Dec 30, 2012

Staying safe on the ice

Who got skates for Christmas? Don't suppose you managed to get safety equipment, too, hmmm? Here's an overview:

All beginners should wear head protection. Period. I would love to see the federations start requiring it for everyone, but I'm a well-known maverick. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm sold on the Ice Halo. It's comfortable, stylish and functional for skating.  Other good choices are skateboard helmets, which have forehead protection, and a flat back. Bike helmets are not a good choice. The pointy backs on some helmets can snap your head forward if you fall backwards, adding whiplash to the injury.

Helmets must fit. A helmet that is too big or too small is essentially the same as no helmet at all. Do not wear a hat under the helmet. If you think you'll be cold without, get a do-rag, which will provide enough wind protection to keep your head warm. (Do rags are great for hockey players-- they keep the hair out of your face without having to resort to girl-stuff like scrunchies.)

Helmet alternatives
A soft hat is better than a helmet that doesn't fit. The Ice Halo is even better.

Wrist guards
I wouldn't hate to see all adult beginners in wrist guards. Adults commonly brace falls on their wrists, rather than aiming for tuck and roll. It's an instinct, very hard to fight. Wrist guards are the answer, plus they're unobtrusive.

Knee pads
I see more knee pads creating problems than solving them. If you feel you need them, don't get pads that stick out and catch on themselves or your clothing-- try to find the ace-bandage type that have a soft pad over the knee, rather than strap-on braces. Knee pads, especially on children, should not be made of slick plastic, because you won't be able to put your knee on the ice when trying to stand up--you'll just slide. Cover them with fabric, or put them under your clothes.

Hockey equipment
Are you in a game or scrimmage? Go for it-- full regalia. Are you messing around with your buds? I think you can skip the shoulder pads, at least. Shin guards should ALWAYS be covered with socks, otherwise it's an open invitation to sliding games, otherwise known as bowling on the ice, with the hockey boy as the bowling ball, and YOU as the pin. Or better yet, skip everything but the helmet when you're just out there for fun, you little wimps. 

A must for little kids. Gloves will avert more injuries than any other single item in a class or crowded public session. When little kids fall, they tend to stay on the ice, and they tend to put their hands on the ice. If another skater runs into their bare hands, they will get cut. With gloves on, even thin gloves, it just hurts. No gloves also means they'll need help getting up, because they won't want to put their hands down on the cold surface.

Not being stupid
• Don't carry things. No cameras. No purses. For pity's sake, no small children.
• Don't hold hands, or, if you do, remember to let go if someone starts to fall. If you hold hands, remember that this is not a guarantee of keeping your feet.
• Crack the whip, and pinwheels. Well, I'm not crazy about crack the whip, but I'm a known wimp. Don't play this game unless EVERYONE on the ice is involved and the guards are okay with it.
• Hot dogging. Like to go fast and crazy? Find an empty session. Hot dogging on crowded public ice doesn't prove your a good skater. It just proves you're an asshole.
• Public sessions. Not for multiple rotation jumps, hot dogging (see above). running programs, backward spirals, et cetera, unless it's one of those midday sessions that are empty.

Ice injuries are rare
If you skate only occasionally your odds are good against injury, even if you're not very good. Falls on the ice hurt, and are scary, but seldom result in injury. If you skate a lot, the odds go up, and you should consider some of the recommendations above. Beginner classes, in my opinion, should require head protection, and many rinks now do require this in tot classes. If your rink does not require helmets for tots or hockey classes, make them tell you why.

Dec 27, 2012

What's wrong with adult skaters?

There is no single group of skaters more vulnerable to dislike than what I call Adult Onset Skaters. Please note that I don't endorse, or share, these opinions. Just giving you the low down on the haters. So what is it that annoys people so much?

Out of place 
Girls Rule at ice rinks. Adults, especially at the lower levels, just look out of place, especially on freestyle sessions. In a universe largely populated by pre-adolescent girls and skinny superstars, standing out is the original sin. And there's this giant on our pretty ice. And it isn't only, or even mostly, the kids who resent us-- a lot of coaches are extremely resentful of adults on "their" ice. You'll find people don't resent you, and in fact don't notice you, if you learn how to fit in-- don't show up in a parka and snow pants; keep moving, follow the standard ice patterns, don't yell at people for "getting in your way" (they aren't).

Personally, I like slow ice. Find me ice full of skaters moving at a lumbering gait, and I'm a happy camper. Freestyle ice moves FAST. On a typical freestyle session, in fact, slow-moving (or worse, unmoving) skaters are a hazard. If you've got to skate on a fast session, learn the rules of the road. Don't hog one spot--move around the rink.  KEEP MOVING! The worst thing you can do is stop in the middle of the ice. Understand the patterns (no circles of cross overs in the lutz corner), etc.

We startle easily. A lot of adults freak if someone skates within a couple of body lengths, especially if they're going fast. But if you watch practice sessions, you'll notice that collisions are relatively rare (spectacular mishaps at the Olympics, Grand Prix and other elite competitions notwithstanding). This can be extremely annoying to other skaters, especially if you make a big deal out of it. If someone is outside the reach of your arm, they aren't close.

I can't work if anyone else is on the ice. I'm worried about where they are, what they're doing, whether they are judging me. This makes me skittish, and slow.

Adults, unlike most kids, are not at the rink to meet people. We do, of course, meet people at the rink. But the kinds of adults you find working on skating (as opposed to recreating), are usually extremely focused and can come off as unfriendly or even rude. Mostly I think, though, they're just shell-shocked from all the hate and have retreated into their happy place and screw you anyway.

We aren't, actually. But it's one of the criticisms you hear from coaches about why they don't like to work with adults.

So what do you do with the haters? Well, happily, you're not a pre-adolescent girl anymore, so who cares what they think. Get out there and skate!

Dec 8, 2012

There are other skating blogs?

Help me out. A couple of my favorite skating blogs, like Ice Mom, Axels Loops and Spins, and Mr. Zamboni man, have stopped writing!

Here's what I'm still reading, find me some more and I'll add them to my resources page!

A former show skater with an attitude: Ice Charades 
Hockey Mom with toe picks: Ice Pact 
A champions' mom (if your kid competes, read this): Life on the Edge 
A former champion's mom:  Raising Skaters
An adult skater with a sense of humor: The Ice Doesn't Care 
The Executive Director of the Professional Skaters Association: Over the Edge 
There are skate dads?: l.a. skate dad 
Currently in archive, but really worth the read: Ice Mom  
Indepth videos on skating issues and skills: ManleyWoman Skatecast
Skating mom with a wicked outlook: Josette Plank

I'd really love to learn about a skating blog like Mr. Zamboni Man and Axels Loops and Spins that goes beyond fangirl/fanboy gushing and party-line regurgitation.

What do you read, and why? Include the link!

Dec 4, 2012

What to get the coach for Christmas (redux)

I first posted this in 2010. Here are my thoughts on gifts for coaches, with some updates!

For some reason that escapes me, a lot of parents are hell-bent on giving gifts to their skating coaches. And it fills them with anxiety. It's a weird sort of relationship-- this is your employee, but on the other hand the coach is kind of the boss. Plus, she's your friend? Or not? Personally, I love getting those clumsy hand-made pictures from the little kids, or a "certificate" promising no back talk for a month from the teenagers. But parents persist-- they want to give presents.

So what do you get your skating coach?

A bonus.

That's right. Give your coach a bonus. Your coach is your employee. I do understand that he or she is also your friend, and that you entrust her with your precious child (I mean that in the best way, no sarcasm intended), but in general, this is not someone you would otherwise have much of a connection to.

Now, because of the intimate nature of the relationship, sometimes parents are uncomfortable with handing over extra cash. It seems so cold. So make it a gift card to a local department store like Target or Macy's, or a pre-paid Visa card that can be used anywhere. If there's a concession stand at your rink, see if you can set up an "account" for your coach with a set amount of money in it.

If you really insist on an item, make it coaching related: the latest hard cover "tell all" book about skating scandals, or a pair of gloves or a scarf. I wear those little trading pins all over my coaching jackets, and I had a student once get me a collection of Olympic figure skating ones. A very thoughtful gift. (I confess, while I personally don't care if you get me a gift, I do like swag as much as the next person.)

I knew a coach who had a system that just made me shudder: she actually steers her kids toward a certain store that she likes, and tells everyone to get her a gift card from there. I guess there's a certain practicality to that, but my grandmother would be rolling in her grave.

A Tweep asks: is there a formula for how much to give? And you'll be happy to hear that, yes, there is. A week's lesson fee. If you take one lesson per week, then Christmas or Hanukkah week, double the check, with a notation in the memo line "holiday bonus." This might seem like a lot if you're doing multiple lessons, for instance national qualifiers will be paying upwards of $500 per week for multiple lessons approaching unlimited. This seems like a big bonus, yes? On the other hand that coach got your skater to Nationals. Or helped her land her triple salchow. Or doubled her component score in a season. Or just spent a lot of time nurturing your child. Work it into the budget.

