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, July 15, 2015

- scoring

IJS scoring nowadays is a big technical stew of a system but if I were the Scoring God I would have a simple (yet remarkably nuanced) score sheet . . .

Women's Score sheet:

- Grace
Feather fingers
Appropriate hand movements
Arms up and graceful
On the music
Musically expressive

- Balance
Center of gravity well managed
Smooth, no jerkiness
Steady spirals
No precession on spins

- Skill
Fluid transitions
Clean landings
Graceful choice of components
Professional friendly demeanor
Fast clickety footwork
Ice pressure command

I differ rather seriously from the general direction that the scoring system has "taken" the sport (if you subscribe to the opinion that skaters are primarily trained to please the judges), but you can read about that in another post.

Friday, July 3, 2015

- musical respect

Earlier I mentioned my preference that, almost without exception, you should skate to classical music. Once in a long while though -- for a novelty skate or a show -- select one of your favorite pop songs that exhibits a wide range of dynamics. After that though please show some respect for the composer and arranger: don't go cherry-picking out just the phrases you like.

For audience members that know the song the missing continuity is too distracting, no matter how well you edit and splice the thing. Select a continuous portion of the song -- fade in the start or fade out the end if necessary -- and skate it end to end.

But mostly, of course, stick to the classical.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

- the parent is a special coach

After recovering from her ankle injury and now back skating, it has been several months since I've had the pleasure of watching my daughter. I notice she has some technical faults -- elements that "project" incorrectly.

She comes over to chat a bit, and I pull out the video camera saying "go do some scratch spins." She nods and returns to center ice to try a few while I tape the attempts. When she skates back over I press the rewind and play to show her what is happening: she isn't holding her tummy muscles tight enough, so her rear end is sticking out while she spins.

Hmmm, she says. So she goes back out on the ice and spins a couple more while I tape again. The next few spins are much better. "Nobody every told me that before," she comments, and all I can do is nod my head.

Although I don't say it to her I think, "well yes, that is what a skatedad is for." Your coach is too busy trying to juggle her schedules and make a living, and your friends at the rink aren't going to tell you elements of style as they are competitors. So that is exactly how a skatedad drives their kid to success: by providing the appropriate positive criticism to artistic style and expression that nobody else can offer.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

- outside inside

Last night at a skating benefit I sat in front of a couple who was visiting in obligation to a friend. I was struck by the stark contrast between their viewpoints from outside the sport and mine from the inside. This couple measured up not amongst the far-outside, but rather the casually disinterested outside. They understood the flow of local, regional, sectional, national, Olympics, but had never heard of IJS or 6.0 scoring. After a couple of minutes of small-talk where they established that I'm an "insider" the gentleman cleared his throat and prefaced his question with "I don't want to seem like I'm being critical or anything." He couldn't understand why his sister-in-law spends thirty thousand dollars a year on raising a kid who figure skates.

The visitors were close enough to folks who -are- in the sport to understand that for nearly all skaters it is a -total- commitment. Aside from the bored kids who rent skates a few times a year to skate a public session on the weekend, they recognized that there aren't any casual skaters. There aren't any kids who go to school and then just go to a skate coach and a freestyle once a week, like you can do with karate practice or soccer. You're either in it full-heartedly five days a week or you're not. They fully comprehended this and it was at the foundation of what was gnawing at them about the sport.

Also the gentleman was inquiring how long the gals skate, and what happens after they stop. You don't have kids who graduate with a Master of Arts in Figure Skating and then get recruited by Fortune 500s. You don't have companies out in the world placing want ads for figure skaters. And if a young lady is aiming more for a homemaking role, which is a rare enough privilege nowadays, why wouldn't she spend more time dedicated to domestic arts and household culture? So to these casual observers it seemed like an enormous waste of time and money.

Sitting in the stands with them I wasn't particularly in the position to yell over the music to explain what makes the parents-skater combo tick. So here's my blog post to explain it instead.

To start with I think there's a bit of a discontinuity in perceptions that makes it hard for an "insider" to explain the sport to an "outsider" on the spot. I don't think that the casual observer perceives the sport in the same manner as those of us who watch it all the time: they miss most of the subtlety. It's like trying to explain baseball to somebody who doesn't "get it." Somebody who watches baseball twice a year and sees home runs and strikeouts and the occasional stolen base on TV is missing 85% of the game. Similarly if you don't watch skating regularly in person then all you see are jumps and falls and spins.

When you have a child who is gifted, athletic, attractive, highly intelligent, sensitive, artistic, and full of energy, what are you going to do with them? If as a parent you had a similar bent yourself when you were growing up, then you identify with their predicament. They constantly need an energetic creative outlet; without such a thing they would blow themselves up with dissatisfaction, dissonance, and boredom. To them skating is not a choice, it's a requirement. They need the goals, the advancement, the love of an audience, the acceptance, the structure, and the creative outlet. Their souls absolutely require it.

So it's not a waste of time any more than your standard workaday job is a waste of time. It achieves a purpose and makes the world a better place, even if it doesn't make money for the company boss, sell soap, or build automobiles. It's art and athletics for those who require the expressiveness and it's art appreciation for those who love them.

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.