Dec 26, 2011

Why are they just skating around in circles?

"St Lidwina" recently overheard a conversation between a couple of moms and a coach, wherein the moms were complaining about the warm-up, in particular that the skaters "weren't learning anything."

While this was a freestyle class, if you're at a rink with learn-to-skate classes of 30 minutes you're not observing the phenomenon of the "free skate" at the beginning of class. But at longer classes, and in all  free style classes, there will be a period of anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, where the skaters are "just" skating around in circles.

Why are they wasting your money?

Warm up
Coaches have not arranged for this just so they can wait for stragglers (we don't, as a rule), catch up on gossip (that's what Facebook is for), or stand around with our thumbs up our asses (too hard to reach). Warm up is an actual thing, and it is important to get you physiologically acclimated to the cold. In an ideal world even learn-to-skate kids would warm up off ice by jogging or doing calisthenics for 20 minutes, then spend 5 minutes getting their skates on, and would then step onto the ice ready work.

Excuse me, I'm back now.

I was laughing so hard I had to stop typing for a minute.

Now I have to say, that the leisurely gossip stroll that passes for class warm up (at least with the teens) is also not ideal, but it is having some salutory effect towards actually warming up one's core, which is what you want. And the little kids treat it like public session, so they're getting a really good benefit out of it.

Just skating
Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big proponent of just skating. I love when learn-to-skate level kids go to public session and just skate, without having to worry about "practicing." You get a lot of benefit from just skating, plus, every now and then we need to leave those kids alone. Let's sport them 5 minutes where no adult is telling them what to do, or making them have "quality" time. How about throwing a little wasted time into these poor, over-scheduled kids' lives.

Five minutes of pointless skating is going to affect their ability to get into Yale, and,assuming $90 for a 10-week class, I think you can afford the prorated dollar that is the value of those 5 minutes. Skip your visit to Starbuck's one day every 3 months to make up for it.

Who needs help?
Warm up is also a time for coaches to watch and see whose skates are poorly tied, who needs gloves, or an extra jacket, whose mom needs to be told to please get out of the doorway. Has a coach forgotten her lesson book or the box of toys or stickers? This gives her a couple of minutes to go and get it. Is there a particular issue with some skater that mom needs to tell the coach about (leave early, getting over a cold, new glasses, here for a make-up, not going to be here next week, whatever). The mom gets to tell the coach now without cutting into lesson time.

Group warm up
A lot of rinks will do a brief group warm up as well. (Or not so brief. The Ice Rink of the Damned has freestyle warm ups that can go on for 40 minutes or more. No wonder no one can learn an axel in class.) This is an opportunity for skaters to push themselves. The lower level skaters will try to keep up with the skills and power of the high ones, and the high skaters will suddenly realize that those little shorties are getting good and they better deliver or they're going to look pretty silly.  It also allows the coaches to introduce patterns and skills that aren't going to be taught in class. Also, notwithstanding that we're not waiting for the stragglers, it does give them an opportunity to sneak in.

Kids don't need to be "learning something" every waking second, and unless you're inside that skater's head, how the heck do you know whether they're learning something or not?

Instead of complaining about the wasted time, ask a coach what their warm-up philosophy is, or just ask your skater if she enjoys it. That's worth its weight in gold.

Dec 21, 2011

Who do we talk to?

I'm a squeaky wheel.  I also like to know stuff.

Which is a problem when you're a new skater or skating parent. Skating culture is very insular--people hoard information. Further, since so many people in skating have skated literally their entire lives, they often do not understand how mysterious it can seem to neophytes. If you unluckily stumble onto a rink with a poisonous culture like we did, they take your questions as evidence of either stupidity or overreaching, which discourages the inquiries. (And will punish your child in subtle ways in retaliation, not kidding.)

People are sometimes afraid to get information from rink management or the clubs, because they're afraid of looking stupid, they're afraid of retaliation, they're afraid of stepping on the coach's toes.

So they: Ask the Coach, Ask the Gossip Moms, hunt the blogs, try to navigate the USFS site, the PSA site, the ISI site, the CanSkate site. (Which doesn't seem to have a parents' page? Can this be right?)

And you end up getting the not-always-accurate info you need by the seat of the pants.

But each of these places actually have people whose job it is to talk to you. Remember to go in with an open mind, don't snark at them right off the bat; assume they are there to help you, which in fact, they are (unlike local rink managements and club leadership, where that is not always the best assumption you can make). Here are some people to contact:

Susi Wehrli-McLaughlin (
Susi is the Senior Director of Membership at US Figureskating.  She's also very accessible, extremely interested in your needs as a coach, skater or parent, and very responsive to issues.

US Figure Skating Parents Committee
They've just introduced a Parents Committee Facebook page. The website has email addresses for contacts in every region. If you're concerned about your inquiry blowing up in your face, contact the chair, or someone from a different region.

Professional Skaters Association 
While this organization is set up for coaches, parents and skaters can also get trustworthy, confidential advice from this organization. Plus, they're in Minnesota, and you just can't believe how nice they are. I think they put something in the water up there. For coaching issues, try talking to Elizabeth Peschges (

Randy Winslip at the ISI 
This guy knows everything there is to know about skating in the US. While the ISI website is an utter nightmare, their staff is terrific. Randy's email is  If the ISI conference comes to a town near you, or just for a vacation, go.  (They usually take place in vacation destinations like Florida or Las Vegas.) They always have sessions for and about parents and you'll meet a lot of people who have no stake in your child's or your career, so they are trustworthy to talk to.

If you're a competitor, Junior Nationals and the US Figure Skating Championships (which after this year will be one and the same), have seminars for parents and skaters. And I'm betting you don't have to be connected with a competitor to go. If you're at Nationals as a spectator, or they're in your town, call up Susi and ask her if you can attend any of the sessions for parents.

The worst thing you can do as a parent, and especially the parent of a legitimately competitive skater, is to get all your information from a single source. If your coach feels threatened by you trying to get information from people other than him, my advice is to start questioning everything he's telling you, because unless he's feeding you bullshit, why should it matter?

Long story short: educate yourself. Meet other people. Get out of the rink!

Dec 15, 2011

Skating party etiquette

I love skating parties, for birthdays, holidays, and family get-togethers. Skating parties work great for mixed-age groups, and provide ready-made activity, which if I recall from kids skating parties is an enormous boon.

However, they come with their very own set of management and etiquette issues. Here's some things to keep in mind.

The guest list
Dry-land parties are easy--you invite your friends, go somewhere out of sight (i.e. away from school or office) and don't worry too much about the peripheral social circle. But if you have a skating party at your regular rink, you come up against the problem of the "skating friends." Some of these people are actual friends and some of them are just training mates, or even more casual in their acquaintance. Problem is, your kid spends a LOT of time with them.

There are a couple of solutions:

Don't hold the party at the home rink. That way people aren't there to get their feelings hurt. And it's simple courtesy to not talk about parties around people who may not have been invited, so it's a good teaching moment for younger kids too.

Invite only, and ALL skating friends (for instance everyone who takes from your coach) Then have a smaller, close friends party or sleepover for just 5 or 6 non-skating very close friends.  These friends might or might not also come to the skating party. This commits you to two parties, of course, but it avoids the hurt feelings at the rink.

Invite who you want, and hold it where you want
Don't worry about the people whose feelings are hurt because a casual acquaintance has a party without them.  If you accommodate them in this, they're just going to find something else to complain about.

 The Synchro Team
If your child is on a synchro team, and you have a skating party, the issues get stickier. You don't want the party to become an unscheduled team practice; you don't want the team to overwhelm the non-team members who are also there. Plus, your kid may not get along with everyone, and may not want them at her party.

If you invite half the team, you have to invite the whole team
This is a common grade-school rule to keep kids from feeling left out of birthday parties. If half or more of the class is invited, you have to just invite the rest, because there's no way some child is not going to feel really bad about being left out (especially if it's 20 out of 24 being invited).

No synchro skating
You really have to have a no-synchro rule so the team doesn't take over the ice, but if a lot of the team is there, schedule some time for them to do a short exhibition (if you're renting the ice. If you're on public, no exhibition).

Non skaters
You don't have to avoid non-skaters at the party. Hire a pro to teach willing beginners some basics (including adults), and have plenty of engaging off-ice activities so that the ones who really don't want to skate can feel included in the festivities. If there are some very young children, have pushers or cones available.

Show offs
There are going to be some very good skaters at any skating party. You want to police them as little as possible, but gently make sure they're not making the lower level and non-skaters feel inadequate, or hot dogging around on the ice. You can also ask them to do very short, prepared exhibition numbers (again, if you've rented the ice; this won't work on public); this is especially nice if the birthday child is one of the show-offs.  You could even set up an impromptu exhibition with the non- and lower skaters, asking the Pro you've hired (for her full rate, please), to put together a little group number with anyone interested.

Yes. Lots and lots of parents on the ice. More so than regular parties, skating parties are better with lots of adults.

Even if they are non-skaters, or beginners, adult presence on the ice will ipso facto keep the show-offs and the hot doggers at bay.  You'll also want some parents in the party room and in the lobby at all times for the non-skaters, bathroom breaks, and bumps and bruises.

