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'Skate Coach' app brings skating to iTunes

App puts Basic Skills information in palm of your hand

Mark Fitzgerald filmed more than 100 hours of footage to prepare the skating app.
Mark Fitzgerald filmed more than 100 hours of footage to prepare the skating app. (U..S. Figure Skating)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(03/08/2012) - After earning his master's degree in new media journalism from Medill at Northwestern University, former competitive skater Mark Fitzgerald envisioned combining his education with his skating background to create a new means of disseminating information about skating. But a decade ago, technology didn't quite match what he had in mind.

"There was not much broadband access at the time. It's been almost 10 years of a process," said Fitzgerald, who placed second in junior dance at the 1993 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and twice competed at the world junior championships with his sister, Christina. He also competed at the world championships in 1999 representing Kazakhstan and has been coaching for about 15 years.

"When I saw the iPhone come out, I thought, 'This is definitely the way.' I've got to do it. I spent the better part of a year taking courses and teaching myself [how to program]," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald's company, Rink Tank Interactive, teamed with U.S. Figure Skating and last November launched the U.S. Figure Skating Skate Coach App Series. Twelve apps, one for each discipline of the U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills Program, are now available for $1.99 each at the iTunes app store.

"Our decision to work with Mark and Rink Tank was made easier because of his extensive knowledge of figure skating and the fact that he is personally vested in this project," U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith said. "There are hundreds of companies building apps; having an understanding of our programs and a belief in what the final product can do to help grow the sport are unique qualities, and Mark has shown that he and his company possess them in abundance."

In addition to the programming and graphics, Fitzgerald filmed more than 100 hours of footage for the videos used in the apps. He went to the Olympic speedskating oval in Salt Lake City and filmed Olympic gold and silver medalist Derek Parra. He went to Colorado Springs and filmed one of Dalilah Sappenfield's pairs teams. He went to Michigan and filmed the Hockettes synchronized team. He also filmed some of his own students that he works with in Arizona.

"I skate along with everybody while filming it, so it's an on-ice perspective when you watch all the apps, which I think makes it 10 times cooler than filming it from the corner of the rink," said Fitzgerald, who utilized a special camera rig he built himself.

"These are meant as video demos of how to do things correctly," he said. "Coaching gave me a perspective of how to shoot the skating, what camera angles would be the most important for coaches, skaters and parents to see these maneuvers executed."

There is no audio on the videos, so they're not meant to be do-it-yourself instruction. Fitzgerald wanted to leave it to coaches to teach in their own way but have the videos, which can be used on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, as a reference.

"We left it as strictly demonstration purposes, so that people can see what everything is supposed to look like if it's done correctly. The teaching part goes from there," Fitzgerald said.

He's started learning about the Android and may translate the apps in the future.

"It's like a digital Basic Skills manual," he said. "It could be a really awesome tool. A single app is going to have all the videos and skills listed for every skill in the discipline."

Fitzgerald, who is married to five-time U.S. ice dance champion Naomi Lang, had quality control over the process. He said Susi Wehrli-McLaughlin, senior director of membership for U.S. Figure Skating, was instrumental in the process.

Since the apps were launched, they've received an enthusiastic response and seen sales in countries as far away as South Africa and Australia.

"I think in the long run people are really going to be helped," he said. "It's not always easy to get all this type of information to everybody.

"The idea basically was to try to revolutionize teaching skating," he said. "To be able to carry around all these different types of skills and documents in your pocket really is quite unbelievable. Now it's been put into a medium where it's easily accessible for everybody."

For more information, visit www.rink-tank.com.