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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

- packing


After the tumult of the practice, the falls, the chatting, the drama, the bruises, an advancement or two, the deep creeping exhaustion finally overcomes the skater and the practice quietly dissolves to an end.

A couple of steps on the rubberized floor padding, a final stretch or two, grab the skate guards off the boards, and plop down on the bench with a sigh. Open the bag and take out the towel, dry the blades, remove the skates, dry some more, slip on the soakers, set the skates into the bag.

Squeeze and massage the toes.

Behind you the Zamboni starts its grinding around the outer edges of the ice. Put on your tennis shoes, check that you have everything, zip up the bag, a couple more stretches, go pay the coach, chat a bit, see you next time.

The winding down is as much a part of the experience as clearing before the hockey spirits take over.

Monday, July 24, 2017

- the center


Once a young skater gets the sense of how her blades react to the ice, how her ankles transfer her intentions, once she internalizes standing and movement, her awareness gently and gradually goes to her center. It isn't long before she realizes that about seventy percent of skating consists of managing her center of gravity.

Abstract concepts of physics regarding motion, momentum, acceleration, precession, centrifugal forces, and torque suddenly clarify into a hard reality.

How a growing competitive skater envisions and manages her center of gravity reflects outwardly as the foundation of her skating style. If she wrestles the cg she appears to be unsure and unsteady. If she lugs her cg around she appears ungraceful. If she compensates for her cg's movement autonomously then she appears to be flippant. If she over-manages her cg however then she appears to be too rigid.

There is a confident and playful way to manage your center of gravity; doing so on the ice whilst the spin and the jump requires years of practice.

Friday, July 7, 2017

- thoughts on scoring


Way back in 2011 my daughter and I had a conversation about the (then) new ISU scoring. She chatted more about details at the same time that she was sounding me out for larger philosophical issues, and I was propounding a strictly performance and attitude rating, arguing that the scoring doesn't particularly matter one way or another from the perspective of souls.

We reached a bit of a middle ground where I argued that what ISU is trying to achieve is to create a certain kind of "environment", something in the best interest of the sport in the long run. I caution that we need to be careful that we don't set up false objectives: we run the risk of creating a system that coaches "coach" to, in the same manner that teachers sometimes teach skills to score highly on the SAT rather than to develop students who are most competent at learning on their own.

I also brought up the possibility of computers doing the scoring. I said that it would be unreasonable to expect a computer to rate the /artistic/ abilities of a skater, their expressions, their performance, their joy. But conceivably a sufficiently smart and environment-aware computer (visual recognition, music listening) could determine the "technical" merits of a skating program, after sufficient training.

So what do you think? Should scoring create wiry ladies who can quintuple Axel? Or should it create spellbinding performances?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

- sand


When you are on the ice for hours at a time, you begin to appreciate the minuscule and subtle differences of where your feet contact this piece of Earth, this artificial layer you triage with steel blades and a millimeter of meltwater. Ice conditions vary from rink to rink and even within the same rink, depending on the weather outside, the humidity management, and how "thick" they are resurfacing.

Ice can feel "fast" or "slow", hard or soft, springy or deadening. Not to mention rough, smooth, slick, bumpy, and even wavy. Most rinks have an inconsistent surface at any given instant due to the uneven wear in the surface or the inconsistent cooling underneath it. I've even been in a couple rinks with skylights where the sun's path across the ice leaves a trail of slush.

But wait, there's more. Just a few inches under your feet lies the substrate, what the ice is built upon. Every decade or so a rink will completely resurface; if you ever get the chance don't miss the opportunity to watch this. The whole process can take a month.

After they turn off the freezer pipes and let the ice melt, draining and mopping off the water, they will bring in the shovels and rakes and remove the paint. Then you have freezer pipes under a couple inches of sand (some of it quite wet now, depending on the condition of the prior paint). Lift out the pipes, then bring in the mini bulldozer to scoop up the sand and the gravel under that. Now you are left with a big empty building.

