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, August 25, 2012

- nine

Being a parent makes you keenly aware of how your child progresses as they grow up through various ages. Without any hard or fast-cut transitions, a child gradually advances from one type of skating to another. A six year old is a considerably different skater than a four year old, but where that change happens chronologically is anybody's guess. But then you get to age 9.

9 is 9, and only a 9 year-old skates this way.

At 9 you are still a petite developing skater; unfortunately your lack of physical mass makes momentum and persistence difficult. Two strong strokes only get you about a third of the way down the ice. Holding a steady spiral is a real challenge. Skating when you are 9 requires tons, just enormous amounts of physical work.

Yet it's also really a special age; you are still normally proportioned, and you have enough grace and foot skills to accomplish most of what you desire. Your delicate physical mass won't interfere to cause inertial or balance issues: you look small, light, and clickety on your feet. You can almost exactly follow the music, you have a great imagination, and you are maturing past acting coy. You have a few favorite pop songs too. You are truly a princess on the ice.

Nine is the magical skating moment, but it doesn't last long.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

- relief

A figure skating competition indulges many odd peripheral circuses that are only obliquely related to the competition itself. At the rink's entry you have the strangely dedicated volunteers attending to the entrance table, checking in competitors, gabbing about the inner club workings, or what they saw on TV last night. They are troopers.

Then you've got entryway vendors. It must be a peculiar lifestyle to travel around to various competitions selling gewgaw. There they sit or stand, in a borderland world all of their own making.

Then you have a handful of volunteer "runners" scheduled to shuffle the music and scores about the rink (well we did this a decade ago, but I see a lot less of this nowadays).

Once inside the rink you recognize the photo and film guys. Talk about a peculiar lifestyle (at least they get to view the events)! But they spend all of those hours upon weekend hours kneeling, bent, or leaning around in a cold rink.

Awards! The placement platform and award photographer! Standings and skating order sheets! Now step outside the rink again and notice the hospitality room for the coaches and judges.

Still the strangest place during a competition has to be the restrooms. Mind you it's not exactly a place where I "hang out" (and I speak only from the experience of stepping in for occasional relief). And of course I can only speak for the men's room.

What do you expect for a small place of semi-privacy and refuge in the midst of a milieu of anxious, harried competitors with complex costumes and extreme pressure? Contortioned costume changes, splashing the face with water, deep breathing, diarrhea, cursing, vomiting. I can only imagine what goes on over in the other female-half of the facility.

Now leave gently, sigh, put on your stage face, stretch, "relax," and go back to sit in the stands with the oblivious siblings and grandparents, or share a wide-eyed nod and acknowledgement of circumstances with the adjacent skate mom.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

- friction

No matter how involved a skating parent nor how proficient a coach and her staff, you're still going to find some friction between a parent and the coach. The basis for this is joint and several.

Some is the natural conflict inherent in loco parentis where every day a coach temporarily transmits some of her value system to a student. Some of it may be a lingering suspicion from the parent that the coach's goals don't align exactly with her own. Some of it may strictly be a cost/benefit complaint. Some of it may be disdain toward the lack of authority or control the parent has over the coach (who appears to primarily be an employee of the rink).

At the foundational level though, all this appears to mostly result from a complicated "agency" problem: several parties stand between the service provider (coach) and the buyer (parent). Analogous to how companies buy health insurance for their employees, a parent buys coaching for her child. This transaction is not perfectly transparent however: few parents comprehend the intricacies of skating and the communication between a parent and her child are often less than clairvoyant.

There also seems to be a moral hazard always lurking beneath the surface: is the coach actually managing your child strictly to retain a long term client? Is that in your child's best interest? Does the coach give you false hopes of grandeur in return for a longer lasting revenue stream? In other words is the best interest of your skating child at odds with the best interests of her coach?

A parent of a serious skater may need to consider how to incentivize her kid's coaches to achieve the skater's desired results. Should you tip your coach for exceptional accomplishments? Should you have a contract with your kid's coach with performance incentives? Should we be encouraging skate parents to share their feelings about the quality of their coaches?

Yeah it's a lot of questions and I don't know any of the answers. Frankly a parent can be a bit of a cad to bring these up in public to begin with. Still it's something to think about (and perhaps discuss on blogs or on skating forums).