Monday, December 28, 2009

How-to: Deal with Ice Rink Bullies

Note from Ice Mom: The comments section for this post is awesome. Thanks, readers, for your advice and personal anecdotes. I'm sure you've helped a lot of frustrated figure skaters.

Hello, Readers. This post is courtesy of a reader who is having problems with higher-level figure skaters who are making her ice time miserable. Here’s the e-mail:


I regularly follow your blog and was wondering if maybe you or your readers could help me out with an issue I'm having. I'm 19 and started skating merely 6 months ago. I've come to skating from 15 years of dance training so I'm not struggling, and have a lot of family support in choosing skating over dance. I realise I've started far too late and am far too old to get anywhere besides competing in adult divisions- and that's the cause of my issue.

At my rink I have the earliest ice time, 4 a.m., with my coach. Straight after at 5.30 is an open figure session, where I work on what I've been assigned (at this point, edges, balance and jump preparation). However this is rather impossible as the 13-16 year old "senior" level skaters have taken it into their heads to taunt me and interrupt my practice by either stopping directly in my path, entering jumps or fast spins very close by. I've informed my coach, and she's seen this going on; however, she doesn't coach any of the girls and isn't ice marshal for that session, and so can't tell them off. She's spoken to their coaches who refuse to acknowledge their students are capable of such things. I don't want to move rinks because it would be far more travel and I would lose my coach.

It's at the point where I'm leaving the rink straight after my lesson to avoid these girls, because their actions and attitudes are too much to ignore.

I put this question out to my advisory board and here’s what we came up with:

Ice Mom: This problem happened to Ice Girl, too, especially when she was new. I think it has a lot to do with the culture of the rink. Fortunately for Ice Girl, the other coaches and the ice monitor were supportive of Ice Girl when an ice troll plowed into her and left Ice Girl sprawled on the ice. We were new to the club, so the other coaches and the ice monitor took the problem to the board and the board put the troll on probation.

However, it sounds like coaches and ice monitors aren’t supportive of you. Document a week or two’s worth of incidents and include details like the skater’s name, the problem, what you did to correct it, and the result. Approach your skating club’s board with your list. Point out how hard it is to grow a program if new skaters don’t feel welcome.

You pay the same amount of money as the mean skaters to be on that ice. You don’t get a discount if folks are mean to you. Fight for it.

(Ice Girl has since tried killing the ice troll with kindness and the troll has softened some and is nice back to Ice Girl. Ice Coach and I think that Ice Girl should leave the troll alone, but I.G. is a nice person. Nicer than I am, obviously.)

Ice Coach: I say: I feel her pain. Even if there isn't much her coach or the others will do about it, I would tell her not to give in. She has just as much of a right to be there as everyone else. Just because she is a lower level [skater] doesn't mean she has to be the one that moves out of the way all the time. She should stand her ground and make the others move out of her way sometimes, too. Or say something to them when they stop in her path like "excuse me." If she confronts it, in a nice way of course I bet the younger skaters will get the point.

Remember when [the ice troll] decided to jump on top of [Ice Girl and me] last year during a lesson? All I said was "excuse us." Of course, it wasn't the nicest voice, but guess what - she didn't do it again. I think she would just rather people ignore her while she stomped off.

C.L.: I think this gal should talk directly to the skaters in a non-confrontational tone. For example: "I just wanted to let you know that I'm uneasy if you get to close to me while I'm on the ice." "I'm not as experienced as you and I don't want to cause an accident." "I really enjoy skating but I'm concerned for my safety when you guys spin and jump very close to me." If that doesn't work then I would talk to the parents of the skaters.

PairsMom: If the coach has seen no change even after speaking to the other coaches about their student's behavior then it is time to set up a meeting with the Figure Skating director at the rink. This meeting should be brief (15 minutes) and if possible the coach should try to attend with the 19-year-old skater. Also, the figure skating director could post a list of Freestyle Rules and Guidelines on the rink website AND in the monitor booth. Each skater (and/or parent), regardless of age or level, needs to sign a freestyle contract stating that they will abide by the rules and regulations posted by the figure skating director, etc. Also, it might be helpful if the 19-year-old skater brought along some friends, other skaters her age/level to skate on the same sessions with her.

By the way: congratulations to PairsMom’s son and his partner, gold medal pairs winners at U.S. Junior Nationals in December 2009!

S.F.: I forwarded this problem to my daughter's ice coach and she suggested the following: This should be brought to management's attention. Coaches are supposed to be role models and teach more advanced skaters to be thoughtful of younger or lower level skaters. [Our rink] has rules posted and if they are not followed, we meet with the coach, skater & parent. If the skater doesn't want to cause issues, I would ask for the rink's freestyle rules first.

Bottom line: This is an issue of safety, etiquette, and money. No one should bully other figure skaters off the ice or jump so close that it's a safety issue. Take it up with the skaters, the coaches, the parents, and board/rink management. It’s not fair. Don’t let the ice trolls win.

The comments section is terrific for this post. Here's a sampling of what folks are saying:

Update: From Reader Heyfigureskate: This year, I have finally sucked in my pride and when [this skater] would perform a really nice move, I would say "Good job!" or when she would fall, I would ask, "Are you okay?" Since, when she comes to the rink (rarely) she compliments me as well. So a good turnout I suppose...

