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, May 30, 2016

- the point

First there is skating skill, the stroke and the jump, the spins and the footwork. Next comes the imagination, the artistic flourishes using the arms, hands, and a projected imagination. Third comes an audience awareness: sensing what they feel and striving to please them.

The final polish though, that keystone that connects all of the pieces together, is the magical ability to "point:" to connect an active imagination with the ability to direct an audience's attention to that which is being imagined.

Pointing takes just as much practice as all of the other pieces, and arcanely you can only practice it with feedback directly in front of an audience.

If you over-point too blatantly, then you come across as fawning. If you under-point then the audience misses half of your presentation.

The best skaters are aware of what they are doing on all four planes: physically, expressively, impressionistically, and metaphysically. This is the point.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

- pushing

A time-intensive and physically demanding relationship would seem to be at a rather high risk for conflict. It's quite like being in an apprenticeship. I am pleased that my daughter had a gentle coach (at least as far as I know, as I preferred to stay attached loosely to avoid any overt meddling).

When performing the mentally and physically demanding task of skating, a skater can certainly be distracted and thrown off kilter by the daily variations in her moods and muscles. What if the coach asks your kid to do something and she's simply not feeling up to it that day? How much should the coach push, and how much should your skater push back? Who knows the best of what a skater is capable of, the skater or her coach? Who should decide the daily level of impetus -- and does the parent have a say in this?

Is there a good match between assertiveness in this relationship? Katarina (in her book on the subject) was actually pleased that her coach was stubbornly bossy and a hard driver.

Yet I saw one survey quoted that said "Only 7% of girls said coaches should be most concerned with winning" (although this survey was based upon a casual sport, something like softball I believe). I sense that skating kids have a different viewpoint than those participating in casual sports. Still though I would guess a good half of the skaters I'd see at freestyles don't really have intentions of ever competing beyond locally.

Here's a great page that describes many of the desirable characteristics of a coach. I'd grant a fair amount of leeway in each trait, and frankly the field you get to choose from is narrowed to those coaches taking new students at your rink. Bottom line: how you manage how pushy you allow (or choose) your coach to be depends a lot on your's and your skater's goals, considered together.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

- owning it

It seems to me that when the best skaters step on the ice they "own" the rink. Not in the sense of the folks who hire the staff and pay the electric bill, but rather in a more spiritual way; they are here to befriend the audience. When they glide out to center ice you can nearly feel them say Okay this place is mine, this show is mine, this audience belongs to me. I Own it.

Let me see if I can adequately describe the process of how an artist can get to this particular state of mind, as it's not at all obvious. Some of it relates to personality, some of it to experience, some of it to confidence, and some of it is a connection to a higher loving purpose. All of these are a bit interrelated and hinge on certain matters of the soul.

Initially this ability to own your existence starts from a basis of confidence you build up gradually as you move along learning skills. The more you practice the more you internalize elements to muscle memory, allowing your conscious mind to dwell on details of expression and audience responsiveness. When you don't have to tarry over the specifics of your body you can link more easily to your imagination.

Herein lies a sublime trait of the duality of practice: if you aim too high on the short run by always extending your physical learning then you never garner the confidence that you can do the job well. You stay too focused on your body. It's almost like you need to stay at the same physical level as long as bearable, in order to get supremely good at it and shift into a more imaginative mental mode. Perhaps a key to that sort of patience in the first place is an active enough imagination and connection to souls to maintain a parallel purpose. 

Once you have established a record of success it becomes easier to face an audience with confidence. Truly owning the relationship with the audience extends beyond this though: when skating for them you also share both your courage and your humility. This is what makes the performance humanizing and touching; there are no sheathed souls in front of an audience.

I'm not sure if the Ends justifies the Means; audience ownership is obviously a useful trait but I don't think folks set this as a specific goal of their skating program per se. Rather it evolves as an outgrowth of circumstances, a sense of "centeredness", perhaps survival of tragedy, lots and lots and lots of practice, and a certain intention to Serve. It's almost like skating is not the main objective here, it's just the activity whereby you accomplish something else more important.