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.

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.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

- all that time

A serious skate parent spends five or six hours a week at the rink. What is a parent supposed to do with all that time? A lot gets determined, naturally, by the cultural norms of the parents of the other kids.

In a competition environment the general rule is to be attentive and polite. It's frowned upon if you leave the rink only to reappear for your own kid's ice-time; you really should support the other skaters with your attention. Even so after an hour or two of polite applause it can all blend into skating jello.

Many parents bring along a book or magazine to read discreetly. Knitting is also a popular pastime. Most rinks now have WiFi and folks will log in to read news, browse Facebook, or even get some work or studying done.

I think a big part of a parent's success is coming up with that time killing activity that is exactly right for the situation. You want to be productive and not bored, but at the same time your chosen stimulation should allow you to keep one eye on the ice, so when you sense something important is going to happen you can quickly switch your attention to the action.

One thing that is quite remarkable (and gets even more so at the highest levels) is the amount of downtime that families have while staying around the hotel near the competition site. In the case of a world class match the family is there for a whole week. A lot of the time is spent sharing pride with your children, but then there is time to look around town, and a lot of time to just sit.


Monday, April 27, 2015

- style two

In an earlier post I wrote about skating "style" but upon further reflection that post seems to be more reflective than proactive: it says what makes style and what you should avoid, but it doesn't really give specific guidance for developing your own flair.  So forthwith let's dive into the more positive and generative bezels of obtaining and exhibiting a style.

First the obvious: style is something that you deliberately (and half subconsciously) cultivate. To be able to express it, you first have to be able to recognize it. Some of this inclination may be a hereditary capability to keenly observe the subtleties of movement, fashion, color, and rhythm. Even so, early artistic training can influence a young child to develop sharper artistic sensitivities. The point is not to get your two year old to skate, but rather to show them colorful and nicely designed books, furniture, buildings, artwork, rhythmic music, and flowers. A strong and varied visual cortex may be positively leveraged toward other stylish ends later.

Naturally many young kids watch champion elite skaters on TV and think "oooh I want to look like that," but a person can pick up stylish movements and expressive traits from many other venues besides televised competitions. Cultivating a variety of sources for stylish movement is an important part of broadening your body awareness and projecting style to an audience. Watching people doing ballet, dance (in all its forms), and fashion shows are all excellent sources for movement studies. You must be a keen observer of how people carry themselves, pose, move, and how they project "attitude."

I can't overly stress the importance of variety. At some of the higher end rinks I visit all of the accomplished club skaters are intensely serious and everyone seems to be doing the same moves. It's as if nobody wants to stand out as different or express intense individuality, funk, or eccentricity. This is so wrong, and it kills the fun in the sport. If you are spending so much time at the rink that you are missing out on other cultural activities then you are doing it wrong.

Notwithstanding observing others, you must also be a keen observer of yourself. There is no substitute for watching videos of your own program during practice. Yes you know how it feels, but you need to see how it appears to the judges and people in the audience. Have mom video your practice programs and watch them during a break or on the drive home.

Exactly copying somebody else's attitude won't precisely work: you quickly find that everyone's specific body mechanics and motions are unique to themselves. The trick is to generalize or simplify the motion you like seeing in others and then embellishing it to match your own physical mechanics and capabilities.

As you age into your sport you will find different styles more to your liking than others. Tastes are dynamic: some of the changes are brought about by variations in outside culture and some by your own physical growth and change of mechanics. Observing other's style and reviewing your own is a constant process of reevaluation.

Skating style is a delicate balance between form and concept. Its goal is beauty, grace, balance, and strength, but its creative edge comes from bursting expectations by juxtaposing new materials over old tropes. You don't want to look like somebody else: you want to look like yourself.

(with a shoutout for the spark of this idea to Vogue magazine May 2015)