Update: From Reader Anonymous: All I can say is that you have every right to be out there and practicing. Believe me, they were beginners at some point. You don't need to be rude, but stand your ground.

Update: Terrific comment from Xan of Xanboni! (read it all in the comments section):  If you are following basic practice ice protocol-- don't stand in the middle of the ice, keep moving, hold to standard jump and moves patterns, yield to program run throughs and lessons, etc.-- just hold your ground. They will pull back at the last minute. If you are called on it you can either plead ignorance, like they are doing, or say, "oh I thought the general protocol here was never yield to another skater, since that's what always happens to me" (a wide-eyed innocent, yet subtly sarcastic delivery would be called for here.)

Update: From reader TNT: Sometimes newer skaters are a hazard because they are either oblivious to other skaters, oblivious to the rules (lutz corner, spin areas, right of way goes to lessons and those doing their program) or unable to get out of anyone's way because they lack the skills to do so. Not sure if that is the case here, but if so the skater should seek a different session until they are no longer a safety hazard.

Sometimes newer skaters are not accustomed to how close other skaters may be on a freestyle session, and that can be scary. It's not always harrassment; sometimes a newer skater desires a wider "comfort zone" but on a high-powered or crowded freestyle session that's just not possible.

Update: From reader Season: I used to skate when I was younger and I'm also African American. Unfortunately, racism was and sometime is still a big problem in the skating community. My daughter and I have experienced skating trolls since we have been involved in skating because of racism. Many Caucasian skaters that are racist feel that African American skaters have no business being on their ice or involved in their sport. They feel that skaters of other race bring down the integrity of the sport and they doing anything possible to sabotage your chances of being successful. [...]

[...]It is important to remember that skating trolls are breed and created by parents and coaches that are not considerate of other skaters. These parents and coaches do not and sometimes refuse to teach their skaters respect and common curtiousy. Another problem is that most of the skaters that act this way are skating more than they are able to socialize with other people that are not skaters. Their whole life is skating and they have no balance in their lives. They loose their ability to socialize and act appropriatly around people who do not skate as much as they do. It is very sad. Because after skating is over they do not know how to be a normal happy person. I hope this is helpful. Adult skater and skating mom for 12 years, Season Williams

Update from the ice-troll victim: I thought I would give you an update on the Ice Trolls and the situation. Upon reading your entry (thanks to your panel!) I rang the Rink Director (who also arranges the Figure Club), my coach and the 5.30am Ice Marshal to schedule a meeting, which is in a week's time. I have both written evidence, other skaters who have witnessed the occurances and also some video footage- taping your routine can turn around to bite you!

I also had something to say about some of the comments given to the blog entry- a few people thought I was on practice ice above my level. At our club, if you've been in lessons for 6 or more months and are a member of the club, you can use practice ice. It's called 'Figure Ice' and the only requirement is the novice Aussie Skate levels, no jumps or spins if you don't want. I am well versed in where jumps, figures, spins, etc are to be executed, and being a dancer I don't have a large 'comfort zone'. These girls are using physical and verbal bullying.I just wanted to clarify that we don't use 'Freestyle Ice'- maybe it's an American thing? But all is in action to hopefully have them stopped.

If not, I'll try IG's route and kill them with kindness :)

Update: From reader Rosalie who gets an atta-girl award: I've had to deal with bullying, too, and it wasn't because I was new. The bullying didn't start until after I had been skating for a while. However, other coaches, the Skating Director, and the Ice Marshals were not helping (even contributing) to the problem. Eventually, I went with my now skating partner to general management (who mostly dealt with hockey and employees in the box office, etc.) to talk about my problems. I still get the cold shoulder, but the rest of the bullying stopped.

 Do you have advice for this skater? Please share your thoughts or stories in the comments.

Do you have a question for Ice Mom? E-mail me at I'll do my best.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Specialty Sportswear Pattern Review: I Don’t Like ‘Em

Note from Ice Mom: Please read the Updates at the end of this post. Some readers disagree with me - that's great. You'll be able to read about their experiences at the bottom and in the comments. Thanks, readers, for sending in your opinions.
Bah, humbug. Here I am, a Scrooge for the holidays, but it’s high time I wrote this review. Remember that figure skating dress I ruined a year ago? Well, part of what made me cry when I ruined that stupid dress was that it was a Specialty Sportswear pattern. I'd spent hours on that stupid dress, trying to figure out the Specialty Sportswear pattern, trying to make it fit, and struggling with the zipper. When I finally had it perfect, I painted it and totally messed it up. Throwing it away was painful, but satisfying, too. That stupid Specialty Sportswear dress is in some landfill where it belongs.

Here are my likes/dislikes:

Style. Charlie has a ton of neat dresses on her site. Very cool styles and lots of them.

Website. The navigation for the Specialty Sportswear site isn’t very clear. What’s a series? What’s a system? What’s a multi? How do I know which skirt to buy? What's with the 300, 400, 800, etc. numbers? It’s pretty confusing.

Manual. I know I’m a professional writer and pickier that most, but the Specialty Sportswear instruction manual is very poorly written. If you’re not an experienced sewer, a lot of it won’t make much sense to you. The instructions for drafting your own patterns are really vague and the sewing tips have terrible diagrams. Much of the advice in the manual is: just try it or just play around with it! I don't have time for that.

