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.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

- shoulders

If you have gathered your only experience of figure skating from watching TV, you would naturally assume that the "arms up" pose of the skaters is an inherent consequence of the tradition of poise and balance. It just seems to come instinctively to a skater.

So now get up from your computer, stand in the privacy of your own living room, and hold your arms up for three minutes. It's a pain but not impossible. Rest a few minutes and do it again. Rest, and then again. Repeat twenty times.

There now you have just performed the arm and shoulder portion of a freestyle practice session.

Mind you I have always appreciated the graceful athleticism of figure skaters, but it wasn't until I was the parent of a skating student that I recognized half of the strenuous challenge to the sport prevails from the shoulders.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

- respect

I distinguish the sport of ice skating from the exercise of -watching- ice skating. The two are completely, distinctly different. My daughter skates; indeed she is in love with the sport of skating. She buys knickknacks from the events, she knows all of the famous skaters, she reads about skating, and eats, breathes and lives the sport. Me though, I just watch.

When I happened across ice skating as a kid, say because it was filler on "Wide World of Sports" (in between two things that I /did/ want to watch) the whole thing left me unmoved. Ladies were gliding around gracefully but certainly not in any way particularly inventive, say from a modern jazz dance perspective. It didn't seem to really be art. Occasionally a pairs routine might interest me due to the rather remarkable synchronization aspects of it more than anything.

Mostly though it was interesting to watch as a curiosity, as something to be slightly diversionary. Why did some of the skaters appear so clumsy and unable to do what they were attempting? I mean geesh, how hard could it be?

I know precisely when I fell in love with watching ice skating: when my daughter started doing laybacks. Always one of the more gracefully entertaining things to watch, the trouble my daughter was having getting any kind of technique on the matter left me bewildered. After examining her for a half hour session I figured out what was uniquely difficult about the maneuver: it's a question of angular momentum and torque versus moment translation.

In other words, spinning in an L shape causes unequal forces of stress on each lateral side of the body. This doesn't seem obvious from the outset, but it was clear that my daughter (along with the other beginners) was tightening one side of her dorsal muscles more than the other, and hence was short of laying back with her shoulders flat parallel to the ice.

Based solely upon her feelings, her own sensations, she /thought/ that she was flat back with shoulders equidistant to the ice. It took the video recorder to convince her otherwise. To employ some illustrative thought direction I told her to imagine herself with her leading shoulder slicing back through water.

This process taught me that the physics of the moves is not straightforward, and furthermore that the skater's perception is quite different than the audience's.

Out of curiosity I asked my daughter what she saw while she was doing her spins. She said "mostly a blur." She said that she could keep relative track of where she was in the rink by noticing some particular object as she was spinning, say the blue line of the hockey rink (the offsides marker), a member of the audience wearing an unusually brightly colored jacket, or a "spotter" (a friend standing on the ice).

As I watched her do more complicated moves I recognized that to accomplish them in a manner that was graceful to the audience, she had to learn contortions and sequences of muscle activity that basically don't make sense in any other environment.

This was the defining moment for me; after layback training I suddenly recognized the incredible amount of practice and sublime, intricately-timed adjustments my daughter made to arrive at such movements. Now I have nearly infinite respect for a skater on the ice who can actually perform something dynamic and graceful, perfectly attuned to the audience.

(-- repost --)