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?