Feb 27, 2012

Star Power

My daughter and I went and saw her student skate in an exhibition for the Starlights Synchro team yesterday. On the way we made all the jokes about Synchro--the girls who can't skate, the less-than-svelte body types, the long dresses, the cult-like devotion to matching polar fleece.

But there's something about Synchro.

First of all, the place was packed. When you've got 7 teams of 16 to 24 people, you do the math. Every time you have an exhibition, you're going to have at least 300 people there, between the parents, and the grandparents, and the siblings and the coaches. You never see singles exhibitions with anything like this kind of turnout.

And no one left.

Okay, we left. We had another obligation that we had to get to.

One of the things that really bothers me with some skating exhibitions, is that parents come, watch their kid, and then they're out the door. There's no sense that it's a team, that one skater should support another. By the end of a singles exhibition at a local program, there will be 14 people in the stands. It's just sad.

These people all stayed. They had each team skate twice, so if you wanted to see your skater, you had to stick around. Further, and more importantly, it's really understood that it's a team. You stay and support your teammates.

Even with the inevitable spills and mishaps, everyone came on and off the ice smiling. They looked like they were having a blast. Someone on the Juvenile team made a joke, and they all burst out laughing, and kept that energy throughout the entire adorable number.

In my opinion, synchronized skating is going to save figure skating in this country. It's going to keep kids in the sport who might otherwise leave--the heavy girls, the non-jumpers,  the ones without the financial resources or access to coaches that might get them to the big show in singles, let along pairs or dance. A lot more universities are starting to support Synchro teams, meaning that these kids don't have to give up their lifelong passion when they go to college anymore.

Now if they would just make it an NCAA sport, so that universities would start offering scholarships (no, there are no "skating scholarships" right now, sorry.)

The Startlights are on their way to Nationals.  Watch them and all the teams live on Ice Network this week February 29  through 3. 

Now where's my team scarf....

Feb 23, 2012

Snotty skater girls

You can always pick out the skaters with the future.

It's not the ones with the speed, or even the ones with the jumps.

It's the ones with the attitude.

Except it's not actually "attitude" in the pejorative sense. The actually snotty, mean ones generally don't go far because eventually they're snotty and mean (or their mothers are) to the Club president or a judge or a coach and it's all over.  They don't get the marks, or the prime ice, or the assignments. Their coaches get pressure and start to phase them out.

The attitude I'm talking about is something much simpler.

It's posture.

That's right, posture, like your grandmother and your first grade teacher used to insist one. Shoulders back, spine straight, nose in the air posture. My daughter still regrets that she didn't work on her posture as a skater, because it not only looks better, it helps your technique. It's a key reason that skating coaches always tell you to take ballet.

My old Polish coach used to say it this way: "geyt yur hyed over yur naik" ("Get your head over your neck". You have to say it with a Polish accent or it doesn't work.)

I call it "snotty skater girl" and I use it starting in Alpha class. Every single child in the class knows exactly what I mean. I say "snotty skater girl" and everyone immediately sticks their nose in the air and stands up straight.

Try it.

What simple or silly phrase have you, or your coach, come up with that makes you skate better?

Feb 20, 2012

How do you get heard at a skating rink?

Here are some complaints I encounter from frustrated moms:
  • No information on the bulletin boards
  • Too much information in show and class packets, written in impenetrable "rinkese"
  • Dismissive responses to questions.
  • No responses to questions.
  • No one tells you anything UNLESS you ask questions, but what if you don't know what question to ask?
  • The class teacher is never available to talk.
  • They don't do things the way I would do things.
I strongly encourage people to make their complaints and frustrations known (not only in skating, but at school, work, wherever), although there are problems with that. First, most people (you included) will circle the wagons in response to complaints. People get defensive when confronted, especially if they also feel powerless. Second, it's a rare organization where the culture, let alone individuals, are immediately responsive to customer complaints. It takes a kind of training, top-down attitude, and staffing levels that are often simply out of reach at municipal and volunteer-run organizations. Third, most organizations are not very transparent, making it truly difficult to help customers understand why things are done in a certain way.

Here's some things you can do:
Always ask. If you don't understand something, ask. Persist in your question until you're satisfied. It will help if you blame yourself. Not "you don't provide information," but rather "I don't understand, please explain again."

Find information in other places. Look on line, ask moms, ask employees, check out the library. There is so much information available now, that accepting an unresponsive staff person as the last word is actually kind of irresponsible.

