This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

- packing


After the tumult of the practice, the falls, the chatting, the drama, the bruises, an advancement or two, the deep creeping exhaustion finally overcomes the skater and the practice quietly dissolves to an end.

A couple of steps on the rubberized floor padding, a final stretch or two, grab the skate guards off the boards, and plop down on the bench with a sigh. Open the bag and take out the towel, dry the blades, remove the skates, dry some more, slip on the soakers, set the skates into the bag.

Squeeze and massage the toes.

Behind you the Zamboni starts its grinding around the outer edges of the ice. Put on your tennis shoes, check that you have everything, zip up the bag, a couple more stretches, go pay the coach, chat a bit, see you next time.

The winding down is as much a part of the experience as clearing before the hockey spirits take over.

Monday, July 24, 2017

- the center


Once a young skater gets the sense of how her blades react to the ice, how her ankles transfer her intentions, once she internalizes standing and movement, her awareness gently and gradually goes to her center. It isn't long before she realizes that about seventy percent of skating consists of managing her center of gravity.

Abstract concepts of physics regarding motion, momentum, acceleration, precession, centrifugal forces, and torque suddenly clarify into a hard reality.

How a growing competitive skater envisions and manages her center of gravity reflects outwardly as the foundation of her skating style. If she wrestles the cg she appears to be unsure and unsteady. If she lugs her cg around she appears ungraceful. If she compensates for her cg's movement autonomously then she appears to be flippant. If she over-manages her cg however then she appears to be too rigid.

There is a confident and playful way to manage your center of gravity; doing so on the ice whilst the spin and the jump requires years of practice.

Friday, July 7, 2017

- thoughts on scoring


Way back in 2011 my daughter and I had a conversation about the (then) new ISU scoring. She chatted more about details at the same time that she was sounding me out for larger philosophical issues, and I was propounding a strictly performance and attitude rating, arguing that the scoring doesn't particularly matter one way or another from the perspective of souls.

We reached a bit of a middle ground where I argued that what ISU is trying to achieve is to create a certain kind of "environment", something in the best interest of the sport in the long run. I caution that we need to be careful that we don't set up false objectives: we run the risk of creating a system that coaches "coach" to, in the same manner that teachers sometimes teach skills to score highly on the SAT rather than to develop students who are most competent at learning on their own.

I also brought up the possibility of computers doing the scoring. I said that it would be unreasonable to expect a computer to rate the /artistic/ abilities of a skater, their expressions, their performance, their joy. But conceivably a sufficiently smart and environment-aware computer (visual recognition, music listening) could determine the "technical" merits of a skating program, after sufficient training.

So what do you think? Should scoring create wiry ladies who can quintuple Axel? Or should it create spellbinding performances?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

- sand


When you are on the ice for hours at a time, you begin to appreciate the minuscule and subtle differences of where your feet contact this piece of Earth, this artificial layer you triage with steel blades and a millimeter of meltwater. Ice conditions vary from rink to rink and even within the same rink, depending on the weather outside, the humidity management, and how "thick" they are resurfacing.

Ice can feel "fast" or "slow", hard or soft, springy or deadening. Not to mention rough, smooth, slick, bumpy, and even wavy. Most rinks have an inconsistent surface at any given instant due to the uneven wear in the surface or the inconsistent cooling underneath it. I've even been in a couple rinks with skylights where the sun's path across the ice leaves a trail of slush.

But wait, there's more. Just a few inches under your feet lies the substrate, what the ice is built upon. Every decade or so a rink will completely resurface; if you ever get the chance don't miss the opportunity to watch this. The whole process can take a month.

After they turn off the freezer pipes and let the ice melt, draining and mopping off the water, they will bring in the shovels and rakes and remove the paint. Then you have freezer pipes under a couple inches of sand (some of it quite wet now, depending on the condition of the prior paint). Lift out the pipes, then bring in the mini bulldozer to scoop up the sand and the gravel under that. Now you are left with a big empty building.

Of course things are a little trickier when you get ready to build the ice up again in reverse. Is all the new gravel and sand level and equally tamped down? Are all the pipes flowing leak-free? Is the paint dry yet? Is the new water clean? It turns out that what determines most of the ice's personality you don't even get to see: you are skating on gravel, sand, and paint.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

- soul service


After a long hiatus from the rink, I need to get my sea legs back under me as to the equity and clearance flow of the place. I had forgotten about most of it, but I recall it has some of the appropriate sublimates for athlete/artists who are at work. I sense however that the real soul of skating is not about the work, and it's not about the show.

I keep saying over and over and over (until I'm convinced) that skating is only about the soul, and the art and athleticism are primarily support for that soul service. But it's not about self-service either: it's about preparation for carrying the dreams and hopes of spectators... it's about fabricating a source of inspiration.

As usual my tiny little cog in the whole bailiwick is just to pin the center: to be the torque-point and wormhole to allow the artists to project themselves across their service timeliness and to alert the athletes to balance their long term fitness with their immediate training objectives. So I take the very very long view, generally concerned more with continuity.

I suppose that is part and parcel with my attachment to the sport more as a parent than as a participant. Of course I defend my kid by assuring that she takes adequate precautions and gets treated equitably. But because I view the sport as an activity and also have a much longer view of my kid's life, I also have a broader view of what she does in the context of how it helps her grow up in general.

Yet I focus on what is in the best interest of the sport more than any personal gain for my kid. If I had a million dollars (rich uncle? lotto?) to spend specifically earmarked toward ice skating, I would put it toward things that benefit the sport much more quickly than expensive and marginally effective incremental training for my kid.

Skating grace comes from helping people in a small, courteous, non-selfish manner. It comes from putting the comfort of other people above your own. It is not something manufactured through ballet class or artistic posing or muscle training or choreography. Grace is the outward expression of a pure and egoless soul. Those of us in the backstory -- parents and coaches alike -- recognize that, and create a positive space for the skaters to accomplish that service.