Oct 27, 2013

Boys and teasing

Two boys suiting up for hockey. One jumps up and asks the other-- hey!!! do you like singing? Isn't singing fun? Second boy says singing is stupid. First boy agrees. Singing is stupid. The parents, who are all there, do not say anything. The parents of the singer (and they must know this child thinks singing is fun) simply allow their child to confirm that singing is stupid.

And that is how it starts. That is why it is so difficult for boys to be artists in our society.

Or figure skaters.

I've seen hockey coaches making fun of the boys in figure skating (who by the way could kick most of their skaters' asses). I have seen many many skating directors push boys into hockey, whether or not the child has expressed an interest.  Even at the tot level the non-hockey classes at many rinks are overwhelmingly female. That's not an accident.

It's common to see figure skating teachers recommend hockey for kids who seem like they'd enjoy that. I have never heard of a hockey coach suggesting that a kid switch to figure skating, although it defies imagination that no hockey coach has ever encountered a child who might be a better figure skater than hockey skater. When I proposed this to a hockey coach once he told me that they encourage the kids who don't like hockey to switch to football or soccer. For real.

My son was a musician from infancy; fortunately so is his father; he also went to a school that very much honored artists whatever their gender so he never experienced the type of input that I observed at the rink between those two boys.

At the rink figure skating boys do not get anything but support within the figure skating community. But at home and in school they need positive reinforcement; the idiots who equate art with homosexuality (because that is frankly at the heart of it) need to be educated. Here are some suggestions, if you have a boy in figure skating:

Throw a skating birthday party for the boys
In addition to making skating seem like a normal thing to do, it also takes the mystery out of it. Let the hockey boys see how well your boy skates. Let the non-skaters see how hard this is. With older boys, a skating party has the additional benefit of demonstrating how popular your figure skating boy is with the girls, because God has not created an individual more popular with the girls than a high school boy who skates well. 

Bring the cub scouts
or other youth group. Figure skating is accepted for the sports pin. Many rinks partner with local girl scouts groups for their badge (girl scouts has an actual figure skating badge); see if you can get your rink to do a program like this for boy scouts, or set up the necessary documentation for regular classes. More about boy scouts and skating here. (Thanks Blue Eyed Cat for the link.)

Create classes for boys
Segregated classes, especially for middle and high school boys, has been a strategy for dance companies for decades.  Older boys don't want to look stupid to girls, and very few middle schoolers want to take a Pre-alpha class with 5 year olds. Boys also have very different pacing and learning styles than a lot of girls-- they need classes that move faster, that have less standing around, and that involve an unavoidable level of crashing into walls (just kidding, haha no I'm not). Further, by middle school, the girls are really good and the boys feel dumb stumbling around in front of them.  The thing is that athletic kids who start skating at 9 or 10 or even older very quickly catch up. You don't have to start skating at 4 to be doing doubles by high school. Get them into boys-only classes and by the time they're in high school they'll be all caught up.

Honor the boys
There are lots of pictures of hockey boys at every rink I've ever worked at. Yet even at rinks where there have been extremely successful skaters there are no pictures of boys in figure skates (we're talking Ben Agosto-Jason Brown level of success. But no pictures). This is partially a structural problem-- the hockey shrines are generally funded by booster clubs, which tend not to exist in figure skating. This is another one where parents of boys need to talk to rink management about making sure that there is an affirmative action plan, so to speak, that gets the boys recognized.

Our society needs to get over its conflating of artistic talent and homosexuality, which is what is at the heart of this. (And not to get cliche'd , but 'not that there's anything wrong with that'). Parents of figure skating boys are the front line in the battle.

What have you done to help promote boys' involvement in figure skating (and this goes for the parents of girls, too)?


  1. Oh dear, this requires a full rebuttal, but it will likely take me two weeks to write and edit. Sigh.

  2. I guess I've supported boys in figure skating by signing my boy child up for lessons and continuing to say, "No, he's happy in figure skating" when people ask questions about hockey. He's currently in Basic 7, nagging me to know when group lessons start up again (we're taking a break and "only" doing private lessons until after the holidays) and is excited about skating in the winter show.

    BUT our rink is pretty supportive of boys figure skating because the star skater of the rink is a boy figure skater, and the "follow up star" is also a boy.

  3. We have a ton of figure skating boys around here. When my son first starting skating the figure skating coaches were very attentive to him and invited him to open houses and such. That approach must be working because there are figure skating boys coming out of the woodwork!

  4. My daughter's coach played hockey and figure skated growing up. He told me once the hockey players would occasionally give him some grief because after hockey practice, he would go change and hit the freestyle session. His reply was "Yeah...I'm gonna go skate with a bunch of really cute girls in short skirts. See ya!"