How much skating
Time on the ice is generally spelled out in the rental agreement. Most rinks have party packages that include a set number of pre-paid rental skates, a certain amount of ice time or public skate passes, possibly a pro, and a party room.  Make sure you leave enough off-ice time for cake and presents!

Renting vs. public
Facilities with multiple ice surfaces, especially if they have "studio" (small) ice, often have very reasonable rentals. This is the best way to do an ice-skating party. You have lots of control because your group is the only one on the ice.  This is the best way to do larger parties, say more than 12 families/kids involved. For smaller groups, public skating can work just fine. Some of the best party fun happens on weekend public when there are 4 or 5 or 6 party groups there all at once, and they find each other--you'll get all the skating birthday girls bonding.

How many is too many?
The number of people on the ice, at a well-run facility, is going to be limited by the rental agreement. For a studio-sized rink this is generally 40 to 60 people. If you're doing a party for 60 people, you're crazy, but that's just my opinion.  Groups of 6 to 8 kids, with fewer adults supervising, can do well on a public session, and it's also a lot cheaper.

This is a great time of year for family skating--think about making it a party. Bet you didn't know Grandma could spin like that!

Dec 13, 2011

The Xanboni Store and a giveaway!

Last edit on this post! The winners of the give-away are:

"Barbara" who commented today, wins any item under $22 at the Xanboni Store
"Helicopter Mom" who commented on the Nov. 15 post, wins the Ice Halo.

Please send me your shipping information to  Everybody else who entered, head on over to Ice Halo* or the Xanboni store for those last-minute gifts!  Thanks to my friend Bree who drew the winning tickets, as well as John and Nga Jee who witnessed!

Check out the "Hail Peggy" long-sleeve t-shirt!  More products (and a nicer web design) coming in the new year.


One more chance to get in on my "100,000 giveway." (Also announced here.) Leave a comment below and you'll be entered to win any product valued at under $22 at the store, or a child's medium Ice Halo™ in camouflage fleece. Leave a comment by noon Wednesday, 12/14. If you already left a comment at either of the prior posts, no need to comment here, you're already in the hopper!

*Mention Xanboni for 5% discount. Disclosure: I do not receive any remuneration from Ice Halo, although they did send me a free pink fur Ice Halo, which is very very cool.

Dec 11, 2011

Involving your family

A reader tells me
I started skating a few months ago, with lots of practice, plus private lessons. Since I'm able to get to the rink on my own mom has never really watched me skate. For some reason, she seems really uninterested in my skating--she hasn't even met my coach! Do you have any ideas on how to get my mom involved with my skating?
Here's some ideas:

Adult presence required
Ask around your home school group if you can do a once a week half hour "baby sitting on ice" with younger children, either ones you already babysit for, a local homeschool network, or the younger sibs of friends.  You could even ask the rink if you can post a notice. Charge them or not, your call, but I would suggest $3 per kid, plus the cost of ice and skate rental (if you get 5 kids, that's a nice chunk of change). Tell your mom you're not comfortable doing this without her on the premises; she doesn't have to skate.

See if the rink will allow you to set up an exhibition. Again, you could ask around a home school network if you're home schooled, or open it up to skaters from the rink, or just ask around to see if any of your friends skate.  Ask your coach to see if the local synchro team would like to be your headliners, or if she's got a high level skater who'd be willing to show off her program. Your mom might have friends who used to be skaters and might like to show off a little as well.  Municipal rinks might even donate the ice for this purpose if it's in the middle of the day when it's just sitting around empty anyway. Your school or home school might give you some kind of service learning credit for something like this; my own daughter arranged an exhibition her senior year.

I need your help
You could also just tell your mom flat out, "I really want you to come watch me skate, would you come once a month and see how I've progressed"? Or even ask her to "test" you--make up a little skills sheet based on the ISI levels and have her check off what you've learned.

Coach insists
Tell the coach you want her to discuss your progress with your mom every couple of weeks.

Ice shows, local competitions, and exhibitions
Signing up for the ice show, competition, or the rink's exhibition (with your own solo program) is a sure fire way to get family and friends to learn about your skating. ISI and Basic Skills competition sounds scary, but in fact they're a lot of fun, even for beginning skaters. A good coach can come up with choreography that makes even a Pre Alpha skater look really good. Don't worry if you "can't do anything." Non-skaters find a simple glide completely miraculous, especially if it's accomplished by someone they know, who they didn't know skated!

What have you done to get your family involved in your skating?

Dec 4, 2011

Adults and training intensity

I started skating seriously at the age of 37, although I had gone through what I think was probably the equivalent of Freestyle 2+/3 in college (this was before ISI had codified the levels, that is how old I am).  Then I didn't skate for 17 years.

When I started skating again, I didn't "train;" I skated a few times a week, and took a couple of classes. It wasn't until I decided to do USFS tests that I really started thinking about it as "training."

So what exactly is "training" and how does it differ from simple improvement?  How does it affect goals, and how does it affect that broken-down, over-scheduled, overweight body that you seem to have suddenly been saddled with?

Training vs. recreational skating
For adults, really, all skating is recreational. Like other hobbies, you can invest a nearly professional level of commitment to it, or you can do it for fun or as a social activity.

The biggest difference between a skater in training and one there just for fun is that the people in training usually have a goal, and it's often time-specific, like a test, show solo, or competition.

I like to define training as
a specific schedule of directed, dedicated activities designed to lead to a time- and/or skill-specific goal. It includes skill development, conditioning and strength training, and happens on a regular schedule, at least some of the time under the direction of a professional.
If you're just skating to keep up with the class levels, and to do your rink's shows, you're probably not training.  Even if you're skating every day, you're probably more recreational than training if it doesn't much matter to you when you land that jump or learn that dance, as long as you land it/learn it eventually.

A lot of adults (a lot of skaters in general) slide into a training mode without really thinking about it. Suddenly you realize you're taking 3 lessons, running and stretching before skating, and checking your pulse rate after your warm up, which has now become a serious effort to make you breathe hard.

Why train. Why not just skate?
For adults who are seriously trying to improve their skills, whether it's landing difficult jumps, or dancing with a partner, training mode is a better option, even if you're only skating a couple of times a week. If you think of yourself as training, you're not only helping your skating, and your health, you're helping your brain to take this frankly dangerous activity seriously. I see a lot of adults who won't follow a coach's technical advice because it's hard to fix technique, and they think that what they're doing is fine, it's not like they're in training, right?  So they keep making dangerous mistakes, because they think it doesn't matter.

Training while working
As any adult knows who has tried to have a job, a life, skating, and 8 hours of sleep a night, something's gotta give. For me, it was the job (haha). It was after I left my downtown executive position to teach and run my consulting business that I finally found time to train properly.  Other adults sacrifice the 8 hours--I see a lot of serious adult skaters on really early morning ice. I'm talking the 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. sessions.  When I worked downtown, I gave up lunch in the winters so I could go skate at the nearest outdoor rink, a 10 minute bus ride from my office.

Starting when you retire
This solves the time problem, but brings serious health concerns. Women who start skating hard after menopause should get a bone density scan. If it's problematic, I wouldn't say stop skating, but I would say stop jumping.  And don't skip the conditioning and strength training components. For older adults in serious athletic pursuits this is extremely important. Find an off-ice trainer who understands the issues of older adults, and has some familiarity with the specific conditioning and strength needs of skating (for instance focusing on core has opposed to extremity strength).

While you should understand your limitations (asthma, osteoporosis, certain medications like blood thinners and other medical issues do need to be shared with a medical professional), any reasonably healthy person can skate with no more risk than if they decided to start jogging. I actually started skating again because of back problems--my doctor gave me the choice of PT, surgery, or exercise. I told I had been a skater, and she loved it, because skating improves core strength, where my issues were. Sure enough, combined with the PT, this fixed my back issues.  It helps a lot that I had a doctor who didn't immediately freak out at the idea of skating (some of them do).

Training will definitely help with any weight issues you have, but you don't have to avoid skating just because you're overweight.

Isolation and confirmation
These two things are the biggest issues with being an adult skater. Find a program that honors adults, with sympathetic coaches and understanding of adult issues. This is easy in an urbanized area, where you have several rink choices.  You might end up somewhere farther than you would like, but trust me it will be worth it.

A lot of "good" coaches don't understand the slower trajectory, fear issues and schedule difficulties that plague adult skaters. I have also heard coaches, and I'm talking about coaches who accept adults as students, poking fun at, not only other adults, but at their own adult students. You'll know a program is good for adults if they have a lot of adults, a couple of coaches who focus on adults, and (the gold standard) dedicated "no one under 20" adult practice ice.

If you're in an area without choices, work to make your own coterie. Introduce yourself to other adults. Whenever you see an adult skater, ask them where they skate/train and who their coach is. Set up after-ice kaffeeklatches.

Skating as an adult is incredibly rewarding. I love the dropped jaws when people find out I didn't skate seriously until I was almost 40. Some of my best friends I met through skating.

How do you define training? How do you fit it into a grown-up schedule?

Nov 30, 2011

Should PSA membership be required?

I believe in the Professional Skaters Association.

Especially in a profession that comprises nearly universally self-taught "professionals," an organization that promotes continuing education, defines ethics, and sets national standards is vital.

