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, June 14, 2016

- amazing

Skating elements change over time: inventive folks create new moves, while other moves fall out of fashion. And then a basic element grows into something more complicated (a double Axel eventually becomes a quad). Yet despite the wide variety of evolving elements, from my humble audience view as a seasoned observer I would only consider a small handful of moves as amazingly elegant (when done properly). So here are my favorites, in no particular order.

Flying Sit

Every time I see this my jaw drops. How does a skater manage the physics to go from upright jump to seated extended leg without breaking a knee?

Graceful Spiral

Hands expressively moving while mostly leading up, back leg perfectly frozen in place, smiling, full speed across the ice, partially open. Beautiful.

Expressive arm Layback

Slowly into the layback, arms holding a beach ball, but than floating or gently transforming into an expression of a colorful flower or a springtime shower.

"Flat" catch-foot Camel

Oh I've only seen this done well but a couple of times. When a skater can catch her bent back foot in a side flat spin without dropping her head below waistline (with a bit of an arm flourish) it's a beautiful thing.

Slow Bielman

The difference between doing a Bielman and a thing of beauty has everything to do with the slow deliberate management of consistent movement. Add a coordinated flowing free-hand flourish for the whip cream and cherry on top.

I don't mind a graceful jump or two, and these are especially nice if you can perform them differently with interesting arms in flight. In my book though this handful of non-jump moves done with graceful athleticism will impress me more than your jumps every time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

- the point

First there is skating skill, the stroke and the jump, the spins and the footwork. Next comes the imagination, the artistic flourishes using the arms, hands, and a projected imagination. Third comes an audience awareness: sensing what they feel and striving to please them.

The final polish though, that keystone that connects all of the pieces together, is the magical ability to "point:" to connect an active imagination with the ability to direct an audience's attention to that which is being imagined.

Pointing takes just as much practice as all of the other pieces, and arcanely you can only practice it with feedback directly in front of an audience.

If you over-point too blatantly, then you come across as fawning. If you under-point then the audience misses half of your presentation.

The best skaters are aware of what they are doing on all four planes: physically, expressively, impressionistically, and metaphysically. This is the point.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

- pushing

A time-intensive and physically demanding relationship would seem to be at a rather high risk for conflict. It's quite like being in an apprenticeship. I am pleased that my daughter had a gentle coach (at least as far as I know, as I preferred to stay attached loosely to avoid any overt meddling).

When performing the mentally and physically demanding task of skating, a skater can certainly be distracted and thrown off kilter by the daily variations in her moods and muscles. What if the coach asks your kid to do something and she's simply not feeling up to it that day? How much should the coach push, and how much should your skater push back? Who knows the best of what a skater is capable of, the skater or her coach? Who should decide the daily level of impetus -- and does the parent have a say in this?

Is there a good match between assertiveness in this relationship? Katarina (in her book on the subject) was actually pleased that her coach was stubbornly bossy and a hard driver.

Yet I saw one survey quoted that said "Only 7% of girls said coaches should be most concerned with winning" (although this survey was based upon a casual sport, something like softball I believe). I sense that skating kids have a different viewpoint than those participating in casual sports. Still though I would guess a good half of the skaters I'd see at freestyles don't really have intentions of ever competing beyond locally.

Here's a great page that describes many of the desirable characteristics of a coach. I'd grant a fair amount of leeway in each trait, and frankly the field you get to choose from is narrowed to those coaches taking new students at your rink. Bottom line: how you manage how pushy you allow (or choose) your coach to be depends a lot on your's and your skater's goals, considered together.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

- owning it

It seems to me that when the best skaters step on the ice they "own" the rink. Not in the sense of the folks who hire the staff and pay the electric bill, but rather in a more spiritual way; they are here to befriend the audience. When they glide out to center ice you can nearly feel them say Okay this place is mine, this show is mine, this audience belongs to me. I Own it.

Let me see if I can adequately describe the process of how an artist can get to this particular state of mind, as it's not at all obvious. Some of it relates to personality, some of it to experience, some of it to confidence, and some of it is a connection to a higher loving purpose. All of these are a bit interrelated and hinge on certain matters of the soul.

Initially this ability to own your existence starts from a basis of confidence you build up gradually as you move along learning skills. The more you practice the more you internalize elements to muscle memory, allowing your conscious mind to dwell on details of expression and audience responsiveness. When you don't have to tarry over the specifics of your body you can link more easily to your imagination.

Herein lies a sublime trait of the duality of practice: if you aim too high on the short run by always extending your physical learning then you never garner the confidence that you can do the job well. You stay too focused on your body. It's almost like you need to stay at the same physical level as long as bearable, in order to get supremely good at it and shift into a more imaginative mental mode. Perhaps a key to that sort of patience in the first place is an active enough imagination and connection to souls to maintain a parallel purpose. 

Once you have established a record of success it becomes easier to face an audience with confidence. Truly owning the relationship with the audience extends beyond this though: when skating for them you also share both your courage and your humility. This is what makes the performance humanizing and touching; there are no sheathed souls in front of an audience.

I'm not sure if the Ends justifies the Means; audience ownership is obviously a useful trait but I don't think folks set this as a specific goal of their skating program per se. Rather it evolves as an outgrowth of circumstances, a sense of "centeredness", perhaps survival of tragedy, lots and lots and lots of practice, and a certain intention to Serve. It's almost like skating is not the main objective here, it's just the activity whereby you accomplish something else more important.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

- truth and lies

In many aspects of life we get by with a good bit of fakery: we pretend to posess a certain set of competencies and then do our best to convince others of this veracity. We put on "airs". After convincing others of the potential of our capabilities we have some breather room to deliver upon the expectations we have set. Some of this will involve apologies for temporary shortcomings, and some of this will stress us to learn and grow to meet our own self-inflicted challenge.

Sports however generally don't work this way: you can't fib your way to the podium. Since sports are physical it's not what you say that matters but rather what you can do.

The physical part of skating works this way as well; you can't deceive others that you can accomplish a certain move. You can wonder, you can give it a try, you can work at it and practice until you get it right. Nobody is going to believe though that you can land a double Axel until you do it. Even though you have your good and bad days, your capabilities this very moment are immediately obvious and demonstrable.

Skating does have a flip side though: showmanship is a lot about a premise. It's about maintaining a front and a promise on what you can deliver. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors -- you move the ether and direct attention, you allow the effects of your costume combined with the music and the rhythm of your moves to create a manufactured effect. You are fibbing what you know about life by imagining what it might be about. To some extent the qualities of your lies need to be more tightly wrapped and precise than the qualities of your physical execution: we will forgive your small hop when you land as the physical realm can be unpredictable. We will be less forgiving of your imaginary faux pas as the theatrical aspect of skating is all of your own creative doing.

Novice viewers can end up with some cross functional psychic confusion here. Performance is a bit of a lie. Yet the athletics in skating is the physical truth of what you can do. When we watch a movie or the theatre we "suspend belief" because we are interested in the play upon the lie, the trajectory and path of the story caused by the false presuppositions. When we watch sports though we are adamant that the athletes stick to the rules: we are ruthlessly opposed to cheaters or those that extravagantly show off beyond their deserved reputation. Skating works for audiences only when the physical authenticity is maintained even while the skater spins an imaginary story. And it works best for audience members who are experienced enough to hold this dichotomy within their consideration.