Read the information that IS available. I hear a lot of complaints about the dense packets of information provided, but in fact, this information is provided. Don't go all "tl:dr" (too long; didn't read) and then complain when you don't know what's going on. Read the packet. Save the packet.

Ask key people when and how they are available. Don't get mad because the skating teacher can't deal with your complaint in the 5 minutes (if that) between classes, or if the skating director can't talk to you during Saturday morning classes, the most crowded session of the week. Ask, "when can I call you", or ask for a business card and email them. Be more responsive to their needs, and they'll be more responsive to yours.

Remember that while you are the customer and therefore the most important part of any retail equation, you are not the only part of it. The object of a strong retail operation like a skating school is to make the most people happy, to get the best profit, and to grow the program as well as you can. Everyone is not going to be happy all the time, and sometimes this is going to be you.

If most of what you need is getting addressed, then that program is worth fighting for.

For more on how to affect change in your program:
Getting things to change

Feb 19, 2012

Championship? Masters? What?

One of the great things about adult competitions, whether ISI or USFS, is that anyone can compete. These events are very inclusive by statute and culture, and from all reports are marvelously affirming for everyone who attends and competes.

I'm very excited because USFS Adult Nationals are in Chicagoland this year, so I'm going to get to attend some events, including a couple of events that friends of mine are skating in.

There are about 90,000 ways to qualify for skating in an event, starting with "take a test, sign a form, pay your money."  But even so, there is some prestige attached to these, and many former high-level competitors skate in Adult Nationals. (You cannot skate the same event in both standard qualifying events and Adult. That is, if you skate Men's Singles at Sectionals, you cannot skate it at Adult Nationals or Sectionals).

If you win, you get your picture in USFS Magazine.

At US qualifying events, there are many levels, but only one track. That is, you skate your test level, Juvenile through Senior, but everyone with a Juvenile test skates the same overall event. At Adult Nationals there are three "tracks" in which to compete: 

"Metal" levels (sic, my word)- gold silver bronze
 Skaters competing Gold, Silver, or Bronze have passed Adult track tests at that level, and did not attempt to "qualify" by competing at a Sectionals competition. In other words, anyone can sign up and compete in these levels.

Masters levels (Intermediate, Novice, Junior, Senior)
These skaters have passed standard track tests either as an adult or as an "amateur" skater (i.e. child). It's a little confusing, because whereas you cannot compete Adult Nationals in the Masters level under the age of 21 (a new rule; it used to be 25), I believe that there actually is not an upper age limit to competing in USFS qualifying competitions and Championships at the Senior level.

What these skaters have not done is "qualify" for Nationals through Adult Sectionals. Again, you takes your test, you pays your money, you skates your program.

Championship levels
There are Championship levels in both the metal track and the Masters track (again, just a designation as to which track--standard or adult--you took your tests at). The difference is that the Championship skaters have qualified through Adult Sectionals, and only the podium from the six Sectional competitions gets to skate these.  It's simply a way to select out the highest quality skaters. And they are pretty damn good. You get triples and one-armed press lifts in the Championship Masters at the Junior/Senior level at Adult Nationals.

So you're not actually qualifying for Adult Nats; anyone can skate if they've got the qualifying test. You're specifically qualifying for this level.

There are TONS of events at Adult Nationals, as there are in ISI Nationals--light entertainment, solo dance, open dance, singles, pairs, dramatic skate, et cetera.  This is to keep it open to as many types of skaters as possible-- even if you don't have the jumps, you can still compete, and compete well and entertainingly, at your competence.

Again, with inclusiveness as a goal, events are also segregated by age, with five age categories, essentially twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, fortysomethings, fiftyohgodmyknees, and sixty plus. Championship events are not age segregated.

In other words, they give out lots and lots of medals at Adult Nationals. If you're in the Chicago area, check it out. Adult Nationals will be at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville April 10 to 14.

Feb 15, 2012

Get it in writing

I make all my students sign a contract. Okay, call it a "coach's disclosure statement"

It includes my coaching rates, ice charges, admonition to practice, schedule vagaries, cancellation policy, lesson rules (like late arrival), and a statement about changing coaches.  It has a liability waiver, for what it's worth. It has contact information for both parties, and the skater's birthday.

I get a copy signed by the parent or adult student at the first lesson. They get a copy to keep.

A second page talks about decorum, parent do's and don'ts, proper attire, competition, and other FAQs.