No membership? You can sit in the stands and watch
PSA, partnering with US Figure Skating, has done an amazing job in the past five years basically forcing membership-meaning forcing acceptance (or at least awareness) of professional standards in teaching, ethics and continuing ed--upon people who coach students participating in the qualifying competitions. They've done this by establishing a credentials system. No membership? You can't get an ID allowing you to coach your student at the competition.

When I started in figure skating, just 13 years ago, and found out about the PSA, most coaches I talked to scoffed at the idea of a professional association for coaches. Thank goodness one of my early mentors was Jimmie Santee, who so believed in it that now he runs the place.

Now, all competitive coaches must be members, and they're working on extending that down to any coach who participates in any way in "sanctioned" activities. (A sanction is permission from US Figure Skating allowing competitors to skate in non-qualifying activities.) This covers local ice shows, programs, and competitions that includes skaters who participate in qualifying competitions.

Which is very nearly everyone.

Easy to sneak around the rules
But it's easy to not be a member. If you don't care about taking your own students to tests or competitions, or if you don't have private students, you don't have to join. I had a coach blatantly and knowingly solicit two of my students; when I called her on it and threatened to report her to the PSA, she smugly told me that she was not a member, so the ethical rules didn't apply to her.

This is how some coaches think--if I'm not a member, I don't have to be ethical.

Many coaches simply have friends who are members sign test and competition forms to get around the restriction. Clubs often don't enforce the credentials rule, especially for older venerable coaches, but or for young coaches if Daddy is a high level coach. Basic Skills competitions can also be very lax, and ISI has no rules whatsoever. I've had to fight off parents at the rink door at poorly run ISI competitions.

Skating directors are even worse. Many of them no longer disparage the idea of the PSA, but I know at least two who think that it is, and I quote, "stupid." Personally, I think if a rink wants its programs sanctioned by USFS, then the skating director should be required to be a member at the very least, and in fact should be required to have either a PSA rating or an iAIM certificate.

So what's the downside?
For elite coaches--the ones with the $125+ an hour fees and multiple students at Nationals, PSA membership makes sense. It professionalizes the job, and weeds out the less serious coaches. It protects you from solicitation at the elite ranks, where it really counts.  Plus, I'm betting that a lot of those coaches are having at least some of their fees covered by their programs.

For class coaches, maybe taking Suzy to a couple of local competitions a year, the benefits are less clear. The continuing education requirement is the main benefit, although nearly every coach I know considers it a burden and a joke. If you're not rated (the closest thing we've got to a degree in skating) the education requirements are extremely minimal-- 3 open book on line courses. Cheating is endemic. And the cost is considerable-- I once calculated that all my memberships and requirements cost me 2 months pay.

If PSA wants to be relevant down here at ground level, they need to have programs that help coaches and skating directors in local programs.  Support for unionization would be a nice start, or rating rinks according to the professional credentials of management, with real downsides for non-compliant programs.  Better scholarships for participating in continuing education, based on skating income and not on household income.  Extending the annual awards to local instructors, instead of just to coaches with a national profile.

I don't know what it's like up there in the Yuka Sato stratosphere, but down here in the trenches the profession is a mess.  Rife with poor management and incompetent instructors and plagued by low pay, completely absent any sort of employment benefits like paid sick or vacation days, pension or health care, you only do this if you love it. We need PSA so that at the very least no one in the profession can hide behind purported ignorance, or, like my colleague, claim that ethics are for the suckers who join.

As the Professional Skaters Association starts requiring more compliance with its rules, it needs to increase benefits to the vast majority of people in the profession.

Nov 25, 2011

Etiquette in group lessons

We've been talking about proper behavior in private lessons for coaches and kids (although not so much parents--stay tuned!)

But the vast majority of skaters don't take private lessons. They skate in classes and on public ice. So what are some etiquette pitfalls to avoid for classes? What are common missteps on the part of all parties?

Arrive on time
Especially at rinks where several class levels do a joint warm up, there can be a tendency on the part of coaches to think that they can just wander in when the "real" class begins. And to some extent it's true. The skaters will not have a demonstrably worse experience if one of the coaches isn't there. But you better believe that the coaches who make the effort to be on time for, and to run, the warm up are silently fuming about your arrogance and lack of professionalism. Further, if you are off the ice because you're out in the stands soliciting privates and generally shmoozing the parents you'll be lucky not to find your tires slashed.

I don't even have words for coaches who arrive so late that they miss part of the actual class session. Oh, wait, sure I do. Arrogant. Disruptive. Unprofessional. Childish. Rude. (And, with any luck, Fired)

Be part of the warm up
Don't stand on the boards gossiping while someone else does all the heavy lifting

Treat your students, and their families, like they matter
Seriously? You can't learn the names of 15 kids in 8 weeks?  Here's a clue--take attendance. Greet the parents at least a couple of times during the session, even if you're sure they aren't going to take privates. And, hello. Can we stop with the racist asides? "Oh they're East Asian. Why do these people even try, they don't know how to skate." (actual quote)  How about not telling adolescent girls they're too fat to skate? (Another true story). Here's a good one--everyone in class paid the same price. Not just your students. Not just the "good" students. Everyone is entitled to instruction.

Stay in your area
Know where on the ice your class meets. Make sure your kids stay in their area and don't wander into the neighboring class. Use traffic patterns that keep everyone safe, moving, and engaged.

Arrive on time
It is no less arrogant and disruptive for the students to be late than for the instructors. If I see you sitting in the lobby and you can't be bothered to get on the ice for the beginning of the warm up, I shouldn't even let you into the class. Now, sometimes the kids don't have control over this; if your parent or your school makes you late, call the rink and ask them to inform the coach. (Seriously) If you can't, then apologize to the coach and the class when you do get there.

Be part of the warm up
Aside from being important for health reasons, it is simply rude to consider yourself above any part of the instruction. If you're not going to participate, please don't come.

Be respectful of the coaches
You are the student. Your opinion on technique, choreography, class management (except in the case of a violation of #3, above) is not salient to the moment. If you have a serious disagreement, bring it up, respectfully, outside of class, and in a way that does not challenge the coach's professional authority. This means not whining to your mother because the coach told you that your language or dress was inappropriate (you can tell I'm talking about teens here).

For younger students, the ice class should be treated like a classroom. This means no wandering off without permission, engaging in the activity presented, and no talking when the coach is talking.  You know, all that "everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" stuff.

Share the ice
Especially in the warm up, remember that this is class, not Sunday afternoon public skate. This means you're warming up, not socializing. No hotdogging. No getting on and off. No food. No gum. Watch out for the little guys and the beginners.

Arrive on time
Sigh. And don't sign up for a class that you know you will be habitually late for, or absent from. This is not rocket science.

Don't be part of the warm up
Sit down. Take a load off. Better yet, help keep the rink open by going out to the snack bar and spending some money. Do not under any circumstances stand by the glass, or worse yet in the door shouting at your child. If your child is too young to handle a class without you standing right there, then they are not ready to be in class. I have had parents stand in the door yelling at their child to pay attention to me. Well, they would be, if you weren't standing in the door yelling at them.

Let the coach be the coach
Don't tell them how to do their job. Don't tell them what your child is like*, don't assume miracles the first day. Accept evaluations; please don't go to a different coach for an evaluation if you don't like the outcome from the class coach. This undermines the coach among his colleagues and teaches the child a very bad lesson. Plus, it will give you a rep that you don't want.

*Special needs
Please please please please tell the coach if your child has been diagnosed with a special need. Tell the coach exactly what it is, but don't expect a class coach to be an occupational therapist. If there are specific physical, pedagogical or therapeutic needs then this needs to be shared and dealt with before the child steps on the ice. Municipal rinks are generally required to provide an aide for special needs kids, and some coaches, like me, welcome and are trained for them. But we need to know upfront to optimize the experience, not only for your child, but for every child in the class.

On the other hand, do NOT tell the coach this unless you have a medical diagnosis.

I know your child is special. They're all really special. Good manners helps everyone honor that.

Nov 18, 2011

Review: The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette

I purchased the new DVD published by the Professional Skaters Association, The Forgotten Art of Skating Etiquette. Complaints about skating etiquette are probably in the top 3 queries here--along with coaching changes and, lately, weeks-long discussion on underwear (just kidding).

The DVD hits all the standard rules: skating patterns, spin area, right of way, off-ice behavior. It talks about neatness, avoidance of cliques, proper attire and coaching suggestions. It's got some nice bits of humor and the kids in it clearly had a lot of fun making it. There's a great scene of a locker room tantrum, someone violating the 5-second rule (yuk), and a dreams-of-glory moment when one skater pushes another one over on the ice.  We've all wanted to do that.

The host is a young woman with a sincere delivery (although she needs to learn how to use a teleprompter without looking like she's reading) but I would like to see a host with more gravitas. Specifically, I think Jimmie Santee, the Executive Director of the PSA and the writer of the DVD, should have been the host. It would give the whole thing more a tone of "I'm sick of reading the grievances about shit that could be fixed with a little courtesy and common sense."  The younger, unknown person leading the DVD just makes you think of some sweet new coach who, gosh, just wants everyone to get along, 'kay?

