Jan 31, 2012

The kids who need us

I just started working for a skating program for special needs kids; two classes with about 10 kids in each one. There are several teen volunteers, 2 off-ice program "leaders" and me as officially the Program Assistant; in practice the on-ice program leader.

I've had many special needs kids in regular classes, sometimes with an aide, and sometimes just dropped into the class. Most of them have been variously developmentally delayed, or ADD and ADHD, but also several autistic students, my dyspraxic student Miss E (who still reigns as my all-time favorite student), Downs students, developmentally delayed, and cerebral palsy. They've all been in the regular classes, however. This new venture is an all-special needs program.

Currently the class is something of a free-for-all. There is no structure; not necessarily a bad thing. The kids are having a lot of fun, but I think they're being sold a little short.  There are only three who I think would really not be able to get anything out of a mainstream class. Being in this environment, however, is somewhat antithetical to structured learning.

The thing with special needs kids is, well, they're kids. They're individuals, and you need to reach every individual on his or her own terms. Some of the participants have really high barriers to really learning skating skills, starting with simply understanding that there's more to skating than gliding around.

But many many more of them are perfectly well capable of learning intermediate and advanced skills, with some extra understanding and outreach. And you reach them the way you reach any kid.

Just skate
I'm a big proponent of "just skating." It's the best way to bridge the gap from new to structured learning.  With these kids, though, just skating is too much of a metaphor for what their lives might be--going around in circles and never getting anywhere.

One-on-one instruction
All of the participants in this class get a personal aid in the form of a youth volunteer. These girls (and one boy) are pretty gifted at this, and they're doing something challenging and even scary with a lot of compassion and joy. But they're focused on undirected playing. It's something to talk to the program designers about--what is the mission of this class? Is it essentially a safe public skate for these kids, or are they supposed to be learning skills, or is it a combination? It would be interesting to have a lesson plan for each child.

Game-based learning
Singing songs, imitation, challenges. Just as these work with mainstream kids, they can work and sometimes work even better with these kids.

Mainstream with aide
Many of the children in this class could thrive in mainstream classes, especially with an aide, which most municipalities will now provide for the asking if your child has a special needs diagnosis. And I think for many of these kids, the structure would be helpful.

Mainstream on your own
For the specific individuals in these classes, mainstreaming without an aide would be problematic. But several of them could get there, if they were learning, not just to have fun on the ice, but to take instruction, and to get joy from learning more advanced skills.

Do you know any special needs skaters? What method helped them?

Jan 28, 2012

How sexy is too sexy?

I'd like to introduce Jenny Hall, writer of the Ice Charades  blog, and one of the people who was really supportive of me when I started blogging. Jenny was a show skater (hey IS a show skater--once a show skater always a show skater or so my daughter says) and wrote the popular (and funny) novel Ice Charades. For any of you that have or are a skater thinking of going into an ice show, you may want to stop by her blog once in a while. She wants a caveat on that, though, "most of my musings on ice show life are anecdotal and decades old, but it's a start."

Jenny brings up an important issue, especially obvious this week, with some very suggestive skating from some very young skaters at U.S. Nationals.
So here's my theory ... I got to thinking about it because my 8 yr old is starting to recognize the term “sexy.” She knows that this is something not for kids and she is asking about it. Living in Germany, we are probably faced with this more than other places. On the train for example, on our morning commute to school, someone will be reading an article in the financial section of how the euro's going to implode, with a naked model suggestively posing next to it. Women sunbathe topless in the park near our apartment, while kids up to 8 yrs old swim naked in the river (when it is warm, which it almost never is, which is why we see them naked, rather than being up to their necks in the water.) And of course, there's the infamous Reeperbahn Street on our way into town that is filled with clubs and bars with the word “sexy” adorning them. Right by the Beatles Museum we went to.

I didn't think this would happen until the teenage years, but I bet I'm way off on that. And I'm wondering how to deal with this. My theory is that because I performed to quasi-sexy songs (think Chicago's “All That Jazz”) it welcomes my daughter into the quasi-sexy performance aspect (she takes dance classes). Remember the You Tube video that went around and people were upset by the little 6-8 year old darlings dancing to Beyonce's “Single Ladies” rather suggestively? Gotta say, I was impressed with those high kicks, but I wonder, what's their behavior off the dance floor like? Did dancing to songs help or hinder their attitude?

