May 27, 2013

Just how short IS short?

Dresses that is.

Here are some issues I encounter among adult skaters:

It's amazing how often I talk about underwear on this blog.

Really make sure you can't see through that white dress. A quality skating dress, in any color, will have an understructure made from a sturdy illusion, with the "fashion" dress constructed over it.  If you have a white or light colored dress that you really must wear, but it's see-through, you can have a seamstress add such an under layer (it's complicated but not hard), or get a flesh-colored (whatever color your flesh is) leotard to wear under it. Make sure that the leg openings and the straps of the undergarment are undetectable.

Too short?
Entirely your comfort level. Personally, I think skating dresses on anyone should cover their buttocks; with adults I'd add the word "dignity."  My preference  is no shorter than just above mid-thigh in front, and at or below mid-thigh in back.

Too long?
For adults, knee-length is not too long, but if you go with a dress this long, make sure the skirt is made of a very light weight fabric like chiffon so that it moves. Adults sometimes skate very slowly. A heavy skirt is just going to sit there, exaggerating the effect. Don't make it longer than knee length in the back, as this can risk catching the blade.

Yes please. Pants are very classy on adults, with a light loose shirt that moves when you skate (see above). The shirt can be shorter than your butt cheeks.  Make sure the pants are narrow and LONG-- they should hit the floor at your heel when worn barefoot. Make them black. Colored or jeweled stripes down the side seam, or appliqu├ęs at the ankle are very nice. Don't wear those Chloe Noell pants with the spiral stripe that all the girls wear.

No real reason, I'm just sick of them.

I live for sparkles. And you really do need some jewels even for testing. Again, it helps with the illusion of movement, and sometimes with adults movement is all about illusion, because we don't move all that fast.  However, you don't want to be weighted down like the Virgin Queen.

Are you on the Russian World Team? If not, please do not wear gloves for testing or performing. It looks silly. (It looks silly on the Russian World Team, too, but they all do it.)

Boot covers and over-the-boot tights
Boot covers only with pants, and then only in the same color as the pants. Please do not ever wear over-the-boot tights for testing or competition. They do NOT "make your legs look longer." If you're wearing them to disguise your beat up skates, here's a news flash-- you can polish skates with shoe polish.

For adults-no backless, no plunging necklines and definitely no cleavage. Anyone with a bounce, if you know what I mean, should look for good supporting undergarments (ones with real support, not those stupid "sports bras" that just mash you flat without really dealing with the bounce problem). Judges really hate bouncing boobs. Remember the word "dignity."

What are your favorite do's and don'ts for adult skating garments?

May 17, 2013

Struggling with a deadline

Here's a multiple choice pop quiz:

Which of these is a reasonable deadline:
     A. Inside 3 turns by June 1
     B. All the singles before her next birthday
     C. All my students have their axels by age 7
     D. None of the above

If you answered D, you are correct.

But I have heard all the other three, and similar ones, and that's just in the past couple of weeks.

As I told one of these people, it's common for skaters to get stuck on specific skills, and deadlines like these are most notorious for being missed.  If you, or your coach, are setting deadlines, make sure that they are in your skater's control, and not either misplaced psychology, or something for the coach's ego (that would be answer C, and yes, I know a coach who brags about that. Guess what happens to the kids who ruin her record.)

Ineffective psychology
It is good to set goals as a way both to motivate and to benchmark progress. But deadlines have a way of superseding the actual goal, which is the skill itself. Especially for a skater who is struggling with a skill, that looming deadline can make it worse, not better. "Land the axel" is a goal. "Land the axel by Christmas" for some skaters, is a burden and a threat. I'm not completely opposed to calendar goals, but they should be used cautiously, and not arbitrarily. For instance, "all the singles by your Xth birthday is not a reasonable goal for a 7 1/2 year old who is struggling with back 3 -turns and scissors her waltz jump (i.e. lands with her free foot behind her). It's arbitrary, focusing on the date rather than the quality of the skating.

Damaging psychology
Comparing your skater's progress to that of other skaters, or setting up the coach's needs as the primary motivation is a terrible thing to do, especially to a young child. It removes her from the equation; the important thing becomes not her progress, but how her lack of it reflects badly on others-- her mother, her coach, her program. This is how you make children hate skating.

