Feb 24, 2013


Readers, I need your opinion! (Usually I just want your opinions.)

There has been a significant income change in my household, so I am considering the idea of adding advertisments, Amazon Affiliates, and seeking sponsorships/direct pay ads (as opposed to pay per click like AdSense).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this would affect the blog, what your levels of tolerance are, and if you have any ideas about other ways to help the blog pay. I'd especially love to know if you have a "monetized" blog.

I am not committed to this idea, just exploring it for now!


Should I "monetize" the blog?

Feb 21, 2013

A clean sheet of ice

Little kids like to watch the Zamboni.

I suppose it's the novelty of a large vehicle driving around indoors, or the funny shape, with the driver perched on the back like a hood ornament with agoraphobia.

I like what the Zamboni leaves behind.

A fresh, clean, untouched sheet of ice is a magical place. Midday, the rinks are empty, and the sheet stays clear. If you're the first one there, or the only one, your movement is imprinted. You see how you unconsciously match stroke for stroke. You start to consciously trace it, counting laps.

Once around, twice, three, four times around and the strokes line up without your really trying. On a clean sheet of ice you can feel the glide and hear the push and empty your mind, so that your mind is a clean sheet as well, with nothing but the rumble of the blade to hear and the print of the blade to see.


I like to trace the first 5 figures-- outside circle 8s, insides, threes to the center, serpentine left and right. Lay a figure, trace it twice, step over a blade length. Lay the figure, trace it twice, step over a blade length. And again, again, again.

When you're done, on that clean sheet of ice, you've laid a skaters' spirograph of traveling circles, clear and obvious on the shiny, untouched surface. Skill and error clear and obvious.

Standing on the fresh surface of an empty ice rink is the closest thing to infinity this side of orbit. The walls are far away, the ceiling immaterial, the white shiny surface blending into the boards and the glass barrier. You'll never have this much interior space to yourself anywhere else. Three quarters the size of a football field, and yet you can race all the way around in a few seconds. You'll feel the wind in your hair and on your face, but there is no wind that you don't bring yourself. Stop and the wind stops.

Except that when you stop, you don't stop. You keep gliding forward, leaving behind, just a trace.

Feb 16, 2013

How much is too much?

Late summer: major Club competitions, like Broadmoor, Detroit, DuPage.
Fall:  qualifying competitions (Regionals and Sectionals)
January: Nationals

That's the competitive schedule.  Spring through early summer is time for learning new programs and skills and taking qualifying tests; late summer is for gearing up conditioning and perfecting the program.

EVERYBODY takes a break after their final competition, be it Regionals, Sectionals or Nationals.

But below the top couple of hundred skaters, who make it past Regionals, or the several dozen who make it past Sectionals, there are lots and lots of local club competitions.

Lots and lots.

I hear about skaters doing 7, or 8, or 12 or 13 local competitions, plus Regionals.

And all I want to say is: are you insane?!

Most coaches will have a competition circuit-- the several competitions to which they always take their skaters. My daughter used to do 3 to 5 non-qualifying competitions each year.

If you are doing a competition a month, when are you learning those new skills, or preparing the next test, or improving conditioning and strength? All you'll be training is the program.

In academic parlance, you'll spend all your time teaching the test.

If your non-elite Juvenile through Intermediate child makes it to Sectionals, he should not be doing any competitions between Regionals and Sectionals. If he makes it past Sectionals, he should probably not be doing more than one local, low-pressure competition before Nationals. Here is the U.S. Figure Skating recommendation for "periodization" or annual training arc.
So what do you do if your coach is constantly scheduling competitions?

If you have a coach who is encouraging a heavy schedule of non-qualifying competition, make him tell you why.  What is your child getting out of it? What clear progress should you expect from the activity? What are the coaches' goals for all this competing? Younger coaches in particular might be more susceptible to feeling like they have to have kids in every competition, partially because they're still finding out which competitions they like, or because they think they should, or because that's what their coaches did.

Also ask the skater-- does she like competing this much? Sometimes kids will just go a long to get along and will start to passive-aggressively check out: by resisting practice, deliberately throwing competitions, non-deliberately throwing competitions (i.e. missing solid skills, because they're stressed), etc. Remember that a lot of kids won't complain about a heavy schedule. For one thing, most kids trust the adults to know what they are doing, and are unlikely to question an authority figure. (Unless they're my kids, who somehow never got that message. I wonder why?)

