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 17, 2016

- the whole spectrum

Now, enter the parents. Naturally some of the parents are more competitively inclined; others have more aesthetic sights. Crossing the expectations of the parents with the body-types of the skaters blossoms the whole interesting range of the skating spectrum.

The competitive parents with the slender daughters end up with hyperactive kids, coerced into ridiculously sublime attempts at ever more complicated jumps. The parents hold their breaths and clap when the kids land their jump; the kids push themselves so much that they exclude all room for art.

The slender kids with the aesthetic parents have an interesting dilemma: they are driven by their peers in one direction but by their parents in another. They show an inherent tension in their skating -- not a bad tension, but a tendency to take a quick jump to impress their coach while their parents covers their eyes and berate them afterwards.

The large-boned kids with the aesthetic parents are in stage-performance heaven. Their parents love them and they garner grace, elegance and admiration from the audience. But they don't move very far up the competitive skating ladder and hence remain trapped with small audiences.

Ah, but amazingly enough the middle ground of skaters (who are average, in almost all respects) are the skaters that gradually move up through the ranks. They grind away at the competitions... a first place here, a second place there, surviving on that rare combination of artistic grace with just enough athletic talent to make some of the moves.

This is my daughter. It is a challenging place to be, because you are often spurned by the slender gals since you have more grace than them, and you can't compete with their jumps anyway. And you are shunned out of jealousy by the large-boned gals. The middle ground makes you lonely, but if you have the self-discipline it also is the road to ever larger audiences.

There is a sort of bittersweet resignation in all but the top competitors. Most of this simply comes from their acceptance of their physical body size and shape that has the affect of limiting their skating physics. And after all, they put up with us parents.


Friday, September 23, 2016

- voyeur

When your kid no longer skates and you visit a local competition, you always feel like a voyeur, enjoying the guilty pleasure of watching something that should remain private. Well they do let outside folks in, and it's usually only around five dollars for the whole day. It's not like they specifically discourage visitors, and it's hard to beat the entertainment value. Still whenever I run into my daughter's former coach at another competition her first remarks to me are always "What are you doing here?" My standard response has always been to shrug and reply "Just hanging out."

I still like to visit local competitions to provide emotional support for the up and coming skaters. I rather expect them to pick up on my brainwaves while they are out there, and my specific observations (laden with all that prior viewing experience) must impart some sort of higher standards upon them. With the younger skaters nearly half the time I'm thinking "get yourself to the gym" or "more sit-ups" or "stroking class." Juniors and above already know their athletics, so at that point it's all mental comments about style, musical expressiveness, or jump dynamics.

Despite my honorable intentions though it's still a challenge walking into an environment where I might not belong. The reason I feel a constant obtuse and nearly pathological undercurrent of voyeurism is because I get to witness skilled people working under difficult conditions of exceedingly high duress (both the skaters and their parents). It's almost perversely unfair that I can do this totally relaxed while not being a participant, for just five bucks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

- injury

Falling on the ice is such a common part of practice that after a few years you don't much think of it any longer. You still occasionally slip yet you have your "muscle memory" of how to tumble without getting too badly hurt, outside of the usual bruises.

Muscle memory is an interesting phenomenon, and there wouldn't be figure skating without it (or most any other sport for that matter). It would be impossible to coordinate the hundreds of millisecond muscle adjustments required for a move if you had to think about them consciously. But muscle memory can be a two edged sword.

Every so often you'll end up at the wrong end of a spill without a way to brace yourself against injury. Or you *won't* fall when you should have, and as a result you'll put too much stress on a body part that wasn't expecting it. A broken bone is a rare occurrence, but sprained muscles and torn ligaments are unfortunately all too common. I don't know any junior level skater who hasn't suffered through such an injury at least once.

So say you're injured. Sigh. What do you do? A sports injury clinic and rehab, crutches for a while, dear sympathy from your fellow skaters. This is just the least irksome part.

During that epoch while you're not skating your body slowly changes. You mature some, you put on weight in various places, and your muscle strength compensates for your injury through your daily activities. By the time you fully heal and are ready to retake the ice you are physically a different person.

And this is truly the demonic aspect of an injury, the bitter vengeance of muscle memory. As you return to the ice picking up where you left off, your automatic memory no longer matches and is inappropriate to your presently healed body. Sadly nothing is more frustrating: after all that careful rehab you have not only lost a year's worth of skill but also the path for moving forward.

Unlike most other sports, anything more serious than a moderate injury during the formative growth-years of a skater's career nearly always ends it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

- at the top

Even at the highest levels much of the psychics and recourse to practice strategy remain the same. After all there are only a certain set of attitudes, spells, prayers, and thoughts that a person can entertain.

Of course at this level the skaters see each other all of the time. They also have a peculiarly warped sense of worldview, not so much from the daily practice routine (that is gruelingly ascetic) but rather from a hotel-and-tourist approach to the world... living half their life from rolling luggage and eating in restaurants with their moms, coaches, or skate friends.

To some extent this familiarity and shared worldview tends to swing the top-level skaters toward being a bit more courteous.

Fairly remarkably even at the top you see the same wide range of body types, although the variety spans a somewhat narrower band. Also rather oddly you can still fall short of reaching a more ebullient level of grace: the same top artisanal qualities exist at the local rinks as at the worlds (although of course few of the local skaters are landing triple axels).

Monday, August 8, 2016

- sitting rehearsal

The grounding culture of skating oddly presents the antithesis of glam & glitter... outside of the high pressure public-eye view of the on-ice competition, the rest of the tableau is fast food, really hard metal bleachers, and lots and lots of standing around.

The skaters endure downtime for the Zamboni, breaks to allow another skater to run through her program, and standing on the ice to stretch, rest, or socialize. And a parent is almost on a continual standby break.

As a parent, you want to avoid hovering over your child critiquing every toe pick. You want to allow them the space to experiment, socialize, learn on their own, and have fun too. But since you want to be available should they need you -- either for a snack or a critique -- you need to find ways to occupy your seated time. The environment you do this in can be utilitarian and gauche.

Neighborhood rinks vary in their amenities and comforts, but with few exceptions they are pretty Spartan. Even at the globally competitive level the practice rinks are makeshift chained-off areas, piles of cables and thrown up curtain dividers, in high school auditorium settings with cheap hard plastic seats in the nearby snack room.

To a large extent this is acceptable because of the foundation of mutual discomfort that it establishes: it "levels" what could otherwise be the sense of exclusivity of the participants. And more than anything this is the key dichotomy to being a skate parent: high expenses for very brief moments of glitter, while the vast overarching majority of time you're watching the competitors from very hard and cold seats, nibbling on a small package of vendor trailmix.