Pattern. The Specialty Sportswear patterns come on sturdy paper, which I like. However, for my $17 plus shipping, I only get one size in the envelope. That makes alterations more difficult and if my kid grows, I have to buy another $17 pattern. The pattern doesn’t have markings on it, either. No notches, no bust or waistline markings. The pattern I attempted had a sleeve that was combined with the top of the bodice. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen and I had no idea what it was. The label on it was top. Top? How about top and sleeve? How about letting me know where the zipper goes so I have a clue how to orient the piece? A nightmare.

Instructions. The instructions for the Specialty Sportswear pattern I sewed looked like Dr. Frankenstein had pieced them together from the decaying remains of other pattern instructions. I’m not kidding you. The diagrams didn’t match the pattern and they were weird looking. It was hard to tell from the diagrams what I was supposed to do. The sewing order didn’t flow well and some of the instructions didn’t match the pattern I was sewing. The instructions for the invisible zipper were: follow the instructions on the zipper package. Not very helpful.

Fit. The panties are enormous. I have no idea what kinds of rear-ends other peoples’ skaters have, but the Jalie and Kwik Sew panties fit Ice Girl's behind. The Specialty Sportswear panties would have fit me. It was amazingly hard to alter the bust line because I had no idea where the bust line was on the pattern until I constructed the leotard. I know a gal who sews these patterns all the time. How does she get the dresses to fit? She sews a practice dress first. Look. I have this job thing I do. I don’t have time to sew two dresses. I barely have time to sew one. I just want it to fit, O.K.?

Assistance. You can call Charlie and she’ll help you over the phone. This is absolutely true. However, when I called her, she seemed eager to get me off the line and insisted that it was all very simple and I should just go for it. I was no better off after our call.

Bottom line. You can tell I harbor resentment toward Specialty Sportswear patterns. I’ve been sewing for over 20 years and I had a tough time with the pattern. I spent hours cursing at it, ripping out stitches, and inventing ways to make the stupid dress fit Ice Girl. I can’t imagine how a novice sewer would sew a dress successfully from the patterns. My time is valuable and the pattern and fabric cost money. When I plunk down my $17 plus shipping, I expect that pattern to fit and the instructions to be clear. Nope and nope. I don’t recommend Specialty Sportswear patterns; although, I do really like the styles. Bah, humbug.

Update: From reader Skittl1321: I've never bothered ordering because I was always so confused by the website.

Update: From reader Anonymous: I have worked with Charlie in the past, and she was amazingly helpful both for me and my friend who agreed to sew the pattern for me. My skater has no bum to speak of, so all panties fit pretty much the same.

My daughter and I designed her dress, and with help from Charlie, we got a completely custom and basically couture dress for a fraction of the price.

Update: From reader Anonymous who disagrees with me completely. This is very good for you, readers, because you get a better picture of the Specialty Sportswear experience. I'm putting her comment here in full and I want to thank her for offering the opposing opinion.

This is a very unfortunate review of patterns that I personally think are far superior to Kwik Sew or Jalie patterns. I have had nothing but success with Specialty Sportswear patterns and just taught myself to sew this summer. After the first 200 line dress I made for my daughter, I had the hang of them and have been to the moon and back with Charlie's patterns. The Jalie dress patterns are sized too small (I didn't find that out until the dress was just about finished) and the skirt lines on many are too low.

The wonderful thing about Specialty Sportswear is that you can mix and match bodice lines with different skirts and vice versa. I was able to make my own pattern with Charlie's manual with ease just following her directions. With any dress, I try on the dress before fitting panties with elastic. It is simple to cut away the excess panty before putting elastic on.

My experience with Kwik Sew has been mixed. Most of the Kwik Sew dresses I see look like Kwik Sew dresses - kinda boring and cheap looking. I stick to Kwik Sew for practice dresses and skirts.

The fact that Charlie actually took the time to talk to you (or any other customer) is amazing. You cannot get that kind of customer service from Jalie or Kwik Sew. I had a very difficult "Flame Cutout" pattern from Charlie that I was struggling with and she stayed on the phone with me for 45 minutes talking me through the pattern.

I would recommend that readers give all patterns a try until they find the line that works best for their skater.

Update: From littleskatersmom: Charlie has always been helpful, but I've always felt a bit talked down to... and I've been making skating dresses for over 10 years. I've made, with some success, my own patterns (not following directions), and yet, I have trouble following her directions. I usually just toss the directions and put it together how I feel it should go... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
All of that being said, some of the most beautiful dresses I've made have come from Charlie's patterns. Kwik Sew is probably my favorite for practice dresses, but I find I always have to lengthen the back of the skirt.
Tons of you are going to disagree with me. That's great! Voice your support for or displeasure with Specialty Sportswear patterns in the comments.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Am I a Bad Figure Skating Mom? Don’t Judge Me too Harshly.

I’ve always promised myself that I wouldn’t be the mom who forces her screaming, crying kid on the ice.

Yeah, well.

Here’s the situation: Ice Girl had an all-school field trip to Milwaukee late one Friday evening. All of her friends were going; it’s an event that the kids look forward to all year and I had it on my schedule since September.

