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, May 18, 2014

- popped

Nothing in skating bothers me much more than seeing a gal pop a jump in a competition. It's hard to put a finger on why this is so upsetting. I full well realize that a skater may be on the learning edge of a particular jump and hence only be hitting it seventy per cent of the time or so. She'll add it to her program as a somewhat unessential element -- an extra bonus -- and then she'll see how it feels.

As soon as she lifts off she can pretty much sense if she launched her jump with the correct posture and balance, and then react accordingly. No good? Pop.

I suppose my discomfort has to do with a behavioral expectation for a competitor. I know you run through your entire program four times every day in practice, and I am perfectly fine with your popping a jump then, during the practice session.

You should treat a competition however as much more than just another repeat of your practice with a bit more audience. It's supposed to be a different "standard." You'll earn far more respect from me if you try and fall (safely) in a competitive jump than if you pop it.

It's kind of like picking your nose: okay in private or discreetly in your car, but not in front of an audience, okay?

I also recognize of course that this behavior mostly results from a force of habit. When you're on practice ice it's natural to experiment at your limits; popping is a safe way out during that long ramp up the learning process. So after a while it may become a second nature way to escape.

Now I am no expert on sports psychology (my skating daughter studied it quite a bit so maybe she can comment) but I am guessing that one way to fix this is to create two "modes" of practicing your program for yourself, "poppable" and not. When you queue up your music for practice think ahead of time, what mode will I be skating in? If you choose poppable, okay fine you may pop an uncomfortable jump.

But if you choose "competition" mode then when you initiate a jump and it's floundering you have to decide either how to two-foot, fall safely, short, or otherwise recover it.

Becoming habituated to the rigors of competition imply occasionally practicing with a competitive mindset. Some of this mindset is to always complete the jumps that you start. If you can't complete it when you're in "competitive" mode, you shouldn't start it when in that mode in the first place. Well, that's my theory anyhow.


Hi Dad,

I agree that popped jumps are quite a disappointment, but the fact remains that they will always be a part of the amateur ranks. A couple of things:

Although I've never been a coach, it's evident from their style that there are two types of coaches:

Some coaches agree with your view that students should only perform skills that they can routinely complete within competition. Students of these coaches will usually be the top places of their level, and seem to be living dual lives in practice, dividing their time between polishing their program and learning new jumps and other skills.

Other coaches disagree with your view, and believe that students will be most driven to practice that difficult jump if it's included in the program (hence why the difficult jump is often choreographed to be directly in front of the judges: added pressure). This definitely raises the stakes for the student and may change the way he or she practices.

The competitor who wins an event with the difficult jump in the program experiences a different kind of joy than the competitor who plays it safe. Ultimately, competition is about being able to pull through under pressure; there is nothing safe about it. _____________

In my opinion, it's nearly impossible to predetermine two different "modes" of practicing. Due to the extremely risky nature of jumping, each jumping pass is a unique combination of physics, psychics, and muscle movements that can only be controlled in a very limited way. If a skater takes-off and doesn't feel right, there's a chance to fall and break an arm or fracture a tail-bone. Of course skaters always try to fall "safely" when the only choice is to fall, but there's only a limited amount of control that you have over the situation. It's better to not fall at all and pop a jump which gives the skater more control over the landing and a better chance to avoid injury.

Hope this helps!!

Love, Karline



Saturday, May 10, 2014

- home

A parent's view of Sport is as different from his child's as the view of an eagle is from that of a flying squirrel. A skater approaches her sport as a mix of social challenge and self disciplined excellence. For a parent though arriving at this point in time was an up and down roller coaster through a social circus, a dating jungle, the medicalised and worry-prone years of birth and then raising a toddler. By the time a parent achieves the point of getting a kid into a sport, they have essentially already been an evolutionary success (in the sense of accomplishing the purpose of our specie). So it's not unusual that a parent views sport as a surrogate to introduce their child to simulated challenges that parallel and prepare them for the actual life they must still encounter.

A surprisingly large part of this parenting happens on the road. I already did a couple of other posts (here and here) about the amazing preparatory experience of packing, driving, and arriving at the rink. The trip home after a tough competition however is a whole 'nother animal. More than anywhere this drive home is where most of the "heavy parenting" occurs.

If it's been a tough or frustrating day your role should be to lend gentle support, as well as offer solace for any physical requirements (stopping for food along the way seems to be a common desire).

Even so love typically dictates that you avoid speaking directly to onerous issues: it would be both crude and counterproductive to ask "what seems to be the problem with your camel spin today?" A much more useful conversational opener however might be "How are things going?"  If your kid says "I'm having lots of trouble with my camel" then certainly listen, but don't cross over the line to pry with "maybe you should blah blah blah." The point is to help her discover her own path, whatever that might be, not to step into the skates of her coach. "What do you think" or "how could you find out" are great prompts to advance your kid's thinking along.

Parenting after a competition can really be quite a sublime challenge from another dimension. Individual parenting styles may be quite dependent on personality. I'll try to describe my own way of addressing the post-competition drive in some detail, yet I don't claim a "right" way in the matter. Frankly each parent has their own approach grounded in their personality, so this is just mine.

My underlying premise is that a child faces nearly as much danger if you falsely build up her ego as if you recklessly tear it down. You want to buffer your kid to any feelings of frustration, to encourage her to overcome and find the strength to persist and continue to strive forward. Yet you don't want to invent an imaginary environment where you might be deceiving her into thinking she will falsely be able to entertain a range of experiences beyond the actual capabilities within the realm of  her physical ability.

In other words, always aim for balance. If your child is feeling overly proud, gently take her down a notch or two. If she seems to have lost hope, encourage her to persist.
If you're in the car with flowers and a first place trophy then gently congratulate, "that was a cool skate," and allow your daughter time to savor the joy for a while. Later in the drive though bring up some of the other nice things you saw at the competition, so your daughter won't feel so smug and self centered. You are gently letting her know that she did well and that you are happy for her, and yet this is just another step on a very long path. There will always be better skaters and more techniques to learn.

If you find yourself in the car with just a skate bag and a sad little girl, then respect her private thoughts, but don't throw in the towel either. You most know yourself in your adversities; the kernel of disappointment teaches her as much as the daily struggles to understand the physics of her body. Make a nice comment or two about the highlights of her program, letting her know that "the blah you did was one of the best I've seen you do," and listen to her concerns. No, really listen. Life is larger than skating, and this is where it all comes out.