Such a contract is highly recommended by the PSA, and yet I know for sure of only 3 coaches who do this. I am the ONLY non-competitive coach I know who does this. When I first starting teaching, I asked some more experienced coaches if I could take a look at their contracts so I would have a model. Most of them didn't use a contract; several actively disdained the idea (and used it to add to the myth that I didn't know what I was doing). The ones who had one refused to share it, because it was "proprietary." (At which point I simply went to the parents and asked them if I could take a look. And they showed me. Really, coaches can be such idiots.) I'm guessing that some of the coaches who told me they don't do contracts actually do, but didn't want anyone to know, for some reason that I can't fathom.

All elite coaches (those with Nationals-bound students, generally) have contracts with their high level students. Contract disputes have been behind some famous coach-skater break ups. It's been speculated that a contract dispute is what split Michelle Kwan from Frank Carroll, and possibly cost her the Olympic gold.

Of course, I'm not trying to get a percentage of your future earnings, as I'm pretty sure there won't be any, at least not from skating (not if I'm your coach, anyway, lol). I'm just trying to make it clear to everyone what the deal is.

The coach seems like your friend. She loves your child. She's a gas to talk to.

But this is a professional relationship.  If your coach doesn't have a contract, at least ask her for her rules in writing. If she won't do it in writing, sit down with her, and ask about them and you write it down: fee structure and billing practices, arrival policy, coaching change policy, missed lesson policy, make-up lesson policy, skating attire policy, competition policy, music policy.  Believe me, every coach has a policy for these things, whether they know it or not.

If they tell you "don't worry about it," insist. If they refuse to let you know how they deal with these things, find another coach. (This is not the same as a coach who hasn't thought about it-- many young coaches won't have realized how important this is. That means you can be the one to help a young coach develop her policies.)

Does your coach have a written contract? How did you feel about it? What are some good points in the contract?

Feb 14, 2012

We have a winner!

You may recall I promised a t-shirt!

The winner is "AMS"- your prize is a "That Mom" t-shirt, except I think you're a guy, so if you'd rather, you can get a water bottle or tote bag (comparable cost to me) or I can generate you a regular t-shirt with the Xanboni logo.

I chose the winner by listing all commenters to the blog during Four Continents, except "Anonymous" (just make something up folks. I can't track or identify you.) and using the widget at random.org to generate a winner.

AMS, send your shipping information to coachxan@xanboni.com, choice of  t-shirt, bag or bottle, and t shirt size. Congratulations!

Readers, I'll do these contests from time to time, and may add twitter followers as well, so keep watching and commenting!

Feb 12, 2012

Check out the new pages!

You may have noticed, first, that there's a menu line under the logo now, and second, that some things seem to have disappeared from the sidebar.

This is because in this new and improved Blogger interface, I can now add multiple pages to the blog.

So that's what I've done. You'll now see the following:

"Skate with Xan"  where you can find my schedule, classes, and rates.
"Resources" links to great blogs, skating information sites and other cool stuff
"Products" my Cafe Press link, plus other vendors that I promote (for love, not for money. This is an unmonetized blog, for my sins)

Let me know if there's a product or site that YOU like and I'll add them to the page!

Feb 11, 2012

Whose music is it anyway?

Speaking of policies, when I was still taking kids to competition, I had very clear requirements for music.

I get to choose it.

Yes, I got arguments, but I nipped them in the bud with the ole economic hammer. If you use music from my library, no charge. If you insist on your own music, I must do the edit (okay, my musician husband must do the edit) at a charge of $35 to $50 depending on the complexity of the edit.

Everyone used our music (we have a library of several dozen, at all levels, due to the skating daughter).

Because our music was chosen by a grownup for the most part, and because of the superior editing, it was highly coveted. I know this because I would often walk into the rink and hear DD's music. I'd think, weird, I didn't think she was skating to that anymore. 

Lo and behold, it was someone else, whose coach or parent had snagged the CD and pirated it.

A reader emailed me about a similar situation, in which she worked long and hard to edit music, and discovered someone from her rink had copied it. She believes that the parents were charged an editing fee. She can prove it's hers, because she's got the original copy. She wrote asking what to do about it--talk to the Club president? the family involved? her coach? the other coach? She doesn't really care that the student is using the music, but is annoyed that she did all the work, and the coach charged the parents as though it was his.