In November, her skating group scheduled their first practice for the following Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Ice Girl had ice time at 7 a.m., so I didn’t think much about it…until the bus showed up at the school Friday night at 11:30 p.m. Ice Girl was all pumped up and didn’t fall asleep until 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

Can you see the perfect storm developing?

I shoved her out of bed at 6 a.m., put a Pop Tart in her hand, and dumped her in the van. She fell asleep on the way to the rink and refused to wake up. Using my rule of not forcing my kid on the ice, I told her she could sleep until 7:45, which would give her 15 minutes to wake up and put on her skates.

At 7:45 she refused to move. I called her coach out to prod her. Nothing. This was a big deal. Her skating group could not continue without Ice Girl and if she didn’t make it to the practice, she wouldn’t be part of the group. This group was something she’d been looking forward to all year. She would really regret not doing it and all the other skaters would be really, really, really ticked off with her.

That’s why I made the decision to force my kid out of the van and put her on the ice with tears streaming down her face.

In the end, I asked her if she was glad she went out on the ice and participated in the group. Was she happy that I forced her out of the van?

Here’s what she said: “I’m happy you made me get on the ice, but I’m not happy about how you did it.”

I asked her what I should have done differently, but she couldn’t tell me.

Update: from reader Aaron: To me, seems like this was a no-win situation. The question is, what makes her more mad...waking up or missing being part of the group?

Update: from reader Helicopter Mom: Don't worry what it looks like, worry about what it is. And it is not a crazed sports parent forcing her kid to do something she doesn't want to do - it's an involved mom trying to keep ALL the balls in the air and let her child be involved in ALL the activities she wants to. Sadly I know how hard that is!  [...]It's hard to be a skating mom. It's hard to be a skating kid. Lots of choices and sacrifices.

Update: from reader ohjennran: As a parent you get it on both ends; if you didn't get her out there would she have asked later why you didn't make her since you knew how much she wanted to be in this group?

Update: from reader Maria: It would have been a great learning opportunity if she had chosen to sleep and miss being in the group. Sometimes it's OK to let them make the "wrong" choice.

Update: from reader Xan: The bad skating mom would have let the child sleep, not caring how it affected the group, and then gone over the coach's head to get her daughter special permission to participate even though she missed the practice.

Update: from reader Skittl1321: It's one thing to drag her into a situation that she's been looking forward to for a very long time, and that other people are counting on her to be there for. It's entirely different (and not cool) if day in and day out you put a kid on the ice who doesn't want to be there.

Update: from reader Ice Charades: [...]as she climbs up the ladder in skating, she needs to learn how to skate when she doesn't feel like it, she's really tired or she's sick. Good training.

Update: from reader Anonymous: When I was in high school my parents had a policy about "events" the night before morning practice. Whenever there was a late "event" before a morning practice I was reminded beforehand that I had already made a commitment to the team and that I would be honoring that commitment regardless of how I felt about it in the morning.

Update: from reader Anonymous: Everyday I see parents yelling in the bathrooms, stands, or parking lot at their skaters who does not want to skate. My daughter has been skating since she was three,and obliviously there were times when she did not want to skate. I never made her. Now at ten we often run into situations when skating interferes with a birthday party or another sporting event. She makes the decisions herself what she wants to do. I am not the one that has to skate, compete, and test.

So, what do you think? Am I a bad figure skating mom? Should I have shoved Ice Girl out of the van and made her put on her skates? Should I have let her miss out on the group activity? What could I have done differently? Have you ever been in this situation?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Figure Skating Video Games: Can You Help This Mom?

Hello, Readers. The last post was about gifts for figure skating coaches. This post is about what to get your figure skater, specifically video games.

Here's a question I received from a mom:

We bought a DSi for our daughter for Christmas. Trying to decide which game she would enjoy more “Imagine Figure Skater” or “Imagine Ice Champions.” Do your readers have any suggestions/opinions? Do people enjoy the Mario Bros. Winter Olympics game (which has some skating content)? Can’t ask her friends because I’m afraid they might spill the beans about the gift.

Thought a post about skating related video games (all platforms) might be a good post before the Holidays.

I can't help this mom. We have a PS2 that we use as a DVD player. The games gather dust.

Any suggestions for figure skating video games? Any suggestions for plain ol' gifts? Let's start a great comment thread and share our ideas!

Do you have a question or an idea for a post? Send it to me at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gifts for Figure Skating Coaches

Reader Tricia sent me this question:

My daughter's coach is wonderful! She is great with all kids, especially young ones and is always doing things for them, little gifts, free dresses she sews, does their hair at competitions, etc. Is there any protocol for thanking coach for all they put into the competition? I know we pay for her services, gas, etc., but typically do skaters give their coach anything after a competition? Any suggestions for Christmas? Just want her to know how much we appreciate her and how enjoyable she is making this experience for me and my daughter without going overboard.

I asked my Advisory Board to weigh in on the gifts question. I'm sure that traditions vary from region to region, so here's a sampling of what figure skating parents are giving coaches this holiday season.

Utility, not price.

Ice Coach: I have received lotions, gift cards to Starbucks, or to eat at different places, and candy. They’re typically nice things, but not too high dollar. They are very much appreciated.

