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.

Monday, October 14, 2019

- unpaired


I'd imagine a solo male figure skater faces a constant challenge dealing with the female skaters. As I watch the rink freestyles it's a bit subtle (but also clearly obvious) that many female skaters wish they could transition over to dance skating. They'd like a pair partner.

I would guess perhaps seven times more females than males figure skate; due to this highly skewed ratio the limiting factor of forming a pair is always how to find a guy.

All a guy has to do is smile at a gal and she'll inquire if he'd like to try skating with her. From what I've read a fair number of the accomplished male skaters tend to end up being brats, as they can pretty much dictate their relationship with their female partner. If they dislike her other good female skaters are a dime a dozen.

This implies that if a gentleman artist wishes to persist as solo he has to present a rather aloof front (while he's practicing anyway). Or more typically by the time he's eight years old or so he internalizes a pat set of answers, shrugs, and responses to all the standard female inquiries.

It takes exceptional single-minded focus to be a solo male figure skater.

Monday, September 16, 2019

- select


The expense of figure skating produces some unique personality oddities. As a parent you should be well advised that skating is one of the more expensive sports, see for example this comparison, or for a real eye opener this PDF from a decade ago. Yes lessons, coaching, skates, costumes, travel, and ice fees are all pricey, but the sport's pathology goes well beyond that. The truly costly part of figure skating rests upon the purely implied sanctuary of the facilities: constructing and subsequently cooling and dehumidifying an ice rink. Building a new dual-sheet rink costs upward of five million dollars; add in debt service and monthly energy costs (not to mention the payroll and insurance) and. . . well there you go.

Since building and operating a rink is so expensive (compared to facilities for other sports) rinks are relatively few and far between. If my kid played little league baseball how many teams could she join here in metro L.A.? Maybe 400. Plus every high school and most parks have baseball diamonds. But figure skating? We can drive to maybe eight rinks, max.

To draw enough customers to recoup their costs rinks must disperse geographically where they can attract a clientele base that isn't already committed to another nearby locale. Now think of what this implies for the culture of the sport. Since a skater has so few local coaches to choose from, every individual coach has considerable power, and they can get away with charging less competitive fees. At the same time since so few new positions open, obtaining a coaching job is incredibly difficult. That means unless your kid is good enough to skate nationally it's unlikely that she'll ever make a decent living from the sport. (Well to be honest this holds true for nearly all sports, I suppose).

Since rinks are far apart I suspect that acquiring judges for competitions becomes quite a chore; it wouldn't surprise me if the availability of judges restricts the quantity of sanctioned events that a rink can conduct.

All these peculiarities have to do with the expense of maintaining an ice rink. Still though figure skaters are like orchids in a forest: although one of the more elegantly colorful parts of the foliage, they don't play an exceedingly large part in the biome's carbon cycle. Skaters scarcely shoulder much of this implied operating burden: the rink managers I've chatted with say that hockey brings in about 85% of a rink's revenue. Without hockey there likely would not be any indoor rink figure skating at all.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

- questions


In a recent blog post on Blazing Blades Janet Lynn was asking hypothetical questions for the next USFSA president. Naturally she takes a viewpoint very much from her own experience of the sport (which might have little to do with the USFSA's internal mandate, unfortunately). Although it seems somewhat brash to be doing this nevertheless in the spirit of the times, if I could ask leading questions of the governing body (from a skate parent's perspective) it would be:

1. Can you establish standards for ice rinks that ensure the comfort of the casual observers and parents during the freestyles?

2. Can you make an effort to rate rinks' comfort, costs, and ice quality online? Incorporating this with Google maps would be awesome.

3. You could add in some sort of calendering so I could log in to just one place to find out who has freestyles in the next 3 hours within a 15 mile radius of my house.

4. How does my kid's coach rate? When was her last accreditation tests and how did she do?

5. Can I view free online videos from all of the sectionals and regionals?

6. Can you promote a parallel non-competitive track that still has awards and such?

7. What about injury incident reporting? Something that could be used for epidemiology -- maybe certain rinks / ice conditions / blades / boots / sharpeners are prone to a greater frequency of injuries?

8. How does my sharpener rate?

9. Tributary carpooling or bus rental for events?

(repost from 2014)

Monday, July 15, 2019

- rationalizing the expense


I spent eight hundred dollars on skates today for my daughter. It wasn't a big deal, but at the same time that shows how far I've become acclimated to the whole socialization and industry of skating. I don't question the value, for considering the effort that goes into making the boots and the blades, and given a reasonable markup for everyone involved in the process, I suppose that the price is fair enough. And yet a little voice lingers at the back of my head that says "hey, I only pay one hundred dollars a year for my own health club membership." Sigh. Well, I suppose it's the privilege of having a daughter.

