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.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

- stroking

Although it would seem to be one of the most basic aspects of skating, the mechanics of stroking -- progressing forward and backward across the ice between moves -- shows a lot about your polish, and also has a sublime influence on your elements.

Plus it's a pleasure to watch. When you see a skater with smooth gentle strokes it is like chinchilla fur on silk. Every push kisses the ice with such gentleness you can hardly tell exactly when the blade makes contact. It is soundless, rhythmic, and magical. It is fully controlled all the way down.

Just like specialty jump classes, some rinks do have a coach who can offer stroking classes. From what I recall the training is fairly brutal, as physical as running an hour of wind sprints but concentrated on those specific sets of muscles in your legs that position and push.

The immediate influence of this quality is that those who are accomplished at stroking have extra speed to help with balance and stored momentum when approaching jumps. The more sublime influence however is those accomplished at stroking gain this additional velocity without a gain in energy expenditure. Or the other way to look at it is: a skater who strokes smoothly and efficiently can get the same ice coverage as one with rough strokes, yet will be 25% less tired at the end of her routine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

- dedication

When I'm in the general vicinity of one of my rink hangouts the sense of skating is palpable, although I have a tough time explaining why my heart quickens. Nearby skaters are constantly working very hard and seriously with perceivable bodily risk. It's a similar flavor to hanging out near a hospital: it's the sense that extraordinary people are doing incredible things to make the world better, in small ordinary ways. Part of it is the aura from the class of people, some of it is the relief and change they make in the world.

The reason a gal becomes a figure skater feels obtusely parallel to the reason a guy becomes a doctor, along with its accompanying misdirections, temptations, and sorrows. They all have immense concentration to start with, but it takes a very strongly focused personality to be top-level successful in either occupation (a maniacal and extraordinary sort of driven being). I never witnessed this level of total dedication with my friends in other sports -- they were more just very serious jocks, like those of us who were deeply into science.

Skaters are much more than that. They are the doctors of athletes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

- meaning

I like to see skaters who understand and imbue the sport with more than just "it's a contest to get a trophy medal." I want to see something much grander. In your own mind, what's the highest spiritual purpose you could possibly ascribe to your skating?

Make your skating about that.

Monday, February 17, 2020

- jump

In an earlier post I squirmed over watching skaters pop their jumps. I got some pushback so let me try restating my position with a bit more nuance. Obligatory disclaimer: personally I don't skate; this impression is just from inference (and thousands of hours of watching skating).

When you're up mid-spin in your Axel, the muscular work consists of fighting off the centrifugal force that wants you to extend your arms and thighs. This effort consists of squeezing "in." All you have to do is relax and the centrifugal force will automatically take over and "pop" you: your arms go out and your thigh lifts up and out, slowing your spin. The reptile-brain feeling on popping a maneuver is "bah, I give up."

Physics *always* rejects the idea of the body spinning three times in the air. Hence initially jump training must overcome this natural inclination to relax. If you get "used to" a certain autonomic response (strength? balance dynamics?) as a requirement to finish the jump, and suddenly in competition that feeling fights you back and you give up, you pop.

Landing more jumps is about handling the fight-back and small mid-air corrections instead of giving up. The trick is being able to know from experience what you are capable of recovering. Jump 2% off, yeah I can recover this one. Jump 8% off... oh-oh, pop. Skaters who avoid popping consistently work on expanding that percentage of recoverability.

Still though, even the best skaters can't recover a jump that is 5 to 6 percent "off." So most good jumpers get to be good jumpers by refining their takeoff.

Given my many years of rink presence, after a fifth of a second from your liftoff I can discern what is going to happen. At that point eighty per cent of the jump parameters are predetermined: climbing speed (hence height), body slant angle, slant progression (tilt vector), and ice surface vector. Rotational velocity though is still up in the air, so to speak. (It must be odd to sit next to me in the stands and hear me quietly say oh-oh on a takeoff, only to see the tumble a second later.)

So the key to not popping is two parallel tracks: first, better recovery, but ultimately having consistent takeoffs with the "correct" mix of factors for your body type and program.

I don't mind if you have to pop a triple that you can usually make, but are missing due to ice conditions or competitive nervousness that caused you to take off badly. Fine, better to pop it (safely) if it's outside of that five per cent that you might otherwise recover.

I know however that you practice your jumps an hour every day, so by now you have more than a vague idea how (in)consistent you are in your takeoffs. Yes it's easy to "pop" if your takeoff failed. Still I feel it's a cheat to take a jump into a competition when you're so inconsistent on the takeoff that you pop it half of the time in practice anyhow. Thinking that you maybe "might get lucky" and score big if you nail the takeoff diminishes the spirit of a competition. I don't want to see your luck, I want to see your skill.

I'm wondering if you need to stand up to your coach and say "I am not ready for this yet in competition; I am not consistent enough."

Okay that's a lot of preaching from somebody who doesn't actually skate, but I am pretty sure this is what I've seen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

- styling

How do you go about composing your program's elements so that you can skate with style? Which of your moves are more conducive to expressing your style? A pancake spin is a pancake spin is a pancake spin: since the posture determines the position of your legs and one arm (unless you can somehow hold the position without grabbing an ankle) this leaves only one limb free for embellishments, and how can you be gracefully stylish from a pancake? Well I suppose you can be a tad bit expressive, see for example this video.

Also some transitions clearly allow for greater styleability: a move that is difficult to enter or that requires rapid footwork and body realignment leaves little maneuvering room for expression. How you finish an element also determines your freedom to play: exiting off-balance or with too little velocity will limit your options.

Where the styling happens isn't necessarily obvious from first inspection since it's hidden by coaching pedagogy: nobody actually learns their moves focused on style and then working outwards; this would be an inside out way to learn. You tend to build elements from the "committed" limbs, and combinations of elements by the postural flow or velocity required to make the transitions.

Style proclaims its gracefulness in negative space: you express it beyond the limb postures required with the motions that aren't already spoken for. Style is that part of you that isn't otherwise already committed.

Skating for style therefore requires you to plan a program differently. Since you express style with your free limbs this requires that you use more "open" moves, with as much attention paid to exits and transitions as to the elements themselves.