Aug 26, 2011

Maybe I'm too old for this

From a reader:
I'm having a "maybe I'm too old for this" day where it seems like I can't do anything right. Or, not even right, but just incrementally better than I did it last time. How do you get through those inevitable lack-of-progress-slumps, especially as an adult skater with no cheery peers to meet up with at the rink?
This reader sums up the two biggest roadblocks for adults: a sense of isolation coupled with the feeling that you just never get better.

Then there's that weird look you get when you tell people you're a skater. (Or the snide "oh, when are you going to the Olympics" remarks.)

The sense of isolation, in fact, feeds into the sense that you never get better. If you're skating mostly around kids, who make these brilliant leaps forward, your apparent slogging pace feels even more burdensome.

As an adult skater (as an adult anything), you have to make things happen for yourself. Your mother is not going to make you get up, and your coach is more likely to indulge any reluctance to push through, on the assumption that you have more of a clue than a child what you're capable of/willing to try. Here's what you can do:

Make a community
Don't just focus in on the rink that's closest to you. Hop around for a while and find the rinks, classes, and practice times that have a lot of adults, or just talk to the adults that you see--they will know where that ice is. I think you'll find that the extra 15 or 30 minutes drive (if you can afford it) will be well-worth the camaraderie. My experience of adult skaters is that they're friendly and welcoming, on the whole (there are a few stuck up ones, fuck 'em). Go to public skating regularly, and don't discount the hockey players or the moms in the stands. These are all people who are potentially your training mates, your cheering section, and, frankly, your drinking pals. See if you can get a coach to start a theater on ice program for adults (not through the rink--just through the coach). Find a rink that has an adult number in the ice show (not all of them do) and skate in it. I cannot stress this enough. Ice shows are a freaking blast. Liquor will be involved. You will make friends for life.

Define success
You have to know what makes you feel successful. When I started skating, the sum total of my ambition was cross rolls. When I found out how easy they were, and how quickly I got to them I felt incredibly successful-it energized me to see what else I could do.

Have a goal
All endeavors proceed more smoothly with a clear goal, and sometimes even a time line. It can be skill-based, activity based (skate in a competition), schedule based (skate 4 hours a week for a month) and it can change, every few days or every few months or longer. It can even be "hang out with Mary for skating and coffee once a week." Doing something as challenging as skating with no goal in mind at all gets old really fast.

Understand yourself
You have to know what you think you are capable of, and how you learn well. If you're not someone who responds to an autocratic coach, then don't hire that person. If you're fine with skimming through a test, rather than passing with flying colors, then don't hire the perfectionist. Remember that you're an adult. Unlike child skaters you really do get to call the shots. This does not mean be unreceptive to suggestions or pressure to improve, it just means you don't have to do what scares or doesn't interest you.

Understand your coach
Work with one who matches your needs. Don't worry about switching, and screw the gag rule. It's not really meant for you. Most coaches kind of expect adults to come and go, so if you want to switch coaches or rinks, be polite and upfront, but don't feel like you owe the coach your lifelong loyalty.

Listen to your coach
If your coach thinks you can do better, he's probably right. Coaches treat adults with the degree of kid-gloveness that seems appropriate to that skater. An experienced adult coach who is pushing you hard sees that level of competence; he's not trying to send you to the nearest hospital.

Don't listen to your coach
He's not your mother, after all. I'll push an adult so far; if they are really resisting I'll back off. All good adults coaches will do this.

Take your time
As you know if you're a regular reader, I believe that the least important piece of the skating equation is ability. Other impediments stop progress way before any skater bumps up against the supposed limits of their ability--time, money, fear, commitment, motivation, age. Sometimes you reach these impediments because you don't have faith in your ability, or your motivation bumps up against something that's truly difficult for you. But even if you're competing, there are so many competition levels for adults (divided by age, test, and experience to create so many events that only an accountant could love them) that you can always compete at the top of your game, or push your competence a tiny smidge higher.

Lower your expectations
A correlary of take your time. You always wanted an axel, but is a loop enough?

