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 6, 2014

- rink design

During this past weekend of 100 degree weather (in October even) I had the pleasure of cooling off with a couple hour visit to the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace, down toward Irvine.  The obligatory row of headshots of the private coaches was posted on one wall. The rink was a curious design combining many aspects of other rinks that I've seen, but with a total blend of features that I had never seen all together in one place.

It was of relatively modern design, with vapor-tight ceiling wrap, spinning color disco lights, northeast transom windows, and a muted color-scheme in a spic-and-span purely functional interior. The sound system was superior -- the pop music was nearly as clear as if I were sitting at a concert.

Aliso Viejo was built with just one ice surface with two adjoining party rooms, a snack bar, a game area with snack and coffee vending machines, shoe rental, a small pro-shop, and a bank of lockers. It's located in an out-of-the-way part of town that you might call light-industrial, except that the sheriffs office is next door and the city hall is across the street.

Comparing this design to other rinks I could immediately tease out what works well and what doesn't. Granted that each rink I visit caters to a slightly different audience (in terms of wealth or population density), I'm not advocating that all rinks should be designed to be exactly the same. At the same time many features are functionally supportive of figure skating, or promote a certain mood of skating that should be respected.  So let me skate right into the fray with my figure skating Rink Design Best Practices.

Neighborhood, Parking :: It's supremely weird to site a rink in the middle of an industrial area. Yeah I realize that commercial property is cheaper there, but it means that I can't step outside and enjoy a short walkabout while my kid is between her two freestyles. Better to site the place on the border between light industry and residential, where I can at least take a short walk to a nearby Starbucks. Also how about sufficient parking? It's a drag to park across the street and dodge the traffic with a wheely skate bag; this must be even worse for hockey goalies. Wider parking spaces would help too please.

Windows and Scenery :: North side windows to let in natural light are a must. The nicest mood for practice is to have some outside foliage or scenery visible -- Pickwick in Burbank and the Westfield San Diego rink are both excellent in this regard. If the windows are large enough to provide such a view they do however need blackout shades to draw down during competitions: what works well for practice can be distracting for a competition and too bright for a Showcase.

Sound and Acoustics :: Rinks need higher end sound systems with acoustics that pay special attention to avoiding the echo and flutter caused by a hard flat ice surface. I can't place a finger on the cause, but I have yet to visit a rink where you can both appreciate the music and then later understand the voice of the announcer. It seems to be a tradeoff as you either get an announcer with too much echo, or music that is too restrained in its dynamics. Please retain a building acoustics engineer whilst constructing.

Vapor Wrap :: Few rinks manage to combine superior vapor barrier design with aesthetic roof design. Pasadena Ice does a good job but possibly with the tradeoff of having a less permanent structure. Anaheim ice has a magnificent ceiling but it's likely expensive to maintain.

Colored Lights :: I don't know, I just suppose that my idea for the mood of figure skating should be different than that of roller skating. I'm not against some subtle colors; moving brightness though seems to me to be a bit over the top.

Paint job :: It sure is helpful to have something with coordinated colors to rest your eyes upon while you're not otherwise watching a skater or reading on your iPad. Yeah rinks have a large amount of exposed wall space to cover, and you can only sell so much local advertising or hang so many championship banners. The answer lies in an aesthetically designed paint scheme that can be readily touched up as the rink ages.

Viewing Area and Bench Materials :: This is legitimately one of the more challenging areas of design: how do you make benches that are comfortable to sit upon for hours that can still withstand the constant pummeling from skater's blades? The only fully satisfactory thing I ever saw was a sort of cushioned trex material, where a hard surface sits atop hidden styrofoam that gives way a bit.

I prefer that the stands rise from the same level as the rink; benches at a second-floor viewing level are certainly easier to protect from blade pokes but leave the parents too far removed from skating to provide enough interactive love.

Break room design :: Mostly what I care about here is that it has an adequate view to the ice and is easy enough to keep clean.

Headshots :: Names please (seriously). It seems unnecessarily gauche to add much more than that, as anyone who frequents the rink knows how to look up their coach's accomplishments.