Ask parents of other coaches and find out if they have similar competition obligations. (Yes, you can talk to parents of other coaches about anything you want.) If it's wildly different, ask your coach about this.

Aside from the impact on skill acquisition, there is considerable cost-- costume, travel, time lost from work or school.  Your coach should not get to make financial choices for you. If your coach isn't hearing your despair, pull the money card. Give her a competition budget, and tell her you can do competitions within that amount, and not over, without an extremely compelling reason.  (In fact, if more parents just had a skating budget, instead of just coming up with whatever the coach demands, there would be a lot fewer unhappy skating parents.) 

What are we missing?
Is there another activity that you or your skater would like to do that is being squeezed out by "extra" competitions? Cross training, after-school activities, academics, "me" time are all lost in a packed competition schedule.

Competitions, even the "serious" ones, can be fun, or they can be a chore. Don't make it a grind.

How many competitions does your skater do each season? Is there a plan?

Feb 13, 2013

The coach with the best skaters

I recently watched a painful transition.

The parent of a supremely untalented child switched from the nurturing beginner coach to the competitive popular coach.

Who spent the next year complaining to other coaches about how much she hated teaching this child, and trying to pass her off to someone else, but without telling the parent that she didn't want her. She basically tried to get other coaches to solicit the family away.

My guess is that the parent switched because she believed that this other coach, with all the great skaters, was a brilliant instructor who could get anyone to skate like that.

The truth is this coach is brilliant at attracting talented skaters. They come to her with the chops, the money and the time already in their favor.

The coach you want for your skater is the one that works best with your type of skater. A coach who only works with talented, motivated top performers is not going to turn your child magically into one of those kids. But a coach who works well with workaday skaters, or timid skaters, or skaters with limited time, just might be able to get your skater performing at a top level. Conversely, the workaday coach with all the Pre Alpha students (that would be me) is not going to get your highly motivated, supremely talented jumper to Nationals.

Don't look for the coach with the best skaters. Look for the coach who understands kids like yours. Be honest about it, because deluding yourself about your child's level of talent will land you with a coach who complains behind your back about how awful your child is.

How did you choose your child's coach?

Feb 10, 2013

Another soliciting post

Or, can the coach even talk to the parents of someone else's student?

In a word, yes.

And no.

The Professional Skaters Association  does not actually have an official definition of soliciting or tampering. They have examples, and admonishments not to do it, but nowhere in their Tenets of Professionalism can I find an actual definition.

I'll give it a shot-- soliciting is seeking to acquire a student who already has a coach. Tampering is seeking to undermine an existing coaching relationship (in other words, soften 'em up before moving on to soliciting). These are done clandestinely, as opposed to simple promotion or advertising, which are things like this blog, ads in programs, fliers or listing yourself in the PSA directory.

Most of my email comes from parents concerned that a coach is soliciting their child (or flattered that a coach seems to be soliciting their child). They want to know what to do about it.

And frankly, don't do anything about it. Below the rarified air of medal contenders, parents really have no obligations beyond getting the best coach for their child. You are not bound by the ethical considerations of the coaches. While you don't want to be seen to be constantly coach-shopping, there is nothing ethically stopping you, the parent, from talking to anyone, about anything.

No other teaching profession has rules against trying to get students, even someone else's student, and no other teaching profession makes the parents feel like they have to police it.

A coach who engages in the following types of behaviors-- telling other parents/coaches that she'd take on your kids in a heartbeat, constantly telling you how talented your child is, having her parents tell you that your coach is teaching Skill X wrong-- is definitely soliciting or tampering by the PSA non-definition.

A coach who is teaching your child in class and tells you that your child has technique problems is not soliciting or tampering, unless he goes on to say that you should switch coaches. He is also your child's coach and is entitled to an opinion.

And yes, coaches who seek other people's students are obnoxious slime. But here's the thing.

You cannot solicit a skater away from an unwilling parent.  If you don't want to switch coaches, then don't worry about what other coaches and parents are saying. If you are at all susceptible to the talk, then you probably aren't 100% happy with your coach anyway. The reasons for this don't matter. You might think the relationship could be better. You might notice that your coach doesn't have the best skaters (careful with this, there are lots of reasons for it). You might feel more secure with a popular coach, or a "top" coach (no judgement-- these are legitimate reasons to choose a coach).

And if someone is talking behind your coach's back, I would just not get involved unless you really want to switch.