Sk8nMom: Our Ice Coach always wears mittens and scarves and often a hat at the rink, so we have expanded her collection of those items. I also know that our Ice Coach was uncomfortable receiving expensive gifts, so I always tried to keep things in the “small but thoughtful” category.

Kel: I try to do something not too expensive ($20-25, max.) I’ve tried to make it something the coach would for sure use (i.e. a gift certificate to a coffee shop, a box of chocolates, homemade cookies, bread, or something) or something that could potentially be re-gifted if she hated it (scented candles, a jazz CD).

Jill: I had one student who gave me my favorite chocolate-covered nuts every year for Christmas. Another student, after hearing me complain about my cold, achy feet, gave me a foot care and pedicure kit. (That was so cute; she same up with the idea on her own.) For the coach who does the skater’s hair, maybe a supply of ponytail holders, bobby pins, hairspray, etc. If the coach cuts the skater’s music, a supply of blank CDs (with cases) would be a suggestion.

Ice Mom: We’ve given Ice Coach a shrug that Ice Girl has made out of Polartec fleece from Jalie pattern #2558. It’s a pretty easy pattern, especially for novice sewers, and it’s warm, too. Of course, Ice Coach knew something was up when I brought out my measuring tape and took her measurements.

Skate-related items.

Kel: I have tried to stay away from “skating” related things because I figure [the coach] has enough of that.

Mommia: I am sure [coaches] already have every skate-related item out there (and probably duplicates).


Sk8nMom: We really appreciated all the time and patience [the] coach had put into getting [our daughter] to [this level], and we were so disappointed that Ice Coach couldn’t make the trip to [the competition] with us. We bought a fashionable fleece vest to show her we were thinking of her. We gave it to her when we returned from the competition.

Jill: At one competition, the mother of one of my students purchased a sweatshirt for me from the vendors. It had the competition logo on the front and the list of all the competitors on the back. She paid extra to have a rhinestone put next to the names of all of my students at the competition. I though it was a very thoughtful gift (and useful, as it was REALLY cold at the rink.)

Take up a collection.

PairsMom: For Christmas and Birthdays we (the parents) usually take up small donations (maybe $10 per skater) and give [the coach] a gift card to her favorite spa for a manicure, pedicure, facial, massage, etc. We give her husband, who coaches with her, a car wash gift card, restaurant gift card (must serve steak! Ha ha). [It] can be tricky to get e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers of parents, but most are willing and happy to participate because they have no idea what to do on their own.

By the way, congratulations to PairsMom's son and his partner. They qualifed for nationals a couple of weeks ago!


Ice Mom: When I buy the photo CD from an event, I make sure that I create five piles of photos: three for the grandmas, one for the photo album, and one for Ice Coach.

Sherry: My daughter’s skating coach also mentioned she enjoyed getting […] pictures of her students. She is the skating director at our rink and puts the pictures on her desk.

Special occasion gifts?

Kel: I occasionally also give [the coach] unanticipated “gifts” (f you want to call them that) of things that I’m sure she buys and uses with my daughter during her lessons: a big pack of tissue packs, hand warmers, etc. These are more one-offs, kind of fun little things not for anything specific.

PairsMom: When my son was younger (age 10 – 14) he always wanted to give his coach a “thank you” gift at teach competition, much like a student would give a favorite teacher from school a gift for birthday, Valentine’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Day, etc. He would choose a variety of small items and each one he picked out himself: Bath and Body Works stuff, potpourri, scented candles with some kind of seasonal theme, a coffee mug, etc.

Jill: Sometimes at a competition, if the coach has a multiple skaters competing, they might not get a chance to leave the rink from early in the morning until late in the evening. Bringing them lunch or some sort of snack is greatly appreciated. Even though many competitions provide hospitality for the coaches, it’s nice to have something different.

Thank you.

Jill: Say “Thank you.” That might sound kind of obvious, but it is sometimes overlooked. I once knew of a coach who didn’t charge any fees for test sessions until the one time when nobody thanked him.

Sherry: My daughter’s coach also mentioned she enjoyed getting thank you notes.

Ice Coach: I really love Ice Girl’s notes or thank you cards from the kids. I keep them all, and best of all they are free.

Update: From reader Skate Mom: Large dollar gifts call ethics into question. Respectable coaches bar these entirely. It's to their advantage not to allow their ethics to be called into question. [...] Basically keep any gift giving below fifty dollars and you're safe - that's the ceiling. Most gifts are around the $15-$20 mark. 

Do you give your figure skater’s coach a gift for the holidays? If so, what do you give? Let’s make a list in the comments!

If you have a question or an idea for a post, send it to me at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: Ice Charades

When I took Jenny Hall’s debut novel, Ice Charades, up to the rink to read, my friends kept grabbing it off the table and scanning the back cover. “What’s this all about?” they asked.

Well, it’s about ice show skaters, I told them. It’s fun and light and a bit naughty.

Now they all want to borrow it.

Hall is a former ice show skater, and her novel reads with the authenticity of someone who has lived the show skater life. You might recognize Hall from her popular show skating blog, Ice Charades.