Most rinks just have a basket of CDs on the counter; kids don't retrieve them after every practice. Some have everyone's music in MP3 files now. It's easy to pick up someone else's CD. If a CD is missing, the owner just thinks it's "lost" (of course, if your music is the one that's constantly being "lost" you start to get suspicious). But even if you religiously retrieve your music at the rink, it can be copied by the monitor right there in the booth, or uploaded to a player.  It can be picked up at any competition by anyone--it's usually just laying on a table (very few competitions make you sign for your music when you pick  it up.)

It violates professional courtesy to deliberately use a rink mate's music, let alone their edit, without their knowledge or permission, especially if both skaters are competing in the same level. Taking someone's property without their knowledge or permission (i.e. "borrowing" the CD to copy it) is theft. Period. And it's not like the injured party isn't going to notice. I still hear DD's cuts of Claire du Lune, Danse Macabre, and West Side Story, and the really distinctive blend of Take Five/A La Turk that was her Senior long,  at her old rink.

Sadly, while this is nasty and unprofessional, it isn't illegal. You cannot copyright, i.e. "own" an edit of someone else's music. (This came up at the Ice Rink of the Damned, when someone used their copy of the ice show music and the music guy went ballistic because "he owns that edit." Sorry, no. The royalty, if it's still under copyright, goes to the composer no matter what the edit is, via the rink's blanket license with ASCAP and BMI). And if it's public domain? Nobody "owns" it. To be upright, they should have asked the rink's permission. If the rink has a policy about not using show music for personal use, it should be in writing.)

As for competitive skating, well, if you're on Twitter, I'm the originator of the #bannedforeverlist. The top five offenders? Requiem for a Dream, Tosca, Carmen, and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber but especially Les Miz and Phantom.

The stupid thing is that all those people who are using DD's music? I would gladly have just given it to them if they'd asked.

How do you choose your music? Does your coach have veto power? Do you have a personal #bannedforeverlist?

Feb 8, 2012

When should you say something? (and a prize)

We've all witnessed it:

The mom standing in the door, "coaching"
The mom pushing her kid to finish her ISI tests, so she can compete at US Nationals (true story)
The new skater who wears her tights OVER her spanky pants
The beginner tot in the freestyle blades
The beginner in "we found them in granny's garage" four sizes too big and with blades so rusty they're black

And then there's the bad behavior: The mom screaming at, or worse, hitting her skater because of an error, or getting off the ice early, or losing her guards, or whatever; the monitor who breaks the rules for her kids, or her coach's other students; the overheard conversation of a coach telling some clueless mom a pack of myths and lies; the dad explaining that "only girls figure skate; men play hockey."

It's an enormous social gaffe in our culture to "get involved" but it's painful to watch especially newbies to the sport having to figure all this stuff out for themselves, or to have to tolerate bad behavior, knowing that these idiots are modeling this behavior for our children, or knowing that they're being fed a line of hooey.

I can't tell you how many comments I've gotten on this blog that start "I wish someone had told me...." I've said it often myself. It was one of the reasons I started the blog. 

The problem is, that the classy moms, the ones from whom you'd get really good information, stay out it, while the evil moms feed you horse hockey ("Coach Mine only works with the best students, and if you're not with Coach Mine, clearly he doesn't think you're up to snuff", or like the coach I overheard telling her very very talented student that ISI tests were the way to get to USFS Nationals.)

And I confess, I don't have the solution. I see a lot of well-meaning mothers offering bad advice, like  Mom A with an advanced little one (skater about 7, working on PreJuv test) telling a beginner 7 year old's Mom B that she needed to get "good" skates, rather than the perfectly acceptable beginner skates that she already had. She then showed her the freestyle blade, explaining that this was a "proper" figure skate. And yes, I stepped in, and yes, I got reprimanded for it–by Mom A's coach. (!! She claimed I was trying to solicit that skater, rather than that I was trying to correct misinformation. My guess is Coach had sent Mom A, in fact, to solicit Mom B.)

So this is the minefield we're all skating through.

A coach hearing another coach lie to skaters has literally no recourse. If you say something to the coach, they can make your life miserable; if you say something to the mom, you're tampering. You can't file a grievance with the PSA unless a child is in risk of harm, or the situation directly affects you. Otherwise they'll just laugh you out of court.

A mom on the skate-tying thread was thankful for a more experienced mother stepping in over aging out of mom's help, but another mother would have been offended (as in fact, several people in that thread clearly were, and I'm not even confronting them directly!).

So I'll open it up to you–what advice do you wish you'd gotten from a trustworthy mom? Did you ever get unsolicited advice that you needed, or had someone step in to help? Have you been the victim of bad information, or had an intercession that annoyed you? Tell us your stories.

