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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

- focus


You can always distinguish the seriously dedicated skaters from those just curious. The devoted skaters come across instantly as "athletes" yet you don't identify them from their muscularity nor their endurance. Rather they stand out for their ability to enter into a "zone" to maintain a meditative focus. They visualize the future they are targeting, and can cradle this objective in their thoughts.

This focus is quite a peculiar aspect of the human condition. Geeks and nerds possess it, and so do athletes. It's the ability to retain an objective in your mind as important. It inspires you to pursue activities seriously.

Arguably focus is the only way to become a competent skater, to maintain the intense dedication that the sport requires. Yet focus also has its dark side and ransom. For one it blinds a person to most of the other synchronistic occurrences in their lives.

A skating parent faces a delicate predicament with respect to focus: you support and encourage the commitment and importance of figure skating to your child, but at the same time you are well aware that the view of the general community is far more diverse and less critically serious.

To most folks an ice rink is about hockey; skating is gentle winter stroking (holding hands at the rink) or an occasional Olympic event. Ninety eight per cent of the world has no concept of the physical demands and years of practice required to even land an Axel.

Generally a parent finesses a stasis for a very serious competitor who endures hundreds of hours of surgically precise effort, within a starkly indifferent community.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

- biellmann

The Biellmann is more a proof of flexibility than a full-fledged element per se, and this is why: it seems to be more about the endpoint and final posture than any sort of innate skating skill. It shows the audience and judges you can grab your foot and pull your leg up backward and that your hips are super flexible. It's like when a cheerleader does the splits. Hooray.

It demonstrates you can keep your pinned ice foot level: if you raise your spinning heel to scrape your toe pick you lose your spin. But like doing the splits you can still show both that you have some control over the process and you can achieve your final pose effortlessly. Pull up your back leg gradually but without struggle, and don't jerk at your stopping top point. If you want to release one hand at the apex okay fine but be graceful and balletic with the free hand.

As far as the static spin posture, the move is so demanding that however your body happens to be ligamented together determines how you will look. Some gals spin more like a tulip flower and others more like a bobby pin; it doesn't appear an individual skater has any leeway over the final positioning of her own hips.

Transitioning out of Biellmann is again the parallel problem of getting up from the splits but with a twist: gravity overcomes your strength in any case. Sigh, the Biellmann.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

- dilemma

I got a sense from many of the parents at Sectionals that they were a bit, well, conflicted. Like most parents they have a whole slew of wishes for their kids, and sometimes these don't perfectly align. This raises to the forefront at Sectionals: it places the parents right smack on the ledge of considering the expenses associated with having a national-level skater. For many of them Sectionals will be the first competition where they purchased plane tickets to accompany their hotel room (and with bringing the coach along costs spin up fast). Of course by this point most of them are well aware of the situation, at least by the osmosis of chatting up other skating parents.

You love your dear skating child and want her to be successful in her endeavors, but if she qualifies today then you are definitely spending a boatload of money to buy airfare and accommodations for most of the coaches and immediate family for Nationals. That on top of all of the other worries about your kid skating safely and dealing with the stress and pressure and timelines (and did we make enough copies of the music CDs and what kind of high-def video should I purchase). It's a delicate balancing act for a parent and quite a dilemma.

As an aside though, if you feel that your kid really could start competing on a national level regularly, and your are fully on-board with their continued ambitions, then there's nothing wrong with some outside fundraising. Most skaters nowadays attempt this with varying levels of success.  For an idea of what is possible, check out the results from this Google query.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

- sit spin

It seems nearly every program I watch has a sit spin (ahh, must be a required element, eh?). I don't think I've ever seen a "bad" sit spin -- in twenty years maybe I've seen one gal fall out of sit after catching her blade on a nick -- but then I can't say I ever gone Whoooya watching a sit spin, either. With one foot on the ice and the other out in front or "broken" what does that leave you for expressiveness?

Well, hands and arms maybe. For some reason I don't really like any movement of the hands or arms during sit: you should select and maintain a nice pose. Hands gracefully masking the face? One hand in front and one in back? Palms forward pressing? Please make them interesting somehow.

The main technical aspect of sit, what it seems to be there for, is Proof of Edge. Once you're down in position you can't modify your angular momentum with any change of body parts, so whatever rotation you bring into the sit is what you're left with. If you can keep your speed up the whole sit then you are proving you found that sweet spot on your blades with the least friction.

After checking you maintained your speed and did something unusual with your hands, I want to see your graceful struggle up from the sit. Because that of course is the other hidden facet of this element: it's not so much how you got there, but rather how you get out. Extra points if you can rise from one leg rather than bringing the other foot down to rise from two. I have enough trouble with sturdy shoes on a concrete floor standing up from a one-legged crouch; I can only imagine your effort standing with the additional mass of your skate boot. Impress me with your strong thighs and some class.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

- intermezzo

During the Pacific Sectionals junior freeskate the Music Guy tried something I hadn't heard before; it seems like an idea worth pursuing (although maybe in a different form).  I've posted previously my gripes about the long scoring pause between skaters, and this might be a viable way to ease this irritation.

Nowadays of course the Music Guy has a laptop computer with a built-in CD player, some digital mixing software and a standalone pre-amp, all connected to the rink's sound system. He also has a whole slew of digital hits at his fingertips resting handily on his laptop.

So Sectional Music Guy dabbled a bit after the skater swept up her hallowed teddy bears -- while the scorers pressed their buttons and technical replayed, rewound, and replayed all the jumps, Music Guy piped in some background pop. Not so loud as to be terribly distracting, but something you could easily chat over without being ensconced in the frozen silence. You know, Taylor Swift, Oasis, Duran Duran sort of stuff.

Now I like dear Taylor as much as the rest of you and she has a place in my afternoon browsing through the radio station commute.  I'm not sure though I want to hear her break the tension between the classical sets of skating. It was nice to have /some/ sort of background music though.

My other concern was that he played a decidedly /different/ intermezzo each time: one may have been more a ballad, one more upbeat. It's unfair to the next skater in that it causes a mood jump -- it grates with a discontinuity once her own program starts.

So here's a considered suggestion for US Figure Skating and rink Music Guys everywhere. Choose a scorekeeping background divertimento that is low-key and quietly distracting, but use the same tune for each break during the entire flight of skaters. It could be akin to video-game background or movie soundtrack stuff, for example. Something melodic and rhythmic and without lyrics. Capiche? And thanks for the idea, Music Guy.