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.
Friday, April 4, 2014
- applauding growth
When I watch my daughter compete mostly my role is to cheer for the other skaters. At the local level one encounters a huge variety of participants; when the little kids hit the ice -- the ones that are six through eight years old -- they have only been competing for maybe two years. With their parents or grandparents (and often the whole extended family) in the stands cheering, they are still working intently on their own self-esteem. No matter the quality of their performance I gently clap courteously once they finish.
Even at these starting levels I can tell which kids have some natural ability, which are just skating for diversion, and those that are on ice because their parents want them to be involved in sports. In a local competition of twenty or so skater tots even at this young age usually one or two will clearly stand out as passionate about their skating.
They may not yet have skills, innate balance, or grace, yet you can still tell that they have the heart to practice seriously and to study the art. These are the kids that extend a bit beyond their natural capabilities and even falling, get right back up and continue onward. These are the tikes that garner my heartiest applause.
The middle age group -- the kids who are nine through eleven -- are an interesting bunch to watch, and they skate all over the map. Some of them are beginners who struggle with their balance or edge work. Many of them have been skating for five or six years already 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 into their grace and class. You can just barely discern an inkling of audience awareness, or how a particular skater may use her hands to express her 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.
Unfortunately this is also the age where most skaters develop into some semblance of their physically maturity: they begin to achieve the bodily proportions that they will be working with as the tool for the remainder of their craft. This can be a rather painful realization; ineffective leg muscles mechanistically 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 will leave them stranded.
Very rarely though you spot the nine, ten, or eleven year old that has the appropriate skating body matched to the blooming of grace or class. It is as plain as day that the skater has national "potential." Many times these skaters still only receive my mild applause. Partly 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 to the group of the serious older skaters, twelve and above. In a local competition you see a definitive split in the talents at this age level: the kids clearly either skate for fun, or are daily skaters striving for a national rating. I am courteous to those skating for fun, but the committed daily skaters 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 after they compete 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 perfectly neutral-buoyancy fashion. It's about the humble acceptance of a quiet, non-dramatic, and equaniminous glamour.