develop these young girls into not just athletes, but successful young women.  The lessons they get out of it – acknowledging weaknesses as just something to work on, accepting coaching help, making goals, working hard, celebrating accomplishments – are life lessons.  True, they’ll help their synchro season today, but they’ll benefit just about anything they want to do later in life as well.