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, November 13, 2018

- not baseball

When I visit local competitions, nobody is in the audience outside of some parents and a few skaters from the club. This makes sense if you view a local meet the same as say, a little league baseball game -- the little league stands are also just filled with parents and siblings. There's a little league game every weekend, the sport is there to burn off energy and teach the young kids good sportsmanship, and if you miss the game this time you can go next week and it will still be the same.

But a skater attends a local competition maybe three or four times a year. It takes months of practice to reach reasonable competency on a skating program, and there's the added expense of coaching and a skating costume. Practicing for the event is a five-hour-a-day endeavor, six days a week. Sorry, even a local skating competition is much more like a college baseball playoff game than like a little league weekend scrimmage.

The other place where this analogy breaks down is that the skill gap between little league compared to MLB is magnitudes wider than that same gap between a local skating competition compared to, say Worlds. For example I've attended some local Open competitions where a budding elite world-class skater would show up and skate, either to get in a good competition-mood practice session, or to motivate the friends in her club. Can't say though I've ever heard of a little league game where Kershaw pitched an inning or two.

A great deal of this difference in the sports naturally flows from the paucity of participants in figure skating (compared to baseball), and the compressed timescale over which competitive participation is viable. Skaters and little ballplayers can start at five and six years old, but you don't see a lot of Grand Prix skaters past the age of 25. A good number of MLB gents are in their late 30's.

Also different from baseball, there are no minor-league clubs in figure skating: everything is based upon individual athletes who affiliate with a local club forever (until the USFSA sponsors them globally). Ashley Wagner skates for Wilmington when she is a twelve year old novice as well as when she is the national champion runner-up. As a skater, this puts you in the "big leagues" pretty much as soon as you qualify for Nationals.

So why are local skating competitions so poorly attended? Besides simply a lack of marketing I can understand several other reasons: it's because watching the competition is cold and boring, it takes so long, there isn't enough variety, and the seats are hard without a backrest. If you're not an aficionado then there simply isn't much to see here.  Frankly, in the United States figure skating's present appeal as a sport is rather limited.

It didn't always used to be that way. Back fifteen, twenty years ago you would get a reasonable crowd at the local competitions. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and neighbors a short drive away would all show up to enjoy the music and skating. It was more like coming to watch an inexpensive amateur Ice Capades. People could spend a couple of bucks for a couple of hours of artistic entertainment.

Monday, October 22, 2018

- deep aesthetic thoughts


When done right, the negative-space artistic perspective of the sport is exactly concordant with the positive-space version. More than just a balance between physical agility and artistic expression, there is the baseline point that the act itself, the expression of lacing up leather attached to steel and stepping onto frozen water in specialized attire to move the ether with your music and balance both defines the purpose of art and makes a mockery of it at the same time. It is as abstract as abstract can be while at the same time being as physically concrete as is physically possible. Everything about it should be impossible, and yet it happens anyway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

- to judge?


A reader recently inquired whether I would ever be interested in becoming a figure skating judge. Even though I love watching skating, the short answer is No. Nope, no thank you. The long answer will stretch out below for paragraphs and paragraphs.

I have considered the possibility of judging; I definitely have my ideas for how I'd like to see the sport performed. I feel that figure skating judges perform a civic service, much as a lifeguard helps out at a public pool, or an attorney might provide pro bono work for a worthy cause. Without judges the sport would only consist of recreational shows.

I did judge an event once -- sitting in the stands opposite the actual judges -- using my own scoring system. It was not an enjoyable experience. I got some nasty glares from the actual judges: apparently my thoughts were too distracting! The main challenge however is keeping a full mental inventory of what you are watching without letting your eyes drop to a scoresheet; then you jot it all down after the skater finishes. It's mentally quite taxing.

Yet judging supports scoring which encourages both accomplishment and commitment. Quite like any creative art, the presentation of a blank canvas lacking guidelines or limitations can be quite intimidating. The scoring system provides that scaffold: the outline for building a creative skating program.

And the judges have these boffo electronics and nice event hospitality rooms! If you watch closely you may catch the camaraderie as they enter and leave their stations. Occasionally you even get the pleasure of brushing shoulders with former national champs, now doing a round of judging themselves. I've even had the privilege to sit behind a group of a dozen aspiring judges to observe as they were mentored through a competition with phony scoring equipment and thick trainee manuals.

Have you ever walked into a Starbucks half a world away only to be comforted by the same color schemes, attention to decorating details, and identical social atmosphere? The same seasonal stickers on the windows? You know how they do that? Have you ever seen a 'bux training manual? The managerial teams there are a pyramid of conforming non-conformity.

ISU judging is no different. USFSA has a well established program for growing judges, see here for example. On one hand, it's quite an accomplishment. On the other hand it's an extremely narrow perspective of the world. Make no mistake about it, ISU grooms judges up through a tightly controlled and socially restrictive culture that inculcates their exact desires.

I can see where it just has to be that way, but that is not for "me." Am I a bit of a rebel? I love skating for its artistic outlet, and I am always overjoyed with the opportunity to muse. But judging? God bless the judges, but no thanks (wink).

Friday, August 17, 2018

- priorities

Sometime in your child's skating career you will be faced with some tough decision making. I was recently reminded of this after reading a tweet from a concerned parent, suggesting that her kid's coach may have been contributing to an eating disorder by encouraging her skater to throw up after eating. This was so she could lose weight and hence better achieve her Axels.

To begin let me state unequivocally that as a parent you are fully and spiritually charged with insuring the long-term health and safety of your child. Now however comes the complications.

Perhaps the soul of your skater needs to achieve art. Now I'm not saying that being a skinny Axel jumper is necessarily artistic, but let's use that as an example for a valid artistic goal (you could substitute any skating element here really).

Given any artistic goal, there will be sacrifices your child is willing to make to acheive those goals. This holds true for any artist: Art requires sacrifice.  Once they've decided to make that sacrifice then they may find the methodology, the madness to those ends, from their coach, from their friends, or maybe even online or in a book somewhere.

This is where parenting gets difficult. You don't want to squash the dreams, art, and expressionism of your child. At the same time, as an adult with an extended viewpoint on life, you recognize long-term tradeoffs and risks with certain lifestyles. This is where love, and positive and open communication with your skater is so important. A parent's role is to provide that long-term wisdom.

If you suspect abuse by a coach you may report their behavior at https://www.safesport.org/. But also please speak openly and honestly with your skater about balancing their artistic skating ideals with a lifestlye that will be beneficial for the rest of their life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

- the cusp of boredom


I caught just a glimpse of my daughter becoming bored or perturbed with her practice. Once I understood it I drew a parallel to my math excursions from when I was her age. A person gives their heart and soul to what they find they are initially good at, only to eventually run out of steam when opposing ever tougher competitors.

Of course I love her whether she decides to pursue skating her whole life or becomes jaded.

Maybe this is what defines the long-term skaters after all: they are driven by their desire to express themselves through the performance artform. It becomes a matter of survival; it becomes their sole outlet for their creativity. I'm unsure yet whether or not my daughter possesses this trait.