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, December 26, 2015

- intermezzo

During the Pacific Sectionals junior freeskate the Music Guy tried something I hadn't heard before; it seems like an idea worth pursuing (although maybe in a different form).  I've posted previously my gripes about the long scoring pause between skaters, and this might be a viable way to ease this irritation.

Nowadays of course the Music Guy has a laptop computer with a built-in CD player, some digital mixing software and a standalone pre-amp, all connected to the rink's sound system. He also has a whole slew of digital hits at his fingertips resting handily on his laptop.

So Sectional Music Guy dabbled a bit after the skater swept up her hallowed teddy bears -- while the scorers pressed their buttons and technical replayed, rewound, and replayed all the jumps, Music Guy piped in some background pop. Not so loud as to be terribly distracting, but something you could easily chat over without being ensconced in the frozen silence. You know, Taylor Swift, Oasis, Duran Duran sort of stuff.

Now I like dear Taylor as much as the rest of you and she has a place in my afternoon browsing through the radio station commute.  I'm not sure though I want to hear her break the tension between the classical sets of skating. It was nice to have /some/ sort of background music though.

My other concern was that he played a decidedly /different/ intermezzo each time: one may have been more a ballad, one more upbeat. It's unfair to the next skater in that it causes a mood jump -- it grates with a discontinuity once her own program starts.

So here's a considered suggestion for US Figure Skating and rink Music Guys everywhere. Choose a scorekeeping background divertimento that is low-key and quietly distracting, but use the same tune for each break during the entire flight of skaters. It could be akin to video-game background or movie soundtrack stuff, for example. Something melodic and rhythmic and without lyrics. Capiche? And thanks for the idea, Music Guy.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

- layback

The layback is a classic, glamorous element. Executing it to wow the audience is tough though: sort of like an animated cartoon, it frequently looks crude (like yeah, she's doing a layback) or it falls in the broad range of good enough, without being anything special.

You can impress me with either of the two forms of this (not both at the same time though please, choose one or the other). The first I'll call "beachball," the second is "armfully elegant". First though, a sideword about physics. Since your layback posture is rather precarious, you need to be positive you are precisely centered on your spin. Even the slightest amount of precession will bosh a layback.

Secondly, please enter your layback with some panache and gradualness. It looks awkward when a gal just suddenly snaps back -- yeah I know you can do it and it shows off how flexible you are, but it's not very graceful.

"Beachball" layback is the standard circular arms pose: I liked to tell my daughter to imagine grasping a large invisible beach ball. Do you see the image at the top of this blog? Yeah, like that. For the optics on this to be correct, it should appear that the virtual center of the beachball stays absolutely fixed as your arms rotate around it.

Shoulder position is paramount on this layback, and is where most skaters don't quite achieve perfection. Ideally your shoulders should be back parallel to the ice, with both shoulders at the same height. When you are rotating though it's nearly impossible to judge this by feel alone: you really need to have somebody video your laybacks while you're practicing to get the alignment correct.

The other layback, armful elegance, involves weaving a pattern with your hands, arms, or both, as you are spinning while tilted back. The art in this is to be graceful yet with purpose: not too much arm action, but something to tease out the spirit of your music or what you wish to express. I've seen this performed with arms flayed to the sides, to reveal a blooming flower, perhaps. Or up in gentle fountain like flares.

As you make progress through your rotations, naturally you must slowly lower your back off-ice foot so as to capitalize on its storehouse of angular momentum, thus keeping your rotational speed constant.

It takes an extreme amount of polish to change your average layback from something you just do to complete an element, over to a spectacular expression of an artform. We don't just want to see that you know how to do a layback. We want to be entertained.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

- more variety

It seems curious to me that coaches allow their skaters to build their program around their best moves. You end up with someone who does eight jumps or five spin moves in their program, or somebody who melodramatically sweeps the ice four times. I'm not saying that all programs should be the following:

Double toe loop, spiral, sit, combo 2+2, footwork, flying camel, donut, Biellmann, ice sweep, triple-double, quad (okay dreaming here, maybe just some dramatic expressiveness), layback, scratch spin.

... but it does make for a more rounded presentation. My general argument is that once you have already proven to me that you can nail a combo triple-double, I don't really need to see it again. I already know you can do that combo. More generally if your body build gives you an advantage for fast angular momentum on your jumps, I'll know this after your first couple of combos now won't I? If you've got the type of body built for svelte graceful stroking, after your first pass of the rink I will have already deduced that.

I actually want to see you challenge your self with your program. It's not just a matter of having a well-rounded presentation: I get a sense of comfort knowing that you push yourself to practice the things you're /not/ good at. It's what an athlete is supposed to do.

And you're only allowed to sweep the ice once.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

- gripes

I'm not really in a sour mood or anything, but those couple times in my previous posts where I throw in a sideline of (please don't do this) seem to work better if I roll them all up into one.  Some of these gripes don't find a sentence to slip into another post so you get to see them here instead. Therefore below my gripes about the particulars of how you skate, all rolled up into one. Don't take it personal (but please don't do these).

that third combo weak toe loop
ending your program at the far end of the rink
skating too close to the audience dasher
not starting when your music starts
doing any footwork standing in one place
the leg or head dip before your donut
hair trailing in a ponytail
chatting with your coach after you're announced
showing off during warmup
thinking too much about your routine while skating
telegraphing every jump
blemished skate boots
phoning it in
leaving the ice glum or casually
mouthing the words
acting too literal
paperclip spin
jerking too quickly up to Biellmann
not holding your spiral long enough
popping
choppy music transitions
competing just to get a trophy/medal

Here's the kicker: you can't really keep all of these in your head and think "oh no I better not do that." Rather most of these seem to be a failure to attend carefully to the development of particular /habits/. You can pretty much avoid all of these sins therefore just by developing the appropriate -good- habits to start with, okay? Thanks, and with love, LA SkateDad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

- camel

One of the more interesting elements is the camel, straight up or flying. I'm always intrigued by the entry, keenly critical of raised leg stability, absorbent of expressiveness, and watchful for a graceful exit. There's room for playfulness both mid-spin and at the exit.

Technically speaking though the camel is fully self-judging: its pose and mechanical physics are so strictly limiting a 5 year-old can tell if you nailed it or not. It's easy to see if your raised orbiting leg stays level or if your pivot foot precesses. I have no great clues for you here about how to achieve a stable rotation and avoid technical sins: outside of a good coach I think you're on your own with your awareness and a videographer. I do have plenty to say though from an audience member's perspective.

On entry I want to see your pivot foot immediately pinned to the ice without further movement, hops, or spiraled in circling. Your raised leg should be to full up position without wobble or further adjustments. Your first rotation should be in a plane perfectly flat and parallel to the ice. I tend to be more accommodating if your entry was flying (so your second rotation is pivot foot pinned and raised leg parallel).

If you flew into your camel then I absorbed all of that hocus pocus of upper body balance and arm artistry. Some gals "signal" here with a large arm wave whereas others fly in so smoothly and gently that suddenly they're cameled. I don't mind the flailing about if it has grace to it, but sometimes it shows signs of struggle.

Once your cameled my eyes saccade across your body as you rotate to my full visual width: what's up with your head, shoulders, arms, and hands? Are you happy to be here or are you wrestling? Some skaters tilt to a more "open" position with one shoulder up toward the ceiling, others are more tummy down with shoulders at the same elevation flat to the ice. I don't care in either case as long as your neck is straight aligned with your body (no slumping head, please).

