May 28, 2012

A response

At first I thought it was going to be tongue-in-cheek. But it turns out this post by my friend Jeff at l.a. skate dad was serious.

Jeff, I mostly love reading your and your daughter's journey through this land of the rink. But I have to take exception to nearly every word of this post.

Leaving your older child well-cared for at the rink while you run errands is neither poor parenting nor unloving. It's a coping mechanism for over-booked parents and a demonstration that you trust your skater, the program and the coach. (For grade school kids, please, stay in the rink.)

Packing the bag for the skater, asking whether the skates are sharpened (during every ride? really? You can't keep track? Because I assume your skater isn't doing this herself, since she apparently isn't doing anything else herself either) is usurping your skater's ownership of her sport, and allowing her to be one of those spoiled skaters who never thinks about her extra tights because she knows dad will pack them.

Shouting corrections through the glass will get you kicked out of the rink if you do it to one of my students whether they're in a lesson or not. You are not the coach. I don't sit in on your law firm meetings and shout suggestions about what you should be doing, after all.

Obsessively taking notes and videotaping every lesson is an example of over-involvement, not care. Every once in a while, sure. Every lesson? Overkill.

The implication at the end of post that if you don't behave this way you don't love your child is just wrong. There are all kinds of skating parents. We all love our children. Some of us just like them to take care of themselves.

Read Jeff's post, and have at us! Who is right?


  1. I'm with Xan on this one. However, a skating parent to me is my Skating Mom. She's a great friend of mine who skated competitively in the 70s, did ice capades, the whole shabang. Now we skate together, both on our own and with her lovingly correcting me. Never overbearring. People think we're related, hence Skating Mom, even though we're both adults, I'm younger. She rocks! Few have a Mom who actually skates with them.

  2. Classic helicopter parent.
    Unless the father is a skater why is he 'shouting corrections'? If he's not a skater I presume he doesn't know enough and should read a book while the coach makes a correction.Also, if he's contradicting the coach this is terrible for a child. She now has to make two people happy. You don't have one general in charge because one general is better than another; you have one general in charge because one general is better than two.

    There's probably a cure for this. If the dad can't skate, get him to enroll in an adult skate class. Then he should take lessons.
    Then he should butt out.

  3. Hi Xan,

    Thanks for your response I feel guilty for hovering (smile). My post was meant more to promote involvement, rather than as a guide for everyday behavior.

    I did actually shudder from some parents at the rink who were clearly overbearing, so it's a sensitive subject. Also as my daughter matured I found I could no longer keep up with her "physics" so my suggestions would often fall flat -- that shut me up quite a bit.

    I'd say my general guidelines for yelling through the plexiglass (and unfortunately you have to yell to overcome ambient noise and the plastic's sound dampening):

    1. The way the coach said to execute is always right. Never "correct," rather make suggestions for new things to try.
    2. Let the coach handle the physics. A parent may be quite useful however for adding aesthetics and frills.
    3. Be sensitive for when your kid wants time alone. Bring a computer or a book to stay occupied when she needs her own "space."
    4. Watch closely, but avoid comments when coaching is in session.
    5. Don't "tell," rather ask "what happens if you do this?" Then watch and learn along with your skater.
    6. Compliment, don't criticize. Skating is hard.

    I can't even start to address parental time juggling: that's probably a full 'nother post. Suffice it to say an involved caring parent of a competitive skater makes a serious sacrifice in their lives for the time that they spend at the rink.

    1. this makes more sense after reading your blog posts. Great content by the way. Sounds like you did the usual progression of learning and backing off as your daughter developed. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. I respect both positions. People have different needs, different perspectives. I think that the worst thing a parent could do is to not be open to learning and improving. I see that Jeff loves his daughter and wants to support her in a meaningful way. Maybe hearing other people’s opinions and experiences will help him with this.

    I think that good skate parents come in many forms.

    A great illustration of this would be to contrast Michelle Kwan's experience with Brian Boitano's. They are both champions, with very different needs from their parents.