Of course things are a little trickier when you get ready to build the ice up again in reverse. Is all the new gravel and sand level and equally tamped down? Are all the pipes flowing leak-free? Is the paint dry yet? Is the new water clean? It turns out that what determines most of the ice's personality you don't even get to see: you are skating on gravel, sand, and paint.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

- soul service


After a long hiatus from the rink, I need to get my sea legs back under me as to the equity and clearance flow of the place. I had forgotten about most of it, but I recall it has some of the appropriate sublimates for athlete/artists who are at work. I sense however that the real soul of skating is not about the work, and it's not about the show.

I keep saying over and over and over (until I'm convinced) that skating is only about the soul, and the art and athleticism are primarily support for that soul service. But it's not about self-service either: it's about preparation for carrying the dreams and hopes of spectators... it's about fabricating a source of inspiration.

As usual my tiny little cog in the whole bailiwick is just to pin the center: to be the torque-point and wormhole to allow the artists to project themselves across their service timeliness and to alert the athletes to balance their long term fitness with their immediate training objectives. So I take the very very long view, generally concerned more with continuity.

I suppose that is part and parcel with my attachment to the sport more as a parent than as a participant. Of course I defend my kid by assuring that she takes adequate precautions and gets treated equitably. But because I view the sport as an activity and also have a much longer view of my kid's life, I also have a broader view of what she does in the context of how it helps her grow up in general.

Yet I focus on what is in the best interest of the sport more than any personal gain for my kid. If I had a million dollars (rich uncle? lotto?) to spend specifically earmarked toward ice skating, I would put it toward things that benefit the sport much more quickly than expensive and marginally effective incremental training for my kid.

Skating grace comes from helping people in a small, courteous, non-selfish manner. It comes from putting the comfort of other people above your own. It is not something manufactured through ballet class or artistic posing or muscle training or choreography. Grace is the outward expression of a pure and egoless soul. Those of us in the backstory -- parents and coaches alike -- recognize that, and create a positive space for the skaters to accomplish that service.

Monday, May 22, 2017

- a perfect layback


There is something sublime and special about watching my daughter in the midst of a layback. Time slows and stretches -- you are aware of the physics and yet at the same time not completely in belief that a person can stretch into that position and still maintain control while balancing muscles, torsion, and grace. There she is, moving along the ice, then a quick three-turn, and now the back is jackknifed, the hands perform air tracery, the trailing foot gradually descending, her revolutions tracing sparkles of imaginations in pinwheel fireworks.

Monday, May 8, 2017

- movement


Almost as complex as a modern paratrooper's clothes, a skating costume is one of the more technically engineered uniforms in existence. The fabric has to keep you both warm and cool yet also dry in an environment that is high humidity and windy (when you're moving). It has to be flexibly non-ripping under stressful body conformations, and it has to provide adequate support for decorative embellishment.

When you buy (or have somebody design) a costume for you, you are really looking for three things. First and foremost technical competence: fabric that flexibly breathes. Skate dress fabric usually must be four-way stretch; if you're making your own here's a site with some good representative examples.

Even though a fabric vendor recommends these I'd still check with your coaches and skatemates; some of these fabrics, although stretchy, may fail to provide effective thermal performance if used too liberally.

Second your dress has to thematically match your program's music. You don't have to aim for an outfit that exactly or literally expresses the song title: no need to wear a faux tux when you're skating to Putting on the Ritz. Yet in general terms your outfit should reflect the mood of your program's music.

And finally, not to belabor the obvious, but the fireworks from a competitive skating costume happens when it moves. It doesn't matter so much whether your costume is imposing on the hanger: what's important is its appearance through your spins, spirals, and jumps. Consider how the sparkles may reflect, how the skirt might extend or ruffle, how you may use extensions like tuxedo tails or arm flares to express specific embellishments.

