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, April 18, 2011

- continuity


The top-level men skaters (much more than the women) exhibit a certain nonchalance in their practice sessions. A fair amount of this is due to the greater security in their relative positions, due to the general paucity of male skaters overall. They don't feel the pressure to always be "on" to impress people. Or to put it differently, their competitive bent is more driven by a desire to be kick-ass-best rather than a wish to "impress." They are more inwardly competitive than outwardly competitive.

Also their informality is partly a show of independence: a desire to break free from the artificial nature of imposed "show timings" and space allocations that can happen in the practice sessions.

A side effect of this is that men are much more focused on visualization and individual move skills, rather than program continuity. Mostly this is because -- having a man's brain -- they know without a doubt that they can assemble the pieces together under pressure when the time comes. It's an interesting psychological difference between the sexes that reflects directly in the practice of the sport.

After chatting about this a bit with my daughter we realized an unintended residual affect: in actual competition most men's programs tend to be weak at the end. This is due to the men failing to establish enough stamina, since they don't continually skate their programs all the way through during the practice sessions.

Friday, April 8, 2011

- the first Axel


My daughter did her first Axel for me today. Well, I presume she has landed this a couple of times before. This is the first time though that she has ever done it with me watching.

Now this requires a long and involved backstory. On the surface, no big deal, an Axel. But this is what separates the amateurs from the gals with potential: this is the quantum step up in figure skating. Landing your Axel means that you are now ready to seriously compete. And it takes pretty much the full several years of building skills to get to the point where this executes.

The whole point of the initial spins is to make sure that the gal has her "center" and has mastery over it while in motion. The whole point of the first jumps is to make sure that the gal has her spring, her leg muscles, her balance while in the air, and her confidence and ankle strength to land on one skate.

Finally, after years of practice, put the two together. Jump, spin, land. Nothing could be simpler. Nothing takes a more arcane set of muscle control, timing, and coordination.

My daughter is back on the ice, and I turn on the camera and start filming her back-scratch spins. She has a couple that are quite fast, quick revolutions, and then a couple of nice check-outs. Then she lines up on the center-ice line, arms extended in front of her in preparation for her standing Axel. I watch on the two-inch viewfinder as she tries and two-foots, tries and throws out early, tries and lands awkward. She seems though to be doing just slightly better than last week.

Then after seven or eight near misses, she jumps, full spin, one foot landing, check back. Yeah! I say audibly, the camera recording my cheer. She turns up from the ice, smiles at me, and raises her arms over her head. I blink back a tear from the corner of my eye. She's got it. Yep, she's got it!

When my coworkers ask me tomorrow how my weekend was, I'm going to have to reply "bittersweet. My daughter landed her Axel." They will look at me somewhat unknowingly of course, and I will have to explain: "this is what separates the skaters from the novices. Watching her land an Axel is like watching your kid graduate from college."

It represents a watershed, there is no going back. I know now either that she will break my heart if she fails or break my bank if she succeeds. Of course, I pray for the latter, but there is no turning back now -- she has crossed over, she landed her Axel. I feel happy and proud and like I have given up control all at once.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

- thoughts on scoring


My daughter and I have a conversation about the new ISU scoring method. It is a peculiar type of conversation, in that she is talking more about details at the same time that she is sounding me out for larger philosophical issues, and I am propounding a strictly performance (or performer's) attitude rating, in effect arguing that the scoring doesn't particularly matter one way or another from the perspective of souls.

We reach a bit of a middle ground where I am arguing that what the ISU mucky-mucks are trying to achieve is to create a certain kind of "environment", something that is in the best interest of the sport itself in the long run. I caution that we need to be careful that we don't set up false objectives: we run the risk of creating a system that coaches "coach" to, in the same manner that teachers sometimes teach skills to score highly on the SAT rather than to develop students who are most competent at learning on their own.

I also brought up the possibility of computers doing the scoring. I said that it would be unreasonable to expect a computer to rate the /artistic/ abilities of a skater, their expressions, their performance, their joy. But conceivably a sufficiently smart and environment-aware computer (visual recognition, music listening) could determine the "technical" merits of a skating program, after sufficient training.

So what do you think? Should scoring create anemic ladies who can quintuple Axel? Or should it create spellbinding performances?