Some of the common etiquette lapses it misses is dealing with divots, lefty skaters, and high and low skaters sharing practice sessions. It also entirely leaves out group lessons. I guess we don't have to be nice to each other in group.

It also doesn't address non-collegiality among coaches. I have seen coaches deliberately stand in the line of sight between another coach and her student; talk on cell phones during lessons, ignore class skaters whom they do not teach in privates, ignore private lesson students if their star student is also on the ice (or worse, ignore their own private student to watch and discuss someone else's star). I've seen coaches stepping off the ice to go talk to a parent (of another coach) or to talk to parents during a group class that they're supposed to be teaching.  I've seen group lessons in the lutz corner on practice sessions (in fact, large group lessons on practice ice at all), and coaches who refuse to discipline their own skaters, including a coach making jokes about one of their skaters injuring someone. You get the idea.

Not to mention trolling innocent bloggers.

What's missing from the script is any suggestions for fixing a program where etiquette has given way to every-skater-for-herself. Having just left a program like that, I can tell you, having everyone watch a DVD isn't going to fix problems. Every coach and high level skater I know understands these rules. The PSA should be helping coaches and programs with ideas to fix problems internally, and should be stating how the PSA can support coaches and skating directors who try to clean things up.

The package would also be stronger with printed materials-poster-sized print outs of the suggested practice patterns that are used in the video, and blank sheets for rinks to create their own (the practice pattern at my rink, for instance, is slightly different than the one proposed). A small booklet with the common-sense rules from the video would also be a nice addition; or even several, so any coach buying this could give one to each of his or her students.

This video is a great idea, and PSA is exactly the right institution to promote it. I call this a great start. The content needs to be more comprehensive, with some print extras, and it needs to be backed up by an actual project of the PSA to improve courtesy on the ice.

Finally, at $15, this 10-minute video is a little pricey.  I think the PSA would better serve the problem--the increasing loss of civility and common sense on practice sessions--by simply sending these out free to every coach in their membership as they renew.  That way, everyone in the industry would know that the PSA is serious about returning collegiality to the rink.

Nov 14, 2011

How do you quit?

No, this is not more drama about the rink. This is about how young people move on from the intensity of training.

Even serious recreational skaters train at a level and in a way that is very different from other youth after school activities like student government, drama club or team sports. If you've been a competitor it's even harder, because you're also giving up prestige, and a great big chunk of your identity.

A reader asks:
How do you help your child leave the sport? Mine has started talking about it in a very calm way recently. I think she is concerned she will lose her identity and her friends, but she just does not have the same drive she used to and never seems happy to go to the rink anymore. I feel like I am taking her to some after school math session every day. Only this one is really expensive.
The organization Team up for Youth, studying girls in team sports found the following:
"While many girls play sports in their younger years, most drop out during adolescence. Why? Research shows that girls may face overt or subtle pressure from their peers and families to ‘feminize,’ or to take on responsibilities (e.g. studying, taking care of younger siblings) that prohibit their continued participation. One researcher describes adolescence as “a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle” in which girls “lose their assertive, energetic and ‘tomboyish’ personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed.”* The girls who continue to play through adolescence and beyond are usually those who have developed an athlete identity. Being an athlete is a part of who they are. These are the girls who say, “I am a basketball player!” rather than, “I play basketball.” These are the girls who see sports participation as a non-negotiable.
(full pdf here)
 With girls in solo athletics like skating, tennis, skiing, et cetera, the change is even more fraught, because of the competing social scenes. People at school may barely be aware that the student is even an athlete. My own daughter tried to participate in after school activities in high school, only to be told that no absences would be tolerated for non-school sports. She eventually simply shifted her entire social identity to the rink, but other students may find that they feel pressure, either internally or externally to make the opposite choice.

Skating adds another dimension, because a lot of people don't consider it a sport, and/or don't consider recreational skating to be a worthy pasttime. Some equate recreational skating with failure. The single most-frequent question we would be asked when people found out my daughter was a skater was "oh, have you been to nationals?" This from people who had no way of knowing the answer was "yes." Society doesn't assume that every high school football player is going to the NFL, but this is a common misperception about figure skating--that it happens only at an elite level.

The thing is, there is very little downside to either choice. The tricky part is finding your way through the morass of emotion that is the adolescent, especially adolescent girls. As the reader asks, how do you support this decision?

I'll add a corollary as well--how do you support the decision to stay? This can be just as difficult, because of the social demands on adolescents, and because of the more demanding training as you increase your level.  There are issues as well even if the skater just wants to keep skating--there is a lot of contempt among some coaching staffs for kids who plateau, even the ones for whom that is a choice (adults get this a lot too).

I'm going to pull a page from the late great IceMom here, and throw this back to you. How do you help your skater make the choice to stay or to go, to improve or to plateau?

Nov 8, 2011

How good is good enough?

A reader asks:
Should you enforce perfect technique at lower levels (and hence hold people back until it is perfect) – or should you accept that there are differences in acceptable technique depending on your level? My local rink has started insisting on proper technique for even for the lowest levels, such as properly bent skating leg and properly extended free leg for the outside curves (UK or USFS Basic Skills Level 4, ISI does not have a corollary to this), rather than passing them if they can just hold the edge properly for a set time. What they seem to want is the easier moves at the lower levels to be done at the standard they would be done by someone who had passed the top levels.
So what should a passing standard be?

All the curricula: ISI weSkate, USFS Basic Skills, UK Levels, and CANSkate, have very specific descriptions of passing standards for each skill, right down to "fall and get up" and all the way up to triple axels. Here's an example for the edge skill above, from the USFS Basic Skills book:
Forward edges held two times the skater's height, right and left forward outside. The edges are skated while moving in a circle. After balancing on two feet, begin the edges by placing the skating side arm and shoulder forward with the free shoulder held firmly behind. Pick up the foot on the outside of the circle and glide on a forward edge in a balanced position over the skating side for two counts (instructor will count)[NB- I gather for the UK, the skating foot must be held back in a stroking position]
Pretty specific and clear.

If I had my preferences, a strong skating director willing to hold the line with parents, and a culture that supported it, absolutely, every single skater should be held to the standard. There is a reason for it, namely that the next skill up (cross overs in this instance) requires mastery of the prior skill or it will be too difficult. I'm working with a hockey skater right now who has never been required to balance on one foot. Needless to say, he's having difficulty keeping up in games and drills.

I know that there are rinks that are able to hold the line, but this is what happens out here in reality:

Blame the Skating Director
This is where it starts. If the skating director caves when a parent complains, rather than backing up her staff; if she lets one coach pass according to that coach's standards (this also happens with coaches who are too strict; it works both ways), then your rink effectively has no passing standards.

Blame the Coach
This is the number one reason why rinks start getting reputations for poor skaters and low standards--coaches don't care enough to hold a kid back. They pass a kid on because they don't like her or because he's a disruptive student (not kidding). They pass their own students up, sometimes skipping multiple levels, as a marketing ploy, or to consolidate all their kids in a single level for their own scheduling ease or ego-gratification. Some coaches are just incompetent, and don't understand the passing standard, or can't teach it properly. Coaches should not be allowed to skip students without an objective panel, preferably comprising people who don't know the coach OR the kid, agreeing to it (even in recreational programs).

Blame the student
Each of the curricula have about 6 to 9 skills to master per level. Often, a student will perfectly master all but one of them, and I'll tell you it is really hard, in a recreational class situation, to not pass a clearly superior student because their t-stop sucks even though you know it's going to come back to haunt them.

Blame the program
Sometimes the student will be just skimming the passing standard--they need 2 more weeks, not 3 more months at the level. This can be dealt with by splitting every level in an A, B, and even C sub-level, but not all programs have the creativity or will to do this. As far as I'm concerned, this is the obvious solution--you feel like you're passing and you get a little ego boost. Rinks don't need to have entire separate sections for the As, Bs, and Cs; they can all be in the exact same class, just working on the skills at a different standard. Which brings us to...

Blame the curriculum
Rinks routinely divide up the cross-over levels (Alpha and Beta, or Basic 4-5-6) into sublevels, but for some reason stop doing this at the higher levels, which is just mystifying. If rinks would divide FS5 (Axel) for instance, into as many as four sub-levels, kids would not be complaining they are "stuck" because they'd be passing something. This would get rid of the parents' complaints that a child couldn't pass. It would allow softy coaches to pass a student who's just too cute to leave behind.

If the reader's rink or federation has decided enough with the fuzzy passing standards, good for them. I hope they can hold the line.

Nov 6, 2011

Why does it matter how I look

The recent posts on What to wear and What not to wear sparked a lot of debate, mostly along the lines of "why should it matter." I've written about this before, but it bears repeating.

This is a huge issue with figure skating and the other artistic sports, gymnastics and dance. Strangely, in the most artistic of them, dance, the body-type restrictions have started to be overcome through such forward-thinking companies as the Joffrey in Chicago, whose founder specifically sought out non-typical body types. They have had squat, and heavy, and bosom-y, and most notably non-white dancers in the company since their founding.

Inevitably when following a Twitter discussion, or just listening to the live media comments, at some point someone will bring up the costumes. If I had a dime for every time Dick Button mentioned that so-and-so is "a beautiful girl" I would be a rich woman.

