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, September 12, 2018

- to judge?

A reader recently inquired whether I would ever be interested in becoming a figure skating judge. Even though I love watching skating, the short answer is No. Nope, no thank you. The long answer will stretch out below for paragraphs and paragraphs.

I have considered the possibility of judging; I definitely have my ideas for how I'd like to see the sport performed. I feel that figure skating judges perform a civic service, much as a lifeguard helps out at a public pool, or an attorney might provide pro bono work for a worthy cause. Without judges the sport would only consist of recreational shows.

I did judge an event once -- sitting in the stands opposite the actual judges -- using my own scoring system. It was not an enjoyable experience. I got some nasty glares from the actual judges: apparently my thoughts were too distracting! The main challenge however is keeping a full mental inventory of what you are watching without letting your eyes drop to a scoresheet; then you jot it all down after the skater finishes. It's mentally quite taxing.

Yet judging supports scoring which encourages both accomplishment and commitment. Quite like any creative art, the presentation of a blank canvas lacking guidelines or limitations can be quite intimidating. The scoring system provides that scaffold: the outline for building a creative skating program.

And the judges have these boffo electronics and nice event hospitality rooms! If you watch closely you may catch the camaraderie as they enter and leave their stations. Occasionally you even get the pleasure of brushing shoulders with former national champs, now doing a round of judging themselves. I've even had the privilege to sit behind a group of a dozen aspiring judges to observe as they were mentored through a competition with phony scoring equipment and thick trainee manuals.

Have you ever walked into a Starbucks half a world away only to be comforted by the same color schemes, attention to decorating details, and identical social atmosphere? The same seasonal stickers on the windows? You know how they do that? Have you ever seen a 'bux training manual? The managerial teams there are a pyramid of conforming non-conformity.

ISU judging is no different. USFSA has a well established program for growing judges, see here for example. On one hand, it's quite an accomplishment. On the other hand it's an extremely narrow perspective of the world. Make no mistake about it, ISU grooms judges up through a tightly controlled and socially restrictive culture that inculcates their exact desires.

I can see where it just has to be that way, but that is not for "me." Am I a bit of a rebel? I love skating for its artistic outlet, and I am always overjoyed with the opportunity to muse. But judging? God bless the judges, but no thanks (wink).


  1. I totally understand your reasoning, I do so appreciate it when a judge makes helpful observations about my skating, not my dress style or size of my posterior!

    As part of my level 1 coaching course I had to trial judge. I was fortunate to have a very experienced judge who gave a running commentary about what she expected in that particular level and why. I couldn't believe how quickly everything happened. In fact for the the first few tests I was trying to write comments and ended up missing half the test! Eventually I did become better at observing all the distinct components of the test but it was pretty stressful. I really felt bad if I failed a skater because I missed something.

    My Dad was a judge for almost 30 years and loved every minute of it, he was an engineer by profession and I think the methodicalness and precision needed as a judge were second nature to him.
    However, he did confess to me that if he never ate another BBQ chicken dinner for the rest of his life, he would not be disappointed :)

  2. Hi Lori,

    Thanks for your comments! Yes I'd generally agree that most of the higher level judges seemed to have quite a strong analytical background (you could always see their wheels turning). The judges at local club events were often coaches; I'm curious how much overlap the sport has. Of course I hope they won't let you judge if you have one of your own skaters on the ice (smile).

    I've always been curious to hear many of the inner thoughts of a skating judge, but it wouldn't surprise me if they were so inclined to demur in public. Good remarks about the hospitality food though (grin), and thanks again for reading and sharing.