A performance is just a performance, right?  Or was I just too much of a band nerd that I couldn't have been promiscuous if I tried.

Has anyone else had that experience with their skating son or daughter? Where do you draw the line on "adult content" in skating programs?

Jan 26, 2012

Repost: skating terms tutorial

I'm a hard case, so I've already been watching Nationals on Ice Network all week-- yes, I sit through Novice Pattern Dance. But for the more casual fans, here's a brief guide to skating terms.  Also see my post on understanding the commentators.

Here's the original terminology post, from February 2010:

As always, every four years, everyone's talking about figure skating. I won't even dignify the "it can't be a sport because sequins" haterz. Icemom said it pretty well already anyway.

This was the first games I watched with the world, so to speak, via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and the SM links on the Olympic site. And it was quite a revelation. I spend my days around figure skaters, former figure skaters, parents of figure skaters and people who work at skating rinks.

We all know a LOT about figure skating.

What I didn't know is that other figure skating fans don't know a lot about figure skating. I always figured that if you're a fan you know the difference between a lutz, a loop, a toe loop and a flip. I figured you could tell when a spin is slow, or when a skater has superior edge quality.

But if Twitter is any guide, this is not the case. People are utterly mystified by the scoring because they really don't think of it as sport-- they think of it as art, and everyone knows, as the old joke says that with art, you don't have to understand it, you just have to know what you like. And people LIKE Patrick Chan. They liked some of the also-rans who scored low.

So here's a quick tutorial. You can really train yourself to spot these subtleties, and it will help you understand that, yes, it's a sport.

There are 8 basic jumps, in order of difficulty- Salchow, Toe Walley, Toe Loop, Loop, Walley, Flip, Axel, Lutz. We've started seeing single walleys again, in footwork and leading into Flips, because it increases the difficulty. It's a funny choppy little jump against the direction of the edge. I haven't seen a toe walley in decades, so don't worry about them. Skaters love it when performers do walleys, and the announcers will go crazy if someone does one.

Edge jumps lift off the gliding edge. Toe assisted jumps use the toe of the free leg as a vault. On an inside edge the skater's upper body will be facing into the circle he or she is on. On an outside edge the skaters body will be facing out of the circle he's on.

All jumps described for counter-clockwise skaters (only 1 in 15 or so skaters are cw, Alissa Czisny being one). For CCW, same edge, other foot.

Salchow is an edge jump off a left back inside edge. Toe Loop: toe assisted jump off right back outside edge (RBO). Loop, edge jump RBO. Flip, toe assisted LBInside. A footwork sequence into a flip is a required element in singles skating. Actual back flips ala Michael Weiss, Surya Bonaly and Scott Hamilton are illegal (and I once saw someone faceplant out of a back flip, so I'm with them on this one). Axel, edge jump with forward take off, LFO edge (everyone recognizes this one because of the dramatic forward launch). Lutz, toe assist, LBO. Lutz is a "counter jump," that is it changes rotational direction at the launch. The edge traces a clockwise circle, but the jump rotates CCW. Lutz is the jump with the long entry edge. When you hear someone talking about "telegraphing" a jump, this is the most common jump they're thinking of.

It matters if the skater takes off on the correct edge, because it changes the difficulty of the jump. It matters if the jump is underrotated. It's not a triple if it doesn't go around 3 times, just like a touchdown doesn't count if it doesn't cross the goal line, no matter how long the run or the pass was, or how elegant the player.

If you get good at watching, you can tell what jump is coming up by the skater's body language and positions. One of the wonderful things about YuNa Kim is that you cannot tell what jump she is going to do, in fact sometimes you can't even tell that she is setting up for a jump. Kwan had this ability as well; it's one of the things that makes their skating look so "easy."

A jump combination is two or more jumps in a row with no connecting steps. A jump sequence is any number of jumps with connecting steps between any of them. The little half and whole rotation hops that skaters do don't get points for jumping, but are counted as footwork and transition.

Edge quality
Edge quality refers to the skater's control of their blade. Someone with good edge quality skates with minimal snowy curves, no ankle wobble or stuttering, and steady-as-a-rock upper body. You can really see this on the ladies' spiral sequences. Good edge quality also gives you clean turns and steps (no scraping sound). Edge quality is the defining skill of a high level skater. You don't get the big jumps without the edge quality. As I like to tell my little skaters, my 90-year-old granny can jump, but she can't hold a back outside edge all the way around a face-off circle on a single push.