That's a fair amount of design constraints. Yet that's only half of it -- that half I can describe as a figure skating fan and parent. Other folks skate here too though (eh, big guys with pucks and hockey sticks) so they certainly contribute additional requirements. And then the architect has to consider the whole business of the physical cooling plant and ongoing operations. Hey nobody ever said that rink design was easy.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

sit ups pull ups

Any skater who is serious enough to retain a coach to train for competitions quickly recognizes the importance of off-ice training.  Besides ballet, USFSA also recommends strength training; see their general guidelines for strength training here.

Boring as heck, three strength exercises are essential to getting to the next level: sit ups, pull ups, and shoulder presses. Sit ups provide the strength to keep a straight core and properly aligned spine while you spin. Shoulder presses allow you to maintain control over your arm movements.

Everyone though seems to overlook pull ups. The back muscles strengthened by pull ups do more for your posture than any other muscle group.

Once you move up to elite you likely need a more serious and educated personal trainer.  See  for example this article by Charles Poliquin of how he has trained world-class Canadian skaters.

Some basic strength training at the rink or at the gym is infinitely helpful to your competitive skating, but once you get committed at a national level be sure to kick your off-ice training up to the next level.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

- jump practice

I spent a couple hours on Sunday at the Toyota Sports Center freestyles past the Airport, and either by reputation (or because Culver Ice is now closed or both) it was a bit too busy, really. It seems they run "open" freestyles where  anyone can show up with any skill level, so some national caliber juniors were practicing triples along with novices trying to hold a steady spiral. The city power cut off around 9:00 with 10 seconds of total blackout until the emergency lights came on -- talk about a scary situation during a freestyle! Rink designers please pay heed: this makes an excellent argument for a couple of small skylights or high transom windows (as long as they don't let the sunlight shine directly on the ice).

Anyhow while watching the more adept skaters practice their elements I was drawn to the difficulty and disconnect between an Axel during freestyle and actually jumping one during your program. The etiology of the issue is down to your horizontal vector -- the speed you travel across the ice when you launch and when you land your jump. At a busy freestyle you avoid other skaters, look for an open place to jump, and vary your stroking speed constantly. During a program you have the entire ice to yourself, are stroking and keeping time to the music, and trying to get full rink coverage by maintaining an elegant velocity. And hence the rub: if you practice your jumps at a slow horizontal velocity during your freestyles, then you are going to herkily jerkily slow down your program when it comes time to launch. Or if you keep your rhythm and speed to launch faster than you've practiced then you will yaw during your spin and additionally land and check with a pressure on your edges to which you are unaccustomed.

I guess what I am asking, dear readers, is shouldn't you always practice your jumps with the same smooth stroking lead-in and velocity as you are expecting for when you are jumping them in your program?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

- freestyle

When you are a young kid starting to skate you begin with classes at your local rink. Then once you've got your balance and a slow scratch spin (and decide that you'd like to try something more serious) you get the idea that perhaps you can get a coach. Then after you've had some coaching at public sessions for around a year, and you've got a couple spins and a simple jump or two, your coach will want you to attend some freestyles.

Away from the classroom setting, the freestyle is where you really get your eyes opened to what skating is all about. Most freestyles have a few up to around a dozen skaters. Here you get to pay detailed attention to how the other skaters "carry themselves" and present their showmanship.

Once you reach the stage of skating freestyles regularly, it's an excellent idea to attend freestyle sessions at nearby rinks (other than your own home rink) even if you go it alone without your coach. Rinks vary so much in the culture and style of their skaters that you will gain a broader sense of methods and embellishments by traveling around and observing.

Yes it can be a little intimidating to walk into a new rink to spend an hour on the ice with gals you've never seen before. But at heart they aren't that much different from you; be assured that the sisterhood of skaters have way more in common amongst themselves than differences. Go, introduce yourself, relax, make new friends, and expand your horizons. The benefits are well worth the wee bit of initial embarrassment.

