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, March 1, 2015

- movement

Almost as complex as a modern paratrooper's clothes, a skating costume is one of the more technically engineered uniforms in existence. The fabric has to keep you both warm and cool yet also dry in an environment that is high humidity and windy (when you're moving). It has to be flexibly non-ripping under stressful body conformations, and it has to provide adequate support for decorative embellishment.

When you buy (or have somebody design) a costume for you, you are really looking for three things. First and foremost technical competence: fabric that flexibly breathes. Skate dress fabric usually must be four-way stretch; if you're making your own here's a site with some good representative examples.

Even though a fabric vendor recommends these I'd still check with your coaches and skatemates; some of these fabrics, although stretchy, may fail to provide effective thermal performance if used too liberally.

Second your dress has to thematically match your program's music. You don't have to aim for an outfit that exactly or literally expresses the song title: no need to wear a faux tux when you're skating to Putting on the Ritz. Yet in general terms your outfit should reflect the mood of your program's music.

And finally, not to belabor the obvious, but the fireworks from a competitive skating costume happens when it moves. It doesn't matter so much whether your costume is imposing on the hanger: what's important is its appearance through your spins, spirals, and jumps. Consider how the sparkles may reflect, how the skirt might extend or ruffle, how you may use extensions like tuxedo tails or arm flares to express specific embellishments.

It's a lot to ask from a dress. Which is why there are designers.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

- ends

Hmmm, we seem to have a slight disconnect between what you think brackets your program and what little old me in the audience thinks. The previous skater steps off the ice, you step on and wait patiently by the dasher as the judges finish their scoring. Maybe you stretch a bit or skate a small three turn.

Then when the referee signals and they announce you skate out to assume your initial pose. Yeah this is where *you* think you are starting. So you skate your four minutes; final pose. Yeah I know, this is where you think your program ends. You smile and curtsey the four quadrants, skate a lap to pick up the flowers or stuffed bears on the ice, and then glide to the dasher exit.

To little old me though your program started the moment your toe pick crossed from rubberized floor to ice. And it wasn't all the way over until after you left the ice to hug your coach.

I full well recognize that the judges don't care, but out here in the audience some of us view your skate to center ice before posing as part of your professionalism. It's probably not that much effort to be sharp.

And that curtsey and admiration vacuum? You are enjoying a special privilege in a privileged world (perhaps you should be humble, graceful, and thankful).

And God bless you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

- expectations

The moms of competitive skaters see each other at the same time every day to share a similar routine. They have a certain unspoken posture about them -- not only do they support a competitive skater with the intentional characteristics of overlapping muses but they also share quite similar home lives. Severely isolated from standard workaday corporate ladies they build their own castle in the sky of who said what or how the club is fairing or how they feel about traveling to the next competition. Essentially they all share similar jobs.

Most of the rink smalltalk about coaches or equipment transpires between the moms when their kids are little and approaching harness jumping. Skates and blades and coaches and costume (and all of that) get fully talked through and settled into quiet understanding before their kids are 10. When you go to a freestyle of juniors the moms are verbally silent, having already discussed the mundane nuances of the sport amongst themselves many years ago. Naturally at this point they are quite a bit noisier mentally, and given the time they have previously invested they harbor more severe expectations.

Some of this gets flittered out when the gals clear the ice for the periodic zamboni. It's just natural that moms will chat with their kids about how they're feeling with their skating and give rather pointed remarks as to technique, or encouragement when elements are behaving strangely. You don't hear a lot of talk about "What did your coach say" as moms purposefully aim their freestyle parental time in a different direction than what the coach says.

Some of this is normal childrearing behavior of a mom raising an erudite teen girl (mom is applying various degrees of pressure to her teen daughter). The skater understands how her body reacts to the ice and the sociology of her fellow skaters. She feels supported by her coach and can do no harm within the context of trying her best given the vagaries of ice, feelings, body variance, and how her boots fit today. The mom though often has loftier objectives since she is aware of the cost. Additionally mom and daughter span a wide gap of life perspective (after all the mother has already been through childbirth).

A subtext of this happens whether your child skates or not: a parent is imminently interested in the future success of her child. Many moms are contemplating where their kid will end up in ten years. A skater is looking ahead to the next year at most. In other words their vision of the kid's timeline is very different.

To facilitate communication a parent parses their longer range expectations into terms of shorter one-year objectives that the child can digest. Conflict nestles within the demands of higher perfection inherent within the longer timeline. With only a vision extended to a single year, a skater thinks Hey if I'm a little bit off on this move it won't be a big deal because there's a good chance that I'll straighten it out by the end of the year when I'm ready to advance. The parent though sees compounding shortfalls of immaturity; compared to their mind's eye view of where their skater should be in ten years, each deficit in skill or grace appears as a worsening obstacle that gets piled onto the perfection they would eventually like their kid to achieve. Few parents set out to spend thousands of dollars just to have their kid have fun on the ice for a decade.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

- stolen

Compared to the relaxed standing around and lollygagging at your typical weekday Freestyle practices, every competition or showcase event I've been to has always been the epitome of high stress and hectic. Most of this I presume has to do with their relentless schedule -- pretty much everything is planned to the minute, and if you're late then you've missed your event. Everything seems to be tied into this mississippian flow: cars are constantly shuttling in and out of the parking lot, music and registration is a continuous roller coaster at the front check-in, judges are up and down between their scoring stations and hospitality, coaches are checking in and out and mentally checking their internal schedule, the Zamboni driver takes breaks and then wanders back in to resurface at precisely the right time, and the camera and video crews peek ahead to find the next potty or coffee break.

Although it's hectic, skating events are still incurably slow. If you want to catch a fair amount of representative performances you pretty much have to stick around the rink for half of a day's competition. The stressed out drama of the event slowly wears you down with its small catastrophes until you are forced into a trance, and then whamo! out comes a skater in perfect costume with absolute grace who will hypnotically steal your heart.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

- casual

Parents' dress at a competition is always a dicey and mixed affair.

I've always felt a parent (or even a visitor) should dress "business casual:" no holey jeans please, no grunge, no T shirts or ratty sweats.

But it's not black tie either. Guys, you don't have to wear a button down dress shirt with a tie (although blazers are okay).

Ladies don't overdo the jewelry and makeup please.

The skaters are the ones who are supposed to be fashionably flashy; don't compete with, upstage, or even try to match their presentation. Be pertly smart, supportive, and respectful, but after all this is the skaters' show, not yours.