It's a lot to ask from a dress. Which is why there are designers.
(repost)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

- asceticism

Like any sort of artist a successful skater demonstrates severe focus, and hence possesses a rather strict, ascetic ability to abide by self-denial. In fact the original Greek term for asceticism referred to the physical training required for athletic events. This is a common and simple concept; we bring up most children to understand that deferral of immediate gratification pays off by being able to learn things that can provide greater satisfaction later. Implicit in this is an expectation for a transcendental future reward.

Aspiring skaters absorb this idea socially, mostly by watching other skaters. When a young girl admires a world-class figure skater on TV she senses the immense love and admiration that the skater receives on the podium and during her performance. This goal drives the sacrifices the skater must endure during practice to hone her craft.

As with all artists, the awareness of a future audience provides motivation. Without such motivation self-discipline is meaningless and becomes torture. At the same time however, people have the capacity to deceive themselves into following false surrogate endpoints. Once an artist recognizes that asceticism serves a useful purpose the self-denial may become a goal unto itself. The asceticism can become an addiction for its own sake. Sometimes this works and leads to autogeneration of creativity; sometimes it only leads to self-destructive depression. It does, however, always lead to self-learning.

Like motherhood, daily skating practices involve much silent unobtrusive self-denial, an hourly devotion which finds no detail too minute. People respect and love us for our struggles.

Friday, April 7, 2017

- an insider

When I visited competitions early in my daughter's skating career, I didn't understand a few things. I assumed some of this was due to a shallowness in my knowledge of the scoring. Every so often an average sort of competitor would skate and they would receive a disproportionate circle of applause, and this always flustered me. What was the big deal about that skate? After several instances of this I figured there must be something more going on, but could never quite place my finger on it. That my friend was a long time ago.

Last month I watched adult sectionals at Pickwick. By now I've seen most all of these adult skaters in one place or another and even recognize how several of them skate their elements. In the midst of this entertainment they announce the next skater, and a switch clicks in my mind. Hey, I know that name.  I've emailed this person before to obtain publication clearance on several of my blog posts. I do believe that she chairs one of the local popular skating clubs. I'd never though seen her in person before.

So here she comes, she does her number, nothing particularly special but with a certain amount of nuanced grace and heart, and my eyes sort of tear up a bit. What's this all about? Well, it's respect for somebody who has not only paid her dues but continues to play a big role in providing support to keep the sport safe and popular. Every couple of years her club produces a national level skater. When she finishes she gets the largest round of applause of anyone who has skated, myself included. Eight or nine folks throw "tossies."

Afterwards it occurs to me that for somebody just visiting for their first time, they would have had no clue what that was all about. I guess that makes me an insider now, eh?

Monday, March 20, 2017

- adult sectionals

I encourage parents to drag their skate kid to watch an adult competition. Your kid may be bored that the adults don't do many fancy moves, but the competition will surprise you and is in your long term interests.

Adult competitions are very laid back. The technology is old school, with clipboard scoring and volunteer runners like a local competition. You'll spot the older members of the usual rink crowd. Compared to the real (non-adult) sectionals, the Adult sectionals is easily five times more relaxed. Despite the nonchalance the competitors themselves are pretty urbane about the whole thing, knowing everything involved to nab a ticket to Nationals. Still it's well past time for nervous excitement; it's like being in love for the sixth time.

More than any other skating group the Adults display an extremely wide variety of skating approaches. They show as much variance in their style as the juvenile division, plus everyone skates different elements to boot. Their music is completely all over the map.

There seems to be a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek emoting at Adults. They are well past the age of taking themselves seriously and can't hold a candle to the physical strengths of the younger athletes; the crowd is both well aware of this and is also in on the joke.

Most of the competition's psychic value is sublime -- since the skaters are adults they have full lives besides skating.  Real-life art hides somewhere between the adult skaters and the competitive youngsters. Or to put it differently, the art of life happened in that region in between, where it became impossible to skate. And some of this seeps through to the other side.