Monday, August 11, 2014

- showcase

We had the luck and good fortune of hosting the USFSA National Showcase here in Burbank this past weekend; my daughter and I watched a few hours on Saturday. For those of you without a sanctioned Showcase event in your part of town, allow me to describe it.  Primarily it's geared more towards "entertainment" skating rather than the elite athletic end of the sport. Not to say that the participants don't skate well: many of them do just fine on single Axels and all the lesser jumps and spins. But the focus is more on the artistic ends of costume and expressiveness.  They consist of duets, interpretive (we used to call this extemporaneous), light, dramatic and sometimes team events. Most of the events are skated under spotlights in an otherwise dark rink. So like I said, it's more for the "show."

The classification of a couple of the events however leave me a bit confused. In their wisdom USFSA has chosen to specify Light Entertainment as one type of skate, and Dramatic Entertainment as another. What's the difference? A very good question, as in most cases the routines had such a wide range of stylistic overlap that they could go either way. Many of the Dramatic skates were rather Light and entertaining, whereas several of the Light skates seemed to be ahhh, rather quieter and musing. I think drawing a firmer line between the two flavors would benefit both the skaters and the sport, so herewith I gently suggest some guidelines for your humble consideration.

A competition dress for Light Entertainment should be strikingly over the top. When you skate your entrance to center ice your dress should make me go Wow or bring me a smile. A couple of examples... on Saturday I had the pleasure of watching the one-eyed one-horned blind purple people eater, a full-body stretch suit with matching purple head hood, and yep... it looked exactly as described. Awesomeness. Also one gal skated in a patriotic red-white-and blue skirt with ruby red skate covers with sparklies that knocked my eyes out.

On the other hand a dress for Dramatic Entertainment should be as pretty as you can possibly imagine. It shouldn't have to be over the top sparkly, but should exhibit unique design with a pleasant blend of a particular shade, possibly with contrasting highlights. When you skate your entrance to center ice your dress should make me say Wow that's a pretty dress.

Light Entertainment has flashy accessories and showy makeup. On Saturday I saw a spitting image of Willie Wonka with the inventive hat, and a ghostly skeleton from Tim Burton's nightmare before Christmas.

Extensive makeup for Dramatic Entertainment however is probably unnecessary beyond what you would normally wear for your short program. I prefer pulled back hair (into a bun or braids) on your Dramatic.

Around half of the Light programs used a prop. I'm not sure that all props add value to their presentation, so think ahead as to whether you are using the prop just to "be in character" or whether it actually adds humor or spunk to your program. On Saturday a gal did the spoiled Veruca Salt from Wonka: at the end of her program she dropped into a metered box that switched its indicator from Good to Bad; both inventive and cool.

The only prop that should be allowed in Dramatic are chiffon dress sleeve extensions or Japanese hand-fans. Seriously.

I don't mind too much what you use for your Light Entertainment skate as long as it is well edited and mixed. Some skaters try to glue together different related pieces and the jog between the mix jars my attention. Please use an experienced editor from your rink rather than attempting this at home.

I'd prefer a classical music excerpt on a Dramatic skate. Please though avoid the common and hackneyed pieces that everybody skates too... plenty of other musical variety is out there if you search around a bit. Give me a pleasantly inventive choice.

Almost all of the Light Entertainment programs nowadays skate to popular or show music with lyrics. Generally I dislike watching the skater mouth the lyrics or sing along. One gal on Saturday not only sang but got into the full character of a performer, with arm and facial expressions to match her singing. And her performance was wonderful. So if you're going to sing, really /perform/ the song. The skate itself should be expressive and spot on the music. I like to see a nice jump or two just to prove that you can, but Light should be amusement, so do moves that entertain in appropriate concordance with your music and costume.

The program on Dramatic should highlight your particular strengths. Some gals have a unique spiral, some a fabulous spin or two, some a peerless aspect of how they can jump. I want your Dramatic program to be hypnotic. I don't expect the full athleticism of the elite skaters, but you'd best show me a variety of spins and jumps so that I know you take the sport seriously. And if you sing along with the lyrics I will cry, and not in the good sense.