If your coach is only working with you once a week, then I think it's fine to just send a card, or yes, that $10 Starbucks gift card. (I confess, the $5 cards drive me crazy-- so, I spent a year with your kid, and you're, um, buying me a cup of coffee? I have gotten $2 cards, which doesn't EVEN pay for a cup of coffee. Really, folks, think about this. Better to do nothing but "Happy Holidays" and a hug.) The more lessons you're getting, the more progress your skater is making, the more you really should be considering this not as a Christmas present, but as a bonus for a job well done.

P.S. to my parents reading this: I like unmarked, non-sequential bills in small denominations and condo timeshares in Aruba. No no no, just kidding. Adorable pictures and hugs are fine.

Here's the late great Ice Mom on the topic, and some very specific suggestions from The Examiner (old article, internal links may not work).

Are you giving your coach a holiday gift?

Dec 2, 2012

Outdoor skating with my honey!

Xan and Wei-Gung happy as can be!
S - K -A -T -I -N -G!

Yes, of course those are Ice-Halos we are wearing! (They just won a nice award!)

Do you have an outdoor rink near you?

Nov 29, 2012

Is someone cheating?

Here's a great phrase a friend of mine likes to use:
Assume Positive Intentions

If you go through the day under the premise that people basically aren't jerks, you'll be a lot happier.

Granted, people cheat. People especially cheat to get their darlings the gold ring.

Just ask Honey Boo Boo.
Here's a question from a reader:
I was wondering whether a skater who had taken her pre pre Free Skate test in January could compete at a lower level after her test results are posted by USFS. She took the test in January, and the competition was in March.  She is competing at the next competition at no test again, against my daughter's friend. Should I report her?
 Well, no.

Don't report her.

First of all, don't get involved in someone else's fight. Second of all, assume positive intentions.

In a situation like this, you can contact the club that is running the competition and ask for a clarification of the rules. Note I don't say- "tell them someone is cheating and here is why." Just ask what the rules are.  In the case above, it may be that the application and the test just crossed in the mail, it may be that the club had to combine events or age groups because of under-enrollment. What is NOT happening is cheating, because it simply doesn't happen in this way, plus cheating at all at USFS competitions is vanishingly rare, especially at the non-qualifying level. The more common "cheat" is for coaches to sandbag their kids--not allow them to test so that they can compete and win at the no test levels. If this skater is testing, then she is doing it right.

Don't forget that clubs are run by volunteers. Mistakes happen, rule misapplication happens, and kids win (and lose) competitions for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with their actual test level.

The worst thing you can do is worry about who is winning non-quals. They don't count. Their purpose is to give kids experience at competing, and apparent unfairness of this sort is exactly the kind of situation that strengthens them for when they go to the "show."

The only thing a parent should be worrying about  at competitions (and this includes the show!) is whether the kid got enough rest, enough food, enough lead time at the site, and has all her/his stuff in their skating bag.

That's enough to worry about.

Nov 27, 2012

Taking it for granted

We're going to start this post from the premise that middle school girls, even the good ones (and they're all good ones) are little shits who believe that the world was invented specifically to honor their wonderfulness, and that good things, like figure skating lessons, are actually the universe trying to keep them from enjoying themselves.

That said, high level figure skating is a lot to ask of a 12 year old.

Under the eagle eye of the gossip brigade in the stands, your 12 year old (or 9 year old, or 16 year old) is, mostly, working. She knows she'll catch hell on the ride home if she spends too much time at the boards when you're watching.

A lot of parents feel like they have to be in the stands every minute, and fear that if they aren't there, the kids will just fool around.  And I'll say this again-- if your child legitimately wants to achieve her skating goal, be it making it to Nationals, getting a solo in the ice show, or passing tests, fooling around will be a self-limiting strategy.

The thing to watch for is not whether she's using her practice time effectively, or paying attention in lessons, or even if she's falling short of the goals. The thing to watch for is how she reacts when she falls short of the goal, especially if the reason is that she hasn't been working hard. If your skater goofs off and then blames everyone around her when she fails, she's not all that committed to skating, and may in fact be taking it a little bit for granted. If she goofs off and then doesn't care when she fails, you may want to rethink how much you're spending on skating.

If she works hard and fails, even if she doesn't take it well, you can be pretty sure she's not taking it for granted.

In a way, we all take it for granted. Kids, for one, never understand how lucky they are. I hated school until I had to work full time and realized how unbelievably awesome it is be able to spend all day learning and hanging out with peers. I have to remind myself regularly what an incredible gift it is to have the amazing job of teaching figure skating.

I think you have to remember that if you've chosen skating for your child (with the child's help of course), it's not really any different than anything that you feel your child is taking for granted-- the pile of presents at the winter holidays, regular meals, indulgent parents, enough money for treats.

Don't you take it for granted either. Your kid can land an axel, or will. Do you know how hard that is?

Nov 19, 2012

Organizing practice time

Everyone should follow the same basic plan to warming up: ten to fifteen minutes off-ice to bring your heart rate up and raise your core temp before you step on the ice (this is why they call it a warm up). Before skating you want just a light stretch. Don't over stretch cold muscles.

Once you're on the ice have an on-ice warm up pattern. This can be something your coach gives you, or your own plan. It can be as simple as stroking around for 2 or 4 laps, or it can be a combination of forward and backward skating and turning patterns. A great warm up pattern is the power moves from the last Moves test you passed (unless you haven't taken a Moves test. In which case, use the Pre-Bronze/ PrePreliminary test as a warm up). Don't worry too much about skating quality on the warm up.

A specific warm period is important for health and safety reasons, and to get your head in the game, as it were. You want to see who is on the ice, and if you're an adult, exactly what creaks and groans you're dealing with today.

Once this is complete, you're on to the actual "practice." So, how do you organize the actual practice?

A lot of coaches insist that their students carry little notebooks around. These contain teaching tips, suggestions on what needs work, and sometimes very specific practice plans. I mostly observe these being used as an excuse to hang around on the boards.

Move through the moves
This is my own method. I do my warm up, and then skate through all the Adult moves starting with Pre-Bronze and finshing with those skills at Adult Silver that I can actually do. For someone like me, who isn't trying to acquire new skills, this is a great way to fill practice time without clock watching, while making sure that you cover a range of skills and keep moving. I don't jump, but you could also use this method with freeskating skills...

Easy to hard other words easy to hard. From simple stroking through Senior power moves. Waltz jump through your highest jump. Scratch spin to combination spin. Et cetera.

Hard to easy
I encourage my students, on the other hand, to start with the hard stuff. For one thing, this gets it out of the way, so you're not spending the whole practice worrying about screwing up the axel again. You screwed it up early on, now you can move on. Also, if you do the hard skills while you're still fresh, you're less likely to do them poorly, not to mention being less susceptible to injury.  The other advantage of starting with the hard stuff is that it allows you to finish your practice session on an upnote, with skills that you're good at.

5 laps stroking. 5 crossover circles. 10 of each jump. Etc. This is also a good method for clock watchers, or for people who are bad at organizing their practices, like little kids. This sort of thing is also conducive to the notebook. Make a list, and check it off as you complete each item.

This one is for competitors and adults. Work out a practice that keeps your heart rate in the cardio range for a specified period (generally 20 minutes, and usually defined as 60 to 70% of MHR or maximum heart rate for an adult doing exercise, and 70 to 85% for a competitor). Here's a calculator). This basically means a strong warm up period and then continual movement to keep it there.

If you're a competitor, then you need to work run-throughs of your programs into some, though not necessarily all of your practices. Where in the sesseion the run-throughsgo, and the nature of those run-throughs, depends where you are in the competitive season. I'll talk about run-throughs in another post.

How do you (or your skater) organize your practice time?

Nov 15, 2012

My child didn't win because

A parent wrote to me about her disappointment over her child's placement in competition. She was competing at Basic 8, although she skates at FS1 level. First, it is common, and appropriate, to compete 1 to 3 levels below your class level for non qualifying and recreational competitions. For ISI you must compete at your highest official test (as opposed to class test). Basic Skills encourages you to skate at your class level (there is no formal test registration process for Basic Skills), but also allows you to  skate "up." My reader says,
All the girls at her level were doing moves and spins that were far higher than her level. She got last place because she was doing the requirements for that level. My question is should we have put her in basic 6 so that she can get a gold? Or let her lose knowing that most of these other children are in higher levels? Her coach wanted her to do basic 8 because that is the level she had just passed.  What's the rule for these competitions?
First of all, Rule #1 for competitions is follow the coach's advice. (Or as my old mentor Nick Belovol used to say, Rule #1 is 'coach is always right' and Rule #2 is 'remember Rule #1'). The objective is never to "get a gold" but rather to skate a personal best.

Second of all, this parent is speculating as to why she got last place. You cannot tell why a skater placed a certain way at Basic Skills, because placements are based on ordinals, not points. It's equally possible she was just the worst skater. Speculations of this nature will make you crazy.