    Some kids do better w/o their parents hanging around (Brian Boitano in the interview during RISE had some insights into this in his own life. Do a search on you tube for "Rise (2011) Brian Boitano on Independence.”)

    Contrast that with Michelle Kwan's Dad and his involvement in both his daughters’ skating careers.

    One size does not fit all.

    I think being a good skate parent is being what your child needs at any given point in their skating careers, and what you are able to give at that time in your life. Balancing your family needs, your needs and your skater's needs all at once.

    I do believe that you are paying your coaches to manage your child's growth on ice, so let them do their job. It is confusing to a child if you give instruction, even though you might think you are mirroring what the coach is saying. Even if you can see the problem, let the coach fix it. Maybe they have a reason they are not addressing it at this point in time. Maybe there is a reason why your child is not able to do it at this point in time. Trust your coach. If you don’t, they why stay with them? Find someone you do trust.

    As a parent, you are a vital part of the team. You are there to take care of the emotional and basic physical needs of your child. If you are instructing and talking at your child, then who will be there to pick up the pieces after an especially hard session. Who will be able to offer comfort and encouragement when the coach needs to be strict and lay down the law?

    Believe me, the parent plays an essential role. Let the coach instruct and you can focus on maintaining your child so that they are receptive and confident enough to do their best. Try not to blur the line. That way the coach can focus on coaching your child rather thanneeding to undo the bad habits you have given your child from poor instruction.

    We have the whole gamut of skating parents at our rink. Sometimes the ones who are so involved are the most unhappiest. They feel the pressure and are anxious. No matter how hard you try, it’s ultimately what your skater does on the ice that determines where they go. No amount of worrying that you do will push them forward. But keep in mind that if you worry too much, care too much, your skater will feel that and have the added pressure of pleasing you as well as themselves. It’s a tough enough sport as it is. Do you really want to do that to your child?

  5. I did giggle at the asking if a bag was packed, about sharpening, etc. It was a soccer coach when my daughter who was about 7/8 at the time who made the kids recite (LOUDLY!) "I am responsible for my own equipment!" at the end of every game and practice. It has carried over to schoolwork, skating, pets, etc.

    In my bleacher set of parents we are there unless we can't be there, and if we can't we ask another parent to keep an eye on our child. *shrug* we might be over protective.


  6. Honestly, I think that if I'm paying for an activity, that's support enough. I know kids are kids, but part of parenting is the process of getting kids to understand just what I have to do to make that money and why parting with it for their fun activity is meaningful in and of itself. If I'm carting them around in a car on my dime, again, that's a "language of love" in and of itself, and part of my job as a parent is to get my kids to understand that. And I don't care if that means paying for a lesson once a month and public ice, if that's what I can afford or makes sense for our family, that I'm giving that much is something my kids should respect with their attitude and own time and effort.

    Now, that time and effort on their part is different when they are five than when they are fifteen. But chances are, they aren't going to the Olympics (as a metaphor) so the activity - skating, soccer, dance, scouts, photo club - is about the activity, but also a vehicle for learning about life and growing into a young adult. Be prepared. Respect commitments. Listen to your "boss". Take initiative. Take care of your things. Don't waste other people's time, money or resources.

    I'm a good skate/soccer/dance/scouting/theater parent if my child is learning these lessons - and others - along the way.

    I don't judge parents who aren't in the stands every day or even at all. Maybe they are running other kids around or going to their second job in the evening or volunteering. Maybe they are teaching their child a much needed lesson about character and good behavior when mom isn't looking. Maybe they are giving their kids the gift of self-confidence and the gift of allowing them to fail and learn from their mistakes, i.e. I can tell my kiddo 100 times to point her toe on the free leg and hold a landing edge; an IJS judge giving -2 GOE is probably going to speak volumes louder and allow me to reaming in my role of un-enmeshed supporter.

