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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

- friction


No matter how involved a skating parent nor how proficient a coach and her staff, you're still going to find some friction between a parent and the coach. The basis for this is joint and several.

Some is the natural conflict inherent in loco parentis where every day a coach temporarily transmits some of her value system to a student. Some of it may be a lingering suspicion from the parent that the coach's goals don't align exactly with her own. Some of it may strictly be a cost/benefit complaint. Some of it may be disdain toward the lack of authority or control the parent has over the coach (who appears to primarily be an employee of the rink).

At the foundational level though, all this appears to mostly result from a complicated "agency" problem: several parties stand between the service provider (coach) and the buyer (parent). Analogous to how companies buy health insurance for their employees, a parent buys coaching for her child. This transaction is not perfectly transparent however: few parents comprehend the intricacies of skating and the communication between a parent and her child are often less than clairvoyant.

There also seems to be a moral hazard always lurking beneath the surface: is the coach actually managing your child strictly to retain a long term client? Is that in your child's best interest? Does the coach give you false hopes of grandeur in return for a longer lasting revenue stream? In other words is the best interest of your skating child at odds with the best interests of her coach?

A parent of a serious skater may need to consider how to incentivize her kid's coaches to achieve the skater's desired results. Should you tip your coach for exceptional accomplishments? Should you have a contract with your kid's coach with performance incentives? Should we be encouraging skate parents to share their feelings about the quality of their coaches?

Yeah it's a lot of questions and I don't know any of the answers. Frankly a parent can be a bit of a cad to bring these up in public to begin with. Still it's something to think about (and perhaps discuss on blogs or on skating forums).

Monday, April 9, 2018

- literal


Skating with expressive style to a musical piece is a good trick; staying stylish when the background contains lyrics is even more of a challenge.

I'd prefer that you didn't, but if you absolutely must skate to music with lyrics, please avoid running the unfortunate risk of taking the words too literally. Just because the lyrics say "breaking my heart" doesn't mean that you have to clutch your chest, seriously.

Although the music usually gets written as an accompaniment to the lyrics, if we wanted you to skate to the words alone we would ask you to skate solely to spoken poetry.

What makes music magical beyond the lyrics *is* the music. The music is the showy sizzle, the lyrics are the poetic scaffolding.

That rather sets the stage for what we are asking: use the higher level, the music, as the framework upon which to build your performance. The lyrics are still there, so don't controvert their meaning. But it's a nobler cause to skate to the feelings of the music.

And when the lyrics say "he shot her" don't cock your fingers into a pretend gun to shoot. Seriously.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

- fantasy


If five hours of watching an Open skating competition has numbed my brain, sometimes I will drift off to a fantasy of my own routine: the program that I would skate (if I were capable of skating). Being an older man the performance would be more dapper and stylish, yet oozing with class and supreme athletics.

I stretch a bit from the sidewall as my program's music starts, something with a haunting jazzy bass drum beat. I reach over the dasher, grab a top hat and a silver and black cane, tap the hat onto my head, and do a jaunty three turn out to center ice, bowing as a jazzy slide trombone emerges with a slow melody.

I head off quickly down the ice, the coattails of my tuxedo flitting out behind me, and as I reach the end I jump to land a perfect double Axel (to polite applause). On the way back I split jump while tossing my cane with a twirl high into the air, turning around after landing to catch it behind my back. The crowd Ahhhs.

Then I am picking up more speed, a triple Axel, straight down into a sit spin, flipping the cane around on the ice beneath me in the opposite direction to my spin. Then rising up to a full stop I pose, and the music pauses as I dip my hat.

The jazz now picks up to a staccato pace, and I do impossibly fast footwork down the ice in one direction, on the return path a spread eagle while twirling the cane above my head and then twice around my body. Then gaining speed down the ice I jump straight up into a laid-out front flip holding onto my hat as my skates vertically pass overhead, landing gently (on one foot!) right into a spiral, the cane gently twirling between my fingers.

Then a final bow, hat in hand. Standing ovation.

Meanwhile back at the actual rink the pre-preliminary group A takes to the ice for their warm up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

- storyline

At an appropriate age (say eleven to thirteen) I'm wondering if it makes sense for figure skaters to enroll in a year or so of dramatic stage-acting lessons? I know they already take ballet, they work out at the gym, maybe they have a jump coach or attend some stroking lessons. They even occasionally retain a choreographer. Do you really need to be spending more toward their skating career?

Well it depends. It does seem that American skaters lack a sense of dramatic projection and the ability to express a story through their skating. This capability varies enormously amongst individual skaters however, even at the local rink. Gals that are naturally expressive tend to enjoy the Showcase events or Theatre on Ice, and that is fine and good. If your technical skater has their sights on Nationals though and is more of an athletic competitor, then their bubbly personality alone may prove insufficient to bump up their Program Component Score, as the objective is to "physically, emotionally, and intellectually deliver the intent of the music and composition."

Russian, Japanese, and Italian skaters already seem to internalize this: it's almost like their culture imbues an innate sense of storytelling; as they inherently value the dramatic they always incorporate it into their choreography.

Dramatic acting is not for everyone though and it takes a couple of years for the gifted artists to "shake out." Sometimes a skater possesses the personality to slip in and out of character while letting their soul temporarily become something else. That skill needs some polish, but for the performer to mature she must learn how to effectively rebound after each performance with a reinvigorating recuperation.

Some skaters are competitive all the way through and through: all they need to stay motivated is somebody to best. But this is a shallow goal. In my mind the purpose of storytelling is more than just boosting your score or providing an entertainment hook. I firmly believe that the story serves as a benign diversion, so that you can accomplish the soul work that you're really out on the ice for. It is only with an artistic soul that a skater has the moxie, motivation, and determination to guide herself through the tough times to ultimately create a skating career.

Friday, February 23, 2018

- care


I see quite the full spectrum of parental involvement at the rink; I suppose that's to be expected: after all some parents are just along for the ride. They nag their kid to hurry and pack the skate bag, drop their skater off at the rink, go run some errands, and then come back and sit in the ice lounge the last fifteen minutes of class. Afterwards they may congenially ask their kid how the lesson went.

My friends, this is not truly a skating parent.

A skate parent reminds his kid when she is packing to make sure that she brought an extra pair of tights. On the way to the rink the parent inquires when the last time his daughter had her skates sharpened.

The skate parent holds the doors open for his daughter as they enter the rink, wraps the scarf around his neck, and assumes his usual seat (with back support) down by center ice. He sets down his thermos of coffee and takes up his pen and video camera.

As his daughter skates he takes notes about her form and style. A skate parent presses his face up to the crack between the panes of Becker plexiglass to yell out how to improve a move. Occasionally he calls her over to a door opening to chat about something different and more expressive that his daughter can try with her arms.

During a break he accompanies her to the heated lounge and buys her a snack, and they chat about skating, school, or friends at the rink.

After practice the skate parent makes sure he thanks the coach, verifies that his daughter remembered her skate guards, and drives her out for a bite to eat. On the drive home the parent lets his daughter watch her practice on the video camera.

A skating parent is indeed crazy to spend this much attention on his daughter if it does no good. But whether or not it makes her a better skater is somewhat besides the point. A skating parent behaves this way because his daughter loves skating. And a skating parent loves his daughter.

(repost)