Standard arm position seems to be one arm down the leg, and one alongside your trunk, but I've seen tons of variants so this is an excellent place to experiment with drama. I get a sense once you've decided on arms there isn't much latitude for change: since the constraints of the physics are so severe, if you move your arms you will bosh your spin.

Rotational velocity now rises forefront. I don't care so much if you're fast or more deliberate as long as you're not losing angular momentum and slowing down terribly. It's sad to watch a skater with beautiful positioning and attitude get so sluggish they have to break form.

Now that you're locked in how about interesting psychics? What are you imagining as you spin about the audience? Are you sprinkling sparklets of love about? Are you entwining ribbons of color? Are you slaying dragons of woe?

Ready to de-camel? Probably half of skaters choose to swing the upright leg down into a sit spin. Catching the back leg into donut seems to be getting more popular, and then if you want to truly amaze me pull that donut up into a Biellmann. What's more important is your head doesn't drop in either case: your posture should be deliberately and precisely controlled during the transition.

From an observational perspective the camel has more interesting subcomponents than any other element -- it's multi-textured with loads of room for expressiveness.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

- protocol

Here's one of the more peculiar and incidental ebb and flows of skating: you have tons of unstructured practice time and moderately adhered to coaching sessions that dramatically funnel down to a strictly timed and scheduled performance. For all the flexibility, creativeness, and random explorations the sport of figure skating allows, there are a few times when the strictures of rules, procedures, and protocol are very binding. Once you're within the vortex of a competition there are a couple even more tightly controlled scenarios you need to abide by.

One of these we'll simply call the Referee. I always wondered what this person did: they get introduced along with the judges and the technical staff. The simple answer is the Referee is the Protocol God. She enforces that every single rule of the competition and all of its standard procedures are being followed down to the last iota. Usually when things run copacetic you don't see her do much at all. If anything out of the ordinary happens though the Referee will intervene. I've seen her have the announcer call the skater back out onto the ice to pick up a dropped bauble from a hairpiece. Once when the door monitor allowed the next flight of skaters to take the ice for warmup before their names had been rollcalled, the referee directed "mike" to have the skaters clear the ice. Don't mess with the protocol God.

The other time you get absolutely no choice or free will is if you get injured while skating. Shortly after first aid is applied a rink official with a clipboard will track you and your parent down and subject you to The Injury Debriefing. It seems to be a fairly standard and legalistic practice. During the process you will feel you are essentially being forced to indemnify the rink and show that you can manage safely the rest of the day by yourself. Sitting casually aside listening to a couple of these (not my injured kid) I've come to recognize this procedure is much more than rinkwash.

Most skaters get so pumped up with adrenaline during a competition that the effects of hormones completely mask their injury. They may have gotten an infection or be partially in shock and not even recognize it. The parents as well get roiled when their kid is injured. A large part of the Injury Debriefing is to assess the mental state of the skater and parent and to "talk them down:" have they descended yet from their adrenaline high and are they fully aware of what their injury might entail? The debrief gradually brings them back to earth, so the rink staff (and parent) can determine if more medical attention might be required. So if this unfortunate bind should befall you, please chill, and follow the protocol. The rink is looking out for you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

- drama

There's something to be said about skating with the appropriate amount of drama. When I watch a program two aspects roll forefront: first, do your skills concur with the dramatic pitch and amplitude displayed by the music? Second, are you immersed or are you distracted? The first question is a matter of choreo, but the second is fully psychological.

Skating music spans the spectrum of the dramatic canon. You have the serene and pastoral up through the Wagnerian explosive, with all sorts of side detours through frivolous, demonstrative, and vernacular. Most skaters like to blend variability into their program with some edits across musical phrases (usually within the same oeuvre, but sometimes across) so they can demonstrate a command of different styles.

Be careful you can actually affirm the drama depicted in the music though. You can fault either way here: you can be overly expressive beyond what the music requires, which make you look fey. Or you can choose music far exceeding your stagecraft, which makes you look vacuous. This is tough to judge on your own though and is where the opinions of your coach (and perhaps some close skating friends or one of your parents) can come in handy. Do you really know how well you project to the audience, and the limit of your thespian abilities?

Once you've got your program music selected and edited together you're going to pretty much be committed to it for half a season (or more). This is where the second challenge arises: being able to consistently express the feelings of the piece. It sounds wonderful when you first select it, and then more amazing when you slip your fresh CD into the rink's sound system and skate for the first couple times. Maybe even a bit overwhelming. Recognize as you put your elements and timings together to match the music, you will be listening to this program around 500 times. Yes, am I close?

Most of this listening happens during freestyles with nobody watching but a few other skaters and maybe a parent or two. Does it make sense to "act it up" during practice? I'm asking here, I don't have an opinion or answer for you. The issue of course is you need to get up to speed on the dramatic portrayal but you certainly don't want to burn out. Let me see what my skating daughter thinks about this matter (her reply below).

When you're skating your music at an exhibition or competition though, it's important to stay in the zone of caricature. Not just for the dramatic effect for the audience, but also because we don't want you so distracted and focused by your own skating thoughts that you overthink and defeat your muscle memory.

----------

Hi Dad. I felt the need to “act it up” in practice several times before a competition. First though I had to reasonably execute the choreography and transitions from a technical standpoint. I say “reasonably” because it seemed like the choreography and transitions were so challenging that I usually didn’t have them fully mastered at the first competition of the season.

When my program practice would just barely begin to come together, that was around the time I’d start skating the program like it was a competition (on days when I had the energy and wherewithal to do it). Simulating competition as close as possible made me feel more prepared on the day of the competition, and feeling prepared was a must. This meant both mental and physical simulation (not just the movements of the program but also clothing -- this included skating without gloves when doing a full run through).

I don’t recall ever getting burnt out on a program, but that may be because of all the different elements to practice. I remember practicing the elements of a program (e.g., a particular jumping pass, or difficult footwork) more frequently than the whole program with expression and all.

Of course these were just my experiences. Would be interested in hearing other skater’s thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

- sectionals

I spent most of two days last week at Pacific Sectionals. I'd been to several Regionals before, and Worlds when they were in Los Angeles, but never Sectionals. When I checked the USFSA web site I was surprised to read they host only three sectionals a year.  Amazingly enough this year's Pacific was at my daughter's former home rink, Pickwick in Burbank.

For a chance to see one-third of the top up-and-coming skaters in the U.S., the $25 entrance fee for a day seems quite reasonable. Walking into the rink I noticed the usual room set-asides for hospitality, trophies and photos, et cetera. It all seemed exceedingly well organized, much more so than a usual competition. Once I paid my admission and got my paper wrist wraparound, I entered the rink proper. It didn't seem terribly crowded: mostly just the usual crowd (folks dressed in standard skating fare and hanging nametags) without a lot of outside spectators.

Pickwick features rather extensive bleachers opposite the "garden" side of the rink, probably twenty deep at a fairly steep rise, along the whole length of the rink. Smack in the middle they had cordoned off a group section with signs reading "trial judges only" but nobody was sitting there. All the audience sat on one side of the rink, with the official judging in the first three rows at midrink (and the customary scorekeeping tables smack up against the back of the dashers). The entire top three-quarters of the bleachers behind the judges was empty, so I took my usual seat at the topmost bench behind them.

