Apr 15, 2010

Skating myths

An overheard conversation (okay, I was eavesdropping) made me think of misperceptions common among skating parents.

Myth #1: Skating is expensive.
Training for Nationals is expensive. Skating is one of the cheapest entertainments around. Park district skating classes are no more expensive than any other park district classes. Skates, even decent skates, cost less than a bicycle new, and can be extremely cheap used. It's easy to find kid's gently used skates. (More on buying skates.)

Myth #2: If my child start privates, it means I think s/he's going to the Olympics
I've said it before: no one avoids music lessons because the kid isn't destined for Carnegie Hall. No one thinks you believe your kid is ready for Manchester United just because you sign up for soccer. Like anything else, you can skim the surface or dig in deep. Skating lessons are not a lifetime commitment to second mortgages.

Myth #3: Ice dancers can't jump/ice dance lessons detract from "real" skating
Let's explode this one. Ice dance is one of the best ways to learn power and body alignment. Ice dance is not full of skaters who bombed at singles; it is full of skaters who wanted the greater emotional and artistic range tolerated in the discipline. Many ice dancers, my own daughter included, have the full range of double and even triple jumps. Yes, when you get to the higher levels you stop training the other disciplines. But that works both ways. Might as well say "singles skaters can't dance."

Myth #4: Synchro skating ruins your technique
Like ice dance, synchro skating uses different techniques, not "bad" technique. Synchro skating, far from depleting the world of strong singles skaters, is the single most important discipline in skating right now because of the number of kids who now stay in skating so that they can be on the synchro team. Kids that used to quit in high school are now sticking with the sport. In fact, write to the NCAA right now and demand that Synchro be added as an NCAA sport!

Myth #5: Skaters are cliquish and mean
This one actually has a basis in truth, but not because of the skating. It's because middle school girls in general can be cliquish and mean. In fact, skaters, because of the independence and physical discipline required of the sport, tend to be more emotionally mature than their peers. I actually use this myth in teaching, because of a remark my daughter once made, when she said the good skaters looked so snotty. This is because when they skate, they have their noses in the air-- it's not arrogance! It's technique! I now tell kids "let me see 'snotty skater girl' posture!" They all know what I mean.

Myth #6: Figure skating will make my son gay
Just. No. Figure skating, like other artistic disciplines, sometimes attracts gay youth, but trust me, they were there already. Good news is, your gay son won't get married and move away. And he'll go shopping with you.

Myth #7: My coach will make my child starve herself
If your coach is doing weigh-ins and/or checking your child's eating habits, she or he is abusive. It's one thing to note when a child is losing or gaining weight inappropriately. It's fine to instruct a student in healthy eating for athletes and other human beings. Other than insisting on only healthy snacks at the rink, it's entirely wrong for the coach to make eating habits an issue, in the absence of any direct knowledge that the child has bad eating habits. You, as the parent, may concern yourself with the child's eating habits, and I hope you're teaching them how to eat healthy, whole, seasonal foods. But it's your business, not the coach's.

Myth #8: Taking class with a different coach will ruin the primary coach's technique.
Your coach's technique should be strong enough to withstand a once or twice a week class from another perspective. There are lots of different techniques; they all work and the skater should be aware of them all. Knowledge of other techniques does not "ruin" a skater; in terms of life lessons, it's a powerful one to learn that people who respect and get along with each other can disagree.

UPDATE Myth #9: If the skater does not have all the double jumps by the age of 10, it's too late to be competitive.
There are lots and lots of successful skaters who did not start until age 9 or later. Dorothy Hamill started at 9. Kurt Browning started at 13*, and he's Canadian! (How did his parents avoid jail time!) The correlating myth is that there is a specific level a skater "should" be at by a certain age. If your coach is telling you that your skater is behind simply because "at her age she should be in Free style already" or "all my students have an axel by age 7" well, that's about the coach not about the child.
*UPDATE/CORRECTION A reader did some research and learned the Kurt Browning had won some competition at age 11, so he couldn't have started skating when he was 13. He did hockey too, so he wasn't exclusively a figure skater until he was 15 or 16. The source of my information was an old bio-pic on him, but I did not confirm my memory of the statement.