In basic skills competitions, there are selected restrictions on elements, but generally you are allowed to do most moves from higher levels. Sticking to the passed elements from the current level is a common and acceptable strategy. At another competition, this skater might well have been up against kids who were also skating only moves from their own level, in which case, she might have placed better. But there's no way to know this, so the best strategy is to use a program that the skater and the coach know that the skater does well.

Basic Skills competitions are particularly challenging, because judges have a lot of discretion in the marks; individual elements are not marked separately (unlike in IJS scoring and in ISI competitions), and the rules about acceptable elements are somewhat fluid from competition to competition.

It's alright to have a conversation with the coach expressing your concerns regarding competitions, and just asking why she chose some particular strategy. Make it non-confrontational, and with information,  not "how can we get my daughter to win" as the goal.

Even a child who skates her absolute best doing stuff from higher levels is never guaranteed a win; you have no control over what other kids are skating, how well they do, what the judges are looking for on that day, and tons of other factors. Recreational competitions like Basic Skills and ISI are for fun.

Forget USFS's PR about how "Basic Skills is the path to the Olympics." A sure way to make sure your skater never gets that Olympic bug, or even just a simple desire to succeed, is to create anxiety over non-qualifying competitions at the Basic 8/Delta level. This is like assuming that the C on the third-grade spelling test will affect that Harvard admission.

Nov 12, 2012

Unmotivated elite skaters, Part 2: Now what?

So you've figured out why your skater doesn't want to skate anymore. What do you do about ?

First, be aware that somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16, and around the Intermediate and Novice levels, a lot of skaters do just decide they want to move on to other things. Some of them decide they don't want to compete anymore. This is fine. And you can take it slow; for advanced skaters it's a bad idea to just allow them to cut it off, especially for adolescents, who are discovering all the amazing possibilities open to them, but may lack the judgment to make good choices. If your high level skater wants to quit, make her step it down gradually, just in case she changes her mind.

Here are some of the issues we identified yesterday:

Family issues
You want to make sure your kid hates going to the rink? Have screaming fights with your soon-to-be-ex in the lobby. Yes, he's a pig who sleeps with everything with a pulse, but really, your child's friends and the coaching staff don't need to know this. Kids can feel either responsible for family dissolution and job pressures, or like they should be doing something to help. Reassure them that family issues will not be allowed to interfere with skating. And then make sure that this is true.

Problems at school
Academic and social issues at school can affect a teen's entire life. If the issues are academic, this is the more important problem to fix than the lack of motivation in skating. Improving academics, or at least helping a child get her academics under control, will probably fix her skating motivation as well, by removing the anxiety she's likely to be feeling. But school comes first.

If the school problems are social, skating itself is the fix. Skating rink social circles tend to be non-tangent to school cliques, so a kid who is having social difficulties at school has an alternative place where she can feel comfortable socially.

Social problems: rink
In other words, bullying. If your skater is being bullied (and trust me, skater grrls invented the concept), you need to help her develop alternate social circles that obviate the bully. You can also try moving some practices, lessons or classes to another facility, even over the skater's objection. Let the coach know your suspicions. If it's overt, complain to the skating director. Do not confront the bullies or their coach on your child's behalf.

If the lack of motivation is due to skating issues, try mixing it up. Add a hip hop class for off-ice. Find a rink with interesting specialty classes for skaters at your child's level. Suggest she try something new like ice dance or adagio (which can be done in same-sex couples), or something like Theater on Ice or Artistry in Motion. Especially if the skater is not going to Sectionals or Nationals, this is a great time of year to try new and different skating-related activities.  If you can afford it, look into the winter skating camps-- there are amazing weeklong programs at Sun Valley, Lake Placid and Ice Castle taught by authentic icons of skating like Dorothy Hamill.

While I am leary of encouraging parents to get involved in skills issues, you might try asking the coach if there are particular skills or skating issues (like the ability, for instance, to skate a clean program) that your skater might be feeling discouraged about. Talk to the coach about how you can help the skater get past this. Maybe there are new skills that she or he can add that have less emotion tied to them. Can't get the double axel? Maybe it's time to start working on butterflies as a "reward" during lessons and practice, or some of the older figures skills, like using your blade to draw a tulip or a star.

Coaching issues
This is where your observation of the coach is important. If you observe any dynamic with the coach that you think is off, ask the skater in a non-confrontational way. "Do you feel like your coach is helping you with your goals" not "Wow, I can't believe your coach is ignoring you like that." "I had no idea how much the coach has to actually touch you to help you with those positions" not "I'm calling child protective services on that pervert."  Let the skater tell you if there is a problem. Please note that a coach touching a student is rarely because the coach is a criminal; this does not mean that all skaters are, or need to be, comfortable with a coach who handles them.

As everyone knows, switching coaches is extremely fraught, especially at poorly run rinks, so tread carefully around coaching issues. Keep lines of communication open, and never make accusations you aren't willing to go to court over.

Drugs and alcohol
I have observed many young teens who start losing interest in skating because they are developing drug or alcohol problems. If you suspect this, keep your child skating with a whip and a chair if need be, and talk to your school counselor about how to address a problem like this. If this is an issue, you will also see symptoms in your child's academic and social spheres as well. (In fact, you're liable to see it there first. Skating can be an island of sanity for a child who is dealing with such problems.)

Saving face
The other thing you can try doing with a competitive skater who is unmotivated, of course, is nothing.  That's right. Because losing motivation, and therefore not working, has its own guaranteed outcome-- lack of skating success. And frankly, you can't make the skater want to succeed. If she's going to sabotage her skating, then she's the one who suffers, if that's what it is.

Which brings me to the final point.

It's possible that the unmotivated skater does not want to disappoint you. She's done skating, but is afraid of your reaction. So she stops working, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What did you do to help with a skater losing motiviation?

Nov 11, 2012

Unmotivated elite skaters, part 1: Why?

A few months ago, we talked about how to motivate recreational skaters.  But how do you motivate an unmotivated competitive skater, especially when you know s/he doesn't really want to quit?

This is especially critical at this time of year, when 1,500 elite-level singles skaters start competing for just 360 spots at Sectionals, and only about 130 spots at Nationals/Junior Nationals.

That's 1370 mighty disappointed kids.

Of course, most of those kids understand that they really don't have a realistic chance even at final round at Regionals, let alone making it to Nationals. But even if you just count those with "a shot," say the top 30-35%, that's still a few hundred really sad kids who didn't land the double axel when it counted. And face it, sometimes kids (and coaches) are delusional, and even a predictable loss comes as a shock and a giant demotivator.

If there isn't an obvious issue like disappointment over competition results, you need to look a little deeper.

The first thing to do is identify why a formerly enthusiastic and currently ambitious skater stops working. Is there an injury that they haven't fessed up about? Are there social problems at the rink or school, or personality (or more ominous) issues with the coach? Are there family issues that you as the parent don't realize your skater is concerned about, including money, stability, etc.

Coaching issues are a little harder. First, tell the coach about difficulties you're having getting your skater to the rink. It's possible that she's giving you grief, but then is fine once she's at the rink. The proper solution to this is the patented parental eye roll when she starts up.

If that's not it, then drop in at lessons and practices unannounced (because you are totally not hanging out watching every single practice and lesson for your high level skater, right? RIGHT?) and observe the coaching and on-ice dynamics. Does your skater appear distracted?  Is she using her practice time poorly (i.e. hanging out at the boards, getting on and off the ice, poorly organized approach)? Does she appear isolated from other skaters? Do skaters seem to be interfering with her practice patterns, beyond the general chaos that is a freestyle session? Is her coach focused on her (and she on the coach?) Observe in as non-judgmental a way as possible, and then ask neutral questions about what you think you're seeing.

All well and good to figure out why your skater is unmotivated. What do you do about it? Tomorrow, we'll explore some of the things you can do to help your skater overcome her loss of skating mojo.

How did your skater show a loss of motivation?

Oct 19, 2012

Conditioning for very young children

I hear it all the time at the rink.

Coaches telling parents that their 8 year olds need to do weight training and conditioning class.

And it is, not to put too fine a point on it, bull hockey.

Pre-pubescent children not only do not need weight training and strengthening, it's pointless because they don't have the hormones yet that make weight training in particular useful. They simply will not build muscle no matter how many push ups they do.

That said, you can, and should do stretch, strength, and aerobic activities with very young children. However, it doesn't have to be run by the skating coach, it doesn't have to happen at the rink, and it doesn't have to be boring.

The playground
The best strength equipment for little kids is monkey bars and climbing walls. Further more, it's a lot more fun than hand weights and push ups, which is the number one thing you need to do to engage young kids in "exercise." Playgrounds in general have everything you need-- equipment that encourages strength (monkey bars), coordination (various climbing apparatuses), cooperation (see saws), etc.

Here's your aerobics. If your Juvenile or lower skater is competitive, talk to your coach about making her "season" the non qualifying events in late fall to early spring so she can do field sports in the fall.