Quickie on spins
There are three basic spin positions: upright, camel, sit. Upright inludes those leg stretchers, and Biellmans (the upright backbend). That hideous spin where the skater bends at the waist FORWARDS and grabs a foot (butt is now sticking up in the air) is actually an upright spin, as is a layback. The camel is the one in the arabesque position. Skaters wave their arms around and keep changing the g*ddam position because the scoring system gives them points for multiple "features" i.e. waving their arms around and changing positions. UPDATE: Since I first wrote this a "feature" has been added to allow skaters to maintain a spin position for 8 rotations and get extra points for doing so.

The other disciplines
Pairs skating is mostly singles skills with the addition of lifts and throws, which makes you wonder why so many failed singles skaters switch to pairs. Man, if you can't do the singles, you're not going suddenly be a genius at pairs.

Ice dance focuses on partnering and edge quality. UPDATE: It used to be the most demanding from a training standpoint, because dancers had to master four programs a year-- 2 compulsories, a short program (the Original Dance) and a long program (the Free Dance). Now it's just Short Dance and Free Dance at the Junior and Senior levels, although Juv, Intermediate and Novice still have to do the pattern dances. The ISU chooses which compulsories will be skated; everyone trains the same ones. Don't get me started on how Code of Points has ruined ice dancing, we'll be here all night.

Jan 22, 2012

How about a contest?

UPDATE: EXTENDED DEADLINE! Submit your slogan or design by January 27!

I've been trying to think of something to do for US Nats. I was thinking about setting up a give- away for each event, and contact a bunch of merchants for swag, but wow, lotta work. Maybe next year.

So how about a contest? Come up with a skating design or slogan for a tshirt (or other product) for the Xanboni CafePress store, like this one submitted by Why Me, St. Lidwina.  All submissions will be published on Xanboni, unless you ask otherwise! The winners of course will get the item, which will be featured in the store, and will get 50% of profits on sales (likely 50¢ per item, so don't plan your retirement yet).

Winner will be announced during the medal ceremony for the Ladies Singles Event at the US Figure Skating Championships, which I think is around 6PT, 4CT, 3ET on January 28 (details are still a little sketchy. Ice Network has us on a need-to-know basis).

Here's the rules:
1. Send a pdf of your design to coachxan@xanboni.com by 5 p.m. January 27 (extended). I'll tweet and blog and Facebook the submissions during Nationals.

2. Three winners: Best Design for a kid's product, judges' fave, popular fave. Watch the blog for the popular faves poll during Nationals.

2. You must include complete contact information including name, mailing address, and phone.  This information will be discarded once the contest is complete.

3. Design can be graphics or text. The Xanboni logo will be added to the final product unless already included in the submission design. Designs cannot incorporate commercial logos, names of established organizations, trademarks or trademarked phrases, or inappropriate images or language (and I get to decide what is inappropriate).  Quotes are acceptable, as they fall under "fair use" rules.

4. Design can be on any figure skating topic--free skate, figures, show, pairs, dance, moms, coaches, whatever!

5. Winner retains the copyright to any graphic image submitted, and grants Xanboni to use it for 1 year.

6. Judges will be me,  Why Me, St. Lidwina (aka @rinksidedamned), Jenny Hall of Ice Charades (FB) (Also-- buy the book!), and Josette Plank of Halushki and Josette's Awesome Figure Skating Group.

6. Product will stay on the store for one year, or longer if it's popular (store is wildly successful. I've sold 3 whole items).

7. You can't enter if you're related to me, but you can enter if you know me. Nobody works for me, so no worries on that front! Oh, except my designer, so, sorry Chris, you don't get to enter. But I'll plug your blog for you to make up for it!

8. Link, and repost, and all that stuff!

I strongly encourage everyone to suck up to the judges by subscribing to and commenting on their blogs.

Have fun! Can't wait to see everyone's ideas!

Jan 18, 2012

Stop SOPA and PIPA

Just taking a break for an uncharacteristically political statement (since I can't figure out how to actually make the site go dark).