  5. We have been lucky in the teasing department but I have a kid who is not very sensitive. We just found out that he will be wearing a pink bunny outfit as part of the holiday show. (A Christmas Story.) He is taking it well but refuses to allow pictures on Facebook. I think that is a fair request. The pink bunny pictures could lead to extreme teasing if the children of parents on my feed find it.

    I think a lot of the teasing issues come with the security of the child. One of the other boys at the rink has been hit with some teasing first as a dancer and then as a skater. As a very young child he was confused because he did not understand why he was being teased. He was about 5 but at that age I think that it is more a fear of looking like a girl rather than fear of homosexuality. That comes later or is a byproduct of a parent's fear.

    The reality is that even with a very supportive rink, school is another story. This is why the minute I realized my son was interested in skating I immediately found a way for his school friends to see skating as something positive rather then negative using the birthday party/scouts idea. The teasing aspect of the sport is real and should he dealt with before it can even start. What you don't want is a kid who leaves a sport he loves because it is too traumatic to continue.

    Now that he is at a much higher level his life is at the rink and school is just something he has to do before he can get his skates on. He is past the point of teasing. He is 11. I think that when you have a newer skater it is more of an problem. They need to get past the initial issue of peer pressure. Once they have moved beyond caring they are on their way. It is those that don't make it through that we loose to the more "masculine" sports.

    1. The idiocy about sexuality doesn't come from the kids-- they could care less, and as you say, at 5 it's completely out of their knowledge. The idiocy about homosexuality comes from adults, who in the 21st century should know better.

  6. Last year my son gave upon skating after repeating pre-Alpha twice, and recently got back on the ice with encouragement from his sister's coach. Now he takes a private (even he is a beginner) along with a group lesson. One-on-one instruction works for him very well. Male staff at the rink are also supportive so that my son feels comfortable being there. Once he was teased by other (hockey) boys when he was skating with his sister. They thought he was flirting with a girl! My son doesn't mind skating with girls. I am wondering if jealousy is also a trigger for hockey boys to tease boys with figure skates.

    1. I had to take my son out of pre alpha as well when he first started because he just couldn't pass it. It took forever. The private lessons helped.

      I notice that with the little kids there are equal numbers of boys and girls in the beginning classes but most of the boys are dressed as hockey players (to the point of being unable to move) while only 1 or 2 will be decked out in simple comfortable clothes. It seems the parents want to make sure that the hockey boys stay hockey boys. It makes them different from the get go.

    2. Wow. Glad to find that pre-Alpha could be a key that boys drop out easily. I guess the entire package of group lessons are suitable for girls just like many public (elementary) schools out there. I know some boys hang in there until they pass Gamma and then transfer to Hockey class. Also, we need a skating version of the book for "William's Doll" written by Charlotte Zolotow. Seriously.

    3. I took my son out of pre-alpha when he started getting pushed around by the kids (mostly girls) that were moving faster then he was. He repeated it several times and when I saw him push back one day (one of the pushers hit the ground) I figured it was time to take him out. Turned out he needed orthodics and he couldn't balance. It is interesting that I don't see any of the kids that pushed him around any more and my son is at a Freestyle 5 level.

    4. Pushing...sounds familiar. When my daughter was in Alpha, she was grabbed by another girl's mom and yelled for that. See http://xan-boni.blogspot.com/2012/08/conflict-in-class.html. Well, I was watching my son's (her brother's) lesson when she was attacked. My daughter reconciled with another girl at the end. What she learned was that mother's love can be violent... I don't know how far my son goes, but I can tell he gains confidence from learning skating, which he thought it's impossible once. It's just like a consolation game for him, and he enjoys that.

    5. Wow I just read the other post. I would have really have had a huge problem with this other parent. Even if my kid was the aggressor, deal with the staff first, then the parent. Hands off my child. In our case it was several girls against one cautious boy. It was just easier to get him up to speed rather then deal with the pushing. The other kids eventually dropped out, My kid was in it for the long haul much to everyone's surprise.

    6. I'm just stunned at the class instructor that tolerated this. What the hell.

    7. In our case I don't think the instructor really saw what was going on. It was subtle and my son was getting frustrated for many reasons. Each class they change instructors and one session it was a big guy who simply picked my son up and moved him when he was too slow. For my son this was even more frustrating than the girls. I only saw that instructor one time and then he was gone. In the end I realized he simply needed one on one until he got more confident and it took 13 months before we put him back in class. In the end no last damage and the pesky girls are gone.

  7. The most advanced skater at our rink is a man. And he is openly gay. He is a cool person, a great skater, and everybody who knows him loves him. He is teaching lower levels of skating school. So that he can encourage boys. And he does. Boys love him, everybody does... But unfortunately parents of young boys get scared away as soon as they find out about his homosexuality. This is really sad.