The novel is about Sue, a 19-year old college student who is taking time off from her studies for a year abroad of her own making. Sue, or Milk Muffin, finds that life and competitive skating haven’t prepped her for long, grueling practices, catty cast mates, and weekly weigh-ins.  Everyone else in the novel is more worldly than Sue from Minnesota, which is just fine with me. The more Sue learns, the more entertaining the book is.

The plot unfolds with a linear timeline and chronicles Sue’s year with a European ice show. The show includes penguins and live poodles, Elvis and Swan Lake. Not only is the show a little screwy, so are its skaters. I’m very fond of Judy, who is Sue’s naughty guide to all things show skating.

I’ll be honest: at first the novel didn’t really rope me in. For me, I saw the book as an interesting and humorous account of a new show skater’s daily life. It was good, but I wasn’t invested in Sue. Sue skated and lived with snarky roommates, but I really didn’t care about her until I saw a flaw. Sue went from one-dimensional to two-dimensional when the show’s choreographer dressed her down in front of the whole cast. How dare Simone act so unprofessionally towards hard-working, honest Sue.  From that moment, I was indignant and on Sue’s side.

Sue is also very funny. As a reader, I experienced the craziness of the show skating world through her eyes and with the benefit of her funny comments.  In the beginning of the book, Sue explains that Follies on Ice  (F.O.I.) was about entertainment, not about having a show that made sense. That’s how the producers justified having reindeer and penguins share the ice, when they don’t even share a continent. Here’s an example of Sue’s wit:

Pascal was also one of the only skaters in the world, at the time, who could do a back flip on the ice and F.O.I. exploited it like a circus with a two-headed midget.

Two-headed midget. Pretty funny.

In the end, the book was less about one-liners and more about Sue’s growth. Hall finishes the book like a good movie and I visualized the credits scrolling to classical music as I read the final page.

Bottom line: I think readers will find Hall’s witty voice amusing and Sue’s show skating world fascinating. Once I reached the middle of Ice Charades, I had a very hard time putting it down. This isn’t a book for kids or teens, though. Hall’s book is about adults and deals with adult topics and contains adult language. However, if you’re an adult, I recommend it. It’s a fun read.

Want to order this book? You can find it at Amazon. It might make a nice holiday gift for a coach on your list. Make the coach lend it to you when she's done with it, though. You'll like it, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sewing Review: Jalie figure skating pants #2215

Previously, I sewed the practice skirt and reviewed that part of the pattern here.

This weekend, I sewed the pants for Jalie pattern #2215. My worry with this pattern was that the pants would be more in the style of loose dance pants than tight-fitting skater’s or runner’s pants.

Turns out, it’s kind of a hybrid, but it’s very easy to make these pants in the newest style – tight fitting, but loose enough to cover the skate boot and heel, like this pant from Jump ‘n Style Skatewear.

Here’s what I did:

Pattern tracing. I measured Ice Girl, traced the pattern on sew-in interfacing, and cut out the appropriate size. I extended the leg all the way to the last possible size.

I machine basted the pants together and had Ice Girl try them on with the wrong side out with her skates on.

Fitting. Using my tailor’s chalk, I traced a seam line where the pants fit a bit loose, ensuring that I kept a flare from just above the ankle to the bottom. I also marked the hem line where I wanted the pants to hit the boot.

Sew ‘em up. Pretty basic, but it’s times like these when I love my serger.

Applique. Another gal at the rink makes these really cool black skater's pants with colorful appliques running down the outside legs. So, I felt so smug when I thought of using up my scrap lycra to achieve a mosaic look. Really, I was pretty dumb. I ironed lightweight Heat ‘n’ Bond to the scraps, then I cut about a gazillion different shapes. I sewed up the outside leg seam and ironed on the many, many appliques. Then I edged all of them with a narrow zig-zag stitch and sewed up the inseams. The pants look great, but I will never, ever make another pair of pants like these. No one should ever have enough time to make that many appliques.

Waistband. This pattern recommends creating a casing out of the top of the waistband. I really, really hate threading elastic through casings. So, I had a brainwave. What if I treated the waistband like I would treat the leg, arm, and neck openings of a regular figure skating dress? At three-something in the morning it seemed like a great idea. So, I sewed the ends of the elastic together with a zig-zag stitch, and split the elastic circle in half, fourths, and then eighths with pins. I pinned the pants waistband into eighths and then pinned the elastic to the wrong side of the waist, matching pins. I sewed the elastic along the top edge, folded it over, pinned, and sewed it along the bottom edge. It works really well and I didn’t have to spend any time cursing over losing the elastic end in the casing.

Bottom line: I really like this pants pattern. It’s simple and looks great. It looks even better after my simple alterations to make it fit very snugly. The appliqué treatment down the outside leg seam looks terrific, but I’d go for simple, large pieces rather than tiny shapes.  Jalie patterns come with 22 sizes in the envelope, good instructions, and sturdy pattern paper (perfect for tracing). I’m a big Jalie fan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

That Stupid Axel

Ice Girl has been working on her stupid axel since the end of February. The day Ice Coach gave her the walk through, Ice Girl cleared all of my furniture away in my living room and has been terrifying the dog with her stupid axel ever since.

Over the summer she had a problem with her hamstring and her pelvis was twisted – overuse. Finally, finally she’s landed the puppy. It’s been a little over eight months and she finally has it consistent. For now.

