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.

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.

Monday, July 23, 2018

- triumph


It seems natural as we are growing to attach our selves to things. It starts with a connection to our mother, then to toys and friends, then interests, workmates, and lovers. As souls follow their paths however, unfortunate worldly circumstances may cause disconnections, and hence sorrow.

We may defray this sorrow by attention to physical activity, "centering," or by shifting our attention to art or entertainment, thus joining a larger global culture.

Skating meets all of these needs: it is artistically entertaining, physically demanding, and culturally enthralling.

Is sorrow necessary to be a good skater? Otherwise you are just skating for attention, fun, peer or parental approval. When you are skating to relieve sorrow though, something else is in play.

Skating is also one of the few sports that relies on near total physical detachment. The skater uses just her mind, body, and some steel blades to excel in her sport while only attached to the world by a thin layer of water melted over ice.

Skating demands that the skater connect to a larger, longer-timelined culture. It requires intense attention to physical centering. And it constantly reattaches the skater through love to her coaches and to her audience. She does all this only because it is what physics allows.

Skating is the triumph of physics over sorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

- discomfort


I suppose it shouldn't come as any surprise, but like any elite athlete a skater has to put up with a considerable amount of discomfort. It's not just the demands of physical exertion under the duress of awkward postures and strange forces. It's not just cold feet hours inside of those darn boots. It's not even the bumps and bruises from an unforgiving ice. Or the early practice hours, dramatic stress, or clique snubs.

The real discomfort is that skating is strangely isolational. Much like say a boxer, when you're away from your coach you are in a room with people you see all the time, but you are mostly practicing alone.

It's not a lonesome activity however. In fact quite the opposite. When you're in a classroom with fifty students you get most of your thoughts to yourself, as the constantly changing linkages scatters your love. When you're in a room with just a friend however, your love beams concentrate on each other and you become locked into mutual attention, without escape.

Skating practice is like that, and hence the discomfort. Yep, at the rink everyone knows what everyone thinks about everybody else.