Raise your expectations
Your loop is pretty good, you're healthy and brave, go for that axel after all.

Finally, as a coach, I really really don't want to hear that ANYTHING in the Learn To Skate levels (up to waltz jump) is too hard for you. There is no skater who cannot learn a one-foot turn, it simply is not that hard. If you balk at simple basic skating and don't have a rock bound excuse (for instance I have a student with brain damage; I cut her a little slack) your coach will write you off howsoever wonderful they may be. If you're not willing to invest nerve and effort into your skating, no one else will either.

Aug 24, 2011

Xanboni Camp- Day 2: Why do ice rinks have high ceilings

B: So you don't bump your head

C: For tall people

E: so if they puck goes flying really high, it doesn't break the light

C-J: so you can't put your fingers in them

N: so you can't go inside the lights

S: so you can't climb on them

S again: so they don't melt the ice

E again: so the stands can go high

A picture of the lights by Miss E:

Aug 22, 2011

Xanboni Camp, Day One: Why twins should dress alike

Okay that was intense. Five hours with kids of varying levels, ages 5 to 9. Forget the ice skating: here's the story they came up with during story time. It's a round robin game, so everyone contributes one sentence or phrase at a time (as best as I can remember it).
Once upon a time there was a skater who liked nachos. He went to outer space. He blasted off in a space ship and then came back. He met a girl and then they went to the beach, where they met a bird.

Who liked nachos.

So they ate the nachos and they got sick. They went to the doctor, and he gave them medicine and they got healed, but then they got sick, so the doctor told them to rest. So they went to sleep and they dreamed.

About nachos.

The end.
Oh, twins should dress alike so they don't have tug of wars over the pink shorts. Just sayin'.

Aug 19, 2011

Why specialized classes?

To have a really robust free style program at your rink, you need to offer something for as many types of skaters as possible-- the axel-challenged, the once-a-weekers, the my-coach-or-no-coachers, the delusional, the competitive, the recidivists (i.e. haven't skated for 3 years, and think they're still at the same level they were when they left).

In rinks with only skill-level classes-"Free Style 5" "Freeskate 4"- you'll start seeing class enrollment drop off, as kids get bored or discouraged. A synchro program can help, although at least one local director thinks that Synchro teams run by municipal programs (as opposed to club-run) are problematic at best, and program-killing at worst.

Specialty classes, on the other hand, give kids a reason to skate, and can reward their strengths, instead of feeling like punishment for not measuring up.

For one thing, they aren't in any "curriculum" so you get to tailor them to your program. Have a lot of competitive kids? Take a page from USFS and do "media training" to teach kids (and parents) about how to promote themselves, and about responsible use of social media in a "professional" context. Or run "competition class" where kids act as judges, with training in ISI and ISU judging protocols.

If you have a lot of delusional kids, who think they're better than they are, rather than constantly berating them, have a choreography class, or junior coaching, or Moves.

Are you primarily recreational? Want to lure your regular public session people into more classes? How about Ice Games (races, rotation Olympics, or whatever you can some up with). Take a look at ISI competition categories, even if you're a Basic Skills rink. ISI has tons of marvelously creative categories-Couples, Family, Rhythmic, Team-that would be fantastic as a class (and might boost your rink's participation in ISI events).

I've always liked the idea of a permanent "clinics" class in the curriculum--three week classes that you can do a la carte (at a premium) or in a sets of three for a regular class rate. You could do these mini-sessions in Spins, Intro to Jumps, Choreo, doubles or triples, Axel or double axel, whatever you want. A class slot devoted to specialty clinics can help your coaches, as well, allowing them to sign on to present whatever their specialty is.

Specialty classes don't have to be on-ice, either. Keep people in your facility by offering them in sets-- practice ice/levels class/specialty class/off-ice class marathons, with a price break, to keep people in your facility. Throw in discount coupons for your pro shop or concession stand for people who sign up for this. Off-ice can be traditional conditioning-/dance-based classes including aerobics, or dance, or yoga, or pilates, but they can also be informational, like the above-suggested Media class, or training in judging protocols (parents would take this one, I bet), or "draw" class, where you learn about the marks that jumps, spins and moves make on the ice (literally, you draw them. I love draw class).