These sports rely, for both scoring and enjoyment, on how they look. The problem comes when we overlay cultural definitions of beauty onto the successful execution of the skills. This is not the same thing as costume. For me, I want costumes to be neat, I want hair to be simple and safe, and I don't want to see undergarments, even on very young children.

The bigger problem is that while we consciously get indignant over costume--as one commenter put it "why should my daughter's undewear have anything to do with her skill"--we are unconsciously not even considering the fact that the judges are selecting, through gamed scoring, for specific body types. While judges tend to be pretty fair in testing situations, I maintain that even at the lower levels they will favor the look over the skills, especially when all other things are equal. The thin, flat-chested pixies start getting held up because judges like thin, flat-chested pixies.

We had an amazingly talented skater at our rink who grew a beautiful, full bosom in her mid-teens.

At which point her coach told her she was done, because she was now "too fat." Trust me, the ONLY fat on that girl's body was in her breasts. She still had the jumps, she still had the art. But her coach, and the judges, decided she didn't look right, and that's how they scored her.

I maintain that Rachael Flatt is a perfect example of someone repeatedly criticized not for her skating, but for her body type. A lot of the discussion was "no one knows how to dress that girl [to hide her sloping shoulders and thick middle.]" But what was meant was that she didn't look like our image of a skating champion. I really believe that consistent underscoring by judges was a way for them to get rid of this young woman who just didn't look right.

A generation ago they did the same thing to Surya Bonaly and Debi Thomas, who had the audacity to be black. The irony there, of course, is that the person who beat Debi Thomas at the Olympics was Katarina Witt, whom I used to call "hope for fat girls everywhere." Sometimes the talent really does trump the look. But like women in the board room, they had to be head-and-shoulders better than the sylphs they were beating.

The unfairness of this is maintained by the scoring system--where there is a tie (rare in the IJS but common under 6.0)--the performance marks break the tie. If the technical mark broke the tie, as it should, you would start seeing a wider range of body types, and probably more consistent skating as well, as skaters and coaches started realizing that they couldn't rely on the more subjective component (i.e. the artistic) score.

Children should not be fat, but frankly if we stopped excluding the fat ones from praise for taking part in the beautiful sports, maybe some of them would start feeling like they could be fairy princesses on the ice too.

I still don't want to see their undergarments, by the way.

Nov 1, 2011

Master Rating in Recreational Skating and Beginners

No, there isn't one.

But there should be.

I've been struggling ever since I received my Senior Rating in Group Instruction from the Professional Skaters Association, about whether I should continue to the Master Rating.

There are compelling reasons why I should: personal satisfaction, confirmation of the levels I've achieved, the necessity to really stretch myself and my abilities in order to achieve that level.

But there are equally compelling reasons to stop at the Senior Level. Senior Group takes you through Freestyle 4/PreJuv Moves skills, which is also the level up to which I've taught a lot. At FS 5 and up I simply haven't had the face time that gives you glib comfort with the teaching techniques (and you need to be on point and very very glib and articulate at the Master exam). Part of this is cultural--most rinks operate on a seniority level, and I don't have the seniority to get assignment to these classes. Because I never tested these levels, to qualify for the rating I need to have a minimum number of hours teaching them. Some rink managers, supporting my desire to increase my skating knowledge and teaching ability, might be inclined to help me out by assigning these classes, but on the other hand, they have no obligation to accommodate my unusual needs when there are plenty of already-qualified instructors at hand.

Further, I don't really want to teach FS5 and up. It's neither my interest nor my strength. And in order to take the rating, I need to teach these higher levels, which would reduce the teaching time I'm able to devote to my first love: the beginners.

However, that Master Group rating is really the only Master level available to me. There are no other PSA Master levels that make sense for either my teaching goals or my personal satisfaction, or that I could qualify for based on my test history or students.

So where do I go?

I would like to propose the Master Rating in Recreational Skating and Beginners. This would encompass private and group instruction, some program director skills, knowledge of equipment and promotion, as well as some child psychology and pedagogy. It would cover all low disciplines: tots, learn-to-skate (thru the equivalent of USFS FS5), low dance, beginning hockey (including rules of play), low couples, speed skating, and team skating like synchro and show numbers. It would encompass both group and private instruction.

In other words, all the types of classes you would find filled at a typical recreational program.

To qualify for this you would need ratings up to the Senior level in two other disciplines, of which one must be one of the group disciplines (i.e. Registered Moves plus Senior Group, or Certified Group plus Certified FS or Senior Synchro plus Certified Choreo). The rating would have just two levels--Senior and Master.

There is a pervasive attitude among figure skating professionals that if you don't teach the highest levels, you aren't a good coach, or a "real" coach. This would be understandable if skating was like other youth sports, where parent volunteers make up most of the beginning coaching cadre, some with no training or credential other than that they played themselves as kids. But figure skating programs pride themselves on having professional staffs.

Since the vast majority of skaters are in the recreational and beginning levels, wouldn't it make sense to have a Master rating specializing in this? And in case anyone from the PSA is reading this, I would be thrilled to serve on the committee developing it.

Do you feel that a coach's PSA rating, and the discipline in which they are rated, makes a difference to their teaching and to your program?

Oct 29, 2011

The Hail Peggy

To be said before stepping onto the ice at any competition:

Hail Peggy, full of grace.
Dick Button is with thee.
Blessed art thou among skaters,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Peggy, Mother of Figure Skaters,
pray for us spinners,
now and at the hour of our death drop.

Oct 26, 2011

What not to wear

We actually used to mark down for "VPL" (visible panty line) during auditions. No granny panties under a skating skirt, mkay? Skating tights have cotton crotch linings for a reason. If your squeamish child really cannot bring herself to not wear underpants, please get her "grown up" underpants (i.e. french cut or thong. They have these for 4-year-olds now. I'm waiting for the first thong diaper). If you really don't want grown-up panties on your 8-year-old, then make sure her skirt is long enough to cover the goods.

Skirts should cover your butt cheeks
Shorter is not better. It's unattractive, and unprofessional. I don't care how cute your butt is. In fact, I don't want to know how cute your butt is.

Stationary breasts please
Your bouncing bazongas are extremely distracting. Please wear one of those sports bras that actually offers support, rather than a single layer of the mush 'em flat variety, or worse, nothing at all.

NO breasts please
There's an awful lot of cleavage at ice rinks these days, from girls as young as 12. Don't their mothers see what they're wearing? Even ice dancers cover their breasts, and they barely acknowledge the concept of "fabric".

Laundry detergent
Use it, please. Do you send your kids to their piano lessons, or school, dressed in the clothes in which they have been playing in the mud? (caveat--freestyle skaters who come every day may wear the same tights for several months. Just don't stand too close to me.)

Competitive version
Illusion that isn't illusional. It's supposed to be the same color as your skin, otherwise, what's the point? If your competition dress has illusion from your mid-winter flesh tone, you cannot get a tan during the summer unless you replace the illusion. Corollary--skating tights and illusion need to be the same tone.

Flappy things
I keep thinking your costume is falling apart.

Coaching version
Please, young coaches, do not teach in a practice dress, with your butt hanging out, or skin tight skating pants. Are you trying to teach, or impress the dads in the stands?

The crotch of your pants should be at, well, your crotch. The waist belongs at your waist. It looks stupid enough when your jeans would pass for clown pants. Your floppy bits shouldn't flop either. Get over the "leotards are for girls" and put a leotard bottom on your shirt so that it stays tucked in.

Also? I don't want to see your underwear either.

Oct 25, 2011

A response to "Master"

Earlier today, several comments were made on the "Skatism" post that are libelous and untrue. I feel the need to respond to this in order to reassure my readers that my credentials are real and that I have never misrepresented myself as anything other than what I am: An adult skater who discovered a passion and talent for teaching this marvelous sport, and has worked hard to achieve the credentials I need to pursue this profession.
Your daughter Nora never even competed regionals, much less the "national" competitions you claim she has.
Nora competed in Ice Dance at Regionals, where she qualified for and skated in Junior Nationals 2006. She never competed, nor was interested in competing, in singles at the qualifying level, nor have I ever claimed this. Also, leave my daughter out of it, please.
“She passed only up to freestyle 7 and took a few USFSA test. “
Nora passed her ISI FS8 test and then stopped testing ISI. She has passed the gold USFS tests in Moves, FS and Dance, Intermediate Free Dance, and one international dance (Silver Samba). This is a matter of fact and record, easily confirmed. Also, leave my daughter out of this, you pig.
"Xanboni" tried to pass her USFSA Master Rated in group class test several times. oh and i left out she failed the test SEVERAL times
I have not yet attempted the Master Group rating although I have attended the PACE seminar at the Master level twice. I passed Registered, Certified, and Senior Group all on the first try. Again, this is a matter of record. Feel free to have your attorney contact mine for a copy of the documentation. I would be happy to have PSA, ISI, and USFS send letters with my entire skating history on them.

I am flummoxed by the vitriol exhibited here, and would love to know why this person feels the need to try to destroy my career and my credibility. If this person had the courage to comment with their name and contact information, like many of my commentors do, I would consider these falsehoods to be actionable.