I happened in during an ice cut so things were pretty quiet, but I could tell this wasn't quite the typical scorekeeping setup. There seemed to be a bit more technology than usual, or maybe just all the technology was in one place, rather than spread out at different rink locations. Video, music, scorekeeping entry, timers, and announcer were all in one group, complete with little tables and pop-up stands for their monitors. Down by the dashers sat official looking empty numbered trunks the videographer brought with his equipment.

One very pleasant thing about Sectionals is, aside from the skating mechanics themselves, the rest of the competition has a nice air of informality to it. Most of the folks know about half of the other folks there, everyone has seen these judges before, and you can pretty much wander around anywhere without raising much of an eyebrow. Well, I can anyway, as I'm fairly well known by the community out these parts.

Once the events started ramping up I sensed the scoring process moved quite a bit quicker and considerably more formalized than usual. This may have been a misimpression just because I was stationed ten rows up behind the technology, but it did seem that everything clicked together and stayed on schedule, with only the occasional delays in the technical video review holding things up a bit.

The other thing I noticed once the events ramped up (okay even before then, while perusing the schedule) was it seemed that nearly half the events were either ice dance or pairs. I guess this makes a lot of sense if you think about it logically (uhhh, there's men's, ladies, ice-dance, and pairs, so yeah: half). In your normal local events you're lucky if you've got one ice-dance couple and maybe two pairs, so locally maybe 4% of a competition is this. In the national qualifying events though it's fully half. (Afterthought: the upshot of this must be that all ice-dancers and pairs nationally know each other).

Mostly I like to watch the ladies intermediate and junior events. The novice division is too weird (more about that briefly) and the senior ladies skate last so by then I'm too tired (mentally and physically).

For many of the Intermediate level skaters this is their first time at Sectionals, so nerves are palpable. There's a fair amount of variance in skill and size, but pretty much all of the Intermediates are pre-puberty and haven't gone through any kind of long-bone growth spurt yet. They are all small, compact, little powerhouses of personality with a low center-of-gravity (when they fall it's not a big traumatic deal). They are charming and a pure joy to watch skate.

Junior level skaters are the seriously upwardly-mobile competitors. Juniors have generally all "grown into" their body after those awkward post-puberty years when you feel like a spider chicken. Most of them have been skating around ten years, and already well know the routine. Nearly all have been to regionals several times and probably half have been to sectionals. The juniors seem to fall into two broad groups: those that really have their act together and are desperately seeking a ticket to Nationals, and those that are, well, having a bad day. It's hard to tell in the "bad day" subgroup if it's something personal, or if they just really don't have the heart to lug their entire family to Nationals.

You see, the thing about Novice level is it is smack in the middle of Intermediate and Junior. Some of them are skaters who are way too good to skate Intermediate: they have just begun their growth spurt and their thin svelteness makes triple jumps child's play. Some of them are skaters who aren't skilled enough to skate at Juniors even though they are pretty much their final body shape. I suppose they could easily split Novice into two independent groups but then that would be too many Divisions to manage (really, four divisions is plenty). It seems unfair to judge the Novice against one another: each Novice has their own unique struggles.

I'm thinking the worst of the stress falls on the parents and the rink staff. US Figure Skating apparently quite verily micromanages all of the rink appurtenances, so the local rink team gets held to extremely high standards (btw great job Pickwick!). Many of the parents look shell-shocked.

After Sectionals finished and I had some time to reflect quietly, I recognized the audience for figure skating is a lot like the audience of track-and-field. Yeah you get those couple-a-year televised events (and the Olympics!) where the general populace watches and gets to know the top stars. The general populace also thinks what they see on TV is how most of the athletes in the sport perform.  Then you get the vast majority of the athletes laboring in obscurity to weekly audiences of their friends and parents.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

- meaning

I like to see skaters who understand and imbue the sport with more than just "it's a contest to get a trophy medal." I want to see something much grander. In your own mind, what's the highest spiritual purpose you could possibly ascribe to your skating?

Make your skating about that.

Monday, November 16, 2015

- last note

My first choreo post was logically enough about an early part of your program, your first jump. Now though I leap all the way to the very end of your program: the last note, actually, at the very very end. I don't know if folks deliberately plan this out, as it seems to be more an artifact of the music you selected for your routine. One might easily though recalibrate the music to address this issue that leaves the last impression.

In an earlier post I chatted about how to allow yourself enough slack time to ensure you finish your final movements in time to the music. It seems the more I watch particular skaters though the less coincidental their endings appear. Some skaters can simply always nail the timing while others cannot.

If you are one of those lucky souls who has the rhythm in her bones then you can make a dynamite impression by choosing a musical piece with an abrupt and spectacular ending. Nail it and everyone goes Whoa.

But if you're like most skaters who can at best time it to within a couple of seconds, it would seem to me you should cut your music to end on a holding chord. That way if you're a tiny bit early you can melt into your final pose. If you made it just in time then you'll look like you planned it that way.

Monday, November 9, 2015

- scratch spin

I decided it's probably time to explore way down into the weeds, spinning out my detailed thoughts about all the possibilities of each individual element. Maybe I'll interleaf these posts with the thread I've started on choreo, just for a bit of variety.

When you are coming up to speed through the beginning levels of skating, most of your initial lessons are for moves you will later grow out of, and never perform again once you're a serious competitor. A couple of the early moves though are suave enough that you actually can use them in your mature programs, with just a bit of polish and embellishment. One of these is the scratch spin.

I don't see this much mid-program -- it must be terribly disorienting to exit a scratch spin and proceed to your next element. Maybe once or twice in a competition though I'll see a gal end her program on a scratch spin, and when done to perfection it's an arresting finish. The risk: it is easy to blemish the spin when you're tired, and if you get remotely dizzy you'll fall out of your final pose.

I like to see unexpected entrances to the scratch spin. Sometimes a gal will enter it standing from a sit or a camel spin. Sometimes you'll get a nice three-turn entry. I like to see the speed anticipation build up in a slow straight perfectly gradual progression: as your off-ice thigh gradually lowers and your arms curl in, it's fun to watch your revolutions quicken. Of course I want to see your contact foot in such a tight non-precessed circle that you're pretty much drilling a hole into the ice. If I'm fortunate enough to be alone with you in a freestyle I want to hear the smoothly louder swashily as the blade reaches resonance.

I want you to get so fast you become a blur.

Arms and hands should have some planned sensibility to them -- I've seen scratch spins with one hand in front and one in back, with fingers gently suggestive (maybe a two finger scout salute). Also nice is if you can do fancy positioning higher up near your face or overhead -- of course the higher your arms rise the more challenging the physics of pinning your center of gravity.  Your head should remain dead centered and fully upright. I've seen some head tilted back scratch spins but frankly watching them makes ME dizzy.

The end of the spin can be either gradual or checked-out. Smile!

Monday, November 2, 2015

- variance

In an earlier post I detailed how arm dynamics should be ballet slow, whereas your legs need to be dynamic and fast. There's a tad more to a well-rounded and enthralling program than that though. To stay interesting and not appear to be frozen in a mood, to show that you have moxie and can relate to your program's music, both arm and leg dynamics need to vary across time. Not randomly though, but rather softly and thematically matched to the changes in your music's tempo or intonation.