For those of you parents who have been through the stupid axel, maybe twice or three times, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you parents who haven’t been through it, let me tell you what to expect.

  • Crazy obsession. When she first started the stupid axel walk through back in February, Ice Girl was obsessed. She was determined to land that jump and move on with her life. She cleared out my living room. She jumped everywhere, but still, no stupid axel.
  • The grocery store. Once I got over the embarrassment factor, I supported Ice Girl’s weird habit of practicing off-ice axels in the soup aisle. Hey, at least she’s practicing and I’m not paying for the ice time. The grocery store is one of her favorite off-ice jumping venues because the floors are so slick. Of course, I can’t move on to the pasta aisle until I watch just one more jump, please, Mom.
  • Fear of falling. Ice Girl doesn’t like to fall. As a parent and a non-skater, I don’t blame her. However, falling is a part of the process. There are ways to minimize the pain, but it’s my understanding that rotating the jump and landing on the correct foot are pretty tough. Most skaters can do one or the other at first, but not both at once. That's why skaters fall.
  • Crash pad drama. I bought Ice Girl crash pads. Two sets of crash pads. Did she use them? No. She thought they made her rear end look enormous. She changed her tune when a coach showed her the dent in her thigh she created from trying to learn the double axel without crash pads. I will say that there’s some debate about crash pads. You can find people who dislike them because they worry a skater won’t perform a jump without them. For Ice Girl, they really helped her with her fear of falling, so I like them.
  • Waltz-jump-itis. For months, Ice Girl swung her right leg wide like a waltz jump instead of forward like an axel. She had some wicked pain in her hip from that. She also overworked her hamstrings and twisted her pelvis. Stupid axel.
  • Anything but the stupid axel. The stupid axel’s hard. Ice Girl had some pain from muscle overuse and was discouraged because that stupid axel was taking so long. She’d practice all kinds of things – neat spins, combination jumps, and moves in the field – rather than that stupid axel. Aw, darn. The practice hour is over and no stupid axel attempts.
  • Bejewell that harness and call it a day. Ice Girl has landed many fine axels in the harness only to land many lousy ones off of it. I swore that I would make her a fake harness and put crystals all over it just so she’d land that stupid axel without ropes and pulleys.
  • Two feet. Geez. She’s so close to landing that stupid axel and it’s always on two feet. For months it’s on two feet. Two feet really aren’t that bad, are they? I mean, it’s just one more than one foot. It’s not like two feet and a hand. Really, how bad can two feet be?
  • Ankle weights? Really? When Ice Coach requested I purchase ankle weights, I did, but I thought it was weird. The weights I bought have long Velcro straps so they fit over both Ice Girls’ boots. I’m not a coach, but the weights force Ice Girl to use more power for her rotation, so without the weights she really rotates that jump. That’s what Ice Girl told me, anyway.
  • Core strength. It takes a lot of core strength to spin around in the air like that. Ice Girl does regular off-ice with Ice Coach once a week. She does it sporadically otherwise. This is definitely an area for improvement.
  • Many, many hours. Ugh. I thought the sit spin was bad. The stupid axel takes many, many hours off-ice and on. Bring a book. Or a library. Me, I steal others' crossword puzzles (I'm cheap. And pushy.)
  • Where did you put your Lutz? Ice Girl has her stupid axel pretty solid today. Her Lutz? Where did that go? Honestly. She’s had a Lutz for over a year, but today she didn’t have it. I understand that this is the same with the stupid axel. I’m anticipating the day that she misplaces it, too.
  • Honoring the occasion. It’s not uncommon for parents to give their skater a nice gift to honor the hard work the skater has put in on the stupid axel. You know me, though. I’m cheap. But, I also know how much work went in on that stupid jump. I got her an iPod. O.K., technically it was a re-gift, but it was still new in the box and she loves it, so there.
You might have noticed that I pretty much hate that stupid axel. Don’t get me wrong, that stupid axel is a pretty thing and I was near tears this morning when Ice Girl was just popping them off. I might grow to like it, but over these past eight months, I’ve really harbored resentment toward that stupid jump.

Another gal in the rink was so nice and congratulated Ice Girl this morning. But the mom warned me: here come the doubles.

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom:  But.... now we're stuck in the double salchow zone!!! I keep hoping it won't take as long as the axel did but so far it's looking eerily familiar... Sigh...

Update: From reader Anonymous: as a skating coach and mom, that stupid axel is gonna be the biggest accomplishment in her skating career [...]Falling is a must and until you are daring enough to do that, the axel will elude you, so I say be bold, be daring and have enough courage to just fall on your tush!

Update: From reader Anonymous: For me [the stupid axel] was more difficult than the doubles I mentioned above because I thought the forward takeoff was scary.

Update: From reader Ateam on the Edge: Okay - Axels are a half revolution more than any other jump. It is also the only one that takes off forward (meaning that ALL other parts of skating are "backwards"). We went through agony with double Axel. If you follow skating, you KNOW the triple axel saga. [...] Axel Paulsen was the person who "invented" the Axel jump. I don't think he did any of us a favor, do you??

Update: From reader Jillybean:  My daughter preferred the frozen section of the grocery store, I guess it felt more like the rink. [...] The axel is a HUGE accomplishment! I've known skaters who work on the jump for many years and still never land it.