Oh, did I say prize?  On Valentine's Day I'll select from the comments using the widget at random.org. Winner will get a "Yes I'm THAT Mom" t-shirt (designed by @rinksidedamned from Why Me, St. Lidwina).

Feb 4, 2012

Mommy, will you tie my skates?

As I was taking my skates off today, I was sitting next to a mom and her 5 or 6 year old son putting on skates.  He asked to try tying them himself, so mom talked him through both ways of tying--end over end and "bunny ears."  After about 6 or 7 minutes, the boy asked his mom to finish them so he wouldn't miss any class (you could see the other kids starting to enter the ice).

This mom had it together. One of the hardest things to do is sit there while the child struggles with tying his or her skates, knowing that s/he's doing it wrong–too loose, too slow–while the money you spent for him/her to be on the ice is tick-tick-ticking away.

At skating camp, where the kids come on and off the ice several times over the course of 3 or 4 hours, and the moms aren't there, it can take 40 minutes to get skates on all the kids. It's maddening.

A reader asked me how old a child should be before you make them tie their own skates, after observing what appeared to be teenagers sitting while their moms tied their skates for them.  (One wonders how far they take the personal services for these kids, if you know what I mean.) Here's my guidelines (oh, you knew I had guidelines for this.)

When can a kid really handle tying their skates?

Younger than 8, kids often don't have the strength or coordination to tie up complex footgear like a figure or hockey skate, although I've seen kids as young as 5 handle this. A further impediment is added by the fact that street shoes no longer require tying; even if they have laces they are often permanently laced and the kids just slip them on. It is then further complicated by harried moms and overscheduling--the kids get to the rink with just enough time to run into class. It feels really wrong to miss ice because your child is trying to learn how to tie skates, and moms start feeling very pressured as the lobby empties out.

How old is too old?

Seriously, this child needs to learn to tie shoes. If s/he's really struggling, make her tie them with the promise that if they feel wrong, you will retie them. But let the kid tie her own skates. This is such a minimum level of self-sufficiency that I'm continually appalled that parents aren't getting their kids here. If you don't have time to sit and teach your child to tie shoes, you are seriously over-scheduled and need a break.

Time crunch
But I get it. You are, in fact, seriously over-scheduled, and harried after school activities are an established cultural norm. If your 8, or 9, or god-forbid 13 year old is having trouble tying skates, either try to get to the rink with 10 or 15 minutes extra to spare, or let her coach know that she's going to miss warm up so she can learn to tie skates. Then sit back and let her do it, don't keep sticking your fingers in. Let her do it wrong. In a month, she'll be doing it herself.

Peer pressure
If someone makes fun of your 13-year-old for letting mommy tie her skates, I say go with it. Tell her, well, at 13 you really should be able to dress yourself. If you don't want the other girls to make fun of this, then learn to do it.

Nope, sorry, don't have time at the rink
So do it at home. Kids these days are master multi-taskers. So every night for a week, during your skater's tv watching time, have her take her skates on and off, on and off, on and off. She's also insulated from the peer pressure here in the privacy of her home.

Let the coach teach them
Years ago at the Ice Rink of the Damned, we solved the problem with camp by taking one of the on-ice periods every day for a week to just work on skate tying. By the end of the week, even the 5-year-olds were master skate tie-ers. Sadly, when a new coach decided he was in charge of camp, this ended, because apparently teaching self-sufficiency was stupid (or maybe it was just because I proposed it, who knows) and we were again stuck with spending 30 or 40 minutes tying skates. 

But if a coach is finding too many kids late to the ice because they can't tie their skates, let them teach this as part of the session. It's a good lesson.

It's part of figure skating
There's a level of poise, self-sufficiency, and maturity that can come from participating in and mastering this sport. And it doesn't just happen gliding around on the ice. It happens because skaters learn to be responsible for taking care of their equipment, keeping their skating bag neat and stocked, not losing gloves, guards or shoes (yes, there are always shoes in the lost and found. And jackets. And skates. It's mystifying. How do you leave an ice rink in the middle of winter without your shoes and jacket?)

Kids need to be allowed to establish these habits themselves. Like I said, Mom is harried: she's worrying about Younger Sib, Older Sib, dinner, the car repair that the family can't afford, and where the hell she left the house keys. Take this off your plate.

Make the child responsible, at a bare minimum, for dressing herself.