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.