If she or he is already doing the qualifying events (which happen in the fall right on top of soccer), then you're switching your aerobic sport to spring. In-season, your little competitor should be running or doing other aerobic activity before getting onto the ice. Don't worry too much about things like Maximum Heart Rate for little kids, but if you're interested, here's a nice description of the issue that also deals with children and their specific needs.

Dance is great conditioning for kids-- it's fun, there are many reputable, vetted programs to choose from, and it covers strength, balance, muscle tone, conditioning and aerobics as well as great lessons in focus and discipline. Most skaters choose ballet, but for boys in general and for girls who balk at ballet, you can get the benefits of dance training from hip-hop, jazz, tap, or modern dance classes. (Older, competitive skaters should take ballet.)

Martial arts
Martial arts are another great multi-benefit activity for kids too young for dedicated weight or aerobic training. It offers all the benefits of dance, and is a good alternative for boys.

What do your younger skaters do for off- ice training?

Oct 6, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Hey Xanboni fans! It's my third anniversary and I have a job for you!

Take a look back through the archives and post a link to your favorite post in the comments. In a couple of weeks, (when it looks like it's petered out) I'll do a thing on the comments and send the winner a Xanboni water bottle!

Thanks for a great three years!

Oct 4, 2012

Who should know what about IJS?

Ah, more alphabet soup.

IJS, or the International Skating Union Juding System, is the mind-bogglingly complex attempt of the ISU to standardize judging, following the Salt Lake scandal.

The unassailably positive motiviation behind the system was to create transparency-- while you don't know which judge is giving which marks, you can see in numbing detail exactly what the marks are for every single second of a program. I won't get into my opinion of the system (as one friend put it "math has stolen my sport").

Here's a sample "protocol" or judging sheet:

Behind all this is nearly 300 pages of rules, supplemented by endless tweaks and changes to those rules.


What does it all mean.

Well, I'm not going to tell you. What I am going to tell you is what you should learn, on your own, depending on who you are in the skating world.

Go crazy. Learn every single nuance of the system. Know it better than the most experienced international judge. Give the top Tech Specialist a run for his money. Follow every competition on "you be the judge" (a website that allows you to judge using IJS in real time). Be sure to tweet about how wrong the judges got it.

Competitive Coach
You need a post-doc level of understanding. Unfortunately, you're going to have to relearn it every year, because they change minute details of it on a rolling basis.

Class coach
Appear to know what you are talking about. Beyond that, thank your lucky stars if you have no students in competition and don't need to load down the gray matter with this stuff.

You need to know one thing: positive GOE.

Other than that, have a basic familiarity with the jump, spin, footwork and moves requirements for a program at your level and the next level up. Forget about where you've been--by the time you're a coach it will have completely changed (heck, by next year it will have completely changed). Know the terminology, and how it applies to your own programs. Know how to read a protocol (i.e. learn all the squiggles and abbreviations). But don't try to achieve a fan-level of intimacy with it. More important that you spend your time learning not to cheat that jump, than to be worrying about whether you've repeated a feature. (For instance, you should have been able to read this paragraph and know what I was talking about).

In the meantime, repeat after me: positive GOE, positive GOE, positive GOE.

Skater, redux
Know exactly why your competitors' scores are complete bull shit if they did better than you, and how the judges totally used the system to let them win.* If your scores are better, be able to point out how you and your coach worked with the system to create a win.

Have a solid understanding of how to read a protocol. Know enough to ask the coach about any downgrades or negative GOEs. (Actually, the coach would love it if you didn 't know this stuff, or ask about it, and I agree, but I know I can't stop you, so at least know what you're talking about.) DON'T, by all that is holy, offer advice--to the coach or the skater or god forbid the judges--on how to fix things.

Parents, redux
See Skater, redux

* this is very hard in IJS

Oct 1, 2012

Skating standards

I've worked with  a couple of great skating directors-- creative and engaged, supportive of the staff, nurturing with the kids, firm but understanding with parents. Heck, they put up with me,  'nuff said.

I've also known several who have told me that the PSA (Professional Skaters Association) is bullshit, and that they don't need continuing education because they already know what they are doing. I've observed programs where the kids demonstrably are not skating to the passing standard, whether USFS or ISI.  And I've heard complaints about programs where they do insist on the passing standards as being "too tough."

This week I attended a Nationwide Seminar sponsored by the PSA. These are seminars staged annually and semi-annually, where all of the coaches across the nation are getting the same curriculum, in a largely successful effort to standardize teaching and outcomes across many diverse markets.  Years ago, when I was a baby coach and first started attending these things and others like them sponsored by USFS and ISI, there would be maybe maybe 20 people there-- I got amazing one-on-one coaching instruction from some very well known skaters.

Then PSA got serious about coaching education, using both carrots and sticks to encourage and even compel attendance at these things. There were more than 80 people at yesterday's event.

The main presenter, Diane Miller, spoke eloquently about her coaching methods, and the importance of instilling proper technique early. I believe she was talking, however, about kids who have already made that leap into competitive skating (not necessarily elite skating, but just kids who skate a lot, and do the non-quals and regionals).

And she made a statement that brought me up sharply. She said that "only 2% of skaters will ever achieve a double axel."

Now, there are all sorts of barriers to the double axel, starting with it's really hard. There are competing activities that take away from the level of commitment it requires. There are cultural barriers regarding hard work and focus. There's cost.

But there is one really key barrier that might help kids overcome all the other ones, and that is competent, consistent coaching by knowledgeable coaches at the real developmental level, that is, in learn-to-skate classes at skating schools.

Now. I have not met all that many coaches who don't know how to teach a proper cross over or three turn (I've met some, but mostly we're all pretty good at these). Nevertheless, I see lots of coaches who don't insist on the standards. Maybe they're passing their own students, since they're going to be fixing stuff in privates anyway (don't ask). Maybe they don't care about kids who aren't their students. Maybe they don't care about any of the students. Maybe they're "cuting" the kid up because they don't want to stand up to the parent, or because they're trying to solicit that parent.

And often, the skating directors let them get away with this stuff.

I seldom see the skating directors at these PSA events. A lot of them aren't even members. After all, what's in it for them? The coaches all had to join finally because USFS muscled them-- join PSA or you can't register your students for tests or competitions. It worked-- nearly every coach I know is now a member of the PSA.

Why not do something like this with the skating directors? You want kids from your facility to be able to register for tests and competitions? Then you have to join the PSA and/or attend continuing education.

But I would not make these educational events the same ones that the coaches get. These would be geared to skating directors, and cover things like staff management, safety issues, ice scheduling, and skating school testing standards. Especially skating school testing standards.

There is a skating management certification called iAIM, run by the Ice Skating Institute, and from all reports its excellent, but it's expensive and is not required by any of the federations. It can't be, because it's expensive. You could, however, require continuing education outside the iAIM certification at lower cost, but carrying a penalty for noncompliance. It worked brilliantly for the coaches.

Skating School directors are probably the least represented and most hidden part of the skating equation-- you hear lots about parents, kids, judges, and coaches. But you never hear about the person guiding all these efforts and herding all these cats.

It's time for USFS and PSA to professionalize this aspect of the industry, and give support to skating directors while also compelling these individuals to acknowledge that they are part of a nationwide industry that needs enforceable standards. Nearly all coaches are required to join PSA at this time, and not joining is pretty much tantamount to saying "I'm never going to have a student advanced enough to test." Why not have this same standard for skating directors? Give skating directors the tools and backup they need to enforce basic skills standards, and keep kids in the sport.

And maybe we'd see more kids getting double axels.

Sep 22, 2012

The Ice Halo (repost)

I last posted this one year ago, but with skating season gearing up, I think it's important to talk again about safety equipment. Special bonus: Ice Halo will give Xanboni readers a 10% discount. Enter "Xanboni blog" in the comments section on the PayPal order form to take advantage of this!

I've been wearing the Ice Halo®, generously loaned me for review by the company, for a week (UPDATE- for a year, and now I have two) . I've been wearing it in all my classes, and did a brief moves practice with it.

I am sold. It's moderately distracting when you first step on the ice, but no more than is a new costume with fussy bits, and I think because the one I've been wearing is fur, that's what I'm seeing. After about 5 minutes you forget it's there. Lots of compliments, because, well, it's very attractive. People would tell me "love your hat" and I would get to say "it's actually a helmet!" Many oohs and aahs. It's a little warm, but I wore it as long as 4 hours at a stretch, and it would just get moderately sweaty; not to the point of distraction or discomfort. This might be different for an extended high-level practice; I would suggest that the company investigate developing a "competitors" version with better moisture wicking.

One of the best things about it is that even if it shifts (which it never did), it's a ring, so it doesn't affect vision no matter what part is forward, unlike a full helmet.

I tested it on as many different types of skaters as I could- "baby" competitors, LTS class and LTS privates, high level multiple rotation jumpers, adults, and coaches.