    At the same time, I don't judge parents who are in the stands and who respect the coach and who aren't being a distraction. If a parent does have some special knowledge in dance and gives pointers with the coach's go-ahead, or is commissioned to hold a video camera one session a week, can involved themselves in the sport in a healthy way that makes the activity a fun together time, but keeps it all in perspective as to whose activity it really is. Learning the jumps so that when your kid says, "Yay, I did a flip today!" mom/dad isn't standing there glassy-eyed and can celebrate along to some extent is something I think kids enjoy - they want parents to understand the achievement, but again, ultimately, want the achievement to be their own.

    If mom/dad wants to take credit for the jump just as much, then there is a problem. And mom/dad should probably put on their own pair of skates. :-)

  7. I don't see anything wrong with "shouting corrections" sometimes. It depends on the nature of "corrections" and age of the child. For example, I often remind my 6-year old to do crossovers before jumps and spins well too, since I know her thoughts are concentrated on the jump/spin, so she does sloppy crossovers (but her coach told me that crossovers have to be good too). Or I tell my 3-year old what to practice next, or I tell her to try again because the previous attempt was not good enough. Or I remind both of them to hold out their arms, keep their back straight (coach's words). I don't correct their technique. But I do often remind them to do everything well. Because they are little, especially the 3-year old doesn't have a big attention span. But she does want to skate, she does want to do competitions, etc. I don't make her skate at this age. In fact, I'd rather wait a bit. But she wants to, she begs me to skate. So I think, what I do is just parenting, and nobody can tell me that I cannot do my parent job.

    Maria, mom of two skaters: FreeSkate 6 and Basic 4

    1. I'd have to agree here that much depends on the skater's age and years of experience. I found my verbal ideas where most helpful to my daughter when she was between 9 to 12 years old.

      After that we were "in sync" enough that often, after trying something new, she would just glance over to me in the stands to gauge my impression. I would either nod and she would know everything was cool, or I'd shrug and she'd work on it some more. I'd save a broad smile for that occasional thing I found particularly amazing :-)

    2. Checklists can work great at these ages, as well. My daughter is 13 and still carries around a notebook or 3x5 card. As she does each element, she checks it off or puts a star sticker next to it. It can give the kids a sense of ownership fairly early on. I've seen very young kids using picture checklists.

      One problem I sometimes see with parents shouting corrections is that they do it from the side of the rink. Kids start to look over after each element and aren't paying attention. I've seen kids get absolutely flattened by bigger, faster skaters while trying to pay attention to parents on the boards instead of the other skaters. When a kid is with a coach in a lesson, the child and coach have priority on the ice; other people have to watch our for them. When I'm talking to my kid, she doesn't get that same priority and it can be a distraction to other skaters.

      As long as the child is coming completely off the ice each time for instruction/reminders and knows to look out for other skaters while on the ice (not so a spin, look at mom, do crossovers, look at mom, etc.) it's not a problem.

      Also, taking video and having the child critique themselves and what they are doing can work as well. "Here are your crossovers. See what you think." or "This is your bunny hop. Is this what your coach is looking for?" Some kids are very visual learners, and seeing themselves on video and assessing it themselves is a great tool.

      Most kids like the jumps and spins more than the footwork (at first, anyway.) Having an older girl skater talk to your daughter about how she practices as a higher level skater (warm up, mixing jumps and footwork) can help make the not fun parts seem "cool".

    3. By the way to clarify this "shouting" business... if a rink's dashers are open (not topped with glass or plexiglass partitions) then you don't shout. Rather you wiggle with your index finger to summon your daughter to the sideboard, and chat with her there.

      Shouting is only for communicating through the partition. You still have to figure out in those instances how to grab your daughter's attention in the first place LOL.

      And no interrupting the coaching or the class lessons. We're talking about advice during the public or uncoached freestyles, my friends.

    4. Ah yes. I've seen enough pre/teen skater give dad or mom the "heave ho" and just not look over anymore, lol. Hopefully, at that point, mom or dad take the hint that this isn't about them anymore and go do some grocery shopping or hit the gym themselves while kiddo is doing their own activity. IME, it's asking for trouble to insist when we're not wanted anymore, especially by pre-teen years.

