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, November 7, 2017

- sides


Trick question: how many sides does an ice rink have? Yeah I know it's an oval shape. The trick is that I am not asking for a geometric count, but rather a tally of its personalities.

At nine in the morning on a Wednesday at the rink I meet Janet, a skate coach here. Otherwise the rink is completely empty even though it is open for public ice. I suppose this runs typical for a mid-week morning.

Rinks have such jagged up and down spiky sessions: if you were to walk into a rink totally at random half the time it would be vacant, empty except for the staff performing random chores, cleaning the rental boots, fixing the boards. This is the personality of the rink that the employees know; it is their grounding.

The other half of the time the place is a zoo, eighty kids going every which direction, or a rough and tumble roaring hockey match.

The difference between figure skating and hockey is matched by the stark contrast between when the rink is empty and when it is full. Figure skating and hockey are two distinct personalities.

So empty, hockey, figure skating... an ice rink has three sides.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

- modernization

Skating aficionado Claire recently pondered over ISU program and scoring changes with her detailed blog post Is the ISU on the Wrong Course? When I replied to her post I said the ISU was trying to change the course of an ocean liner by throwing deck chairs over the side. Since I've been known to have a few serious thoughts about IJS myself, allow me to expand on that metaphor a little. (Warning high opinion mode is on).

Claire is essentially correct in some of her observations but a bit behind in others. First of all she is absolutely correct that high visibility events such as Nationals, some World competitions, and the Olympics, tend to be those events that motivate young skaters to take up the sport. She is also correct that controversy in the scoring in those events is some of what has dissuaded the present audience interest.

Previously determined on the 6.0 system, changes to scoring (introduction of the IJS system) were made in 2004 to prevent judges from specific countries from biasing the results to their favored skaters. To be competitive under the IJS system, skaters have had to focus more on technical elements and much less on artistic presentation. As I've mentioned in other posts, this has decreased the audience popularity of the sport.

To reclaim some popularity, what's ISU is suggesting is however a very small change at the margins of what is essentially a completely broken sociology. ISU power flows through their organizational, marketing, and scoring technologies to create an employment path for skaters (who can eventually become judges, coaches, and choreographers, or even ISU employees). The costliest part to coordinate and deploy is the scoring (and judge training) systems. They are hence heavily invested in the status quo of such.

Imagine though a complete and total revamp of scoring and judging. Imagine not even requiring ISU equipment or judge training to accomplish the scoring. This is, after all, 2017 already. People are working on fully automated driving, with machine learning based AI and motion capture.

Let's have some smart engineers create a lidar tracking video system to motion capture the skaters and attach an AI to determine how artistic and athletic they are. You can train the AI on any type of skaters that you want to achieve the desired results. You want more artistic skating? Train the AI on videos of Peggy Fleming.

Once you have an AI system that doesn't require judges around, you can play it at every rink, and the skaters can watch their scores and determine how to skate by themselves. Coaches could watch an app on their phone and see their students score accumulated in real time.

You might even include in the AI something that listens to the audience to award a higher score when there's greater applause. Yes this means there will be a home rink advantage; so what, other sports already have that. It makes the sport more exciting.

Furthermore each of the four divisions should have its AI trained to different characteristics. Dance is not like pairs is not like men's is not like women's. And you know what? Let's include a division for small group Ice Theater while we're at it. How about duets. You can even train the algorithm to be different by age groups; there's no reason to expect seven and eight-year-olds to have the same presentation as Juniors and Seniors.

AI motion capture scoring would also incredibly speed up the scoring so that there wouldn't have to be a pause between skaters. ISU is trying to modify a 2004 based system to bring it up to 2007. It's 2017 for Christ's sake. Do you still use a ten year old computer? Didn't think so. The folks at ISU have too much personally invested however to make gigantic changes in the sport like this. Hence an outside group is going to have to revamp and recreate the sport entirely.

Monday, October 23, 2017

- spiral

I may have mentioned this a couple times before: the spiral is one of my favorite elements. What, you ask...? The skater is only traveling in a static pose with one leg up behind her -- what could be difficult or interesting about that?

The spiral encapsulates all three of my top skating criteria in a simple to judge move: grace, balance, and skill. Also since I have a skating daughter I recognize how difficult it is to accomplish a quality spiral, mainly since I have had the privilege of witnessing young skaters attempt this in practice as they were growing up.

The first challenge is bringing your trailing leg up at a smooth consistent speed and then stopping at the correct height. Go too far and you faceplant. Don't go far enough and it's impossible to hold. Viewing a gal practice this is like observing a young person learn how to do a headstand. Trial and error, muscle memory, and finding the balance points.

Once you're pegged into position you get to deal with the vagaries of blades and bumps in the ice. I don't know from experience but from watching it seems to me that the gals that maintain the most velocity in their spiral have an easier time keeping their position fixed as they traverse the rink's incongruities. Those traveling slowly get whomped by every small dent and surface gash.

After examining the smoothness of entry I focus on your skates: my peripheral vision makes sure the hind leg stays frozen exactly at the same height, and my wandering eyes appreciate any stylistic hand movements, but mostly I am examining if your edges stay clean and committed as you manage the traversal. I am watching how you use your core muscles to finesse the minuscule velocity changes imposed by the bumpy ice.

Holding your rear leg stock still is enough of a challenge, but if you can do this while also throwing in some slight balletic arm movements at the same time, I'm doubly impressed.
The other notable oddity about this element is, of course, your face is presented straight up toward the audience (or judges, depending on your angle). Please don't skate your spiral with your mouth open.

This element also critically narrows the body types for those who will eventually become the great skaters. Obviously you need strong glutes to pull it off well, but additionally if your center of gravity stays fixed as you tilt into position then this indicates that your top and bottom halves are appropriately balanced.

Monday, October 9, 2017

- audience love


The emotional relationship of the skater with her audience is a precarious bargain. It is somewhat akin to that between a cabinet maker and the owner of a mansion. The audiences strives for class, or for at least being accepted into the higher class. They are the owners of the mansion (or at least they are paying the mortgage on the place). They lack however a certain actual substance, and are trying to obtain the essence of class by sponsoring the skating and by experiencing the patina of accomplishment vicariously.

The skaters are like the cabinet makers: they are the utility carpenters and general contractors who put in hours of hard work to lend grace and class to the mansion of a skating performance. What do the skaters receive in return? Just love.

And it is this sensitivity and craving for love alone that ultimately motivates the skaters to practice, practice, practice.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

- parental psychic warfare


I hate to say it, but at some rinks there's some funky sh*t going down. Much like some other sports, some skating parents take their kids' advancement faaaar too seriously. I have a vivid memory of visiting Valencia Ice Station once, where the "pond" (the small practice third surface) was still running a freestyle. Basically a bunch of competitive twelve to fourteen year old girls all fifty feet away from one another squeezing in jumps between their parents' angst.

Meanwhile, parental psychic warfare. The warfare is through subtle comments and not so subtle glares and recriminations. Plus psychics to fill a spellbook. Much of it is of the simple "bad wish" kind, the whisper of "fall now" or "catch your toe pick." Some of it is more serious: spells for injury, bad luck, or mishap. Some is deliberate rumor mongering.

I can't fathom how parents would be that way; I'm against it on principal, but I still sense it happening. Then on top  of what a teen skater otherwise has to go through with her own angst, they get to deal with parents who think they are helping. I'm not sure how skater-girls make it through that age. Too much drama.