I'm just trying to live my life here folks. I'm trying to share my passion, and inform parents and skaters so that they don't have to keep reinventing the wheel, or the ice rink, as it were.

I am extremely concerned about this apparent hatred, as my daughter and my students continue to skate with my old program, where I assume this person is from. It was to protect them from this sort of vitriol that I cut all ties with the program, including finding new coaches for all of my students. This was a wrenching decision, as I was part of that program for nearly 20 years, as a parent, student, and coach. If I learn that anyone there is targeting them in any way, I will consider legal action.

Oct 24, 2011


(with apologies to Wikipedia)

Skatism, also known as skating discrimination, is the application of the belief or attitude that there are characteristics implicit to one's skating background that directly affect one's abilities in unrelated areas.

It is a form of discrimination or devaluation based on a person's skating ability or level of training, with such attitudes being based on beliefs that what you knew or could do at the age of 17 is the most you can ever hope to achieve. The term skatism is most often used in relation with discrimination against adult-onset skaters, especially those who desire to teach, in the context of high school as peak experience, or against recreational and low-test youth skaters in the context of also having a life.

Skatism involves hatred of, or prejudice towards a class of skaters as a whole or the blind application of skating stereotypes. Skatism is often associated with coaching-supremacy arguments, and in peer-group dynamics.

In philosophy, a skatist attitude is one which suggests human beings can be understood or judged on the basis of the essential characteristics of the group to which an individual belongs—in this case, their skating group, as former competitors or high test skaters, as opposed to, um, everybody else. This assumes that all individuals fit into the category of skater or non skater, and that this is the only useful defining characteristic.

Occupational skatism refers to any discriminatory practices, statements, actions, etc. based on a person's skating background that are present or occur in a place of employment. This can manifest as wage discrimination, seniority assignment, access to choice class levels, exclusion from high-status groups, etc.

At many rinks, skating discrimination – i.e. the unequal treatment of equally productive individuals only because they belong to a specific group; or the favoring of non-productive individuals because they belong to the "right" group – is still a crucial factor inflating disparities in employment, participation in program activities, and the quality of job and skating opportunities. While employment and youth-sports rules generally require that individuals participating under the same job or program description be treated equally, in practice this is difficult to enforce.

Have you encountered skatism at your rink?

Oct 22, 2011

What to wear

In about a month, everyone with a skater or potential skater is going to be hitting the stores, looking for holiday gifts. And one of the main things they'll be getting is clothes, because man do they have cute stuff for skaters these days. Here's a guide on what you should be wearing, whether gift-giving, or just to know.

The biggest thing that tots need is comfort. It's cold, slippery, and mom is inaccessible. They don't need need pads or elbow pads or giant mittens. The little stretchy mittens, a long sleeve shirt and a light sweater, plus jeans or sweats and snowpants, is a good outfit for a beginner in the 3 to 5 year old range. Don't put them in big bulky jackets as it's too hard to move. Don't tell them they are cold, or that they are going to be cold. It's not that cold in an ice rink if you're properly dressed.

Yes, I like to see tots in well-fitting, flat-back helmets (skateboarding helmets are the best).

Older Beginners
Long sleeve shirt plus sweatshirt or warm sweater, pants in two layers--tights plus sweats or jeans, or leggings plus sweats. Again, light gloves, not bulky mittens (mittens are too warm, and it's hard to hold hands). Younger children are fine in helmets or a soft or padded hat. Please don't put your 6-year-old or younger in low rise jeans (whoever came up with this concept was an idiot). You would not believe the number of baby-butts I see in a week.

Learn to Skate levels, especially tweens
You're going to start getting agitation for the cute skating clothes at this level, and your degree of indulgence is entirely up to you. I like to see kids deliver the goods before they start dressing like skaters, i.e. mastering the first jump is plenty of time for the Chloe Noel pants. In the meantime, your upper body and gloves are the same as the prior two levels--long sleeve shirt plus sweatshirt (a zipper one is good at this level, for easy removal if they get warm), and stretchy gloves. Tights plus workout pants are great; you can get perfectly adorable yoga pants in any size at Target, for a fifth the price of the ones at the skating shops. Personally, it makes me insane to see some Delta or even low freestyle skater in $150 worth of skating clothes, especially when parents then turn around and complain about the cost of lessons. That's 5 privates or two 10-week class sessions that kid is wearing.

At this point, your skater is committed and needs to start dressing the part. Hair combed neatly and pulled into a high ponytail. Yoga or skating pants, or skating tights and dress (you can get inexpensive ones at resale or a Big Box store, or specialty ones at a specialty skating store). Skating pants are usually a little longer than ordinary yoga pants, or come with stirrups or other skate-specific details. Let your budget and frou-frou tolerance guide you. But at freestyle the coach needs to be able to see the line of the skater's body, so body-skimming styles are best.

Some places to get nice specialty skating clothes are Rainbo Sport Shop, Chloe Noel, and Seku Skatewear (my favorite, but oy, the prices).

Years ago at one of the rinks I work at there was an unspoken rule that only freestyle girls wore skating skirts. As time went on, younger and younger, and lower and lower level girls started wearing skating skirts. Low and behold, the high level girls all started wearing pants instead. Now everyone's in pants. I'm waiting for the high level girls to reassert their preeminence and switch back to skirts any day now.

What do you like to wear, or to put your kids in for skating? What are some places to go for good skatewear?

Oct 20, 2011

The gag rule in action

As you know, I had to release all of my students last week because of moving to a different rink. All of them wanted to stay at the Ice Rink of the Damned, so they started looking for new coaches.

I got lots of calls from friends saying, "hey, Parent X called me about skating with Precious, is that okay? Also, what's going on?"

To review, what I call "the gag rule" is supposedly a protection against solicitation, defined as actively seeking to subvert a coaching relationship by suggesting a student move to a new coach. The Professional Skaters Association and USFS apply this rule rather broadly, encompassing pretty much all conversations around changing coaches. In other words, if a parent/skater is unhappy with their current coach, this rule makes it very difficult for them to quietly try to test the waters elsewhere, because other coaches are required to report the conversation to the current coach or face sanctions.

It apparently works, because several people called me.

Or maybe I just work for classy parents.

What will be interesting is to see if any of my students end up with coaches other than these, who followed the letter of the law and called me, highlighting another weakness of this rule: you have no way of knowing if someone is talking to your students unless they choose to self-regulate. In other words, in the hands of the unethical, the gag rule doesn't work, because they won't call. In the hands of the ethical, you don't need it. (Two of the people who called me are not members of the PSA and therefore not subject to this rule.)

As an opponent of these anti-solicitation measures, I appreciated getting these calls, but would not have faulted the coaches for not calling me. I would have liked calls from the parents,which I didn't get in every instance, because you should ALWAYS talk to your current coach once you've made the decision to move (okay to hunt around behind her back when you're deciding whether to move, but once the decision is made, common courtesy demands direct contact with the old coach).

One of the difficult things about bad situations like this one is having your convictions run right up against your emotional needs--I needed everyone to flip that place a giant bird and quit en masse. But my coaching philosophy says the most important person in the equation is the kids--their need for stability, adults who put their needs first, and a safe place to learn and have fun.

Oct 18, 2011

Get over yourself

I had to quit my job.

Right now, it looks like I won't be finding another one. Whether this is the economy, bad timing, or a vast district-wide conspiracy to keep me from teaching I don't know. But right now, I won't be doing group classes.

I not only quit, I don't ever want to walk through that door again. Since that isn't practical I gave my students the option to stick with me at the old rink until the end of the session, and then to follow me to a different rink. No one took me up on it. They are all staying at the old rink, and looking for a new coach.

I actually expected this. I have seen it before, when coaches have gotten fed up and moved to a new place. Sometimes coaches float the threat "give me my way, let me get away with my bullshit, or I will take my toys and go home." One coach tried to move the entire synchro program. They always end up backing down, because in the end, parents are looking for location and convenience, and kids want familiarity--to be with their friends at a place they know.

However much you think your kids and their parents love you (and they do), in the end, they will make the economic choice, and seldom the one from the heart.

As a coach, you have to be able to accept this. People move on. Yes, I wish my kids would follow me, in fact I wish the whole staff would follow me, because nothing will get better there if people don't start voting with their feet and their wallets, but in the end you have to make the choice that works for you and your family. I reached a tipping point where the unprofessional behavior of certain members of staff and management became intolerable. My students were not at that point, and frankly what affects me does not affect them.

Here are some tips if your coach moves to a different rink:

Don't send the coach emails about how upset the kids are. If the coach needs to leave, she needs to leave, and you adding guilt to what is probably already a difficult decision is just pointless and mean. (This is not the same as thoughtful emails or calls explaining what you are going to do. It's the ones that start "Mary just cried and cried when I told her." I can't tell you how helpless that makes me feel.)

Don't talk to another coach without alerting the old coach FIRST
. The old coach is going to know you're looking, because the gag rule requires that the new coach tell her. Further, if your coach is leaving, as I am, because of intolerably unprofessional behavior from coaches or management at the old rink, and you know this, don't you think you'd like to know who to avoid?