      Also, almost without fail, I see kids throw more tantrums and waste more time on the ice when mom/dad is there watching than when mom/dad aren't there. Skating is a solo activity and when things get hard, kids only have themselves to get angry with. Unless, of course, mom or dad is there. I've almost never seen a child flip out and throw a fit when there isn't a parent in the stands, mostly because I think no one else would put up with their bad behavior.

      If kids aren't working on the ice, mom or dad constantly reminding them seems to cause more problems and whining than if you give the skating director or any other coach permission to pull them aside and tell them to pay attention and work hard or go sit in the lobby until they are ready to not waste everyone's time.

    5. Btw, this is true for a lot of situations. I was a Girl Scout leader and on camping trips, the kids with moms there would complain the loudest and longest and whine the most. Almost miraculously, the trips where parent stayed home or went along but wasn't directly in charge of their own kiddo went much more smoothly. Kids would suddenly do everything from clean latrines to eat vegetables when gently and kindly told to, "Like it or lump it" and they knew they alternative was to not join in at all any more. Parents are great at comforting and accepting a lot more attitude and whinging - and sometimes kids need that comforting - but when it comes to being pushed out of comfort zones or moving to the next level of independence, passing along our kids to qualified coaches/teachers/scout leaders can be a blessing we shouldn't pass up.

  8. wow. I'm totally with you Xan!

    As an adult skater I get to see two sides of this (observing skaters and parents). It's great to have parents who are involved and interested... but for any kid who's old enough to be somewhat independent (e.g. excepting the 3-yr old mentioned above) I really think it's distracting/annoying/unhelpful for parents to ever be shouting/speaking/"coaching"/feedback-ing from the boards. The rinks I currently skate at, it doesn't happen and probably isn't allowed. If kids want feedback they can get off the ice and ask for it.

    Certainly kids sometimes need encouragement, or parents need to step in and say "either actually work, or come off the ice" (see that a lot sometimes!). But not coaching. That's what a coach is for. Even the coaches I know who have children who skate are smart enough not to coach them themselves.

  9. Can I just say that I love my community here! What a great discussion.

  10. Just because it was a cool comment, I'll cross-post one of the responses from the original post on my site...


    AnonymousMay 30, 2012 6:08 AM

    All relative. If you're talking about a 8, 9 or 10 year old girls working on elements, why is it wrong to assist them by telling them what they are doing wrong from the "backseat"? Would you rather have them practice bad habits over and over and over again? We all know how expensive the sport is, doubt anyone would want their dtrs/sons to undo all the corrections made by the coach. Of course, there is never a need to yell, berate and embarrass your child. Society provides a generous umbrella excuse for teens in "immaturity" for their wrong. kids we are talking about here are not even teenagers for the most part, they are 9,10,11 year olds. To say that these girls can practice on their own for 1 hour of FS session without some "guidance" is absurd. Parents all do it, some have stronger deliveries than others. It's part of raising talented athletes. Agree to disagree, but it is what it is when resources being thrown at this sport is so outrageous. Correlation is with resources; more money spent:more angry/overbearing parents. Again, it is what it is. I don't fault any of the parents for being psychotic. It's cool to show emotions, but don't embarrass your child in front of others. That's what Minivans are for. Thanks Jeff.

  11. Oy. I read the original post and couldn't help but gag in my mouth a bit. That is a great example of the parents all the skating parents and coaches at my rink can't stand... who tie their kid's skates when they're in middle school... oy.

    What bothers me most is the coaching from the stands. I have yet to see a parent give a useful piece of skating advice. Either the advice is down right wrong - ie: swing your arms more honey!! - or totally not useful at all - ie: you're not spinning fast enough kiddo. They usually don't know what they're talking about and even if they manage to properly pick out a flaw, they have no useful advice on how to fix it! Yikes.