When the music is bold and sweeping your arms can be more directive and your leg movements can be longer, more rhythmic strokes. If your music is soft and gentle, your arms can by lyrical and your legs and feet can move to a more eclectic pattern. When the music is staccato your footwork should be precise and demonstrative, but your arms should be ballet (we are watching your footwork, don't distract us with your arms).

Getting into the flow of the music without being imprisoned by it is a gentile art all its own. Your motion and dynamic changes should coincide with the timepoints where your music's theme changes, but you don't have to match a stroke to every downbeat, or accent an arm movement on every bar.

Monday, October 26, 2015

- stroking

It seems like it would be the simplest most basic aspect of skating and yet the mechanics of stroking, of progressing forward and backward across the ice on your way to your next element, shows a lot about your polish, and also has a sublime influence on your elements themselves.

Plus it's a pleasure to watch. When you see a skater with smooth gentle strokes it is like chinchilla fur on silk. Every push contacts the ice with such gentleness you can hardly tell exactly when the blade makes contact. It is soundless, rhythmic, and magical. It is fully controlled all the way down.

Just like specialty jump classes, some rinks do have a coach who can offer stroking classes. From what I recall the training is fairly brutal, as physical as running an hour of wind sprints but concentrated on those specific sets of muscles in your legs that position and push.

The immediate influence of this quality is that those who are accomplished at stroking have extra speed to help with balance and stored momentum when approaching jumps. The more sublime influence however is those accomplished at stroking gain this additional velocity without a gain in energy expenditure. Or the other way to look at it is: a skater who strokes smoothly and efficiently can get the same ice coverage as one with rough strokes, yet will be 25% less tired at the end of her routine.

Monday, October 19, 2015

- score waits

Certainly I'm aware the pregnant scorekeeping pause between each program is as much a tradition of the sport as the soakers and the hair buns. It's not such a bother for the skaters themselves or for a parent who is only sitting through one flight. If you're an aficionado like myself though and plan to watch all of the junior Group A and Group B freeskates, it can be quite the frozen hardbutt hassle. Thirty skaters might take, what, around two hours if they skated end to end? Just about the perfect sitting time, like enjoying a feature length movie.

But given the scorekeeping and the ice cuts it takes more like five hours.  Come on, even standing up to stretch between flights and grabbing a bite between groups, nobody looks forward to five hours at the rink. I'm sorry, there must be a better way to tally the scores in between skaters that won't take so long.

Yeah, I have a couple of suggestions. The first is, why do the skaters have to wait for the judges to finish? Suppose we split the judges into two adjacent panels to judge alternating skaters? Judge panel A could judge the even numbered skaters, judge panel B the odd numbered. That way skater number two could start their program while panel A is still tallying up the scores for the first skater.  Yeah that complicates the "announcement" of the scores I suppose, but geesh with modern technology you could just have an inexpensive electronic signboard flash the name and score, and then send it over the rink's wi-fi to some sort of app. Simple enough.

Or here's another idea. Install smart image processing software with an AI attached to the technical camera and offload most of the scorekeeping to a computer. The judges can still override parts of it that look wonky and should still judge the aesthetic components.  It should take about 45 seconds to determine the score, seriously.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

- first jump

There's so much to say about choreography, a half dozen blog posts at least, but to begin I'd like to chat about something near the start of your routine: your first jump. I tend to witness two philosophical approaches to the first jump: either hit 'em with a big bang, or ease in easy. I guess each has its pros and cons.

If you've got some tough jumps to land it might make sense to tackle them first for a couple of reasons. One being that you are fresh and full of energy at the beginning, so you'll likely get more height on your jumps earlier rather than later in your program. The second is emotionally strategic: if you miss your tough jump early then you know immediately where you stand with respect to a chance for a high score. In other words planning your worst elements topmost takes the pressure off, as you get to find out bright and early how your program is faring.

The ease in easy approach also has its rationale though. By starting out with a less stressful jump you can get a general impression of how you feel, how your balance, blades, muscles, and energy are all gelling together. After that you can determine whether you'll go full tilt and attack the rest of your program at maximum or perhaps ease off a bit. If you plan the complexity of your jumps more like the shape of a mountain -- with the peak difficulty toward the middle of your program -- you can gradually reappraise and adjust to match your capabilities for today.

Both of these thought trains make imminent logical sense. In the hot reality of an actual competition though both of them prove dead wrong. When you step on the ice in front of the audience and judges loaded with jitters and energy, you are overcharged. Almost all the skaters I watch who choose big bang are so psyched about landing their toughest move that they put too much energy into it and overrotate.

The skaters who are easing in easy seem to have a more commodious beginning, but then you can watch them overthink each successive jump as they spend too much time repeatedly assessing their capabilities. The problem was that the easy jump, although relaxing and smooth enough to take some of the nerves off, was too easy to get a fair appraisal.

I'm wondering therefore if a blended hybrid approach might work better psychologically under pressure. It seems to me the most successful programs do a 50% jump first (something that is around your halfway most difficult), followed by an easy jump to relax and regroup, and then going full out with your big bang on your third jump. This way you get both the benefits of a fair judgement under pressure along with the relief, after you land your third jump (or not) whether you'll have a chance of setting foot on the podium. Comments welcome.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

- dedication

When I'm in the general vicinity of one of my rink hangouts the sense of skating is palpable, although I have a tough time explaining why my heart quickens. Nearby skaters are constantly working very hard and seriously with perceivable bodily risk. It's a similar flavor to hanging out near a hospital: it's the sense that extraordinary people are doing incredible things to make the world better, in small ordinary ways. Part of it is the aura from the class of people, some of it is the relief and change they make in the world.

The reason a gal becomes a figure skater feels obtusely parallel to the reason a guy becomes a doctor, along with its accompanying misdirections, temptations, and sorrows. They all have immense concentration to start with, but it takes a very strongly focused personality to be top-level successful in either occupation (a maniacal and extraordinary sort of driven being). I never witnessed this level of total dedication with my friends in other sports -- they were more just very serious jocks, like those of us who were deeply into science.

Skaters are much more than that. They are the doctors of athletes.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

- fleek

I had the pleasure of attending a few hours of the Pasadena Open on Saturday and a couple of items struck me as particularly fleek. As always I'm impressed by the ambiance of the place (the rink part at least; the ancillary facilities could use a bit of work). I struck up a conversation with a gentleman fixing some coping in the men's room and I commented how much I liked the skating structure -- it was holding up fairly well for being "temporary". You see it's like a giant tent. I still don't understand how it manages to keep the heat and humidity out effectively, but it does.

Standing next to him outside the place I mentioned it looks as though it should last until the seams between the fabric sections unravel. "Oh it'll be fine," he commented, "we'll just replace the outer tent in a couple of years."  I raised my eyebrows. "You know it's actually two tents, a tent inside a tent, with four feet in-between them. Here, you can see it at the doorway" and he escorted me to the side entrance, showing me a metal access panel that was four feet across. "Oh," I replied, "now I understand."  The rink design was perfectly fleek. "That explains everything." In my mind's eye I imagined four feet of insulation between the layers with a couple vapor barriers, so there you go.  Then he described the HVAC and how efficient it was.  "Uhhmm," I interrupted him, "are you the rink manger?"   He said he was, so I introduced myself, we chatted about another manager we knew in common, and I told him I write this blog. Then I tried to convince him the structure needs an adjacent hockey shop.