Monday, March 6, 2017

- non-elite

Although I link to a few "fan blogs" on this site, I certainly recognize how irrelevant they are to what you actually face day in and day out. Only the tiniest, most minuscule percentage of skaters have the financial resources, body type, dedicated time, and fortune of being in a locale that provides the training support to become national-level competitors. Hence watching the elites can be disheartening if you view them with jealousy. Like a twenty-foot pole-vault crossbar, the elites set the highest level goal for the maximum expectations you might achieve. What you can absorb from them most readily though is performance demeanor.

How do they address the audience? What are their entrance, exit, and off-ice routines? How do they spin the audience love? They have honed their presentation dynamics over hundreds of competitions, so pay close attention to their pre-ice routines. What you find, still somewhat typically, is that they are no better nor worse than your local competitors at managing their nerves and their "game face." View this as a relief: it validates that your stage-fright trepidations are entirely normal, even at the highest levels.

Although you won't learn how to jump a triple by watching the elites, you can still pick up many stylistic clues by viewing the international competitors. Jumps are jumps but spins and arm movements throughout the program (along with certain signature moves) vary substantially in style across the continents. I wouldn't suggest you try to directly "copy" a move you have seen at Worlds, but it's perfectly fine to incorporate ideas that you've seen into your own original manifestations of them.

I know that some skaters avoid watching the elites entirely as it makes them feel too frustrated to realize that many things are unattainable. Mainly though, it's better to be comfortable in your self and view those with more fortunate circumstances as sources and inspiration for your own creative ideas.

Monday, February 20, 2017

- mens singles


Xan raised more than a few of my hackles with her recent post about how parents (and hockey coaches) feel about whether boys should figure skate. She posits that the correlation of homosexuality with the arts is what adults perceive as a "risk" to encouraging their young boy to figure skate. Frankly I think this oversimplification misses many subtle interplays between a young boy, his sexual desires, his current muse, each of his parents individually, society, and how the male side of the sport works. I am not doubting that -sometimes- what she observes is true, just that, well, things are complicated.

Firstly many parents do feel that the male side of the sport is effeminate because of how it is currently taught and skated. It doesn't have to be this way, but when the typical parent wanders into the average rink, if there are any male figure skaters on the ice at all, they are skating like a girl -- they are attempting to be graceful. Why? It is certainly possible to skate like a guy.

Secondly what's wrong with a guy skating gracefully? Some guys just express a more sensitive feminine side than other men. Hey big news: some ladies act more macho than other gals. So you know what? Get over it. Your kid will join whatever clique of friends they're comfortable with.

But back for a minute on the culture of graceful male figure skating. You know it would seem totally reasonable to me if they split the men's singles into something like male solo dance and male solo "dynamics". Solo dance could be for the graceful guys, and Dynamics could appeal to the, uh, shredder set. Skateboarders, snowboarders and such. I don't know maybe you could install Teflon jump ramps and ask the guys to wear wristguards or something: X-games for skaters.

Thirdly I think nearly all parents have little to no problem with their boy skating as part of a team, either in dance or in pairs. There's plenty of precedence for suave male partners, and I don't think many parents would have a problem with their son developing some competent dance skills.

Fourthly though if I had a young precocious son I might yes actually discourage him from attempting a -solo- endeavor, but for completely different reasons than homophobia. For one thing there are far too many intelligent athletic adorable gals at the rink. This isn't a problem when your son is 6 years old but when they are 14? Hello! Next if my kid wanted to solo skate l'd want to make sure that the rink had a coach to show him how to exhibit some "class" on the ice. At most rinks this would seem to be a problem.

Finally just as an obvious stickler, how you skate has nothing to do with who you're attracted to physically. Many sensitive guys still want to only bed a gal, and a few guys who you'd take for macho are rather kinky. And neither one has anything to do with your skating style.

The best way to get more men in the (singles) sport is to judge and teach the men's side of the sport differently. Guy's single figure skating is a different sport than women's, and it would likely help if it could be segregated off entirely.

