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.

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.