I want to help to raise awareness of two bills in congress: H.R.3261 "Stop Online Piracy Act" and S.968 "PROTECT IP", which could radically change the landscape of the Internet. These bills provide overly broad mechanisms for enforcement of copyright which would restrict innovation and threaten the existence of websites with user-submitted content, such as all those great skating videos you love to watch, or even videos of your own kids, skating to copyrighted music. (Thanks reddit for the content, most of which I stole verbatim)

Please take today as a day of focus and action to learn about these destructive bills and do what you can to prevent them from becoming reality.

Make a call.

Sign the petition.

Thanks.  Come back tomorrow to learn about helmets!


Jan 16, 2012

What to wear

With the new (and always biggest) skating class session starting this week, the "what were they thinking" outfits are showing up. Here's some don'ts and how to fix them:

Tots in competition garb
I know grandma got Princess the sparkly dress for Christmas, but since it has spaghetti straps and a super short skirt, Princess is going to be Ice Princess, as in frozen solid. Let her wear the dress, with a long sleeved shirt and a heavy sweater, plus AT LEAST sweatpants, or better yet snow pants if she's under the age of 6. Pull the skirt out of the pants a little bit so everyone can admire the sparkles.

Even little beginners who can stand up and glide are going to spend a lot of time sitting on the ice, because we teach falling down a LOT in beginner classes, partially for safety, partially for skill, and partially to take away the fear of falling. If your kid's butt is frozen every time she falls, you're working at odds to her enjoyment of skating. Pretty clothes will not motivate a child to skate. Having fun in class will motivate her, and if she's cold, she's not having fun.

Ready for the NHL
While grandma was getting Princess ready for the Olympics, apparently grandpa got Stanley Cup fever, and outfitted Junior in full armor. Here's the deal--unless the skater (boy or girl) is in a "full equipment" hockey class (and in some beginner classes it's optional, so ask the coach), the only parts of the gear s/he should be wearing is the helmet and the gloves, and I'm on the fence about the gloves.

And, no, you cannot bring your stick to class.

Cleavage? What cleavage?

I'm not all that crazy about the cleavage at the Golden Globes. I should not be seeing it on a 14 year old in skating class. For pity's sake, get dressed. And, mom? Please introduce your child to the concept of the "sports bra" because the bouncing isn't all that attractive either, and I can't say anything without losing my job. Also don't want to be seeing any belly-buttons, tramp stamps, or god help me, butt cleavage.

Junior coach
If you are a junior coach or a volunteer coach, then you are a coach and should dress the part. This means a coat, preferably one that fits properly, and coaching pants, either insulated ski-type pants or yoga pants--no jeans, baggy pajamas, or rips. You should also be wearing gloves, or at least mitts (fingerless gloves, so you can write if you need to.) Dress like a professional.

Some general guidelines
All skaters need clothes that breath (i.e. nothing made of that parachute cloth stuff), that you can move in,  that doesn't obscure vision, and that fits properly. It's mid November (northern US) in an ice rink: 24º or 28º right at the ice surface, and 45º to 50º three feet up. It's just not that cold out there, so you don't need 2 snow suits (yes, I had a tot once where we couldn't figure out why he couldn't move. Turns out his folks had put him in TWO nested snow suits.) Snow pants are fine on very young children, but no one needs a parka, which are almost always 4 sizes too big, and are way too warm.

For beginner and recreational skaters a good rule of thumb is three layers on top and two on the bottom-- so a tshirt or camy, a long sleeve* cotton shirt and a heavy sweater or sweatshirt (no hood), or athletic jacket. On the bottom two pairs of heavy skating tights and a skirt, or one pair of tights with long pants.  Freestyle skaters, with the single admonition of modesty, are going to know what's comfortable for them.

Careful with yoga pants, which have wide bells that can catch blades. Pants in general should just hit the floor, or about an inch above, in bare feet. Pants that puddle in bare feet are going to be dangerously long on the ice. They also need to be mid-rise or hi-rise, because low rise pants create cleavage at the other end. As I've said before, you would not believe the number of children's butts I have had the misfortune to see. (Just don't even get me started on the concept of low rise pants on people with no hips, but that's a different blog.)

