Nov 27, 2009

Reinventing the wheel

When we first got into this sport in 1992, when my daughter was 3, it was very difficult to find information about how to be a competitive skater, and what you needed to know as a parent. There was no internet. If you hadn't grown up in the sport, you didn't know about things like ISI and (as it was called then) USFSA. Further, this was in the middle of the Tonya-Nancy drama, so figure skating seemed like a blood sport.

Other parents and coaches all seemed to have their own agenda. Far from what seems to have become a common problem--parents soliciting for the coaches--my experience was that the parents of the talented kids would put down my daughter, and discourage us from getting into it. (There were some nasty parents and kids at that rink when my daughter was growing up. When she was about 10, she told me that she didn't want to be a competitive skater, because the competitive kids were mean, and she didn't want to have to be mean. Out of the mouths of babes.)

As a neophyte parent, I thought that the "top" coaches had to come to you. Since no one ever approached us, I assumed my daughter wasn't as talented as I seemed to think. We finally started lessons with one of the young coaches who was more approachable. There was NO information available at the rink about how to sign up for private lessons. Years later one of those top coaches, whom I had found rather intimidating, told me that she would have loved to have taught my daughter. Well, for heaven's sake, I thought, why the hell didn't you say something at the time?

Skating parents seem condemned to reinvent the wheel, cycle after cycle. We get our information from unreliable sources (*cough* coaches *cough* skating parents *cough*). We're intimidated by the complexity (what the heck is "practice ice?" What's a "non-qualifying" competition? Why shouldn't I take classes with that coach?) As DD said, the competitive girls are mean, often with the blessings of their coach.

What's the solution? Be a gadfly-- if you don't understand something, ask. Don't be intimidated by jargon, or fear to seem ignorant. The web is an amazing resource, and one I wish I'd had. You might be lucky and start skating at a more forthcoming rink, but you might be like us and skate at a rink that is stingy with parent information. Don't talk to parents of just one coach, talk to many parents.

And remember that this sport is capable of supporting many goals and outcomes, not just high-level competitive singles skating. There's synchro, there's testing, there's rink ice shows and professional ice shows. Get tested through the Intermediate level, and now there's a college job that's a little more interesting than filing or slinging burgers (not to mention it pays better.) There's simple recreational skating, and even, gasp, hockey.

Look for information. Ask questions. Make your own choices. No need to reinvent the wheel (or blade as the case may be).


  1. What a great post. Kids as young as 7 "say mean things" which can only be fed by ultra-competive (and unrealistic) parents contributing to fewer kids going beyond basic skills.


  2. RS, so true. And the unrealistic expectations are so pointless, because there are so many more things you can do with skating than win competitions.

  3. I wish someone from our former club/rink would read this post. They would benefit so much from your advice. Former rink has a fantastic (large) ISI skating school run by the local park and rec, and the instructors are mostly coaches from the local club who shares the same rink. Their club is struggling because they can't seem to move kids from the skating school to the club and then retain them as members. They treat the club as if it is some elite secret society where you need to know everything about competitive skating before you join because they aren't going to share any information with you. And you're right about some of the competitive kids being mean and unsupportive of other skaters. But, watch out, because they then become the mean young coaches at the rink and perpetuate the problem. Our daughter is still involved in the skating school but we left this club for an amazing club where the parents and kids are so supportive of one another which I attribute to more down-to-earth parents and their fantastic synchro program. Is there anyway to share this post anonymously with someone?

  4. Anon, best advice I can give is talk up the blog. But you could also talk to that rink manager (not the club parents) about getting the wonderful USFS Parent Survival Guide to hand out free. In large quantities they are only $1 each and they really have great advice.

    Find them at and search Resources for Parents. That will take you to a pdf of an order form.

    However, if you've found a more nurturing club, to heck with the old club.