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, July 26, 2013

- a fix

Once in a while I get to thinking about the state of the "sport" and although I am now actually outside looking in, I do still get somewhat cheesed off at skating today compared to my recollections of its grace and class when l was younger. At the same time, aside from joining the cacophony of bloggers who feel the same and create electronic messages that flow into reader's brains, is there much else that I can do about the present morass? Well yes, unfortunately so. I could found an alternative to ISU.

As I am by profession however a software geek and nominally by free-choice a writer, let's consider this for now just a thought experiment. Would it be possible, what might it achieve, and where would we encounter the major challenges. After reading this if you, as a studious parliamentarian, feel so motivated as to actually carry out these tasks then you have my blessings (and more power to you).

So I hereby propose the Youth Performing Skaters Organization -- the YPSO if you will. Its targeted beneficiaries are youth aged 8 to 20 who regularly skate artistically in front of an audience. Its charter is to promote the long-term comfort, safety, and satisfaction of the participants (including their parents, coaches, and audience members) and to guide the harmonization of rules and services promulgated by the national level skating organizations that may overlap in scope.

Yeah I know, boring bureaucratic hogwash. Yet it's focused to specific ends that the present hierarchy isn't. So say that you're all on board with this. Now what? Well to actually establish such a thing you need to bootstrap a group of relevant and interested experts and participants and create some actual bylaws. I suppose you could do this with a Kickstarter project or some such tool; say you set a funding goal of having a hundred prospective members each providing $1000. Donors who agree to abide by the charter and who pass a certain amount of vetting become "charter members" and get to create the bylaws.

Of course you'd want to assure a fair mix of representative interests: singles skaters, pairs, dance, ice theater, and their respective coaches. Some trainers and sports medicine folks. A couple language and cultural boffins. Some marketing and media types. A few rink owners, a renewable energy representative. And some skate parents, naturally.

So there you go, now you have a group of folks to work with. You next need to mutually create and agree to the bylaws that specify how YPSO will run, keep and suspend members, organize standing committees, hold meetings, resolve problems, yada yada. A good six months of wrestling with best practices and attorneys, certainly.

Then comes the real work.

YPSO will need some initial regular fundraising, with all the politics that implies. It will need to deal with the rules and legalities for a disciplinary committee. It will need to develop a scorekeeping methodology and scoring software. It will need to handle contract negotiations with vendors and media. It will need to establish accounting for startup travel costs and justification for a future budget. It will need to handle auditing and credentialing, copyrights and IP legal matters, and create policies that promote comfort, health and safety. Finally it can think about curation and musing of the art form.

Heck I'm not saying it would be easy, and after the bylaws are established you've still probably got a solid two years of work before you produce anything influential, but it's a start. Of course it's easier to blog concerns and flay one another with comments, but when blades scritch ice the Doing will trump the Writing. Just saying.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

- style

How do you learn new elements and still develop a style of your own? Surely it's easiest to learn by watching another skater as she performs a move, ask your coach to teach you the technical execution, and then strive to copy them. When most of the skaters follow this course it leads to a "fashion," whether that be a Bielman or a butt-up spin. (Sidenote: I never saw butt-up until a couple years ago and now half the gals try it. You know what? It look farcical: it turns you into a paper clip. Please don't do this move).

Mimicking an elite move is different though from replicating a style. Physics fairly limits the full set of possible elements, so mirroring an elite move isn't necessarily unoriginal. When you try to imitate somebody else's style however you come off as "phony" -- you need to express your own personal style.

To some extent, style is what you tack on top of a foundational move. Additionally though you reflect your style in the type of music you choose, the programs you like to skate, the fluidity of your movements, the projection of your attitude, and your treatment of fellow skaters.

I've seen skaters express a full range of personalities using their arms, their footwork, hand embellishments, their carriage, facial expressions, costume, and attitude -- they can be unselfish, silly, eager, rustic, coy, daring, decorous, droll, demure, mirthful, virtuous, stimulating, wise, elegant, and winsome (to name just a few traits).

Your skating style is more a reflection of your personality combined with methods that you've developed for how to express it.

You should strive to make each move your own. Watch for variety and allow novelty to impress you when you happen across something new to your eyes. The goal however is not to mirror the elites' style: it's to be graceful, inventive, and to express your own spirit.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

- bouncy

Yesterday I floated by the public session at the Westfield UTC rink in San Diego (yeah a rink mezzanined below a mall's food court) and sure enough amongst the weekend noobs hugging the boards an actual nine year old Skater with a Coach on ice was polishing her double Axel. Although still somewhat inconsistent her talents were immediately obvious: she had that magical combination of bubbly personality with tight center of gravity control. After ten minutes of Axel she switched to practicing her flying camel.

I smiled to myself while thinking Ah someday a national competitor. Yet as I watched her skate her set-ups and non jumps with their implied stylistic flourishes I also recognized her largest challenge. And it's not just hers. . . this seems to be the toughest sub-component for nearly all competing skaters. Managing the vertical bounce.

Grace derives from many components, most of them inherited traits of demeanor and personality. Yet a good solid thirty percent or so of gracefulness is actually a physical spoof -- how you manifest your awareness of carriage. I recall a certain children's story where the aspiring princess walks about balancing a book on her head; it's sort of like this. In skating however the dynamics of movement require a more complicated management of "flow."

Novice skaters manage this in one physical dimension: sideways. They work on consistent shudder control. More advanced skaters add the second physical dimension, accelerative smoothness: they strive for "seamlessness." Since a sheet of ice is only two dimensional one would think that handling velocity and shimmy should be sufficient. Counterintuitively though the flatness of the ice tends to enhance the contrast to the third dimension you travel, your vertical movements.

I've seen skaters manage this vertical 3rd dimension to various ends. Some treat it as irrelevant, as they randomly bounce around the rink. Others track it on the small scale, thinking in terms of softness and transitions. Some handle it dogmatically, keeping their center exactly at a fixed height while somewhat boringly executing a flattened pattern.

The third dimension should have a studied dynamism, a path that is purposeful and yet sublime. It should be like the movements of a swans neck. The third dimension should be gently managed as its own story.

This is how you separate the competitors from the pros.