It was around 90 outside so I excused myself to cool off and watch some skating. Nowadays when I spend time at  local event I'm mostly interested in the intermediate freeskates -- they had group A with three flights running from 10:30 to noon and group B with three flights from 3:00 to 4:30. Intermediate is such an interesting level as the skaters have enough technical ability to fill out a program quite nicely, and yet they have such a wide variation in styles of presentation to make me plan all sorts of improvement.

When you grow into a seasoned viewer like myself, watching a gal skate a program generates two parallel trains of thought simultaneously. One is strictly observant, enjoying the flourishes and skillful maneuvers and watching the edges cut the ice. The other is imaginative of the possibilities.  That second track is thinking: This would have looked better with the hands this way, she will overrotate this jump, she needs to hold her spiral longer, the raise to Bielmann needs to be slower and more graceful.

Every once in a while though a skater will pull me out of duality and make me quietly just watch. One of the skaters in group A (I think she was from AllYear FSC) did just that, and afterward I recognized what had happened: her concordance to the music was fleek. She wasn't at the highest skill levels in her jumps and footwork, but she was close enough landing everything (with only one two-footer) and more importantly every crescendo or accent in the music had a corresponding arm or leg flourish exactly on cue. It appeared nearly as though the music had been written specifically for her program. Fleek.

When you're watching a light-entertainment or an exhibition program you expect the skater to flow and work with the music; you presume she is skating the intent and story of what she had edited together for her program. Nowadays when I watch a freeskate it seems all to often though that the skater simply chose a certain style of music she likes and then tries to shoehorn in all of her required moves with a somewhat vague fitting to the mood. Unfortunately most freeskates don't follow closely to the music. It's rather sad but I understand the motivation.  All the more reason if you want to stand out as an exceptional artistic skater you'll engineer your freeskate program to highlight and match your tune.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

- specialist


Once you reach a preliminary level of competitive skating you probably have a grasp of twenty different moves. By chance and the luck of your matching physical characteristics some elements come easily and quite naturally to you, yet others will prove to be more challenging. What should you practice then, those things you are good at, or those you are "not so" good at?

You may have to spend an hour every day polishing your layback, your spiral, or your Axel just to stay at a consistent level of competency. Obviously then the moves you are "not so" good at could use the most practice.

Once you are competing prelim you focus most of your effort on your programs. You probably have a technical, a dramatic free, and perhaps even a novelty program, each skating to different music. You need to spend at least half an hour every day on each program in order to keep all the transitions flowing smoothly and cued to the music.

When you assembled the moves to build your programs, what did you choose? Naturally you selected the moves you /were/ good at. When you are practicing your programs you are polishing your best moves therefore, aren't you. In fact when you are spending time adding a rotation or a completely novel element, this growth happens outside of your program (although you might squeeze it in once you get more comfortable with it).

So here's the rub: every day you practice you subtly determine how much of a "specialist" you become by how much time you dedicate to the program elements versus the novelty off-program moves. Do you want to be really excellent at a very specific program? Practice it a lot, but at the peril of very little experimental growth into newer elements and more balanced capabilities.

Monday, August 17, 2015

- choice


So you've got your nerves and the butterflies in your stomach. Your skates are sharp, your hair is bunned and ribboned, your makeup is sparkly, your performance dress is ready. You do your pre-event warm up, your adrenaline is pumping, and you step out onto the ice as they announce your name. Your heart is in your throat but you breathe deeply, relax, smile, and pose.

Now: is it a competition, or is it a show? I ask this peculiar quandary at this point because, up to here, everything is the same between the two. But after this point everything is different. Why? What is it about a routine, even with the same movements for its foundation, that makes it turn out so differently if you are skating for a show rather than for a competition?

(repost)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

- codgers


After you get past the beginning group lessons and the initial years of a private coach, once you are hanging around for the off-ice ballet class or a freestyle or two, you will start to make contact with the rink's regulars.

You'll get to know the staff, the gals that work the register, the other coaches, and the folks in the skate shop. You'll start to chat superficially with the other regular skate parents. You'll even have a couple friendly words with the Zamboni driver and the rink's manager. And then after another year or so, after you are a regular at the freestyles and the local competitions (once your kid has shown serious dedication) you will finally get a chance to meet the rink's old codgers.

This most interesting part of being a skate parent may happen while you are sitting around in the heated snack bar, or while you are leaning on the boards watching the skaters. It will start with an observation perhaps, "your daughter has a nice spiral." Or a comment about your own dedication, "it's good to see a parent devoted to their kids love of a sport."

The old codgers are two generations past the young skaters and they still skate with grace and an easy jump or two. Not only are most of them former coaches, most of them had national fame when they were young competitors. They have amazing stories of both their personal history and how things used to be in figure skating. Listen, respect, and learn from the old codgers; at the rink, it is the best friendship you can cultivate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

- scoring


IJS scoring nowadays is a big technical stew of a system but if I were the Scoring God I would have a simple (yet remarkably nuanced) score sheet . . .

Women's Score sheet:

- Grace
Feather fingers
Appropriate hand movements
Arms up and graceful
On the music
Musically expressive

- Balance
Center of gravity well managed
Smooth, no jerkiness
Steady spirals
No precession on spins

- Skill
Fluid transitions
Clean landings
Graceful choice of components
Inventive
Professional friendly demeanor
Fast clickety footwork
Ice pressure command

I differ rather seriously from the general direction that the scoring system has "taken" the sport (if you subscribe to the opinion that skaters are primarily trained to please the judges), but you can read about that in another post.

Friday, July 3, 2015

- musical respect


Earlier I mentioned my preference that, almost without exception, you should skate to classical music. Once in a long while though -- for a novelty skate or a show -- select one of your favorite pop songs that exhibits a wide range of dynamics. After that though please show some respect for the composer and arranger: don't go cherry-picking out just the phrases you like.

For audience members that know the song the missing continuity is too distracting, no matter how well you edit and splice the thing. Select a continuous portion of the song -- fade in the start or fade out the end if necessary -- and skate it end to end.

But mostly, of course, stick to the classical.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

- the parent is a special coach


After recovering from her ankle injury and now back skating, it has been several months since I've had the pleasure of watching my daughter. I notice she has some technical faults -- elements that "project" incorrectly.

She comes over to chat a bit, and I pull out the video camera saying "go do some scratch spins." She nods and returns to center ice to try a few while I tape the attempts. When she skates back over I press the rewind and play to show her what is happening: she isn't holding her tummy muscles tight enough, so her rear end is sticking out while she spins.

Hmmm, she says. So she goes back out on the ice and spins a couple more while I tape again. The next few spins are much better. "Nobody every told me that before," she comments, and all I can do is nod my head.

Although I don't say it to her I think, "well yes, that is what a skatedad is for." Your coach is too busy trying to juggle her schedules and make a living, and your friends at the rink aren't going to tell you elements of style as they are competitors. So that is exactly how a skatedad drives their kid to success: by providing the appropriate positive criticism to artistic style and expression that nobody else can offer.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

- outside inside

Last night at a skating benefit I sat in front of a couple who was visiting in obligation to a friend. I was struck by the stark contrast between their viewpoints from outside the sport and mine from the inside. This couple measured up not amongst the far-outside, but rather the casually disinterested outside. They understood the flow of local, regional, sectional, national, Olympics, but had never heard of IJS or 6.0 scoring. After a couple of minutes of small-talk where they established that I'm an "insider" the gentleman cleared his throat and prefaced his question with "I don't want to seem like I'm being critical or anything." He couldn't understand why his sister-in-law spends thirty thousand dollars a year on raising a kid who figure skates.