Don't talk about the change to anyone at the rink. This is how career-damaging rumors get started, particularly if there is bad blood which has forced the coach's hand. If anyone asks what's going on, the correct answer is "she had another opportunity" or "she decided to make a change." Don't feed the gossip mill.

This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I stayed as long as I did because I couldn't bear to leave my students, and because I kept thinking I could effect change from within. This turned out to be an idealistic fantasy.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to have a soft landing at a new facility, or to set up my own mini-skating school through a local home school network. And of course, I'll keep writing. What would you do without your Xanboni?

Have you ever had to leave an intolerable (for you) situation? How did you handle it?

Oct 15, 2011

Heatmolds and hollows and blades, oh my!

My favorite excuse for poor skating is "blame the equipment." Seriously. Especially for adult skaters, you feel so incompetent out there, even though in your dreams you're Peggy Fleming, sailing etherearally through a misty forest in a flowing white dress (true story). It simply must be the ice surface, the mold, and most especially the skates and blades.

You're stuck with the ice surface, but I'm going to help you choose a boot and a blade that will keep you from being able to blame them (sorry).

First a word about brands. Brand is important in figure skates, even low-end figure skates. I've never seen a no-name brand that I could recommend. (This includes the ones they sell at L.L.Bean. These are the worst skates on the market.) The brands to look for in the States are Reidell, Jackson, SPTeri, Klingbeil, and Graff (help me out and let readers know 1-who I'm forgetting, and 2-any Canadian, UK, or Aussie brands that I don't know about). I know that the first three make recreational-level skates. Don't worry about blades yet (more below).

Boot and blade set. A lot of adults swear by what I call "comfort skates"-- those recreational skates that look like sneakers. If you're a brand new skater these are probably your best bet, although some adults (cough*me*cough) find that they don't feel like they're giving you enough support. Try a few brands--Reidell and Jackson brands are fairly easy to find.

For children 6 or younger a beginner recreational skate like Jackson SofTecs are the only way to go. Standard figure skates are very uncomfortable for a child used to sneakers 2 sizes too big. Children this age have an easy time switching to standard skates after a year of skating, and it's simply not worth the barrier of uncomfortable skates. Older kids I would put straight into standard beginner skates like a Jackson "Mystique." Kids over the age of 6 are going to understand the concept of fit better, and also tend to learn faster, so you want them in a skate they can wear through several levels of skills.

Higher level boots are stiffer than beginner boots, because jumps require more support. They will tend to have a higher shaft, although this is changing with a lot of high level skaters choosing a cut-down back so they can point their toes. And this is the single most misunderstood aspect of skates. Skates are padded at the sides of the ankle to support and minimize lateral movement. You want to be able to bend your ankle forward, very very deeply. High level skates actually put in things like "scallops"--little cut outs, sometimes as many as three, so that you can bend your ankle in a stiff skate. The thing for recreational skaters to remember is that it takes a lot of muscle power to "break" a skate like that-- i.e. to get the ankle to bend properly. Put a 60 or 80 pound Beta-level child in a high-level boot and they will simply not have the weight or strength needed to bend their ankles properly, which certainly affects how well they skate, how comfortable the skates are, and can also lead to injury.

Let your budget guide you--you don't have to spend a thousand dollars on skates, although you can; there are excellent choices around $200. Think of it as comparable to the cost of a decent bike.

Factors in blades are: toe pick, hollow, and radius.

Toe pick

Get a toe pick appropriate to the jumps you are doing. No jumps? Beginner blade with a small, high toe pick. Beginner jump? Beginner blade like an MK Pro, Wilson Majestic or the blade that comes on a skate like the Jackson Freestyle. Again, talk to a skate technician and be honest about your skater's level and ambition. Don't put a class-only skater in a $400 blade.

The hollow is the curved area between the edges. You can get it in different radii, from 3/8" (very deep/sharp) to 1" (very flat/shallow). Unless you're a really really serious skater, don't worry about it. I mean it. However, the technician who sharpens your skates does need to understand hollow. Never never never get your skates sharpened by anyone except a certified technician. Don't go to the local bike shop that bought a machine because they thought it would be a good sideline. If the nearest sharpener is farther than you want to travel, ask around your rink--often the high level coaches will have their own machine and be trained and skillful at this, and will not charge any more than the skate shop. And seriously, you do this twice a year, maybe 4 times if your kid skates a lot (a skater can get 40 to 60 hours of skating out of a sharpening). It is ridiculous to risk ruining a $100 blade to save six bucks or to avoid a half-hour drive.

Again, don't worry about it until you're ready for your first pair of expensive blades. The rocker is the radius of the curve that the blade is cut on; i.e. a blade is basically a little piece of a circle of either 7 feet or 8 feet. An 8-foot rocker is a little flatter than a 7-foot rocker. Beginners tend to like the 7 foot one better, although it really doesn't matter which radius you use, at any level. You should know the "profile" of your skate (basically the silhouette), but the specs don't matter that much--they all work, and the depth of the hollow and radius of the blade are entirely personal preference. Again, your skate technician needs to be able to tell which radius your blade uses-for instance, hockey blades use a very large radius, with a sharp curve at the toe and heel. If your technician doesn't know this, and doesn't reset the machine for figure skates, you're screwed (this happened to a large group of the rental skates at my rink--they sent the figure skates to a technician that gave them all a hockey grind--took the back of every blade right off. Sadly, when I pointed this out to them, they had no idea what I was talking about.)

Never put a beginner (through Gamma) in a freestyle blade. A beginner blade has a toe rack with all the picks roughly the same size, and starting high up the rocker (curve of the blade). A freestyle blade will have a larger top and bottom pick, and the whole rack is farther down the rocker, i.e. closer to the ice. The time to switch to a freestyle blade is whenever the child outgrows the pair she's wearing around Delta or low freestyle. Freestyle skates come in both boot-blade sets, and separate boots and blades.

If you buy separate boots and blades, the blades can often, but not always, be used through a couple of size changes in the boots. Talk to a skate technician at a specialty skate shop to determine whether your old blades are appropriate on your new boots.

Used skates
If you're a beginner I would simply not buy used skates from your neighbor, friend, Play-It-Again Sports, or that nice mom at the rink. You don't know enough about it. I cringe every time I see some 6 year old PreAlpha skater in a freestyle blade and heavy boot. It's like putting a new rider on an Arabian dressage horse instead of a pony. Not safe, and not fun. If you get used skates, get them from the specialty skate shop

A lot of information. How do you choose?
You can do your own research--there's tons of advice on the web. But a better way to do it is to ask a coach or a specialty skate shop. Give them your budget and your skating level, and they'll be able to steer you to a good skate. A lot of coaches will simply recommend the boot and blade that they like; this is fine. As you progress as a skater, you'll get more knowledgeable and start being able to make your own choices--my daughter skated in SPTeri's for years because that's what I wear. Then one day, about the age of 14, she decided, more or less on her own, to try another brand, and now she's a dyed-in-the-wool Reidell advocate.

A lot of coaches, even high level coaches, do not educate themselves about skates, but their advice to just buy the skate they like is still probably fine. The Professional Skaters Association, strangely, requires knowledge of boots and blades only from coaches taking the Group Instruction rating; it's not part of the Free Skating, Dance, or Moves exam, which seems utterly bizarre to me, but of course, they don't ask me.

Long story short? (Or as they say now in web parlance tl;dr-too long didn't read) It's a good idea to understand all the techinical aspects of boots and blades, but not necessary to end up with a decent set appropriate to your level. Talk to your coach or a specialty shop and you'll end up with a decent boot.

Oct 10, 2011

It needs to be said

I wrote this last year:
Some skating relationships become abusive, either emotionally, financially or I hate to say it physically. If your child complains that she feels uncomfortable with a coach's physical presence, end that relationship immediately. The coach may not be stepping over any lines, but the child's discomfort is crucial. A child's unwarranted discomfort with a coach can ruin an innocent coach's career. Better to simply end the relationship before things get out of hand.

Sometimes, the coach is physically inappropriate. If you suspect this, please go to your child's doctor and have her interview the child. Do NOT go to the skating director first. The skating director is legally obligated to report suspected abuse, but may not have the proper training to identify it. This is how careers get ruined. Better to go to a physician, who is also obligated to report suspected abuse, but has the training and background to interview the child and recognize the signs.
It bears repeating every now and then.

I would like to emphasize that you do not need proof to remove your child from a suspect situation. The child's discomfort is enough. If you cannot, or will not, ask someone for help, don't worry about it. Just get your child out of the situation and make up an excuse (schedule, cost, your rotten kid, whatever).

A larger problem is that sometimes the abuse is hard to see. You may pass inappropriate touching off as necessary coaching--correcting a position, hands-on. It may be subtle from the stands, but enough to discomfort the child.

Physical abuse is not only sexual; I have heard of coaches pinching, pushing, and tripping students, or forcing them to continue practice when they are clearly too tired or hurt.

It may be emotional--I had a difficult conversation with a coach just this morning, who simply would not let me talk. Every time I tried to voice my concerns (about another matter, not about abuse), and tried repeatedly to end the conversation, the coach simply talked over me louder and louder, eventually resorting to calling me names and questioning my right to teach. This is emotionally abusive behavior, and is another bad sign--if a coach treats a colleague like this, imagine how that coach is treating helpless children. Be concerned.

