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.

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.