The visitors were close enough to folks who -are- in the sport to understand that for nearly all skaters it is a -total- commitment. Aside from the bored kids who rent skates a few times a year to skate a public session on the weekend, they recognized that there aren't any casual skaters. There aren't any kids who go to school and then just go to a skate coach and a freestyle once a week, like you can do with karate practice or soccer. You're either in it full-heartedly five days a week or you're not. They fully comprehended this and it was at the foundation of what was gnawing at them about the sport.

Also the gentleman was inquiring how long the gals skate, and what happens after they stop. You don't have kids who graduate with a Master of Arts in Figure Skating and then get recruited by Fortune 500s. You don't have companies out in the world placing want ads for figure skaters. And if a young lady is aiming more for a homemaking role, which is a rare enough privilege nowadays, why wouldn't she spend more time dedicated to domestic arts and household culture? So to these casual observers it seemed like an enormous waste of time and money.

Sitting in the stands with them I wasn't particularly in the position to yell over the music to explain what makes the parents-skater combo tick. So here's my blog post to explain it instead.

To start with I think there's a bit of a discontinuity in perceptions that makes it hard for an "insider" to explain the sport to an "outsider" on the spot. I don't think that the casual observer perceives the sport in the same manner as those of us who watch it all the time: they miss most of the subtlety. It's like trying to explain baseball to somebody who doesn't "get it." Somebody who watches baseball twice a year and sees home runs and strikeouts and the occasional stolen base on TV is missing 85% of the game. Similarly if you don't watch skating regularly in person then all you see are jumps and falls and spins.

When you have a child who is gifted, athletic, attractive, highly intelligent, sensitive, artistic, and full of energy, what are you going to do with them? If as a parent you had a similar bent yourself when you were growing up, then you identify with their predicament. They constantly need an energetic creative outlet; without such a thing they would blow themselves up with dissatisfaction, dissonance, and boredom. To them skating is not a choice, it's a requirement. They need the goals, the advancement, the love of an audience, the acceptance, the structure, and the creative outlet. Their souls absolutely require it.

So it's not a waste of time any more than your standard workaday job is a waste of time. It achieves a purpose and makes the world a better place, even if it doesn't make money for the company boss, sell soap, or build automobiles. It's art and athletics for those who require the expressiveness and it's art appreciation for those who love them.


Friday, May 22, 2015

- trophy


It's likely just wood and plastic with an engraved metal plate, or perhaps you walked away with a round piece of bronze or chromed nickel hanging from a silk ribbon. After a few years of competing you'll gather together a fine collection of awards and photos. This paraphernalia says that you're a real trooper, somebody who can stick with your practice and achieve results. They are a validation of your efforts.

After the excitement wears off though, for most of their lives your trophies collect dust on a shelf or in a closet. After the years pass and you move from place to place, your trophies follow along and refresh your memories every time you pack or unpack them. Most of the time though they lurk quietly ignored.

The true worth of a trophy however lies neither in its materials, its novelty, nor even in the accomplishment it represents. Even if you feel a bit shy about showing off your awards take good care of your trophies; as you age you will find their true value: they connect you back to the memories of the moment. Partly they make you feel nostalgic. Partly they remind you of how capable you have been to specific efforts: they validate that you aren't a slouch and can achieve results of dedicated focus. Mostly they tie you to your intentional greatness.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

- all that time


A serious skate parent spends five or six hours a week at the rink. What is a parent supposed to do with all that time? A lot gets determined, naturally, by the cultural norms of the parents of the other kids.

In a competition environment the general rule is to be attentive and polite. It's frowned upon if you leave the rink only to reappear for your own kid's ice-time; you really should support the other skaters with your attention. Even so after an hour or two of polite applause it can all blend into skating jello.

Many parents bring along a book or magazine to read discreetly. Knitting is also a popular pastime. Most rinks now have WiFi and folks will log in to read news, browse Facebook, or even get some work or studying done.

I think a big part of a parent's success is coming up with that time killing activity that is exactly right for the situation. You want to be productive and not bored, but at the same time your chosen stimulation should allow you to keep one eye on the ice, so when you sense something important is going to happen you can quickly switch your attention to the action.

One thing that is quite remarkable (and gets even more so at the highest levels) is the amount of downtime that families have while staying around the hotel near the competition site. In the case of a world class match the family is there for a whole week. A lot of the time is spent sharing pride with your children, but then there is time to look around town, and a lot of time to just sit.

(repost)

Monday, April 27, 2015

- style two


In an earlier post I wrote about skating "style" but upon further reflection that post seems to be more reflective than proactive: it says what makes style and what you should avoid, but it doesn't really give specific guidance for developing your own flair.  So forthwith let's dive into the more positive and generative bezels of obtaining and exhibiting a style.

First the obvious: style is something that you deliberately (and half subconsciously) cultivate. To be able to express it, you first have to be able to recognize it. Some of this inclination may be a hereditary capability to keenly observe the subtleties of movement, fashion, color, and rhythm. Even so, early artistic training can influence a young child to develop sharper artistic sensitivities. The point is not to get your two year old to skate, but rather to show them colorful and nicely designed books, furniture, buildings, artwork, rhythmic music, and flowers. A strong and varied visual cortex may be positively leveraged toward other stylish ends later.

Naturally many young kids watch champion elite skaters on TV and think "oooh I want to look like that," but a person can pick up stylish movements and expressive traits from many other venues besides televised competitions. Cultivating a variety of sources for stylish movement is an important part of broadening your body awareness and projecting style to an audience. Watching people doing ballet, dance (in all its forms), and fashion shows are all excellent sources for movement studies. You must be a keen observer of how people carry themselves, pose, move, and how they project "attitude."

I can't overly stress the importance of variety. At some of the higher end rinks I visit all of the accomplished club skaters are intensely serious and everyone seems to be doing the same moves. It's as if nobody wants to stand out as different or express intense individuality, funk, or eccentricity. This is so wrong, and it kills the fun in the sport. If you are spending so much time at the rink that you are missing out on other cultural activities then you are doing it wrong.

Notwithstanding observing others, you must also be a keen observer of yourself. There is no substitute for watching videos of your own program during practice. Yes you know how it feels, but you need to see how it appears to the judges and people in the audience. Have mom video your practice programs and watch them during a break or on the drive home.

Exactly copying somebody else's attitude won't precisely work: you quickly find that everyone's specific body mechanics and motions are unique to themselves. The trick is to generalize or simplify the motion you like seeing in others and then embellishing it to match your own physical mechanics and capabilities.

As you age into your sport you will find different styles more to your liking than others. Tastes are dynamic: some of the changes are brought about by variations in outside culture and some by your own physical growth and change of mechanics. Observing other's style and reviewing your own is a constant process of reevaluation.

Skating style is a delicate balance between form and concept. Its goal is beauty, grace, balance, and strength, but its creative edge comes from bursting expectations by juxtaposing new materials over old tropes. You don't want to look like somebody else: you want to look like yourself.