If your child is skating in class, s/he should be wearing gloves. Not giant padded mittens, but just those stretchy things. Padded mittens come off, and they are MUCH too warm. Don't get really fuzzy ones, which can stick to rough ice. Gloves are not so much for warmth (as I've said, it's not that cold), but for safety and comfort. Kids who fall with no gloves will often refuse to attempt to get up on their own because they don't want to put their hands down on the ice. If they do, they run the risk of another child running them over with a blade, which will cut them. It happens all the time. Gloves don't stop this from hurting, but do stop the injury. Just tell your child it's a rule. Children respect rules.

Your best guide to dressing properly is not aesthetics, it's common sense. Dress for November, and think about hazards you're likely to encounter on the ice.
* Shameless self-promotion. Don't forget about the contest! Think of a t-shirt slogan or design and send me an email!  Details here: http://tinyurl.com/XanboniContest

Jan 14, 2012

Back on the ice

First, I have to do the Adult Whine.

"Two broken ankles! Broken toe! Haven't "skated" in four years! So much weight gain!"

Okay, got that out of my system.

Seriously it wasn't that bad. First day I could not do A-NY-THING. Moving mohawks? Not gunna happen. Left three turn? Nope- no alignment over my left side. (I actually knew this, it's a result of not doing the physical therapy after the bad ankle sprain last year.) Spirals? Yeh. Power warm up? Pant, pant, pant.

But second day out it went quite well. Instructor was someone I taught with for two years, who didn't remember me (because I'm so forgettable? I love 20somethings), which was actually good, because then I just looked to her like a decent adult skater, instead of "she coaches????"

I think much harder even than the actual skills is the feeling, as an adult onset skater (or any athletic pursuit) that you're making a fool of yourself. Another coach who is an adult skater told me that she never skates anymore because she's afraid her less than optimal skating will be judged (and she has, or had, an axel!) When she wants to skate, she goes way out of her way so that no one knows her. I know the feeling.

I watch skating so much, I know so much about it, and am so often on the ice, that I sometimes forget what I cannot do. It's in my brain; I know exactly the body position needed, but somehow cannot make my body do that. The muscle memory and old joints fight the knowledge base, with a little help from the old fear factor.

Last week, after the first session, I wasn't sweaty and the next day I wasn't sore. Yesterday I broke a sweat, and this morning I'm pretty stiff, which means I put some effort into it. And lo and behold, when I didn't hold back, I skated better.

The young coach, at whom I rolled my eyes a bit when I saw her, was actually good with adults--knew when to stay out of it, and when to step in. She kept the class just at the edge of slightly too hard, so you pushed yourself without feeling incompetent, and knew how to adjust the various moves for the many different levels of competence present.

We'll see how long I can keep this up. I'd like, I need, both for my teaching and my self esteem, to be as good as I used to be. Maybe there's a Bronze test in my future after all.

Skating moms--don't worry, I'll get back to writing about kids pretty soon! Thanks for indulging me with the adult stuff this month!

Jan 7, 2012

All this work and you still suck, maybe you need a new coach.

Or maybe not.

But something isn't working. How do you figure out what it is?

The single biggest reason that skaters don't improve is that they don't do what the coach is telling them to do. With kids this will be about skating more, and using practice time effectively. With adults and older teens who are "stuck" it's even more basic; these skaters are often afraid to do motions that the coach is asking for-- it feels wrong (you want me to turn my shoulders how?) and they always have excuses (here are some of the ones I myself used yesterday-- "I was injured, I used to be able to do that, I haven't skated in a class in years, I've never been able to do that, I'm afraid").

While there are many good reasons to switch coaches, your own lack of progress is seldom one of them (although not never, read on!). Here are some things to do when faced with this situation:

Listen to the coach
If the coach is telling you that you need to do A to get to B, then you Have To Do A. This means if she says "more speed or you won't be able to do this skill" believe it. If she says your hip isn't open enough, then your hip isn't open enough. You cannot blame the coach for your lack of progress if you're refusing to do the basics that lead to that skill.

Listening to the coach will also help you understand if the problem is that the coach is not listening to you. If you are having trouble with a specific skill, and all the coach keeps saying is "lift your free hip" over and over, then there are two things going on: first, you're not lifting your free hip, but second, the coach is not giving you the information you need to understand what that means. A coach who's trying to help you get the skill will find multiple ways to say the same thing. A coach who has written you off, or checked out, will just say the same thing over and over.

