This article is from the Recreational Figure Skating FAQ, by Karen Bryden with numerous contributions by others.
Both organizations have "learn to skate" programs, and both have
schedules of tests. Both host competitions. Skaters from either
organization may skate in competitions of the other without penalty,
but they have to abide by the rules of the host organization in terms
of assessing skating level, and in terms of program content, duration,
The more serious competitive track skaters generally skate USFSA.
However, in recent years USFSA has become increasingly aware that
there are many valid reasons to skate other than heading for Worlds,
and there are many dedicated skaters to whom the test and competitive
structure of USFSA was relatively "unfriendly". This realization has
led to the development of a test track and competitive outlets for
Some skaters feel that ISI competition technical programs are too
restrictive ( content is strictly regulated according to test level
and elements from higher levels are not allowed ). On the other hand
some other complain that USFSA competition rules encourage
"sandbagging" (the practice of staying at a low test level in order to
have a better chance to place well at competitions, even through the
skater is capable of passing higher level tests).
Sometimes the choice boils down to a matter of convenience (not all
rinks or clubs are affiliated with both organizations). Many people
belong to both.