I have actually witnessed coaches telling kids that they'll never be able to skate because they are fat. (Sometimes these kids are not by any stretch of the imagination fat.) I am ashamed that I did not immediately call this coach on it.

Here's the advice my doctor offered:

Pay surprise visits to the lessons. Don't sit in the stands every time. Come and go, on no set schedule. And remember, a coach who tells you that you may not watch lessons needs to be put in his place-- whether and when you watch your child is not his call.

Ask the coach about actions that bother you, directly.
"Why do you need to touch her like that." He may have a perfectly good explanation, or may not have realized that it made the child uncomfortable. Once he knows this, a good coach will pull back on even the innocent physical contact, so that the child does not feel uncomfortable.

Ask the child occasional, non-leading questions: "How was Coach today?" If the child says "coach is mean" explore that. It might just be that she made the child work hard. Children are reluctant to voice discomfort with adults, but conversely are easily led into the wrong answers. Make sure your mind, and your questions, are open.

Financial abuse takes two to play. A coach cannot get you into a financial situation that you cannot handle without your collusion. Don't let a coach add lessons that you can "pay for later." Don't agree to lessons or extras that you cannot afford. Set a budget and stick to it. Know how much you're spending (even if you're hiding it from your husband). Never never let a balance build up.

If you find out years later that there was physical or emotional abuse in the past, and this coach is still teaching (and is therefore still at it, almost certainly), then you have a dilemma. You cannot confront the coach with years-old allegations, but you cannot morally allow him or her to continue to get away with it.

I'm open to suggestions on that one, because it has me stumped.

Oct 6, 2011

To compete or not to compete, that is the question

There's one at every rink--a fantastic skater who can't win a competition because the jumps just aren't there. Maybe she falls, maybe the jumps are small, or underrotated, or she doesn't have the doubles, or the triples that she needs.

One skating mother asked me whether it makes any sense for a skater to quit competing and focus on the skills for a while instead?

It depends. It would be impossible to make a blanket judgment, but in general I would say, no. A skater who wants to win competitions, who wants to go to Nationals eventually, needs to keep competing.

However, at the developmental levels (through Novice), competing, and especially winning, should never be the focus of the skating career. They call these levels developmental for a reason. A major club competition like Broadmoor, Detroit or DuPage, a local club competition, and regionals is plenty of competing for a skater who needs to work, to develop, skills. You may have seen the headlines the last couple of years about skaters who have medaled at every level, or won a developmental level twice. This sort of thing makes headlines because it is rare--developmental level skaters--Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice--are notoriously volatile. Skaters move up and down the ranks is wild disarray.

There's a certain value to staying in front of the judges--not just you but also your coach. Your coach is learning what the judges think about you, and getting advice on how to help his skaters develop. Further, however well you jump in practice, putting those same skills out there in competition is a completely different animal.

Being able to compete well is a skill in itself.

Competing is also a good way to get an unbiased assessment of your improvement. Especially with the Code of Points scoring system, you can actually see, by increasing or decreasing point totals, and through the very detailed protocols (which mark each skill in isolation), whether and where you are improving, devolving, or struggling.

This mom is right that preparing for competitions takes away from practice time, especially if the skater is like most skaters with limited time, scarce financial resources, and non-skating interests. The skating world, in fact, divides the year into "Rest, off-season (early and late) pre-season, and in-season." You never never compete during Rest, and you need a really good reason to compete during Off-season. So you should always work a long stretch of time--3 months or more--during the year when there are no competitions to distract you.

One of the things that concerns skaters and their parents is losing time--getting stuck at a level for multiple years. Skaters stay at a level for numerous reasons. Foremost, because in most cases there's no rush. Even if a skater ages out of Juvenile (at 13?) and ends up skating Open Juvenile for a couple of years, they are still competing and improving, and have plenty of time to compete a year or two at Intermediate. Coaches will often hold even a successful skater back if they are young for a level. This has happened with the last 3 Intermediate Men's champions- all in their tweens, the coaches kept them at their level, to allow their bodies to catch up to the maturity needed for the more challenging Novice level. Skaters below these lofty heights can also stay at a level, to bring their repertoire up to par.

How long do you stay at a level, if you're not doing well at it? First, define "well." With Code of Points, "doing well" no longer needs to mean "winning a medal." Doing well can now mean all positive GOEs, or increasing point totals, or full credit for jumps that you used to underrotate. If you don't compete, you're not seeing these very important assessments of your skating.

In other words, winning medals, especially at the lower levels, is not the only value in competing.

Sep 26, 2011

Testing out

You will often hear coaches and skating moms remark, with just an edge of contempt, that a girl has decided to "just test out," meaning try to complete all of her Moves and Free skating tests by the end of senior year.

There's a funny disconnect in the skating world. While everyone acknowledges that an elite competitive career requires a rare confluence of talent, drive, good coaching, time, a flexible school, and money, skaters who can't or don't pursue this are viewed with pity, or, as I say, contempt.

But "testing out" is a worthy goal, the skating equivalent to four AP courses your senior year, or being a Congressional page-- not every good skater is capable of it.

Skaters get to the "testing out" decision for a variety of reasons. They've stopped competing for whatever reason (time, money, lack of success or loss of interest), but want the gold medal (see below for what this means) to validate their effort. They don't like competing, but love skating and want something external to keep them motivated. They want to be coaches, and the test credential can help that. (At some rinks, you basically don't need any credentials to teach, but many rinks and especially clubs require a minimum of an Intermediate Free skating test of their coaches.)

If you decide to test out, you have to factor in all the same measures you would for competing, because in its way, it's just as intense. You don't need a double axel, or any triples; you don't need level 4 skills, but you do need to follow a calendar, perfect difficult skills, be in really good shape, and impress several judges.

How fast can you move through and where are you starting
To get to the Senior Free Skating test, you have to pass 15 prior tests: 8 Moves (thru Senior) and 7 Free skating (thru Junior). If you're already older, say in your Junior or Senior year in high school, and at a lower level--Juvenile or Intermediate--you need to sit down with a coach, make a calendar and figure out a training plan as much as any high level competitor would. A very strong committed skater can do this in about 4 years starting at Juv or Intermediate. If you don't have 4 years, the hill's a little steeper, but not unclimbable. Know yourself, and assess yourself honestly.

All the factors that are there for competitive skaters are also there for these skaters--time, commitment, a lot of hours of practice, cost. You won't need to skate 20 hours a week, like a serious competitor would, but you will need to skate nearly every day, for a couple of hours, and you will need off-ice, especially at the higher levels, where the aerobic demands are considerable.

Keeping the coach on track
Some coaches consider themselves "competitive" coaches, whether or not they have the track record to back this up. As far as I'm concerned, if you're not getting a couple of girls past Regionals every year, and have never had a National skater, you're not a competitive coach; you're a coach who is feeding your parents a line of hooey. (Boys don't count; it's comparatively easy to get a boy to Sectionals, and even to Nationals.) Competitive coaches deliver medals that count. Otherwise you're a recreational coach. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, unless you're keeping your kids from testing, or suddenly pushing them through when they're high school seniors "so they have something to show for it."

If you're 16, in Intermediate, and aren't working on your second triple jump, take a step back and think about whether pursuing the competitive career makes any sense at all. Ask your coach why he thinks continuing to compete at Intermediate or Novice in your Junior or Senior year of high school is the best thing you can be doing with your skating.

To compete or not to compete
Even if you're not trying to get to Nationals, you should be skating in one or two competitions a year. There is absolutely nothing like a competition to bring out the best in a skater. It's a really good idea to compete just before a test, in a non-qualifying competition where they allow you to compete up a level, so that you can skate your test program in front of judges. Find one that has a judges critique for the skater and coach so that you can get a really honest, outside assessment of where you need work.

You have to remember that your goal in competing is not to win, but to polish the program, and to learn to overcome nerves. Especially now with the IJS, that protocols sheet can be brutal; when you're competing a senior program with only doubles, you're going to be at the bottom of the points, but remember, that's not the point. If you get a little starry eyed and start thinking "maybe", coming in last can really sting, even when you know you don't care.

Don't let the test date define your readiness
Even when you're pushing that college deadline, the thing about testing is that there are endless second chances. So don't think "I must take xx test by xx deadline." There's another test in a month. Don't take the test before you're ready, even if the calendar is making you nervous, because the judges will just stop you cold anyway, by failing you, and possibly yelling at your coach for putting out a test that wasn't ready to pass.

A word about gold medals
Yes, you get a little gold medal when you pass your senior test, and you get to call yourself a "gold medalist." This is a little trick to look for on coaching resumes. If your coach's resume says "gold medalist in free skating" this does not mean they won first place at a competition. It means they passed their senior test. "Triple Gold Medalist" is the Everest of Figure Skating-- it means you passed 3 different senior tests, typically Moves, Free skating, and Dance or Figures. It is not, however, to be confused with competitive success. And trust me, every coach who is a failed competitor is calling himself a "USFS gold medalist." In my experience, and I've taught with some really famous skaters, the really successful competitors absolutely never talk about it, either through modesty or embarrassment ("former multiple World champion, now teaching at Rink Nowhere in Podunk, Nebraska". Think about it).