Do what the coach is asking, even when the coach isn't there
This might mean writing down the coach's criticism, word for word.

Practice with a friend
You'll tend to skate better if you feel like you're a little on the spot.

Ask the coach why you aren't progressing
My guess is the coach will look at you like you're crazy, because you probably are progressing more than you think you are. But if you feel this way, the coach deserves to know. Maybe because you've been holding back, he's been holding back. Maybe he's been focusing too much on a skill that's difficult for you, out of both his own and your frustration with the skill. Talking to him about it may help him find a new way to teach it, or may help him think of something to teach you that you'll pick up quickly and build your confidence.

Take video of your lessons and practices
You'll notice two things-- you look terrible, and you look great. First, video always demonstrates that you don't look the way you think you look. You aren't 19 anymore. But you'll also see that in fact you're doing the skills that you think you can't do. It will also help you see what the coach sees. In three months, tape the same moves again. Compare them; have you actually progressed after all?

Parents--ask for progress reports
Ask the coach for a regular time to talk about your skater when there's no time pressure, and the skater can't hear you. Use your judgment as to whether to share the content or even the existence of these conversations with your skater.

For girls who stop progressing
Do some unannounced drop ins on the coaching sessions. I hate to say it, but girls will respond to inappropriate touching, suggestive language, bullying, or emotional abuse by withdrawing emotionally.  I would like to emphasize that it might not be the coach, even if the coach is the one getting the brunt of the reaction. It might be others in the skating "family"-- monitors, other skaters, even other coaches, the management. Bullying was an enormous problem at the Ice Rink of the Damned while my daughter was growing up there. I also feel very strongly that if a child says that they don't want to skate with Coach A anymore, you should listen. No point in paying a coach that your child dislikes.

So now you've concluded that it isn't, or isn't entirely the coach's fault. I'd give it another 4 months before making a change. Let the coach know that you're frustrated (or your skater is frustrated), but you want to make it work. Get "specialty" lessons in the problem skill from a second coach which the primary coach recommends. If after four months of honest effort on both parts, then maybe make a change, with the original coach's help. I cannot be the only coach who places her students when they want to change.

Here's "St. Lidwina" on reasons not to leave a coach.

Have you ever "saved" a coaching relationship?

Jan 6, 2012

Figure skating and homeschooling

Well, I've never done this before, but this is just so brilliant, I have to send you to someone else's blog:

So which is it--is home schooling good for figure skaters, or is figure skating good for home schoolers?

Jan 1, 2012

My skating goals for 2012

I won't call them "resolutions" although I suppose that's what they are, but here's what I want to do this year. The first one never made it onto the list, because it happened already. I'll be working as the main on-ice coach for North Suburban Special Recreation, in their "SPICE" program (Special People's ICe skating Experience). I'm very excited about this opportunity--it's tailor-made for my skills and interests. Here's what else is (with hope) happening in 2012:

Launch the upgraded site on WordPress
Target date January 15, but it depends on my designer, whose computer blew up about a month ago; she just got back up and running this week. They two sites will exist side-by-side for about a month, and then we'll switch over to WordPress entirely.

Register Xanboni as a USFS Basic Skills program
I'm not part of a skating school anymore but I'd still like to give my students, most of whom also don't skate within an established program, all the bells and whistles, and most importantly the stickers offered by this program, as well being able to do the tests for them. (And yes, regular readers will know that I like ISI better, but they won't let me register unless I'm an entire facility. And while my hips are wider than I'd like, I'm not quite that big yet.)

Keep Xanboni Homeschoolers going
My home school program filled right up, and I've got nearly everyone re-upped for the first session of 2012. I had two classes for the first endeavor; my hope for this is to fill 4 classes. I also need a summer home, as our current rink closes at the end of May.

Start Xanboni Adults
If you've ever sent me an email, and you're in Chicago, watch your in-box for a survey about the best way to do this. Either daytime at an indoor rink or Sunday afternoon outside!

I've signed up to take a class with my old friend Liz. It's been four years and 2 broken bones since I last really skated, so this should be, um, interesting.

I've cheated a little bit, because all of these things are in progress.  Thanks for a GREAT 2nd year of Xanboni.

Let me know what you're doing in 2012, and keep those post ideas coming!