A lot of programs have Power and Jump classes, but too often these are just the levels classes with a different name. Your specialty classes should be just that--special.

Rotate the coaches through the classes. This is a great way to help younger coaches, by giving them the opportunity to really shine in something they're good at. Too many rinks never alter the schedule--they have Coach Seniority teaching FS6 on Tuesdays at 6 for 20 years; who cares if everyone hates Coach Seniority and only his students sign up for class.

To get the classes going, pair them with the rest of the program--a discount certainly, or some sort of cumulative benefit for taking multiple classes--ribbons, "skater of the month" awards, etc. Give friend-discounts for bringing new people into the program. Give it some time as well; at least 3 sessions so it can catch on.

Remember the statistics- there are 500 elite skaters nationwide, and I hate to break it to you, but they aren't at your rink. Rinks need to stop running programs as though everyone is the Broadmoor, and start serving the tens of thousands of committed recreational and workaday competitors who just love to skate.

What unusual specialty classes does your program, rink, or club offer?

Aug 16, 2011

Bigger and better things

Every rink has its stars-- the girls twirling center ice, that all the little girls want to be like. The ones with the moms who seem to know what's going on. The ones with the "big" solos, and the "Good Luck at Regionals!" signs in the office window.

But a rink is a small world, with its own heirarchy. The girl who seems so amazing in your little corner of skating might or might not shine in a more competitive arena.

So how do you know--when does the 'switch' happen from local skater to bigger and better things? When do you go from one coach to an arsenal of coaches? Does your coach say something? Does your test or competition level have anything to do with it?

The easiest test is an honest assessment of your ability-- are you, in fact, the best skater at the rink? Are you winning or placing in competition? Do you have higher level and more consistent skills than the kids you are training with? If you are, if you're really the "best" skater at your rink, then you don't have anyone to live up to, or anyone nipping at your heels. This is not the best situation for a competitive skater.

We saw a huge jump in ability with our national dance team when they stopped training at home and started traveling to a rink where there were people better than them. Suddenly they couldn't rest on their laurels; they had to be as good as the people around them. If you're already better than the people around you, you need to find a more competitive environment, to give yourself something to push against.

There is no hard and fast rule about where this happens--as young as Pre-pre, as late as Senior. We recently had a mass exodus of Synchro skaters because they realized that our small program couldn't push them hard enough--they were already at the top of the heap. Some of them may be back; but some of them will find themselves skating better than they ever have.

If you are content, or even like, being the best in your rink, then good for you. You don't have to go anywhere.

Aug 13, 2011

Leaving home

As the competition schedule heats up, kids on the cusp-- top ten, but not quite on the radar, ambitious but not delivering the medals--are asking themselves, have I gone as far as I can go where I am? I got this email from a young skater in a difficult position:
I am a skater who has gone just about as far as I can in my hometown. I know that if I want to advance I will have to move, but can I handle it? What will it be like without my parents? am I to old to train seriously? Will I make friends? Will it be too tough?
My feelings:

Everyone moves away from home.
Don't worry about it! You're leaving anyway, to go to college, when you are 17 or 18. That said, if you are younger than 14 I believe your mother, or father, or grandparent or much-older sibling has to go with you. I am personally adamantly opposed to the idea of children that young living with the coach; in fact, I don't think any minor skater or other athlete should live with their coach, but I know it happens. If you're 15 to 17, have a reliable family to go to if your own family member can't do it. When you're 17 or older, hey like I said, you'd go away to college wouldn't you? Best choice would be to go to college near the skating program.

What do you hope to achieve.
If you're one of those younger skaters who is contemplating a move, be really really sure that you cannot achieve your goals at home. Younger and untried coaches DO have skaters who achieve remarkable success. Moving is difficult and disruptive-for you, your family, and your career. Make sure it's the right choice.