UPDATE (thanks to reader Gordon) Myth #10 I can't skate, I have weak ankles Yeah? How's that walking thing working out for you?

What are some myths that you want exploded?


  1. skatingisexpensiveApril 16, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    I have to disagree with you on Myth #1: Skating is expensive . . . and it sneaks up on you because a group lesson in and of itself isn't expensive . . . and maybe you find the first pair of skates used at a garage sale . . . but then your kid starts taking lesson twice a week; then you hear about Rainbo Sports and are looked down upon when you request used skates or blades . . .; then your kid wants to sign up for synchro (with lots of hidden costs in and of itself); . . . then they compete because you told them they could after they got to a certain level (thinking it was oh-so far away) . . .; etc. etc. etc. And this is coming from a mainly recreational skating family.

    Granted the cost accumulates in other activities as well and the price of privates is comprable to private music lessons. But you don't pay for instrument time; your kid doesn't beg you for the extra class each week etc.

    Yes there are things to do to reduce the costs (take advantge of outdoor rinks during the winter; buy old ice show costumes; sign up to be an ice monitor) but the costs will always be there.

  2. Great post, Xan! My 25-year-old son who was a pairs skater is a perfect example of some of your ideas. He started skating at 11 but still earned two gold and two silver medals internationally in the Junior Grand Prix series. He’s also a happily married heterosexual but has a very open and accepting attitude toward gays because of his experience growing up around males in skating who were gay. He also found that ice dance only helped his singles and pairs. He really improved his posture and style by training in ice dance. And both my children have friends around the world from figure skating.

  3. skatingisexpensive- you're absolutely right about the costs sneaking up on you, but I find a lot of parents thinking that they have to jump into that expense from the outset, so they avoid skating altogether-- kids that I meet at birthday parties, for instance. When I suggest to parents "you should sign up for classes" they immediately say "Oh, skating is too expensive for us."

    Deb-- your kids were just a little ahead of DD,

    Don't be embarrassed about used skates. Maybe because our rink is a municipal one in a very mixed income town, but skate swaps and used skates pretty much rule the day into the high freestyle levels. We never bought used skates until DD was well into Intermediate and we still have used skates and blades for her dance boots. Those ridiculous people can look down their noses at your used skates and you can look down YOUR nose at their unpayable credit cards bills.

    Deb--DD didn't start skating seriously until she was 9, no doubles until she was 11, and she ended up at Jr Nats in ice dance, is triple gold (FS, M, Compulsory D) and now skates pro. And yes, she has friends all over the world and the country from skating. I've had every one of those myths offered to me, and I've punched holes in every one of them, too.

  4. Great post Xan! No disagreement on any points. Now is it a myth or true about those Zamboni fumes?

  5. i loooooove the age comment i always say its not age that matters it's time there is no reason that a 14 year old with and double axel and a twelve year old with a double axel don't have the same chance os making the olympic team. the only reason younger is considered better is because you can succeed faster before you get bored. there are sooo many other factors influencing skaters like money,parents, teqnique,injuries, eating,weight, and talent that if age if your only handicap your better off than most. can we explode that myth pleez.

  6. I totally agree with your attack on Myth #9, you're NEVER too old to start skating, but just want to point out something my OCD caught- Kurt Browning was 3 when his dad built him an ice rink in front of their house, and he was pre-juvenile champion (his website doesn't say what competition....) at age 11, so he couldn't have started skating when he was 13. He did hockey too, so he wasn't exclusively a figure skater until he was 15 or 16.

    1. I pulled that bit about Kurt Browning out of my memory of a bio I saw about him years ago. I stand corrected; and of course the beautiful irony of this is that I'm propagating a skating myth in a post about skating myths, lol. (And maybe it was that he didn't specialize until that age.) This is what you get when you don't have a journalist writing--I never check facts, lol.

  7. ... "Your gay son will go shopping with you."

    My exact sentiments! I love your sense of humour.
    And I have bore witness to the hierarchy of caste-conscious middle school girls. Clique-y does not even begin to describe it. I'm a grown woman, accomplished in life at times, who literally cringes when I see a litter of them on the ice.