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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

- arm calculus


My daughter once pointed out to me that if the athleticism of skating is in the legs, then certainly the art and grace of skating are in the arms. Indeed regardless of their program, you can pretty much identify who is skating just by watching the style of her arms.

If you were to break it down into micro-analytic atomic pieces you'd have to say that a skater's arm style (her armamentation?) consists of camber, clock angle, motion control, rhythmics, and dynamics. Getting all of these "right" is quite a challenge.

Start with camber: how straight, uplifted and parallel your arms are with the ice. You develop this from your shoulder strength. Droopy arms? I like the weight machines where you sit facing the pad, grab the handles and then pivot up the cylindrical pads with your elbows (straight shoulder presses seem to me to be too hard on your spine). Train for strong shoulders to keep those arms elevated.

Once your arms are up there it still takes lots of practice to anchor your awareness so that your body movement doesn't destabilize the arm positions you wish to maintain.

Clock angle is how the arms extend from your trunk when viewed from directly above. Naturally the expectation is that they point at 3 and 9 o'clock (straight out sideways). I have occasionally seen a slightly closed arm, say at 2 o'clock instead. Far more common though seems to be arms that are correctly "opposed" and yet twisted to the body, at 4 and 10, for example. Unless you saw yourself on video though I don't know how you'd even become aware of such a thing. It seems common enough that I figure most coaches don't bother to correct it.

Now that you're 3 and 9 and elevated parallel to the ice, we can think about movement. Go watch some ballet and pay attention to the arm movements: they are both meticulously deliberate and tightly controlled. Except for specific reasons of expressive pose they aren't frozen in place: they always have either slow rhythm or directive intent. Except on your spiral I don't want to see you glide with your arms outstretched and fixed like airplane wings. Nor do I want to witness you windmilling or flapping your arms like a bird the entire time either. Your arms should strive for ballet aesthetics.

Finally your arm movements should vary in speed: they should have dynamics. Sometimes your arms move slowly, sometimes they move more quickly. But it's also nice when the change in dynamics is itself smooth: the transition from slow arms to fast arms should be gradual. For you calculus fans out there, the second derivative of arm movement speed is best when very small.

Monday, September 16, 2013

- sharpened

Sometimes as a parent I found myself frustratingly in the dark on the whole equipment end of things. Down in the weeds it's all about the boots, the blades, and the sharpening; when it came to the technicalities of sharpening I figured that my role as a parent was just to assure that my daughter did her own "homework." Since it was her sport she was the one who had to be "up" on the technology. So here in two referrals is all the gory technical details:

http://www.vesc.ca/Sharpening.htm
http://fredsskatesharpening.com/qa_blades.html

Even so I still felt a deep lingering uneasiness with this whole sharpening business -- it seemed that my daughter's success or frustrations could depend inordinately on some gent I barely knew with a couple grinding and polishing machines in his garage. Yeah he had testimonials and connections, and my daughter found the fellow from checking with other gals at the rink. But how could I tell how much he really knew, or how well he actually performed his duty? He would chat with my daughter about how she was skating, and seemed to listen intently to her concerns. Was he being sincere though or just going through the motions? I couldn't quite tell. What if he saved his best work for a couple of his favorites and then just glided through the rest of his sharpenings? And in my paranoia I even wondered if he wasn't maybe playing on my fears to manipulate me to a higher fee. I harbored my lingering suspicions.

I'm wondering now if this might be one place where the sport couldn't tighten up a bit. With advanced technology nowadays I'm surprised that somebody doesn't make a laser measuring device to display the sharpness and various curvatures along the length of each blade. It seems that you should be able to plop your boot into such a device at your local rink and know immediately if your blades are due for a honing, or if the quality of the job your sharpener did was up to snuff. Anyhow that's a small business idea for you mechanical engineers out there.

My other bright idea is that some skating website should take the opportunity to reduce the information assymetry in this relationship. You know, something similar to Angie's list or 1-800-dentist where a skater and her parents could find a list of local sharpeners along with testimonials and a five star rating. And speaking of ratings. . .

