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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

- styling

How do you go about composing your program's elements so that you can skate with style? Which of your moves are more conducive to expressing your style? A pancake spin is a pancake spin is a pancake spin: since the posture determines the position of your legs and one arm (unless you can somehow hold the position without grabbing an ankle) this leaves only one limb free for embellishments, and how can you be gracefully stylish from a pancake? Well I suppose you can be a tad bit expressive, see for example this video.

Also some transitions clearly allow for greater styleability: a move that is difficult to enter or that requires rapid footwork and body realignment leaves little maneuvering room for expression. How you finish an element also determines your freedom to play: exiting off-balance or with too little velocity will limit your options.

Where the styling happens isn't necessarily obvious from first inspection since it's hidden by coaching pedagogy: nobody actually learns their moves focused on style and then working outwards; this would be an inside out way to learn. You tend to build elements from the "committed" limbs, and combinations of elements by the postural flow or velocity required to make the transitions.

Style proclaims its gracefulness in negative space: you express it beyond the limb postures required with the motions that aren't already spoken for. Style is that part of you that isn't otherwise already committed.

Skating for style therefore requires you to plan a program differently. Since you express style with your free limbs this requires that you use more "open" moves, with as much attention paid to exits and transitions as to the elements themselves.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

- 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?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

- applauding growth

At local events one encounters a huge variety of participants. When I visit a competition to watch my daughter skate my role is mostly to cheer for these other skaters. When the little kids hit the ice -- the ones that are six through eight -- they have only been competing for maybe two years. While their parents, grandparents, and extended family cheer in the stands, they are still intently working on their own self-esteem. No matter the quality of their performance, once they finish I gently clap courteously.

Even at starting levels I can tell which kids have natural ability, which are just skating for diversion, and who is on the ice because their parents want them to be involved in sports. Of the twenty tots skating a local competition one or two will clearly stand out as passionate. They may not yet have skills, balance, or grace, yet you can still see they have the heart to practice seriously and to study the art. These are the kids that extend a bit beyond their natural capabilities, when they fall they get right back up and continue onward. These are the tikes that garner my heartiest applause.

The middle age group -- kids nine through eleven -- are an interesting bunch to watch, and they skate all over the map. Some are beginners who struggle with their balance or edge work. Many have already been skating for five or six years and are just now reaching their point of frustration. Both the late starters and the frustrated earn my courteous applause. This is also the age though where several of the skaters bloom with their grace and class. Some display an inkling of audience awareness, or might use their hands to express feelings. It is quite clear that a select few of these skaters actually "have it". Even without a firm set of jumping skills, these skaters with class or grace merit my hearty applause.

This is also the age where most skaters develop some semblance of physical maturity: their bodily proportions approach the components they will manage for the remainder of their craft. This can be a rather painful realization; ineffective leg muscles hinder a lanky eleven-year-old boy from progressing to nationals (no matter how hard he practices). I still clap enthusiastically for the teenage skaters with challenging bodies and lots of heart, even though I sense they will only attain the mediocrity of where their bodies leave them stranded.

Very rarely though you spot the nine, ten, or eleven year old that has the appropriate skating body matched with blooming grace or class. It is as plain as day that the skater has national "potential." I expect more from them -- clearly, if they have the native ability and talent, I want to see that they have devoted enough practice to their balance, expressiveness, and skill, and that they have honed their craft. I judge them more harshly because I know that in their future they will face a tougher appraisal of their skating. When they nail a challenging element though I will often compliment them off-ice. "Hey, that was a great toe loop." They'll say thanks and be proud that a total stranger appreciated their efforts.

Then we get the group of the serious older skaters, twelve and above. In a local competition you see a definitive split in talent: the kids either skate for fun, or are daily skaters striving for a national rating. I am courteous to those skating for fun, but the committed regulars receive my especially supportive scrutiny. I am judgmental in a way that aims to improve their execution. There's an ongoing mental communication with these serious skaters -- that was a nicely centered spin, that was an especially expressive layback. If I see them off-ice I will compliment them with a nod and a smile. At this level they know what they are doing and tend to be overly self-critical against their adversaries; my role is to boost their self esteem in a way that doesn't swell their head.

Being a conscientious skate parent is a lot of work. The trick is to keep the kids actively engaged in the sport in a neutral-buoyancy fashion. It's about the humble acceptance of a quiet, non-dramatic, and equaniminous glamour.

Monday, October 14, 2019

- unpaired

I'd imagine a solo male figure skater faces a constant challenge dealing with the female skaters. As I watch the rink freestyles it's a bit subtle (but also clearly obvious) that many female skaters wish they could transition over to dance skating. They'd like a pair partner.

I would guess perhaps seven times more females than males figure skate; due to this highly skewed ratio the limiting factor of forming a pair is always how to find a guy.

All a guy has to do is smile at a gal and she'll inquire if he'd like to try skating with her. From what I've read a fair number of the accomplished male skaters tend to end up being brats, as they can pretty much dictate their relationship with their female partner. If they dislike her other good female skaters are a dime a dozen.

This implies that if a gentleman artist wishes to persist as solo he has to present a rather aloof front (while he's practicing anyway). Or more typically by the time he's eight years old or so he internalizes a pat set of answers, shrugs, and responses to all the standard female inquiries.

It takes exceptional single-minded focus to be a solo male figure skater.

Monday, September 16, 2019

- select

The expense of figure skating produces some unique personality oddities. As a parent you should be well advised that skating is one of the more expensive sports, see for example this comparison, or for a real eye opener this PDF from a decade ago. Yes lessons, coaching, skates, costumes, travel, and ice fees are all pricey, but the sport's pathology goes well beyond that. The truly costly part of figure skating rests upon the purely implied sanctuary of the facilities: constructing and subsequently cooling and dehumidifying an ice rink. Building a new dual-sheet rink costs upward of five million dollars; add in debt service and monthly energy costs (not to mention the payroll and insurance) and. . . well there you go.

Since building and operating a rink is so expensive (compared to facilities for other sports) rinks are relatively few and far between. If my kid played little league baseball how many teams could she join here in metro L.A.? Maybe 400. Plus every high school and most parks have baseball diamonds. But figure skating? We can drive to maybe eight rinks, max.

To draw enough customers to recoup their costs rinks must disperse geographically where they can attract a clientele base that isn't already committed to another nearby locale. Now think of what this implies for the culture of the sport. Since a skater has so few local coaches to choose from, every individual coach has considerable power, and they can get away with charging less competitive fees. At the same time since so few new positions open, obtaining a coaching job is incredibly difficult. That means unless your kid is good enough to skate nationally it's unlikely that she'll ever make a decent living from the sport. (Well to be honest this holds true for nearly all sports, I suppose).

Since rinks are far apart I suspect that acquiring judges for competitions becomes quite a chore; it wouldn't surprise me if the availability of judges restricts the quantity of sanctioned events that a rink can conduct.

All these peculiarities have to do with the expense of maintaining an ice rink. Still though figure skaters are like orchids in a forest: although one of the more elegantly colorful parts of the foliage, they don't play an exceedingly large part in the biome's carbon cycle. Skaters scarcely shoulder much of this implied operating burden: the rink managers I've chatted with say that hockey brings in about 85% of a rink's revenue. Without hockey there likely would not be any indoor rink figure skating at all.