How do you know if it's realistic?
If you're at a level that you need to move to training center to improve your career, chances are someone outside your immediate skating family has taken you or your parents aside and told you, hey, you really need to think about a better training situation. If you're not quite there, but feel that you're stalled where you are, ask someone trustworthy- a local skating judge, a non-involved coach, or a former competitive skater- anyone who can observe your skating first hand. Across the board, people like these are incredibly approachable, generous, and honest.

The age issue.
If you're about to age out of one of the levels, you have some very tough questions to ask yourself. Are you stuck at a level because you don't have the jumps or lifts you need to be competitive, or is your coach just sandbagging you. If you're a 15 or 16 year old girl without triples (meaning you are probably still at Novice or even Intermediate), you are getting old to have a realistic competitive career, although this, thank god, is changing, as women start skating through college. Look at your competitive record-- if you keep winning at the lower level, but the skills are holding you back, then yes, a change in situation might be what you need.

If you're approaching college age, you quite literally don't need to make the choice- home or skating. Move to the college town with the best coaching situation for you. Do your last year of high school there, or work out an arrangement to finish high school with college courses. There are lots of educational options that schools don't tell you about.

Who will be your coach?
Okay this is the big one. You don't walk into the Broadmoor and expect Kathy Casey or Tom Zakrajsek to just take you based on your self-assessed wonderfulness or ambition. Fifth place in the final round at Uppers has not put you on the map. You have to audition for them. Some high level coaches will invite you to audition, despite PSA rules against this, sometimes they'll accept unsolicited requests. Get hold of a PSA directory, which lists everyone's contact information.

In other words, don't move unless you have a coaching situation arranged.

What is Plan B
What happens if you give it a try, and it doesn't work out--you hate it, or you don't achieve the success you want, or the coach drops you (it happens). Well, you go back home, or back to school. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone, or make excuses or feel embarrassed.

That you can even contemplate such a major step at 13 or 14 or 15 puts you in a special category of kids who are able to think past the ends of noses and today's pop hit. Your reach should exceed your grasp, or what's a heaven for.

Do you know a skater who left home to train at a young age?

Aug 9, 2011

The cost of coaching

We talk a lot about the high cost of learning to skate. But what about the cost of being a skating coach? Here's the low down.

PSA membership: $120
PSA continuing ed (ratings requirement) $40 to $300 (depending on if there are events in your area, otherwise you have to pay for travel)
Liability insurance: $85
USFS membership: $65
USFS background check $43
USFS coaching certification (tests through PSA) $75
ISI membership $65
ISI background check (same info, different company) $40
Red Cross First Aid certification: $40 (actually $120, but you only have to do it every 3 years)

That's $610 to $870, equivalent of up to 2 months of class take-home pay (assuming 14 hours of classes at $12 to $20/hour, which is what a lot of rinks pay, even for nationally rated coaches). Rinks do not cover this expense. One rink I worked for allowed one $50 credit per year for an educational event.

Coaches pay all these fees out of pocket, plus their own health care, retirement, and equipment. There is no positive benefit to covering these expenses like an effort to help coaches form unions so that they get guaranteed income, pension and health benefits, and job protection.

Coaches are all subject to forced lay offs several times a year when the rink shuts down, which can also impact your private lesson income, and if your regular classes happen to fall on a holiday, tough luck. You can get credentialed out the wazoo and never get a raise.

There is a punitive aspect-- if you don't get credentialed you cannot take students through testing or competition, and there is a movement afoot to make even baby coaches jump through these hoops.

Coaches complain about this system a lot, and rightly so. USFS, PSA and ISI need to add positive benefits to the high cost of being ethical in this business by pressuring rinks and clubs to treat coaches like the highly qualified professionals that they are.

Aug 6, 2011

The limits of talent and desire

I'm the sort of person who does not believe in limits. I especially get my hackles up when confronted with the suggestion that I "can't" do something. My philosophy, and the one I share with discouraged students, is "if someone is doing it, it's possible, and if it's possible you can do it."

But if this was the case, wouldn't every skater have a double axel?