Monday, February 6, 2017

- shows


Most clubs I've been around sponsor some exhibition skates and even a holiday program or two. Showcases may include some duets, ice theater, some dramatic and comedic skates, master exhibition skates, and even some extemporaneous skate challenges.

Additionally the rink management may decorate for a public holiday event. You may already feel a little put out by the demands of freestyle and competitions, and your holidays are likely busy on top of that, but I still encourage you to partake of both the club's and the rink's festivities.

One of my fondest memories is from when our rink sponsored a public-session Halloween bash. I can't skate, but I dressed up anyhow as Frankenstein and sat in the hockey dugout to scare and hand out candy to the little kids.

For a skater, shows and holidays are terrific occasions to socialize and show off a bit without any competitive pressure. For a parent it provides an opportunity to demonstrate friendly support for the general skating community.

(repost)

Monday, January 23, 2017

- overthought


In a blog post from 2013 World Figure Skating warned about the dangers of overthinking; he maintains that overthinking makes you "choke." On that I would agree, but its scope and timing needs to be clarified.

Thinking interacts with training and performing across a complex dynamic. When you are learning something new you need to think about it constantly. Once you get fully practiced however the learnt behaviors become more deeply internalized into a partially subconscious state. Do you think about the shape of individual letters as you sign your name? You used to when you were little, but now you don't any longer. Portions of skating elements are like your handwriting: you internalize the angle of your foot, how hard you toe pick, how quickly you tuck your arms.

Although I agree that overthought jumps during a competition cause recurrent issues of inconsistent takeoffs, I don't have any particular qualms about your deep cogitations during practice. In fact I actually like to see you thinking deeply the entire time that you're in a freestyle. Try things and think about them -- that's how you learn!

And even at a competitive event I'm perfectly fine with your mental ramblings during your stroking, footwork, or spins. This shows that you're minding the music or planning your ice coverage or capturing your audience.

You will skate better however if you can find a way to approach your competitive jumps with your neurons silenced.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

- the artist


Those inside the sport know this but it's not always apparent outside; I'll post these remarks to the general audience and you skaters can comment your concordances. Figure skating is both a sport and an art, and as such skaters are both athletes and artists. Hence skaters share many of the same characteristics and fight most of the same battles as any other artist (although due to the athletic rigors demanded of them they tend to be "clean" artists, eschewing the mental chemical stimulants of other creatives). Yet the demands of creativity are still the same.

As the medium of a skater's expressiveness is constantly fighting back (and she learns as she goes along) staying focused as an artist requires an extraordinary amount of exertion of will under trying circumstances. There's falls, there's equipment issues, there's meddling competitors. To succeed she must take her art absolutely seriously. A skater must become fully dedicated to her craft as anything less may devolve to become only recreational skating.

Like all artists, a skater thinks a lot about her art even when she is not on the ice; many skaters think about it 24 hours a day, albeit at different levels of consciousness. They live, eat and breathe figure skating. And all of this attention and focus to a single subject tends to isolate a skater from a wide variety of outside activities and also limits her social circle.

A skater tends to put herself into "voluntary solitude;" the intensity of the concentration of her sport demands it. Does a skater's isolation border on self punishment? The ones who keep competing may have a greater capacity for this solitude. Still though as a parent I often had my concerns for my daughter's following an artist lifestyle: the consequence of skating as a serious endeavor invokes a social cost -- by necessity the skater sacrifices common scholastic social entertainment. Does a skater have to overcome this parental bias irregardless?

Since she mostly works alone on her craft the skater is responsible for imposing her own high standards. For the most part she is in charge of her own critiques; a skater is often the only one who really knows what's going on with her own work. Certainly her coach and parents can witness the end results, but the skater faces hundreds of small unseen private battles. Many skaters are filled with self doubt and go through long periods questioning their skills. An artistic vision is therefore necessary to carry a skater through her rough patches.

To a certain extent then rinks are like art colonies (well, after the hockey players have packed their bags). And like any art studio, success comes from making your rink a place where you and your fellow artists want to be creative.