SF (7-years old, FS3 class) Loved it. Mom loved it. Skated an entire lesson, doing all warmups, moves, jumps and spins. Stayed in place, looked adorable. Class coach thought it was a hat, or possibly is too self-absorbed to actually notice stuff like this. Her private lesson coach was receptive.

SBM (6 years old, Gamma private) Also loved it, and, again, mother also loved it. This is a child who can be fussy and difficult, but she put it on and forgot it was there. It did not shift for the entire lesson. I'm her private coach, so I'm on board. If it comes in turquoise, that's a sale.

Coach Fashionista: gave it 3 seconds, for a 7 year old child in FS2. Not, "let's go around one time and then see", not "hey mom, what's the deal?" Just a completely closed mind. This is going to be the biggest hurdle for this company. I think a coach this closed-minded about it can have a huge effect-even if the parents are adamant about a child wearing head gear (even such innocuous and fashionable head gear as this), the parent is going to lose, because a child will not go against a coach on this. Further, once a coach has made such a fuss about it (the mother described her reaction as "vehement") it's over-that child will never wear safety equipment. I feel bad that the kid lost face over this.

Adult free style class: very resistant, despite the fact that one of them is the mother of a student and was fine with testing it on the child, and that I know this is a group of skaters who really trust me. But they had lots of reasons why it could not even be tested-- sloping forehead, no one else wears it, I don't like fake fur, it's hot, I'll look silly (this after complimenting me on it, so either I actually look silly, or they were just making noise).

SR (very skittish adult, class) Would not even try it, despite the fact that she is clearly terrified of falling. First she complained that it would mess up her hair (the lesson is at 8:30 at night--what, she's going clubbing after this?). Then she decided it would be distracting (mind you she hadn't put it on her head). Unfortunately, the adults were universally the most resistant to it, even though they are the group who would benefit most, as I would venture that far the majority of head injuries I have observed have been adults.

Giordano and Davis (2010 US National Juvenile Ice Dance Champions): After an initial period of distraction, just fine. As I suspected, they felt it was hot, which might be mitigated by using the microfleece. Angel felt she could not do a layback with it on, it didn't feel secure, so this would be a definite issue for a competitive lady. They liked the idea of using these just when bringing new lifts onto the ice.

GJ (5 years old, Delta private, that's her in the picture) 'nuff said. All the 4- and 5-year olds did this. Every. Single. One. Get a skateboard helmet for the really little ones. (NOT a bike helmet--you want a helmet that fits close to the head, with good peripheral visibility and no points, which can force the neck to snap forward.)

Nora (professional skater, my daughter) Like all the high level skaters, she thought it was fine, but couldn't imagine ever wearing it. She ran through spins, jumps and moves and had no problems with anything, including the layback, probably because she was wearing it a little lower on the back of her head. She liked the warmth.

Chelsea (Senior ladies competitor) ditto Nora. All the high skaters who tried it claimed that high level skaters don't need safety equipment, while then proceeding to tell me all the awful injuries they have either witnessed or experienced. Sigh.

Manol (Bulgarian Junior Men's Champion) Like all the boys, he immediately "tested" it, by diving full speed at the ice and banging his head. No apparent effect, but with Manol, a head injury might just look like business as usual.

Stitch (St. Lidwina's kid) liked it, but Coach apparently had an apoplexy over it. He immediately started banging his head against the boards (he's short) "to see if it works."

The Noisyboys really liked it, but were extremely distracted by it, not because it was innately distracting, but because they are very distractable (this could be a general problem with boys and some of the crazier girls; the novelty of it was the main attraction). They also had a predictable boy reaction--punching each other in the head, yes "to see if it works." On the whole, however, their verdict was "yes." They wanted a better fit, but of course I had limited options for them.

Currently, these seem best for recreational skaters, who unfortunately are the least likely to suffer head bangs, at least on a per capita basis. The company would do well do develop lines for rental facilities and ones that specifically address the needs of competitive skaters. For rentals there needs to be a way to overcome the no-hat-sharing problem (because of epidemic head lice in some parts of the continent), especially since these are primarily cloth. Perhaps removable, replaceable (or washable) liners or covers (that's an on-going revenue source too!), and/or a plastic fashion side?

The other difficult hurdle is the coaches. ALL of the older and most of the competitive coaches were not fans, ranging from skeptical to scoffing to actively hostile. The Russians all hated it, and I caught at least one making fun of me. For something like this to catch on, I think the clubs and federations (SkateCanada and USFS) would have to make it required equipment, starting at the lower levels. Nearly every youth sport that you can think of requires safety equipment, in particular head protection, but somehow in figure skating it's anathema (not "pretty " I guess).

So here's the tl;dr (too long, didn't read)--it's a great product. I think it should be required equipment, especially for adult beginners. Buy it.

I have not received any remuneration or promises from Ice Halo. They provided me with samples, one of which I kept for my own use, and they sent me a surprise pink fur one, because they found out I like pink (wonder what the first clue was).

Sep 16, 2012

Too much fun

From a reader:
My skater's coach wants her to spend more time practicing and less time socializing with her friends at the rink.  I've asked her coach to give me a set amount of time she should be practicing but he keeps it vague and says things like "a balance between work and play" "keep skating fun and progress" but then also thinks she shouldn't be able to stay and socialize if she hasn't done enough practicing.  I told my daughter that if her coach didn't think shed been practicing enough she wouldn't be able to stay for social time. She told me I was "ruining it for her". Any advice?
I tell a story about my daughter at practice ice one day. She and a couple of friends were having a spinning contest-- longest spin, most features, most creative, prettiest--and having a really good time doing it. A coach called her over to yell at for for "having too much fun. Skating is serious and if you're not taking it seriously you should leave." Being my daughter, she told him to take a flying leap.

Even elite skaters love skating. They do it because it's fun to skate, it's fun to be the best, it's fun to win. They wouldn't be doing it if it was a horrible slog that made them constantly miserable, with no social or emotional rewards. Work is important, and work ethic is important. But reward is important too.

Why are you at the rink?
Well, to skate, but there are lots of other reasons too. To avoid starting homework. To avoid being at home. To see your friends. However, I'm with that coach on this one. The reason you are at the rink is to skate. So that's the first priority, and blowing off skating is a reason to withhold the reward, in this case socializing. But it doesn't have to be punitive. More of an if-then proposition. If you goof off in class, or hang at the boards instead of practicing, then we go home straight after practice and no socializing today.

But your RUining it
(Imagine that 9-year-old whine). Tough love, baby. Mom's not ruining it. Skater is ruining it by not taking the skating seriously, so that she earns the downtime afterwards.

Social Pressure
Many skaters blame social pressure on the relentless socializing, clique-forming, and hanging-instead-of-working at the rink, so that girls also feel pressure NOT to work. Skaters who insist on taking the skating seriously at a recreational rink can develop a reputation for being snobbish or unfriendly. They feel pressure to not seem to above themselves by working too hard. Some coaches are really good at making the work part of the socializing, but if you've got a coach with a smaller program, or a different philosophy, they work needs to be rewarding. If you've got a skater whom you want to work, make sure the rewards are clear and immediate. Don't yank her out of the rink the second she's done, don't monopolize her time while you're there. Let her have her social time.

You are not the coach
The hardest part of getting the skater onto the rink is that the coach is out there, and the kid is hanging in the lobby wasting time. Coach is most likely not going to get off the rink to track down your skater. But you can also not assume the role of the coach. So be the parent. If your skater is dillydallying, rather than continually demanding they get on the ice (coach's role), just pick up their stuff, and say, hey if you're not going to skate, let's go home. Remember--the socializing is the reward for the skating.

Make the skating social
Goofing off or socializing during class or lesson of course is verboten, and earns the removal of the reward. Practice is another thing. While skaters do need to focus on their own skating during practice, you and the coach can probably come up with a system that allows the skating and the socializing to blend sometimes. Maybe one practice session a week is on my daughter's model--the girls were working (on spins) but had come up with a way to make this fun and social. That other coach was first, a putz, and second unprofessional (because he wasn't their coach, and they weren't interfering with anyone's ability to skate). So choose a session a week, and let the girls direct their own practice; no coach or parent interference. The only proscription is no hanging on the boards to talk.

Like the last suggestion, this one requires some cross-parental and -coach coordination. See if the culprits can do an off-ice or conditioning class together. This adds work+socializing as well.

Yes, take class. A lot of higher level skaters stop taking classes because they think they're too good, or the coach is a snob about it, but class is another place where there are many more opportunities to both work and hang out. Higher level skaters don't need to be taking skills-based classes, so look for specialty classes like Jump Workshop, Moves, Ice Dance, Choreography, or whatever your rink offers.

What have you or your skater done to keep the fun in figure skating? How do you balance work and socializing?

Sep 6, 2012

Back from vacation

Watching kids get back on the ice after a long, hot, skating-free summer gives you a whole new perspective on the concept of "slip 'n' slide."

