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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

- trophy

It's likely just wood and plastic with an engraved metal plate, or perhaps you walked away with a round piece of bronze or chromed nickel hanging from a silk ribbon. After a few years of competing you'll gather together a fine collection of awards and photos. This paraphernalia says that you're a real trooper, somebody who can stick with your practice and achieve results. They are a validation of your efforts.

After the excitement wears off though, for most of their lives your trophies collect dust on a shelf or in a closet. After the years pass and you move from place to place, your trophies follow along and refresh your memories every time you pack or unpack them. Most of the time though they lurk quietly ignored.

The true worth of a trophy however lies neither in its materials, its novelty, nor even in the accomplishment it represents. Even if you feel a bit shy about showing off your awards take good care of your trophies; as you age you will find their true value: they connect you back to the memories of the moment. Partly they make you feel nostalgic. Partly they remind you of how capable you have been to specific efforts: they validate that you aren't a slouch and can achieve results of dedicated focus. Mostly they tie you to your intentional greatness.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

- all that time

A serious skate parent spends five or six hours a week at the rink. What is a parent supposed to do with all that time? A lot gets determined, naturally, by the cultural norms of the parents of the other kids.

In a competition environment the general rule is to be attentive and polite. It's frowned upon if you leave the rink only to reappear for your own kid's ice-time; you really should support the other skaters with your attention. Even so after an hour or two of polite applause it can all blend into skating jello.

Many parents bring along a book or magazine to read discreetly. Knitting is also a popular pastime. Most rinks now have WiFi and folks will log in to read news, browse Facebook, or even get some work or studying done.

I think a big part of a parent's success is coming up with that time killing activity that is exactly right for the situation. You want to be productive and not bored, but at the same time your chosen stimulation should allow you to keep one eye on the ice, so when you sense something important is going to happen you can quickly switch your attention to the action.

One thing that is quite remarkable (and gets even more so at the highest levels) is the amount of downtime that families have while staying around the hotel near the competition site. In the case of a world class match the family is there for a whole week. A lot of the time is spent sharing pride with your children, but then there is time to look around town, and a lot of time to just sit.


Monday, April 27, 2015

- style two

In an earlier post I wrote about skating "style" but upon further reflection that post seems to be more reflective than proactive: it says what makes style and what you should avoid, but it doesn't really give specific guidance for developing your own flair.  So forthwith let's dive into the more positive and generative bezels of obtaining and exhibiting a style.

First the obvious: style is something that you deliberately (and half subconsciously) cultivate. To be able to express it, you first have to be able to recognize it. Some of this inclination may be a hereditary capability to keenly observe the subtleties of movement, fashion, color, and rhythm. Even so, early artistic training can influence a young child to develop sharper artistic sensitivities. The point is not to get your two year old to skate, but rather to show them colorful and nicely designed books, furniture, buildings, artwork, rhythmic music, and flowers. A strong and varied visual cortex may be positively leveraged toward other stylish ends later.

Naturally many young kids watch champion elite skaters on TV and think "oooh I want to look like that," but a person can pick up stylish movements and expressive traits from many other venues besides televised competitions. Cultivating a variety of sources for stylish movement is an important part of broadening your body awareness and projecting style to an audience. Watching people doing ballet, dance (in all its forms), and fashion shows are all excellent sources for movement studies. You must be a keen observer of how people carry themselves, pose, move, and how they project "attitude."

I can't overly stress the importance of variety. At some of the higher end rinks I visit all of the accomplished club skaters are intensely serious and everyone seems to be doing the same moves. It's as if nobody wants to stand out as different or express intense individuality, funk, or eccentricity. This is so wrong, and it kills the fun in the sport. If you are spending so much time at the rink that you are missing out on other cultural activities then you are doing it wrong.

Notwithstanding observing others, you must also be a keen observer of yourself. There is no substitute for watching videos of your own program during practice. Yes you know how it feels, but you need to see how it appears to the judges and people in the audience. Have mom video your practice programs and watch them during a break or on the drive home.

Exactly copying somebody else's attitude won't precisely work: you quickly find that everyone's specific body mechanics and motions are unique to themselves. The trick is to generalize or simplify the motion you like seeing in others and then embellishing it to match your own physical mechanics and capabilities.

As you age into your sport you will find different styles more to your liking than others. Tastes are dynamic: some of the changes are brought about by variations in outside culture and some by your own physical growth and change of mechanics. Observing other's style and reviewing your own is a constant process of reevaluation.

Skating style is a delicate balance between form and concept. Its goal is beauty, grace, balance, and strength, but its creative edge comes from bursting expectations by juxtaposing new materials over old tropes. You don't want to look like somebody else: you want to look like yourself.

(with a shoutout for the spark of this idea to Vogue magazine May 2015)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

- frustratingly connected

World competitions are distinctly different in a peculiar non-intuitive way, from the combined effect of cultural differences and a language barrier. Almost uniformly the skaters both admire their competitors and yet skate completely insulated from one another. Outside of a nod of appreciation or a smile, how else can you get closer to a fellow artist who doesn't speak your language? In a sense all the skaters share is their artwork and a common reverence for how much hard work it requires. The communication gap is frustrating, as they want to say so much to one another about their lives beyond skating. The strange mix of being joined but being insulated is most peculiar.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

- non-elite

Although I link to a few "fan blogs" on this site, I certainly recognize how irrelevant they are to what you actually face day in and day out. Only the tiniest most miniscule percentage of skaters have the financial resources, body type, dedicated time, and fortune of being in a locale that provides the type of training support to become national-level competitors. Hence watching the elites can be disheartening if you view them from a point of view of jealousy. Like a twenty foot pole vault crossbar, the elites do set the highest level goal of the maximum expectations that you might wish to achieve. What you can absorb from them most readily though is performance demeanor.

How do they address the audience? What are their entrance, exit, and off-ice routines? How do they spin the audience love? Most of their presentation dynamics have been honed by hundreds of competitions, so it makes sense to closely observe their pre-ice routines. What you find, still somewhat typically, is that they are no better nor worse than your local competitors at managing their nerves and their "game face." This is a bit of a relief: it validates that your stage-fright trepidations are entirely normal, even at the highest levels.

Although you won't learn how to jump a triple by watching the elites, you will however pick up many stylistic clues by viewing the international competitions. Jumps are jumps but spins and arm movements throughout the program (along with certain signature moves) vary substantially in style across the continents. I wouldn't suggest you try to directly "copy" a move you have seen at Worlds, but it's perfectly fine to incorporate ideas that you've seen into your own original manifestations of them.

I know that some skaters avoid watching the elites entirely as it makes them feel too frustrated to realize that many things are unattainable. Mainly though, it's better to be comfortable in your self and view those with better circumstances as sources and inspiration for your own creative ideas.