I really wonder if skaters, parents, and USFSA shouldn't push for some sort of licensing, standardization, or certification of sharpeners. It's one of those grey areas: few sharpeners make this their full time profession and yet aside from a small handful of other sports I don't know of many places where "equipment tuning" can play such a significant role.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

- interview


Back a couple of months ago I had the pleasure to watch Courtney Hicks compete at the LA Open at Pickwick in Burbank. After she saw a tweet where I complimented her we managed to get together to arrange for this email Q&A. Special thanks to All Year FSC and the USFSA for their clearance on this interview.

> Hi Courtney! Hey I noticed you have a web site to enable sponsors to help defray the costs of competing -- this seems like a great idea. Do lots of skaters do this and is it helpful?

I think a lot of skaters do. . . and it has helped over the past few years!

> You have many unique flourishes to your moves. How does a skater stand out, and what are the plusses and minuses of such creativity? Where do you get ideas for these moves?

Thanks! A skater can stand out by doing things that other skaters don’t, even if that’s just great edge quality or fast spins. Simple things help judges remember a skater and leave a favorable impression on them. Skaters can also come up with different moves or transitions that are new and different.

Some of the plusses are better recognition, better PCS scores, and getting the crowd more interested in your skating. Some of the minuses are that the jumps can become harder to do, and you might lose speed during your program.

A lot of the moves that I’ve done were just random things that I thought would be fun to try; my Twhicks spin was something my mom thought up during practice one day.

> How do the hours in your typical training week break down by activity?

I usually spend about eighteen hours on the ice and six hours doing off ice workouts at home or with my personal trainer. I also spend about 3 hours a week stretching at home.

> You have "jumper's thighs" . . . you are probably one of the three highest female jumpers I've seen in L.A. Do you think you were just born with good genes or did you develop your thighs from focused exercise? Is there a down side to this... does it impede other moves?

I think it was a combination of both! I’ve had high jumps since I was little, but I have done a lot of strength training to make sure my legs could handle my big jumps. I have very tight quads and hamstrings, so some flexibility moves are hard for me. I’m not sure if my average flexibility is from having strong legs or if it’s just natural, but I have to stretch a lot to maintain the flexibility that I have.

> Is Hurd video really everywhere? Do you ever buy video tapes of your skating?

Hurd is definitely at all the Southern California competitions, at least! I’m not sure about other places but they’ve been at every local competition that I’ve ever done since I started skating. I buy my competition videos every once in a while.

> What type of off-ice training have you found to be the most valuable, and why?

I find that workouts with my trainer are the most useful to me off ice because it builds and maintains the necessary core, leg, and arm strength needed for skating.

> Since skating is so physically demanding and everyone looks pooped out after their free skate, should skaters do more endurance training, like running a mile? Or might that be counterproductive?

The best thing I found that helped my endurance was sprinting up the hill to my house. I used to run 3 miles almost every day, but that would just make my shins hurt and I never noticed it helping my skating (it actually usually made me more tired for skating). I think running a really fast mile or running as fast as you can up a hill is probably the closest to doing a program. Anything much longer than that and I feel like you are just overworking yourself.

> Besides a coach, choreographer, and ballet teacher, what other trainers have you found valuable over the years?

I’ve never really had any other trainers than those, but I’ve found that getting a massage once a week is REALLY HELPFUL because I get tight so easily and then I have a lot of pain.

> Do you follow any sort of special training diet? Do you consult with a Nutritionist?

I avoid carbs like bread and rice, and I also don’t eat junk food like ice cream or candy. My mom is basically my nutritionist! She researches everything and knows a lot about what’s good and what’s not good. I do get a meal each week with whatever I want though!

> How does a skater balance her focus between athleticism and grace?

I’d say that athleticism can be shown through grace. It’s always important to move beautifully, but you can still be fast and powerful with athletic movements and still carry those movements gracefully. It makes it look effortless.

> What books have you found to be the most motivating?

I thought that Mind Gym was pretty good. It helped me realize how heavily the mind influences what you do.

> Should we (not specifically you but American skaters in general) try to skate style-wise more like the Japanese?

Even though it’s probably good for every skater to have the flow and ice coverage the Japanese have, I think it’s more important for each skater to find a style that fits them; they need to find the most beneficial style for themselves.

> What are some of the more interesting elements you've seen?

I think a hydroglide is really cool and I wish I could do one! I also think cantilevers look really neat. The skater does sort of a sitting spread eagle and leans back all the way with their back parallel to the ice; I want to do one so badly!