For the elite, competitive kids, it's simple, because in fact summer isn't vacation time. Quite the opposite. Summer is preseason and one of the busiest training periods of the year. A lot of serious, competitive kids, but not in the elite or near-elite ranks, also spent a good part of the summer training several hours a day. But even they may have taken the last couple of weeks, or even month, before school on family vacation, or just hanging out in the sun.

And the "class" kids? The class kids have completely forgotten where the ice rink is.

This is not to say they don't want to skate again. Now that school has started, it's a place to hang with friends, and a fun thing to do after school. They're starting to remember about the Christmas ice shows for which you have to be enrolled. Their new best friend at school skates too, and now they want to skate together.

So off they go to class, and it's slip 'n' slide time, for the kid who had just about figured out crossovers. What to do.

Skate at your level
Did your skater barely pass Alpha and then stop skating for two and a half months? Take Alpha again. It won't kill her, and it'll be a good lesson in retaining knowledge, and the work that entails. There's nothing worse than a supposed Beta class full of Alpha skaters who can no longer hold a one foot glide, and their parents, standing in the door and complaining that "he already learned crossovers LAST year."

Skate at your level, part two
Did your skater not pass Alpha, but since she took it, you decide you're just going to pass her on your own? Please don't do this. It's unfair to the skater, the coach, and everyone else in the class. Skate at your level. I promise on my solemn honor that taking Alpha twice (or three times, or four), will not affect her ability to get into Harvard.

If you're going to wimp out and have Princess move up a level because she stomps her little feet, or her best friend is in the more advanced class, or the time is more convenient, or you like the coach (what excuses have I missed) you need to start going to the rink just to skate. After school, on the weekends, on your days off, if you have any. Doesn't have to be a lesson, and she doesn't have to "practice." Just get her back on the ice, a lot.

If your skater really did pass that level, and you really think she'll be fine in the more advanced class, don't leave it to chance. Do lessons for a month, or a couple a week for a couple of weeks. Tell the coach that you are doing this specifically to make sure she's ready for the class you want her to take.

Freestyle skaters who are not in serious training (serious training = 10+ hours per week, where even during your down time you're skating a couple times a week), have a special obligation, because jumping is dangerous when you're not in shape or in practice. If you're a serious, but not competitively training skater, then you need not only to follow the advice above, you also need to get back into shape. Even when you're spending a month at the beach, you need to continue your off-ice regimen of strength, cardio and off-ice jumping. Otherwise you're going to be learning that axel all over again.

Don't forget the practical stuff
Make sure the skates still fit, and that the blades are clean, sharp and rust-free. Ditto the skating clothes. Scrounge up the gloves, the leggings, and the skating jacket, and put them in a skating bag so it's always ready. (Please don't send your skater to class outfitted for Everest. It's not that cold in a rink.) If you're going to spend a lot of time at the rink, see if there are any available lockers so you don't have to haul the skates around. Renew the annual pass for public ice. Renew your Basic Skills or ISI membership.

I guess I should have posted this 2 weeks ago, but I was too busy wringing the last of the summer out of the slip 'n' slide.

Aug 23, 2012

"It wasn't a fit"

How many coaches has your skater had in the last 5 years?  If it's more than about 3, and the changes weren't forced by external circumstances (somebody moved, or quit for instance), then you might be a coach hopper.

Here are some of the excuses reasons people give for coach hopping.

Not really a serious skater
A lot of kids start private lessons for help passing a level, or nailing a specific element. Then, when they have that element, they quit the lessons. Next time they need specific help, they get amnesia, completely forgetting the coach they worked with before. Coaches hate this. At least let the former coach know that you're going to work with someone else. Then when the inevitable "I thought Suzy was your kid?" question comes along, they're not caught blindsides.

"It wasn't a fit"
This is the number one reason given by coaches and parents when they can't give the real reason. The translation is (if coach says it), "that mother is a nightmare." If the parent says it "we realized that coach was not the fashionable one." Seriously, though, sometimes it really isn't a fit for numerous reasons-- schedule (see below), personality, cost, differing expectations. Of course, if it's one of these, just say so. Otherwise people will assume one of the first reasons. (Better yet, if asked, just say "we decided to make a change." If pressed, continue to say this, for which the translation is "it's none of your business.")

UPDATE: There are a lot of replies in the comments suggesting that ALL reasons fit under this excuse, including gross unprofessionalism including habitual tardiness, inappropriate attitude ("being mean"), emotional abuse ("you're stupid, you're fat), and financial shenanigans (short lessons, full price). Folks, when coaches act like this it is everyone's business. There is absolutely no reason to hide behind social lies when there is a legitimate consumer reason for the split. If you were habitually overcharged at a store, or yelled at by the clerks, would you tell people you don't go there because "it wasn't a fit?"

This is a tough one. In a market like mine, schedule is a non-reason. There is so much ice that you will be able to find the time. Plus, I've often had parents tell me the schedule won't work, just to see them with the new coach on the exact ice I offered.  In smaller markets, schedule (which includes necessary travel time) does sometimes necessitate a change in coaches. However, you cannot blame the schedule if your idea of scheduling is "we can have a lesson during this single 30-minute window and are not flexible on this." If that is the case, you're not looking for a coach, you're looking for a babysitter.

For competitive students, all other things being equal, it makes no sense to change a coach who has been successful with your skater (as measured not by wins, but by accomplishment, skill increase, and personal best scores).  If you're skater's doing well, but you switch anyway,  then you're a "it wasn't a fit" parent.

Number one reason people drop in and out. See "not a serious skater" about which coach to go back to.

Competitive skaters
If you're making your ambitious skater switch coaches every 6 months or more, you are destroying your skater's career. For one thing, strong competitive coaching relationships take years to build. For another, different coaches have different, usually equally acceptable techniques and practice protocols. You will lose a season every time you switch. Further, if you're showing up at the non-quals in late summer with Coach Success, then turning up at Regionals with Coach Whosit, but then at Nationals with Coach Fashionable, the judges are just going to roll their eyes and move on, unless you're really blowing them out of the water. Which if you switch coaches like this, you won't.

Finally, to zero in on the serious side of this issue:

If this is your reason for switching coaches, for god's sake tell the skating director, or if you don't trust the skating director, then tell your doctor, and be prepared to back it up with documentation (names, dates, places).  Involve the skater in this decision. Abuse includes inappropriate touching, questionable language, insistence on excessive dieting, and emotional abuse.

The downside of constantly switching coaches is that people stop taking the skater seriously. One of the most common sights at the rink is the talented 17 or 18 year old who has never made it out of the preliminary rounds at Regionals but has decided to put off college to give it one more shot, with her 8th coach. We all shake our heads and blame the parents.

I'm not saying never switch coaches. My daughter had 4 coaches in her 11 years of semi-competitive skating. Her first coach moved to Florida. Her second coach quit to run her family's business. She developed a serious personal dislike for the third one, for reasons which did not become clear until years later. She still works with her last coach (going on 10 years).

Do the math. Are you a coach hopper? What's your excuse?

Aug 15, 2012

Ice time

If there's one common refrain at every rink I've ever skated at it's "Why doesn't [my skating discipline] get more ice?"
Hockey thinks Freestyle is a waste of valuable ice ("there are only 25 kids out there-- why isn't this hockey ice? We'd have 10 kids on the ice at a time, at a discounted price! Uh, wait...")

Freestyle thinks hockey gets free ice ("They schedule ice that they never use! We  should make that dance ice, which would have at least 4 people on it! Maybe. Unless we decide to do off-ice that day.")

Beginner coaches think the freestyle skaters mentally paint targets on the tots. ("They have more ice than anyone! Maybe they could have one session a week without high level kids? And it needs to be the most premium ice right after school. Except I don't need it until after soccer ends. But please reserve it.")
The truth is there isn't enough ice in a typical rink. Private rinks are going to go for the biggest bang for the buck, which is usually hockey because it's cost effective to schedule, even though it's less lucrative on a per-skater basis. Training rinks are going to want enough freestyle ice at premium times to attract high level skaters. Skating schools need practice ice during or after class sessions, to maximize use. Everyone needs public, because that's where most of your new customers come from.

Don't even get me started on the bastard child of skating programs, in other words, Synchro.

The truth is, that rinks need to allocate ice for the best return on investment--how can they maximize use and retain customers? This means that tournament ice needs to be reserved, even if the home team bombs out in the quarter finals, so that the big game never happens. The freestyle skaters need extra ice before the big competitions. Classes and public are cash cows-- you can fit a lot of paying customers onto class ice (as noted above, hockey's going to have 10 kids on the ice, and maybe 20 kids on the boards; freestyle tops out around 30. Classes or public might have 200. Do the math.)

If you're in a small market, you're stuck with the schedule at one or two rinks. If you're in a big market like Chicago, where there are 50 rinks in a 25 mile radius, stop complaining, and start driving.

You can make the schedule at your home rink work, or you can find ice that fits your schedule.

What you can't do is change the equation.

How do you deal with less than optimum scheduling at your home rink?