The issue with raising daughters of course is that, as a father, you are responsible for setting the tone of their demeanor; you create an aura of approval or disapproval about how they present themselves to men. So to an extent supporting ice skating is a statement: a stamp of approval to a concept and an approach. You are saying Go for the grace, Go for the art, A positive work ethic is admirable. $800? A bargain at even twice the price.

(repost and ed. note: this was fifteen years ago. . . what do new skates cost today?)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

- otherwise

Skating fills a unique niche, a blend of artistic expression and athletics: somewhere between dance, poetry, and theater. When figure skating projects art, the negative-space perspective of the sport is exactly concordant with the positive-space; skating is as abstract as possible while simultaneously as concrete as physically attainable.

Deep inside the bowels of the sport however, the grounds are brewing bitter. Behind the scenes at your local rink the spirals gloss past a quietly seething dismay. Attendance at the local competitive events verges on nonexistent -- when I last attended a local event I sat with only the six parents from the present flight of skaters and a handful of loyal club members. Skating must be a particularly lonely sport.

Although figure skating is still popular (membership in the U.S. Figure Skating Association is near its all-time high) life at the local rink veers far from glamorous. Local ice time mostly is incessant practice of elements and programs, sometimes with the coach, more often alone with a handful of other skaters at a freestyle session, and almost invariably amongst ladies, with maybe one or two gentlemen skating around.

Young skaters tend to get drawn to the sport by the glitz of high-end televised IJS competitions. At elite levels however the travel, costume, boots, blades, and coaching fees make the cost prohibitive except for a lucky few. Similar to gymnastics, the sport of figure skating imposes tightly constraining physical limits upon the body types that might be athletically successful. Performance is married to managing one's center of gravity, angular momentum, and balance, and wide variance from the optimal body kinematics renders many advanced moves impossible.

When skaters encounter the difficulty of IJS competitions, the mismatch of their body ideal, and the realities of rink life, while the parents recognize the expense, the deeper understanding of the underlying physics of the sport disenlightens them. Experienced skating students thus find somewhat of a "credibility gap" between what they have seen on televised competitions versus what they might achieve locally.

Figure skating is mostly a ladies sport; of the U.S. skaters aged 13 to 18 (the serious competitive ages) ladies outnumber men seven to one, and many of those men are in pairs or dance. Hence overwhelmingly a local competition is ladies skating solo. In IJS events they are mostly skating jumps trying to accumulate points. Yeah there's a sit spin quickly up to a Biellmann and a camel spin to a donut in there somewhere, yet the constraints of scoring prevent any programs from being particularly inventive. Watching a local event is mostly skate-jump-skate-jump-skate-jump followed by a couple minutes of wrestling out the score. Repeat sixty times. Yawn. This is why nobody attends local IJS competitions any more.

There are, however, other artistic things to do on ice; as IJS has squeezed the ladies solo side of the sport into local irrelevance these alternative activities have grown in popularity. "Showcase" events scored on 6.0 present duets, small ensembles, theatre on ice, interpretive (extemporaneous), dramatic and comedic skates. The Professional Skaters Association is an entryway to shows such as Disney on Ice or similar private touring ice companies, and sponsors an annual Open event exhibiting skaters that is free to attend. American Ice Theatre is creating innovative contemporary ice dance ensembles, and private sponsors such as Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton present annual artistic or fundraising events.

Although glimpses of these are on YouTube and Instagram, aside from the British television show Dancing on Ice the other alternatives lack media exposure (it seems there is probably an opportunity here for some enterprising sponsors).

Since these artistic alternatives don't receive much promotional coverage, a better, although longshot possibility, is that the sport of figure skating could change the way they run local competitions to allow for greater variety and creativity within the solo ladies competitive events.

Modifying the skating protocol does however present somewhat of a Catch-22 situation. By tradition or culture, local competitive IJS events tend to mimic the international procedures with high precision. Flight assignments are similar, event staggering, warm ups, rink announcements, down to the details of scoring and judging all follow very structured timings and procedures. What makes sense in terms of a televised worldwide elite event may however be counterproductive for attracting audiences at a local level.

Local events could become much more interesting and achieve broader appeal if we could rework this standard top-to-bottom protocol. Clubs could vary the procedures at local IJS events to allow for relaxed judging and faster turnaround between skaters. Rinks could use automated motion-capture scoring to reduce the burden of hosting teams of judges. The scoring metrics at local events could be changed to de-emphasize the jumps. One could argue that it shouldn't make that much of a difference what methodology you choose to measure athleticism. The point is to promote safe and challenging physical goals, raising the bar for people that are athletically competitive.

To increase variety, IJS flights could be interleaved with "showcase" skating of female-pair duets, small groups, and light-entertainment events with props. In other words, showcase, ISI, and IJS don't have to be held as separate events.

Parents need the supportive recognition that even at local events with lesser cost, their daughters can gain appropriate value from solo skating. It's time to support a skating system that encourages more dance, poetry, and theater. And for the sake of the sport (and the audience) fewer jumps would be better.