And not to mince words, yes. Every skater that put in the work required IS capable of that double axel. A naturally athletic skater will get it sooner, and more easily. A naturally motivated skater will find the longer athletic slog less onerous because of their inclination to accept hard work. A skater with a lot of time to skate will appear to have learned it quickly, even though they've devoted the same number of hours to it. A more timid skater will have more difficulty than a courageous one. A courageous one may accept falls that she doesn't need to accept, and slow down her progress.

I never tried the harder jumps. I could probably eventually have done them, but I was too scared. So I never tried. In other words, my ability to do an axel is not in question. I believe it. It was my desire to do an axel that got in the way.

This is what I see over and over--skaters, and their mothers, blame their failures, if you want to see it that way, on their native ability, narrowly defining that as meaning athletic ability. But ability is the same thing as body type; it's just another quality that you need to understand and accommodate. The skater gets discouraged, and stops being responsive in lessons. She doesn't practice. She takes one lesson a week. She won't make attempts when the coach isn't there. She jumps from coach to coach, looking for the one who will "give" her the axel (or the double, or the jump sit...).

It is okay to give up a goal. But be honest with yourself. If this goal remains important in itself, for you and not for your mother or your popularity, then don't give up on it. If you're just going through the motions, then rethink the goal. I decided the skating tests and higher freestyle skills were not the best use of my time, and put my energy into the PSA ratings instead.

Understand what you desire and why you desire it. Understand where your talent lies and use that to achieve your goal. Pointless to rely on athletic ability alone, if your talent is persistence.

There are no limits to talent or desire. You only limit yourself.

Aug 4, 2011

Too fat, too tall, too not-the-perfect image of a skater

This blogger brings up an interesting issue- is there a "perfect" body type for a figure skater?

What if we did that for every public profession. Made the way a person looks the first criterion for whether that person can do that job- sales person, teacher, cop. Well, in fact, we used to just that. Until recently, for instance, we all knew what a president looked like, didn't we?

Old white guy.

And yet there's that young black guy in the White House.

Yes, there is a "perfect" body type for a skater--not too tall (but not too short), slim, small-bosomed, low center of gravity (i.e. short legs), legs straight or slightly bowed, square shoulders. Oh, and white. Or better yet Asian. Did I mention that? If you're younger than a certain age it's hard to understand the sea change that was Surya Bonaly and Debi Thomas; how shocking and empowering those skaters were, not just to black girls, but to all girls who felt different in skating or in life. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase "I didn't know black girls could skate!" Or how many, white, black or brown, thought, geez if she can overcome that kind of prejudice, then who am I to let my knock-knees hold me back.

And then there's Katarina Witt (bosom), Rachael Flatt (sloped shoulders), Carolina Kostner and Megan Oster (tall), Tara Lipinski (knock kneed), Evan Lysacek (really tall). In fact, I can't think of a skater who is perfect.

Because there is no such thing.

There is no such thing for so many reasons. First, not only does the perfect skating body not exist, it isn't necessary. There's probably a perfect body for walking, too. If you don't have it, does that mean you don't walk? A skater isn't machine tooled, where if a part doesn't meet patented specifications, the whole thing stops working. If I had to put a number on it, I would say your body and your talent are less than half of what you need to be a skater. As, or more, important, are your drive, your intelligence and your motivation.

Ambitious coaches will look for the whole package--body, talent, drive, motivation, ability to pay. If you feel dismissed by an ambitious coach, figure out which one of those things is missing, and overcome it. You note I don't say "fix it," because like I said, you're not a machine with replaceable parts. If you're not quite smart enough for law school, but you want to be a lawyer, you study harder, you don't decide to be a ditch digger instead.

Aug 1, 2011

Heading for 100,000

I am 13 people away from 100,000 hits on Xanboni! I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to ID the 100,000th person, but since I like the number 13, I'll do it this way. If at least 13 people comment on this post by tomorrow, I'll throw everyone's name in a hat and draw for a prize-- the very first Xanboni! t-shirt, coming later this fall.

And thanks so much for making Xanboni! such a success. I'm having a blast.