More damaging psychology 
"Your child can be a champion" is coachese for "I think you have a lot of money for lessons." "I want to make your child a champion, but she has to land her axel by age X" contains the unspoken threat "Or I will dump her" and is particularly egregious when coming from prestige coaches. This sort of thing sets my blood boiling.

Why is that skill so important?
There are skills that inform everything that comes after-- in particular edges, mohawk turns, inside 3s back spin, axel, all  must be perfected in order for other skills to follow. But focusing in on a single skill and placing a deadline on it can obfuscate the real problem, especially with kids who have blasted through the basics (which, in my opinion, is another mistake a lot of parents and coaches make-- the idea is not to get through basics as fast as possible, but to get the basics as good as possible).

Difficulty with axels, for instance, can often be traced back to a lousy back spin which can be traced to lousy edges. A coach who is too focused on that "axel by age 7" for instance, may let the skater get away with a bad back spin. Watch a skater who is struggling with the axel enter a back spin sometime-- I'll lay even odds that she's spending too much time on the entry edge and then spinning on her inside edge for 5 or 6 rotations before "catching" the proper outside edge. Slow to get into proper backspin position? Axel is not going to happen, I don't care what your deadline is. Can't do a flip? I'll bet you anything that skater has a spinny salchow and can't check her turns (i.e. closes her free shoulder right after the turn).  Rushing to the "sexy" skills on deadline often means cheating the critical basics.

Anyway, it's not your problem
If you're the parent, your child's skating deadlines have absolutely nothing to do with you. Let her/him talk about it if they want, but don't impose deadlines on them, or dwell on those deadlines if the coach has set them. You can't fix it, and you can't motivate or advise your skater into fixing it. Best to sit back and let your skater and the coach work through it.

There are other skills, you know
While axels, or flips, or three-turns, or whatever it is that's holding you up are important, there are so many skills to work on. If you're stuck on a skill, set a certain amount of time to work on it, per lesson or per week, and then move the bleep on. Spending an entire lesson being told, essentially, that you're a failure if you can't do this one skill is pretty much like signing a contract in the blood of virgins to keep you from getting that skill.  Double loop giving you trouble? Do ten of them and then practice spirals.

Have you or your skater gotten stuck on a skill? What helped you work through it?

May 14, 2013

What I wish I'd known to ask

Things I learned the hard way:

What's involved in competitions?
Both the obvious things like dedicated/extra cost, travel, extra practice time, how to get music. But also what happens when I get there? What's the parent's role? How many should we do?

Why should my skater do this particular competition?
I somehow got the impression that there were required competitions. I had no clue what that there was a thing called "non qualifying competition." No one ever told me what "regionals" was-- I thought you had to be invited, because our original coach never brought it up, and the mothers of the kids who went lorded it over us. Ask your coach why he/she does certain competitions, and what the value is in going to them.

Why do those kids go to different competitions?

Why don't I see the rink's best skaters at the competitions that my skater goes to?
 It might be that you're just not seeing them. It might be that your coach is taking you to crappy competitions, for reasons unknown.

How do you get to Nationals?
By which I mean, know what the path is, not whether you're talented enough.

What is "moves?" (or any other technical class)
Another thing I didn't learn until I started coaching.

Why should I join ISI-- what does that mean?

Why should I join USFS and does it matter which club?
In a small market, there's probably only one club. But in a large market like Chicago there are a lot of them. Our coach had us sign up for the "prestige" club, but frankly it was all in his head. This club had a terrible testing schedule, punitive fees, and arrogant skating moms in positions of power whose sole purpose in life sometimes seemed to be to lord it over the "lesser" skaters by withholding information and being generally unpleasant.

What questions do you wish you had asked?

May 11, 2013

A community ice show done right

"Done right" is perhaps a little unfair.

I've done ice shows at many different rinks. They are universally adorable, inspiring, and lots of fun for the kids. They're even fun for the coaches, although you'll seldom hear the coaches admit it.

They make the programs a little money, and they give kids in the recreational side of a very lonely sport something to aspire to.

And then there's Northbrook On Ice.

If you're a coach or skater in north Chicagoland, you know about Northbrook. Their kids win all the competitions. Second place to their Synchro team kinda counts as first place because Northbrook always wins. Their class standards are legendary.