Aug 11, 2012

Conflict in class

There's nothing like a mean little girl and a clueless coach to bring out the Tiger Mom in all of us.  Especially if the mean girl's mom is blaming your blameless angel (ahem). Directly. As in, yelling at her without involving you.

Kids in skating classes can get into it, especially where the class is run by the less engaged and experienced, or more clueless and uncaring coach. One mother writes:
A mother yelled at my 5-year old after a class, while I was elsewhere. When I challenged her about it, she claimed my daughter was mean (the kids had been jostling each other to secure their favorite spots). My daughter claims the mom physically grabbed her to stop her leaving the ice, and yelled at her (daughter was crying, and didn't understand what the problem was.
She went on to ask what she should do-- talk to the mother? The coach? The Skating Director? Switch classes?

My first reaction was "yank her from the class" but on consideration I think that no one really learns anything from this tactic. First, unless you are in the room, you don't actually know what happened. It could have been entirely misconstrued by the offending mother, or she might be way overprotective. It's hard to really know which child is at fault if you don't witness it yourself (whatever "at fault" means in a young child, I mean, kids are mean to each all the time and survive).

This being said, it's never okay to discipline someone else's child (unless you're the coach!)

So here are some actions to consider:

First, if two kids are going at each other repeatedly in class, think about setting up a play date. It seems counter intuitive, but these kids are already aware of each other. So make the kids friends. If the mother objects, tell her it's so that they aren't mean to each other any more.

Talk to the coach privately. Ask her if she knows what happened. Tell her the other mother's story (that the kids were fighting in class-- leave off whose fault it was). Express concern that the kids are not being disciplined for unacceptable behavior in class and ask the coach to be alert. Tell her you don't want to change classes, but will have to go to the skating director to request that if the situation doesn't improve. Leave out personal opinions about the other mother's parenting, psychology, and irrelevant externals like race or income.

Don't confront the mother, but don't leave the rink for a second during class, especially at the beginning and end of class. This is especially imporant with very young children in beginning classes. If your child is 6-7 or younger, you need to be watching. (NOT standing in the door. Just be in the stands, or at the observation window. You can pee after class.)

If your child's nemesis continues to be a problem, or the offending mother continues her assaults, let the coach know that you are reporting the mother's behavior (NOT the coach's behavior) to the Skating Director, and asking that your daughter be placed in a different class.

This will take a few weeks to cycle through, but I think is a solution that offers a better long term outcome--the coach is alerted to the problem, the mother is on notice that her behavior is unacceptable, and maybe the kids become friends.

How have you dealt with conflict in class?

Aug 3, 2012

How does the parent plan for the lesson?

Skaters in individual lessons actually have two teachers-- the coach, and the parent.

But the parent's job has very little to do with the skating. The worst thing you can do as a parent is to ever talk about technical skills. Your job is greasing the skids, whether it's getting the kid to practice, mediating coaching disputes, or, yes, paying the bills.

Not that I was this sort of parent, but the best way you can help your skater is on the sly.

By this I don't mean sneak around the skater's back, exactly. (Okay, there's a little bit of sneaking around his back.)  I mean create an environment that rewards good skating behavior.

The schedule
Your skater needs to own her schedule, but kids think about this minute, not the next minute, and tomorrow never comes. Twelve hours ahead of the lesson, ask about the lesson. Very innocently, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth-- "when's your next practice/lesson, honey?" For after school skaters, you're asking this in the morning over breakfast. For early morning skaters, you're asking at dinner, or bedtime. Make the kid think about it.

A great idea is to have a calendar on the fridge with nothing but skating on it, so the skater can go check. Tie a bright red sharpie to the calendar, so she can put an X through the practice or lesson once it's done. Put the calendar in a public and accessible place, not the skaters room. The message is "we all support/make space for this" and "it's easy to keep track of."

The idea is to make sure the skater has the schedule in his or her head. You don't want to say "don't forget you have to skate in the morning." Very confrontational, and implying that without you the skater will forget. (This may be true, but don't rub it in.) Ask "when is your practice/lesson?" or ask what they'll be working on, or bring up the new dress or tights (if appropriate).

Speaking of tights
It drives me absolutely insane to see parents 1- rifling through the skater's bag, and 2-complaining about it.  The skater's bag is her personal space at a rink. Serious skaters in particular live their lives in public. They can't practice by themselves, eat by themselves, cry by themselves or even dress by themselves. Give them that small bit of privacy, and let them rifle through their own bags. Of course, since we're being sneaky here, this does not mean you have to always be going to the rink with only one glove.  Give the skater 10 extra minutes (I know that's hard) to go through the bag before you leave the house. Tape a checklist onto the top, or laminate one and hang it off the handle.  Make it part of the bedtime ritual--"check your skating bag!"

And if she forgets her tights, or her gloves or her practice journal? Let her figure it out at the rink. If you're always rescuing her (or him), you're not teaching self-reliance, a crucial skill for a skater. Believe it or not, they can find a solution to the missing tights--other skaters, lost and found, the costume room, or the tights that they in fact know are stashed under the back seat of the car, which you didn't know about.

Everyone is overbooked. But late-for-lessons is THE number one complaint I hear from coaches. Especially when the parents then expect the coach to do the full lesson anyway. Not going to happen. You don't pay for 30 minutes. You pay for a time slot. It's only 30 minutes if you're there at the start of it. If your lesson is 3:30 to 4:00 and you're not on the ice until 3:45, that doesn't mean you get a lesson until 4:15, because someone else has the 4:00 time slot. It also doesn't mean the coach only charges you for 15 minutes.

But you know all that. And you're always late anyway. Which stresses out everyone.

And here's the solution-- Do. Not. Schedule. Lessons...if there is even a chance that you're going to have trouble getting there. Not a morning person? Please don't schedule 6 a.m. lessons. School gets out at 3:15? 3:45 lesson is NOT going to happen unless the school is next door. And you know it. It's like a diet. Don't set an impossible goal, however noble it is.

Post hoc, propter hoc, ad hoc
We're talking about the lesson review. Don't talk about what happened in the lesson. Not after, not before, not about. You can ask "did you have fun" "did you learn anything new" "is there anything I need to ask Coach about." You cannot make the child preview the practice "what are you going to work on today." You can make sure the practice journal is on the bag checklist. You cannot (cannot cannot) make the child talk about the lesson, the practice, the competition on the ride home. Ask any former student athlete the thing they hated most about growing up as an athlete and the ride home Monday morning quarterbacking tops the list. Never do this. It's that private space again--let the kid own it.

But I need to know stuff
Ask the coach. Better yet, ask the coach if she has "office hours" when you can call or sit down, without the child present. Use email. Don't try to get the low down just before or just after the lesson. Chances are the coach has another student and won't be able to give you the attention you want (or deserve). If your skater is right there you won't be able to be as honest, or if you are honest, you're embarrassing the skater.

What are your best tips for sneaky parenting?

Jul 14, 2012

Talking to yourself

Self talk--by which I mean tin-foil hat, pretend there's someone at the other end of the cell phone, outloud crazy person talking to yourself while you're practicing--is one of the most effective practice tools at your disposal, and if you don't mind the weird looks, it's free.

One thing at a time
Just as the trick to coaching is often finding the root problem, you need to find out what is that you want to remind yourself to do. Let's take beginning three turns-- there's a lot going on in a really short amount of time, so you can't say, at the start "okay I'm going to push and then up there at the top of the arc (wait, how will I know where that is?) I'm going to rotate and then when I'm backwards I'll check, and I know my arms belong somewhere and if they're wrong then the turn is a spin? or I'll fall? something? and then I'll glide."  Class is over by the time you get all the way through this. Think about the skill-- push, glide, rotate, check, glide. You have plenty of time to say, and do, each of these things in order.

Complex skills
Of course, if you're running a program, or jumping axels, or doing combination spins, you cannot possibly pick out each thing you need to think about. So you need to focus on one or two key items-- do you rush your jumps? Then your self-talk word might be "wait." Do you bobble the landing? Say "strong." This is where you need a pair of outside eyes to spot the point at which you need to talk to yourself. If you watch certain skaters you can actually see them talking to themselves.

Keep it Simple, Stupid works brilliantly here. Say one thing, say that same thing every time you are in the same situation. Your self-talk won't help you if what you end up saying is "what was I supposed to be telling myself here?"

Stay positive
Self talk can also be self-destructive. If you tell yourself, "crap I always fall on the double sal" then you will always fall on the double sal. Self talk helps you set up expectations-- it can be specific instructions related to the skill but it can also be a pep talk. What it can't be is a recitation of mistakes or fears.

Say it
Eventually, you'll train yourself to do the self-talk to yourself. But when you're teaching yourself this skill, do it out loud. You'll look a little weird, but on the other hand, if everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing, no one will be paying attention to you. By saying it aloud you can keep it confined--your thoughts are much more likely to wander than a verbal command.

Have you used self-talk? Does your or your skater's coach teach this technique?

Jul 5, 2012

Do I have to test, aGAIN?