(with a shoutout for the spark of this idea to Vogue magazine May 2015)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

- frustratingly connected


World competitions are distinctly different in a peculiar non-intuitive way, from the combined effect of cultural differences and a language barrier. Almost uniformly the skaters both admire their competitors and yet skate completely insulated from one another. Outside of a nod of appreciation or a smile, how else can you get closer to a fellow artist who doesn't speak your language? In a sense all the skaters share is their artwork and a common reverence for how much hard work it requires. The communication gap is frustrating, as they want to say so much to one another about their lives beyond skating. The strange mix of being joined but being insulated is most peculiar.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

- prunes and prisms


In the comments of a prior post where I was chatting about the larger on-ice sliding props, Maria left me an excellent question:

"At some rinks the judges are sitting on the opposite side from the audience. In that case, how should the prop be positioned, so that the audience sees the front of the prop or the judges?"

This is a bit of a "loaded question" -- it's masqueradingly simple with all sorts of complicated contingency answers. It leads down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, from the crawling ants of convenience past the carrot roots of local custom all the way beyond the deep redwood taproots of philosophy.  Are you ready?

I don't think I've ever visited two rinks with the exact same audience seating / judging arrangements. Some  sport giant bleachers on a single side opposite the hockey dugouts. A few have narrow elevated concrete bleachers all the way around. I visited a couple with glass-wall separated viewing areas rather remote from the ice. Some have family-friendly bleachers conveniently located next to a video-game room, snack room, and vending machines.  And every rink sits their judges differently. Heck some rinks I've been to will even seat judges in varying locations for different competitions! Clearly then a generalized answer takes more thorough analysis.

Before we get too deep though, let's start with the obvious answer: "it depends." Among many things it depends upon:

- are you only skating this in an exhibition once, at a single venue?
- is this an annual competition that your coach has been to before?
- how large will the audience be? How far away do they sit? Elevated or right next to the ice?
- how much of the routine is dependant upon a front/back presentation?
- do you skate better for judges or for an audience?

If this is something like an exhibition light entertainment piece for your local club (while most of the time you are a seriously competitive solo skater) then chances are you will practice it for a couple of months and then have fun with it at this one event. Local showcases are usually pretty well attended so maximize your fun and camaraderie with your clubmates and "present" to the audience -- place the prop where the audience can easily see the front of it, and skate your program directed to them. If the judges are sitting opposite then when you slide your prop toward its position on ice rotate it around slowly so the judges can appreciate the effort you put into assembling it: give them a good glimpse of the thing. You can go too far with this "reveal" though -- I've seen some skaters deliberately bring the prop directly in front of the judges and then feign getting stuck before magically recovering maneuverability to final placement. Please don't do this.

If this is an annual exhibition that your coach has been to before then most likely she will remember how the rink sites the judging.  Even if it is the first time for the competition, likely your coach knows the customary seating if it is a familiar rink, as well as what kind of attendance to expect. Therefore it makes a fair amount of sense to review the audience / judging arrangement with your coach well beforehand, even when you are a month away and still practicing.

Now having said all this there might be times when you want to be more presentable to "judges opposite." Say for example that "light entertainment" is what you do -- where you are primarily trying to make your mark in the skating world. Or if you are skating the same program at several small events with tiny audiences. Then facing the prop towards the judges makes more sense.  I'm not saying the audience should only see the back, but you can have the prop askew somewhat so both the judges and the audience see parts of it. In that case it also makes sense to design your program to be more rounded in its presentation, papering the house without specific front/back bias. Design your prop so that it goes around a corner so each side of the rink sees at least a part of it.

Skating orientation in general is quite a deep subject: some competitors are really out there to advance up the ranks and impress the judges. Others are out there for the showmanship and love of the audience. So even without a large ice-sliding prop you still have this issue in most programs: who are you performing for? Okay now let me wax philosophical... what I *really* like to see in an accomplished skater is someone who plays to the audience 80 per cent of the time and the judges 20 per cent. A good skater also evenly addresses the whole seating arrangement of the audience, with acknowledgements to both sides (if so seated). If you're good enough to perform in an arena you'll consider spending a little more loving attention to the 100 dollar seats at center ice.

Prunes and prisms are ten times more complicated when considered in the context of a production number, such as Theatre on Ice. The props are gigantic constructions and the nuances of the choreography pretty much demand a front-side. I feel quite strongly that judges of a Theatre event should always sit along with the primary audience. In fact, gosh darn it rinks, please seat your judges with the audience, always, for all events. Why would you do it any differently?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

- adults

When you are raising kids, one of your larger concerns is how to choose the quality of the adults that they get exposed to. For most parents a lot of this concern gets played out in the evaluations they go through when choosing a school for their kids. It also influences the types of friends you encourage them to hang out with: by association the attitudes of their parents filter through their kids. When your kid attends school, they get a new teacher every year, and once they reach middle school they get several teachers every day, and then a whole new slew each semester. In total your kids tend to spend more time with adults who are teachers than with their own parents.

When your child skates competitively though the only adults she spends a lot of time with are her coach and perhaps her ballet teacher. These usually remain the same people year after year. Choosing the coach that matches the personality of your kid and likewise meets your desires for the proper role model therefore gets to be a bigger deal.

Oddly, skating or coaching ability tends to fall out of the equation; unless your kid has demonstrated national abilities at an early age, any coach you choose from the rink who has skated competitively herself and who is a member of PSA will have adequate skating skills to teach for local competitions. Therefore spend a bit of time when your kid is little to soak in how the coaches interact with their students, from a personality perspective. You are choosing those ideals in an adult mentor that will serve your child well beyond her skating career.

Monday, March 9, 2015

- grlz

So you see there are the skategirls, and then there are the skategrlz. The skategirls are soft and beautiful and hopeful, have doting parents and new tights, new soakers, and a perfectly clean club warmup sweatshirt with added sparkly crystals, and they're at the rink as much as possible to be the best skaters they can be. The skategrlz are tough as nails, have tape on their boots, a colorful funky warmup that they found in a thrift store, and they go to the rink as much as possible to get away from school and home. Both the girls and the grlz skate the bejeebers out of themselves and fall often enough on the hard ice to get calloused hips. They both curse their frustrations.

To the skategirls each additional element is increasingly unfair, and since somebody else in the freestyle can land it so easily, naturally even, it is sooo frustrating. They persevere though, and realize that enough practice likely can catch up with natural talent. To the skategrlz each additional element is just another experience to conquer, and life is frustrating enough already so what's one more brick on the pile? And who knows... they may have the correct body build and natural talent for this move so it's about time they got lucky.

When skatergirls land a tough move it's all smiles and sparklies and thanks so much for the help coach and god bless my parents (and I knew if I practiced this long enough I could nail it). When skatergrlz land a tough move it's hot damn that felt so good (did you see that hockey guy?) and this will show them what I'm made of.

After many years of skating the girls and the grlz slowly migrate toward each other. The girls recognize fate or genetics prevents some things, and start to accept that life's road is bumpy for everyone. The grlz start to appreciate the politeness and fashion sense absorbed from their peers as it pays off in other ways in their life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

- ends


Hmmm, we seem to have a slight disconnect between what you think brackets your program and what little old me in the audience thinks. The previous skater steps off the ice, you step on and wait patiently by the dasher as the judges finish their scoring. Maybe you stretch a bit or skate a small three turn.

Then when the referee signals and they announce you skate out to assume your initial pose. Yeah this is where *you* think you are starting. So you skate your four minutes; final pose. Yeah I know, this is where you think your program ends. You smile and curtsey the four quadrants, skate a lap to pick up the flowers or stuffed bears on the ice, and then glide to the dasher exit.