And they brag about their ice show. To which everyone just rolls their eyes and says, yeah yeah, Northbrook whatever. That and a buck fifty will get you a ride on the bus.


I have to say, I'm about as cynical as you can get about local ice shows but I just saw "NOI" last night for the first time and wow.

It's a tight, professional production with great skating and great choreography and everyone in the show smiles.  This is worth pointing out because getting kids to smile during ice shows is like pulling teeth. In fact, I think most kids smile more when they're getting their teeth pulled.

But I'm not going to talk about the gorgeous costumes, well-rehearsed numbers, superior choreography, tight tech, superior production values, or the fact that the finale was actually an interesting, well-choreographed extra number.

I'm going to talk about all the things they do to make those kids feel incredibly special, things that I've never seen at any other ice show, however well done.
  • Their graduating seniors get their own marquis display with a huge poster portrait, plus a page (each of them) in the program plus a special step out number. This is such an obvious thing to do. When I suggested this at a different rink (which shall go unnamed) I was laughed at.
  • The Synchro girls made dresses for American Girl dolls to match the costumes of each Synchro team. Beyond adorable.
  • All the group photos are prominently displayed in the lobby. (In fairness, Northbrook has a huge facility with lots of display space, which is rare in municipal ice centers. However, the fact that they spent the money to have that display space I think says a lot.)
  • Their specialty group is called the Icettes, and you have to audition. In September-- and then they spend a year making these kids feel successful and special. It's freakin' Girl Scouts on ice.
  • They send parents and coaches frequent, concise, informative emails about what to expect, when to get there, where to park, who to talk to. So even a newbie like me didn't feel completely at sea.
  • They announce the soloists by name during their time on ice. So you don't have to try to read the program in the dark.

And finally,

I have not heard one child being yelled at. Not for forgetting choreo, or freaking out over quick change, or missing a cue, or falling, or any thing else.

The show's theme is "social media" and I would have live tweeted the whole thing last night (look for #NOI to see what people were saying), but I can't get a signal there with my crappy phone.  There are three more performances (you have to buy tickets in person) twice today and once tomorrow.  If you're in Chicagoland, drop the cynicism and the parochialism, and go see it.

What is your ice show like? How do they make the kids feel special?

May 8, 2013

Hedging the cost of skating

Two classes, one or two lessons, public skating pass, a couple of practice ice times.

Skates, practice clothes, bags, gloves, book covers, blade guards.

Year end pizza party.

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money. How do you keep your husband finding out what it costs pay for it all?

At some rinks, they'll trade volunteer hours for practice ice coupons. It's not exactly "free" because it costs you time, but it's a great way to cover practice ice cost. (Let's hope the IRS doesn't catch on.) Do me a favor and be righteous: don't sell your free coupons to non-volunteers at a discount. (Here's how you can tell someone is doing this-- they monitor FAR more than the number of sessions their skater is actually using.) Don't take your free coupons but not actually show up for your monitor time.  Don't show up and "monitor" when there's already a monitor there. Don't sign in as a monitor and then sit in the stands. (Don't ask where I observed all these behaviors.)

"Skating" job
Concession stand, junior coaching, really coaching, working at the local skate shop, rink guard, even babysitting.  Many skaters, teen and adult, take the edge off the cost by taking on extra jobs specifically to cover skating expenses. Parents will sometimes do this as well. It's a lot to do for your kid, but it's better than putting everything on the credit card, or cashing in a 401k.

Junior coaching
Sometimes pros will have their older or higher test students teach or supervise their younger students, and will knock a little off the bill for this.  This also helps the parents of the younger students, who may (should) be charged a lower fee for that time.

Ask your pro if your skater can share lesson time with other kids at her/his level for some lessons.

Set asides
In other words, a special "fund" just for skating.  This might be an extra $5 or $10 or $15 a week. It might be that every time you pay a skating bill, you stick $10 in a box. Or make it a dollar each time you go to the rink, or a hundred dollars every time your skater is in a test or competition. You'll be amazed at how quickly this will add up.  This is a great way to make sure you have the funds when you need new skates, or for an out of town competition, or that pesky synchro bill.

Putting the kid to work
Not really helping financially, but a lot of skating families make younger kids "earn" their skating time.  They put specific monetary values on extra household chores and pay the kid in private scrip, redeemable for lessons, skates, practice ice, etc.

How do you help cover skating costs?