I never skated as a child.  In highschool, we used to "skate" on the cornfield across the street from our house, but this was less skating than it was picking your way between the corn stalks.

I skated in college through about Freestyle 3 or 4 (we didn't call it that then but I was working on loops and backspins, so I guess that's what it was).

And then I didn't skate for 17 years.

As have many of the people who write to me about returning to skating, I got back most of the old skills, and then some. (I'll never try a loop again. Lost my nerve.) When I started skating again I had weird deficits-- back crossovers were as strong as ever, but I couldn't do the forward ones to save my life. Those I had to relearn.

When I skated as a young woman, I never knew about USFSA (as it was then), there literally was no ISI, and I had no clue about tests whatsoever, because no one ever mentioned them to us. We just moved from skill to skill. So I started testing from scratch, as an adult.

Many skaters, however, come back to skating having racked up the tests, and want to know if those tests still "count."

Short answer-- yes.  It's like your college degree. Doesn't matter if you got a degree in art and are now a salesperson. You still get to brag about the art degree. But first you have to prove you have the credential.

If you have an old ISI test, and can prove it (i.e. you have the paperwork), you're good to go at that level. However, until a few years ago when they went digital, ISI was farily notorious for its poor record-keeping, and it was hard to get proof of older credentials. I know several people who had to retest because ISI did not have their records (or the rink had never processed it).

If you want to compete now at a lower level than what you tested as a child or teen, you're in luck with ISI. Adult skaters over 21 years old can fill out an "Affidavit for Test Level" review and once approved, their test level can be lowered for what they can now accomplish.  The skater or coach can request the form from the ISI office.

For USFS you always compete at your tested level, but they are Kind To Adults. There are several permutations that equal various levels of testing, and they divide by age where they have enough enrollment, as well as doing mixed levels. USFS is also less stringent on required elements than ISI for many events. See this post to learn more about adult competition levels.

Are you a returning adult skater? How close to your childhood level are you skating?

Jun 29, 2012

Coach? Xan

Joanne Schneider-Farris is usin' fightin' words, by trying to draw a distinction among the various levels of "commitment" to skating professionals. While she uses the terms "coach," "pro," "instructor," and "teacher," the gist of the article seems to be that you're only a "coach" if you are a serious, full-time skating professional with competitive students.

Everyone else is "just" a teacher.

I have fought this attitude throughout my career as, yes, a skating coach.

Painting with a broad brush, Joanne's definition does not take into account the coach's own motivations, the constraints of the market she's in, or the nature of the students she is best with.

I see what she's getting at-- just being on the ice with students doesn't make you a "coach" with all the connotations of that word. But she then goes on to define the term with almost purely mechanical definitions, and by defining out anyone who doesn't have competitive students.

I did fine on two of her bullet points:
"A Figure Skating Coach Does More Than Just Teach:
• A figure skating coach is more than just a teacher: he or she is a figure skater's mentor, guide, and role model.
• A successful figure skating coach will draw figure skaters to a rink or a figure skating club".
but then, oops!
"Figure skating coaches teach lessons and manage figure skaters' lifestyles and training".
I leave their lifestyle and training alone. This is because I don't teach competitive skaters. I take beginners, special needs, and other kids that a lot of coaches turn up their noses at, especially the "coaches" (by Joanne's definition). I turn them into skaters. I can always see that moment when suddenly I'm not just that adult skater who thought she could teach figure skating. It's when Coach World Famous suddenly notices that the awkward little boy whom he wouldn't have slowed for at a stop sign looks like a skater. And starts offering me tips in the middle of my lesson.

But he's a "mentor, guide, and role model" who "draws skaters to a rink." And also "tampers with an existing coaching relationship" otherwise known as "poaching students."

So how about ethics? Do you get to call yourself a coach if you violate one of the most basic tenets of the profession? I guess so, because Joanne doesn't mention it.

Nor is there a word about credentials, which I consider the marker between a weekend teacher and a committed coach. PSA ratings and ISI judge credentials is the first thing I ask any coach about. An ethical coach takes the continuing education. That Gold at Sectionals in 1994 is great and all, and I honor you for it, but it's time to move on and get some current credentials.

Then there's this one:
"Skating Instructors and Teachers Give Group and Private Ice Skating Lessons [implied 'but'] These people may or may not also take on the skating coach role. "
Oops. That's me again, and lots of other really great coaches that I know. She goes on to talk about 5 a.m. lessons, traveling to competitions, managing the training, and yes, even what they charge. (But no guidance for us mere "teachers" on what we can charge.)

And then there's the real killer:
A Skating Instructor Can Teach Part-Time, But a Skating Coach Must Teach Full-Time:
Nail in the coffin. I do this part time. Of course I work in a market where only the most competitive coaches with the wealthiest students have a prayer of making a full time living at this, but that's just my bad luck. I don't get to call myself a coach. I'm just a teacher.

Fine. I'll wear it proudly. I'm a teacher, who has changed the lives of countless children through my love, skill, commitment and support of the sport. I guess I'll have to stop my students now when they call me, as they affectionately do, "Coach Xan."

Jun 27, 2012

Afraid to fall

Well, I could be snarky and tell you "get over it."

But in fact, it's perfectly rational. Falling hurts. And it's scary. Sadly, it's going to happen. You're tightrope walking on a slippery surface, after all.

In my experience, however, falling is scariest in the anticipation. Once you slip, it's in the hands of fate. What you need to do, then, is learn how to fall, and more importantly, how to overcome the fear.

The first, and most important thing, is to fall. 
I teach this the same way at both ends of the age spectrum--toddlers and adults, who tend to be the most fearful of falling. Sit down, stand up. Sit down, stand up. Sit down, stand up. You get the idea. You want that ice surface to be your friend. If you're skating with a young child, have a race-- who can get down and then back up the fastest (always let the little guy win). Pretty soon, the kids will be throwing themselves to the ice and scrambling back up and having a blast at it.

Or not
Adults are really really afraid of falling. And they have good reason to be. Most of the injuries I've seen in non-competitive skaters are adults. They fall poorly, and it's a long way down. They come in with more physical deficits, even the healthy ones. So go with that. With most adults, I leave them in their comfort zone, or just barely over it. (The comfort zone of course is a moving target. Once they get comfortable somewhere, you push the bar ever so slightly.)

If you're really not going to let yourself fall deliberately, you have to do everything else the coach says. My favorite skating mantra is that doing the scary, counter-intuitive thing (bend your knee, lean into the edge, turn your shoulders not your hips) makes you safer. If you fight the design parameters of the equipment you are more likely to fall.

Learn how to fall well
Tuck and roll. You want to hit the soft tissue, not the hard stuff. This means chin to chest, hands to tummy, curl your back, hip to the ice. It's better to fall in motion rather than from standing because a lot of the energy will go into the slide instead of your kneecap. Never ever catch yourself on your hand. Whatever position you are in, roll over when you hit the ice. You can practice this.

Do the scary thing
For adults this might mean crossovers. For kids, it's the jumping. The less you practice a skill, the more likely you are to fall when doing it. But don't attempt skills you're not trained for. If you're just learning a loop, you shouldn't be playing around with axels. If you're unsteady on a one-foot glide, what until it's solid before trying crossovers.

Safety equipment
All beginning adults should wear wrist guards. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of head protection, in particular the Ice Halo®, basically a "stealth" helmet that just looks like a really attractive hat. Don't wear bulky kneepads--they make you stand funny and get in the way. A simple sleeve with a soft pad over the kneecap is plenty. If you're in hockey skates, especially beginners, you should have a hockey helmet.

Adults are allowed to cry (sort of). Children are not (sort of). As a coach, I need to know when a child is injured and when they're just scared. If I treat every fall like an ambulance-worthy injury, I'm helping to create the fear. If your child falls, observe her for a moment; she's probably watching you for cues-- "am I hurt?" I have a "no crying on the ice" rule-- you can't cry until you step off, then it's okay. If a student cries despite the no crying rule, I know they're hurt.

Adults need to suck it up. If you pretend you're hurt worse than you are in order to save face, I have to go with that. But you're just reinforcing your own fear if you do this. Accept the level of injury--if it's just to your pride, move on. By the end of the lesson, no one will even remember that you fell.

Try a different type of skating
Some people can't get past the fear. But that doesn't mean don't skate. It really just means don't jump. There's still hockey (nice, padded hockey), ice dance, figures, speed skating and moves. There's also just skating-- come to public and skate around. I am exasperated by people who take lessons and then refuse to learn things because they're scared. If you don't want to learn new things, don't waste everyone's time with lessons. Taking lessons implies a desire to learn new stuff. Just come and skate for fun.

I want to go to Nationals, but I'm afraid of falling
Yes, I have had people say this to me. It is a nonsense statement. If you're afraid of falling to the extent that you can't train, you have zero chance as a competitive skater. If you're a competitive skater, or even just going for the tests, You Will Fall. The vast majority of experienced skaters fall well. Training makes falling safer.

It's like anything. If you practice it a lot, you get good at it.