To little old me though your program started the moment your toe pick crossed from rubberized floor to ice. And it wasn't all the way over until after you left the ice to hug your coach.

I full well recognize that the judges don't care, but out here in the audience some of us view your skate to center ice before posing as part of your professionalism. It's probably not that much effort to be sharp.

And that curtsey and admiration vacuum? You are enjoying a special privilege in a privileged world (perhaps you should be humble, graceful, and thankful).

And God bless you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

- expectations

The moms of competitive skaters see each other at the same time every day to share a similar routine. They have a certain unspoken posture about them -- not only do they support a competitive skater with the intentional characteristics of overlapping muses but they also share quite similar home lives. Severely isolated from standard workaday corporate ladies they build their own castle in the sky of who said what or how the club is fairing or how they feel about traveling to the next competition. Essentially they all share similar jobs.

Most of the rink smalltalk about coaches or equipment transpires between the moms when their kids are little and approaching harness jumping. Skates and blades and coaches and costume (and all of that) get fully talked through and settled into quiet understanding before their kids are 10. When you go to a freestyle of juniors the moms are verbally silent, having already discussed the mundane nuances of the sport amongst themselves many years ago. Naturally at this point they are quite a bit noisier mentally, and given the time they have previously invested they harbor more severe expectations.

Some of this gets flittered out when the gals clear the ice for the periodic zamboni. It's just natural that moms will chat with their kids about how they're feeling with their skating and give rather pointed remarks as to technique, or encouragement when elements are behaving strangely. You don't hear a lot of talk about "What did your coach say" as moms purposefully aim their freestyle parental time in a different direction than what the coach says.

Some of this is normal childrearing behavior of a mom raising an erudite teen girl (mom is applying various degrees of pressure to her teen daughter). The skater understands how her body reacts to the ice and the sociology of her fellow skaters. She feels supported by her coach and can do no harm within the context of trying her best given the vagaries of ice, feelings, body variance, and how her boots fit today. The mom though often has loftier objectives since she is aware of the cost. Additionally mom and daughter span a wide gap of life perspective (after all the mother has already been through childbirth).

A subtext of this happens whether your child skates or not: a parent is imminently interested in the future success of her child. Many moms are contemplating where their kid will end up in ten years. A skater is looking ahead to the next year at most. In other words their vision of the kid's timeline is very different.

To facilitate communication a parent parses their longer range expectations into terms of shorter one-year objectives that the child can digest. Conflict nestles within the demands of higher perfection inherent within the longer timeline. With only a vision extended to a single year, a skater thinks Hey if I'm a little bit off on this move it won't be a big deal because there's a good chance that I'll straighten it out by the end of the year when I'm ready to advance. The parent though sees compounding shortfalls of immaturity; compared to their mind's eye view of where their skater should be in ten years, each deficit in skill or grace appears as a worsening obstacle that gets piled onto the perfection they would eventually like their kid to achieve. Few parents set out to spend thousands of dollars just to have their kid have fun on the ice for a decade.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

- stolen


Compared to the relaxed standing around and lollygagging at your typical weekday Freestyle practices, every competition or showcase event I've been to has always been the epitome of high stress and hectic. Most of this I presume has to do with their relentless schedule -- pretty much everything is planned to the minute, and if you're late then you've missed your event. Everything seems to be tied into this mississippian flow: cars are constantly shuttling in and out of the parking lot, music and registration is a continuous roller coaster at the front check-in, judges are up and down between their scoring stations and hospitality, coaches are checking in and out and mentally checking their internal schedule, the Zamboni driver takes breaks and then wanders back in to resurface at precisely the right time, and the camera and video crews peek ahead to find the next potty or coffee break.

Although it's hectic, skating events are still incurably slow. If you want to catch a fair amount of representative performances you pretty much have to stick around the rink for half of a day's competition. The stressed out drama of the event slowly wears you down with its small catastrophes until you are forced into a trance, and then whamo! out comes a skater in perfect costume with absolute grace who will hypnotically steal your heart.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

- casual


Parents' dress at a competition is always a dicey and mixed affair.

I've always felt a parent (or even a visitor) should dress "business casual:" no holey jeans please, no grunge, no T shirts or ratty sweats.

But it's not black tie either. Guys, you don't have to wear a button down dress shirt with a tie (although blazers are okay).

Ladies don't overdo the jewelry and makeup please.

The skaters are the ones who are supposed to be fashionably flashy; don't compete with, upstage, or even try to match their presentation. Be pertly smart, supportive, and respectful, but after all this is the skaters' show, not yours.

(repost)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

- jump


In an earlier post I squirmed over watching skaters pop their jumps. I got some pushback so let me try restating my position with a bit more nuance. Obligatory disclaimer: personally I don't skate; this impression is just from inference (and thousands of hours of watching skating).

When you're up mid-spin in your Axel, the actual muscular work consists of fighting off the centrifugal force that wants you to extend your arms and thighs. This effort consists of squeezing "in." All you have to do is relax and the centrifugal force will automatically take over and "pop" you: your arms go out and your thigh lifts up and out, slowing your spin. So the reptile-brain feeling on popping a maneuver is "bah, I give up."

What I am saying is that by pure physics the body *always* rejects the idea of spinning three times in the air. Hence initially jump training must overcome this natural inclination to relax. If you get "used to" a certain muscular autonomic response (strength? balance dynamics?) as an absolute requirement to finish the jump, and suddenly on one jump that feeling fights you back and you give up, you pop.

Landing more jumps is about handling the fight-back and small mid-air corrections instead of giving up. The real trick is being able to know from experience your limits of what you are capable of recovering. Jump 2% off, yeah I can recover this one. Jump 8% off... oh-oh, pop.

Skaters who land more jumps — who avoid popping — consistently work on expanding that percentage of recoverability.

Still though, even the best skaters can't recover a jump that is 5 to 6 percent "off." So most good jumpers get to be good jumpers by refining their takeoff.

Given my many years of rink presence, after a fifth of a second from your liftoff I can discern what is going to happen. At that point eighty per cent of the jump parameters are determined: climbing speed (hence height), body slant angle, slant progression (tilt vector), and ice surface vector. Rotational velocity though is still up in the air, so to speak. It must be odd to sit next to me in the stands and hear me quietly say oh-oh on a takeoff, only to see the tumble a second later.

So the key to not popping is two parallel tracks: first, better recovery, but ultimately having consistent takeoffs with the "correct" mix of factors for your body type and program.

I don't mind if you have to pop a triple that you can usually make, but are missing due to ice conditions or competitive nervousness that caused you to take off badly. Fine, better to pop it (safely) if it's outside of that five per cent that you might otherwise recover.

I know for certain however that you practice your jumps an hour every day, and by now you have more than a vague idea how (in)consistent you are in your takeoffs. Yes it's easy to "pop" if your takeoff failed. Where I get annoyed is that I feel it's a cheat to take a jump into a competition when you're so inconsistent on the takeoff that you pop it half of the time in practice anyhow. Thinking that you maybe "might get lucky" and score big if you nail the takeoff may somewhat diminish the spirit of a competition. I don't want to see your luck, I want to see your skill.

I'm wondering if you need to stand up to your coach and say "I am not ready for this yet in competition; I am not consistent enough."

Okay that's a lot of preaching from somebody who doesn't actually skate, but I am pretty sure this is what I've seen.