> What are the biggest things to consider when deciding if you want to strive for being a National skater?

Definitely the cost and the effort. Skating gets really expensive as you get better, and it also takes a ton of effort and time. Basically, you have to be totally committed to skating and training full time.

> Plushies or flowers?

Ooo, that’s hard! I love plushies but I have sooo many of them! They’re awesome and I love stuffed animals, but they take up so much room! I also really love flowers and always try to take home the ones that I get at competitions.

> Do you care about audience size? Do you have to prepare differently mentally when the audience is large?

I always love big audiences. The bigger the better! It’s great to feel the energy from the crowd and it helps me perform better too. I don’t really do anything different for larger audiences.

> After you finish a big national competition, do you get to have fun? Share some of the silliness.

Always! When I was in Omaha, some of my family was there and we went to the zoo. I was climbing around on vines and monkeying around; I also held a butterfly! We also always go out to eat somewhere after I compete, but since the competition was over so late in Nebraska we ended up using the drive through at McDonald’s and eating in our hotel room.

> How often do you buy new skates? Do you have to time the purchase to your competition calendar?

I usually get new skates every six months. When the old skates break down I always try to have a spare pair handy so that I don’t have to use duct tape until the new ones arrive. Lately I’ve had some skate issues and been forced to use the "spare" pair immediately when the new ones got finished. One pair buckled in three weeks!

I don’t really time purchases to my calendar because I break skates in so quickly -- I could basically get new skates a week before competition and still be okay.

> We used to drive an hour to a certain guy in Arcadia to get my daughter's blades sharpened. Is a private sharpener worth it and how do you find a good one?

It’s great to find someone that does skates really well! I only ever go to one person for my sharpenings and other boot/blade issues. It helps because after a while the person that deals with your skates knows a lot of your issues and can have a better idea of how to fix any problems you might have. The best way to find somebody is probably word of mouth. Ask around and you’ll probably find someone really good!

> What are some of the strangest rink environments you've skated in? Are there certain things you wish more rinks provided?

There’ve been a few rinks where it gets really foggy inside and it’s like skating in a cloud. Those are definitely the weirdest because it makes it hard to see the barriers and other people, plus it’s harder to breathe! It is kind of fun though just because it looks really cool. It’s always nice when there’s a warm room for skaters to put on their skates. It’s a lot easier to stay warm and ready to get on the ice when you’re not sitting in the cold for ten minutes.

> Okay shout out time: who do you want to acknowledge? Websites we should visit?

Well definitely my family! I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am without my sisters, Kylie and Kelsey, and my parents Gene and Nelisa. Same goes for my aunt, uncle, cousin, and Baboonya, who’ve been to every U.S. Championship with me.

I don’t really visit any websites in particular to help with skating or anything, but it’d be great if you could check out my website! It’s www.courtneyhicks.com.

> Awesomeness. Actually I have some questions for your mom too! Hi Nelisa, say I used to always get terribly nervous before my daughter competed, maybe even more so than her. What do you do about your nerves?

I usually am good and calm until she leaves to go compete. Then when I get nervous I walk out of the rink and try to go to a place by myself.

> Say a few words about how to cope with the hardships of skate parenting: tricks of the trade.

I don’t really have any; I like to keep it real. This sport is not easy and we all know it. We believe in hard work and a lot of prayers.

> Once your kid gets on the cusp of skating nationally, how do you prep yourself and your family for what lies ahead?

It seems to be a natural progression. It’s very exciting, but I believe that setting goals to achieve really helps. The whole family does have to be onboard with it too. At times the whole family changes their schedule to accommodate what is needed.

> What are the biggest things to consider when deciding if you want to strive for raising a National skater?

I didn’t strive for this -- I just told Courtney that if she wanted to do this sport, or any sport, there were going to be some work requirements to stay in it, whether she made it nationally or not. I think if you are going to do something you work hard and good things will come out of that.

> How much influence should a parent exert over a skater, compared to the coach?

I believe it is a working triangle; each person is important to the overall goal. Sometimes a parent can see something the coach doesn’t because they are with the skater all the time. It definitely is best when everyone can work together.

> Thanks so much to both of you for taking some time to share your thoughts with the blog readers and me! We love to watch you skate.