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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

- truth and lies

In many aspects of life we get by with a good bit of fakery: we pretend to posess a certain set of competencies and then do our best to convince others of this veracity. We put on "airs". After convincing others of the potential of our capabilities we have some breather room to deliver upon the expectations we have set. Some of this will involve apologies for temporary shortcomings, and some of this will stress us to learn and grow to meet our own self-inflicted challenge.

Sports however generally don't work this way: you can't fib your way to the podium. Since sports are physical it's not what you say that matters but rather what you can do.

The physical part of skating works this way as well; you can't deceive others that you can accomplish a certain move. You can wonder, you can give it a try, you can work at it and practice until you get it right. Nobody is going to believe though that you can land a double Axel until you do it. Even though you have your good and bad days, your capabilities this very moment are immediately obvious and demonstrable.

Skating does have a flip side though: showmanship is a lot about a premise. It's about maintaining a front and a promise on what you can deliver. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors -- you move the ether and direct attention, you allow the effects of your costume combined with the music and the rhythm of your moves to create a manufactured effect. You are fibbing what you know about life by imagining what it might be about. To some extent the qualities of your lies need to be more tightly wrapped and precise than the qualities of your physical execution: we will forgive your small hop when you land as the physical realm can be unpredictable. We will be less forgiving of your imaginary faux pas as the theatrical aspect of skating is all of your own creative doing.

Novice viewers can end up with some cross functional psychic confusion here. Performance is a bit of a lie. Yet the athletics in skating is the physical truth of what you can do. When we watch a movie or the theatre we "suspend belief" because we are interested in the play upon the lie, the trajectory and path of the story caused by the false presuppositions. When we watch sports though we are adamant that the athletes stick to the rules: we are ruthlessly opposed to cheaters or those that extravagantly show off beyond their deserved reputation. Skating works for audiences only when the physical authenticity is maintained even while the skater spins an imaginary story. And it works best for audience members who are experienced enough to hold this dichotomy within their consideration.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

- the sparkly bludgeon

When you are considering dropping a few hundred more dollars onto yet another competition skating dress, do you go through the same mental gyrations as me? Sure it's a new program this year and the old dress doesn't "fit" the new music. Yeah your little girl has grown several inches since the last purchase so the stretch fabric is a bit tighter. Yeah all of her skating friends got new dresses this year. Yeah your kid is dedicated and serious and loves the sport and wants to look like Ashley Wagner.

So is this just the price of entry? Is it just what is required every year by the sport, on top of coaching fees, competition fees, ballet teacher fees, skate sharpening? Also, do you expect something from your child in return? Do you tell your dear child that Daddy will be happy to get her that new dress if.... she passes her MIF? If she gets at least a B average the next time she gets her homeschool grades? If she practices the entirety of all of her freestyles? I rather agree with Xan here where she says...

... as parents we often want the best for our children forgetting that sometimes the best gift we can give them is for them to work hard and as a result of that hard work get the solo or the dress that is needed for that higher level or the skates that they need to compete at the higher level.

Yet I'm not necessarily sure that a parent should withhold a new dress as a bludgeon over her child's head to force behavior either. I think the money that you spend on your daughter's dress should be just slightly more than skill-appropriate: you want her to feel exceptionally good about her appearance on the ice, but you don't want to foment jealousy amongst her fellow competitors (nor do you want to escalate a dress buying war amongst the parents). And you want to encourage her to work hard without demoralizing her with an embarrassingly understated costume.

It's a fine balance. Plus maybe there's a bit of unstated inference that culturally you expect a certain sort of womanly behavior as she matures -- you want to set some guidelines that she might adhere to as she grows into eventually buying her own wardrobe for herself.

Not to put any pressure on you parents....

Sunday, April 10, 2016

- manly

Why do so many male figure skaters try to emulate the same style that they see in women's? It seems to me that, after all, a male figure skater has a different palette to choose from than a female skater. I'm not saying that a guy can't be graceful or pretty to watch on the ice, just that he doesn't have to be.

A male skater can be amazing to watch because he is suave, athletic, knightly, classy, or expressive. For example here's a video of Elvis Stojko.

I think a man should take advantage of his wider palette and boldly be expressively inventive on the ice; it's as if men's skating is an entirely different sport than women's.

How does a man achieve an independent style in a sport where eighty percent of the coaches and participants are ladies? Can a female coach understand the palette of a man or should a guy always seek out a male coach?

Monday, March 28, 2016

- ten

In an earlier post I chatted a bit about the wonderful thrill you experience skating as a 9 year old. Well, that only last's a year. Once you cross over to ten you're in a new country.

Ten has to be the most mentally challenging part of any skater's life. Suddenly (and it seems for without any special reason) everything you learned about skating turns inside out. Most of this is a direct result of a young teen's spurt in the growth of her long bones, those components of the arms and legs.

Just when you were getting exactly comfortable with the vertical location of your center of gravity and the correlations between arm location and spin velocity, suddenly it all starts changing. Now on a scratch spin when you pull in your arms not only do you spin twice as fast but you wobble like crazy. A higher center of gravity will do that to you, and it demands a real focused attention to posture.

Stroking starts to get more interesting though; suddenly you can actually get places with considerably less effort. Flying around the rink can be quite fun, if a little scary. Hence ten is when you make intimate acquaintance with the dasher boards. Maybe twice even. After that I assure you they stand out loud and clear.

Due to these changes, ten is also where perhaps two remarkable mental realizations occur. The first is a deep conceptual understanding of how angular momentum actually relates to velocity and ice leverage. The second is social awareness; looking around the rink a ten year old recognizes that she is suddenly approaching the middle of her skating career. It becomes time to consider how serious you really are about this figure skating thing.

Oh to live on sugar mountain, with the 9 year olds and colored balloons.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

- choose

How does a skater go about choosing a coach? Seldom do I pen a blog post I know nothing about, yet this is definitely one of those times.

When my daughter started skating around age six, she attended group classes and then had a coach from one of her former class teachers (at least if I recall correctly, it was a long time ago). Then when she was around ten she let me know two amazing things: she was so serious about skating that 1. she wanted to home school, and 2. she was going to pick a new coach. How?

Well she had already talked to her mom who was exploring the home schooling, and she had chatted with several friends at the rink and doing some research to decide which coach to pick.

When your ten year old daughter lets you know she is making such major choices it can be a bit disconcerting. But I trusted her mom with her concern for my daughter's education, and even at ten my daughter knew about twenty times more about skating than me, so I figured she'd make better coaching choices.

We live in what I suppose Xan would call a smallish market; although LA has twelve million people, we could only really drive to around eight rinks. Our rinks are sparse, so a kid has a limited number of choices. Plus I sense that out here the rink a toddler first attends for group classes tends to become her Home rink (although this may just be a Southwest U.S. sort of thing).

So really my daughter was choosing between the three or four coaches at Pickwick who were taking on new charges.

When I checked with her my daughter said that she didn't remember a lot about the process; she wanted a coach that was not too mean (screeching at their students while they ran through a program), and one that was able to teach her students to learn jumps beyond the Axel.

I'm curious to hear how other parents and skaters go about this process. Overall I think our coach worked out well, yet I recognize since this decision happens at an early age and can have such lasting impact that it's a difficult decision to make well.