Update: From reader Anonymous:  If I had a blog of my own, my topic would be 'That Stupid Loop Jump'. I'm an adult skater who does not even want to attempt the stupid axel - I just want to master the stupid loop jump!

Update: From skate coach and reader Xan: Hang in there everyone! My skating princess holds a rink record for learning the axel-- 2 1/2 years. Worst time of my life, lol. And she eventually managed a trip to Junior Nats and now skates professionally. I tell my students that if they aren't falling, they're not trying to learn an axel, they're trying not to fall!

Update: From reader Jozet: Gain an axel, lose a lutz. Double Salchow is axel's sister? She must chop off her sister's pigtails at night, because we weren't feeling the family love.

When people ask me what's the big deal with learning an axel, I use this analogy: going from leaning single backward jump to learning an axel is like going from driving an automatic car all your life to suddenly being put in a car with a stick-shift manual transmission and clutch and then trying to pull-out on a steep hill. There's just that much more you have to coordinate to make the car go without stalling. Or falling.

Update: From reader Anonymous: Well, I thought offering a "reward" would be a good incentive for my daughter to practice her axel...backfire! She became consumed with what she would get when she lands the axel that she got frustrated each time she tried and didn't land it!
How about you? Have a stupid axel tale to tell? Share your stories in the comments!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Accessory Review: The Stick

Thanks to  J.C.U. for recommending this to Ice Girl.

A few months back, Ice Girl was having trouble with her right hamstring. A gal in the rink locker room recommended The Stick.

The Stick is just that – a stick. It has a semi-rigid plastic core with big, flat plastic beads along its length and two handles on either end. The construction is simple and I predict that it will be tough to destroy it with normal and even harsh use.

Ice Girl uses The Stick to roll out her muscles, especially where she has pain. When she reaches a pain point, she rolls it back and forth over that spot to relax it. The Stick can also be used to warm up muscles, too, but Ice Girl does more traditional warm-ups instead.

I’m not a physical therapist or any kind of medical professional, so you shouldn’t take this as medical advice. It’s anecdotal. However, Ice Girl says The Stick works. We took The Stick to a doctor’s appointment, a sports medicine doctor’s appointment, and a physical therapy appointment. All three health professionals said that The Stick was great and the physical therapist said she owns one.

I ordered Ice Girls’ Stick online and the Travel Stick set me back about $35, including shipping. You can really go nuts and buy a wide range of Stick sizes and packages and spend over $100. I thought that I’d spend the least amount of money on the smallest stick and have Ice Girl try it out first. The Travel Stick is small enough to fit in her skate bag and works quite well. She has no idea that there are other Stick models and I’d like to keep it that way – this Stick was pricey enough, thanks.

Bottom line: I recommend The Stick, especially if your skater is having pain in hard-to reach areas. I know it works because Ice Girl willingly totes it around and uses it without any prompting. I’ve even caught her using it while watching t.v.

Update: From reader Anonymous: If you don't need to take it with you, a ball (volley, basket, tennis) will work well at home too. I guess you could take a tennis ball with you LOL.

Update: From reader Anonymous: I'm a physical therapist and also a skating mom. Tennis ball in a very long stocking works pretty much the same way. In my therapy clinic, we give away used tennis ball for self massage. It has to be a used one. The new one is too stiff and hard for massage.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lighten Up. We're All Volunteers.

This one's for the reader who e-mailed me to tell me she didn't think this post was too preachy at all. Me, I think it's a bit of a rant. You can judge. Ice Mom

Lately I’ve heard people grousing about how the figure skating club’s board didn’t do something or how the figure skating club should do something else.

Constructive suggestions are fabulous. Workboots and overalls are even better.

I honestly don’t mind criticism. I think that every criticism has a bit of truth in it and can make an organization better. However, I can’t stand a whiner and I really can’t stand folks who feel entitled to something.

Figure skating clubs are volunteer organizations. What does the ideal figure skating club parent look like? Here’s a profile:

The ideal figure skating club parent member doesn’t take volunteers for granted and she respects volunteers’ time.

Don’t approach a volunteer and ask her to do favors for you that are outside of her normal club work. In other words, your figure skating club secretary is not your personal secretary.

Do recognize that volunteers’ time is precious and thank them for volunteering theirs.

The ideal figure skating club parent member volunteers.

Don’t assume your club is a business. Sending in your membership fees and ice contract money shouldn’t be the extent of your relationship with your figure skating club. When those e-mails come out asking for volunteers, don’t click Delete.

Do volunteer. Sign up to be ice monitor. Volunteer at the competitions. Ask someone if you can lend a hand. As a parent, you want your skater’s club to be successful so your own skater benefits from lots of ice and a good atmosphere. Volunteering is a great way to show your support for your skater, too.

The ideal figure skating club parent member tries hard to be positive and not poisonous.

Don’t gripe and talk behind others’ backs. Here are the kind of words to avoid: “Kathy does such a lousy job with the newsletter. I never know what’s going on.”

Do offer targeted assistance. Maybe your treasurer doesn’t have the skills you’d like to see in that position or maybe your secretary seems overwhelmed. Instead of complaining, offer to help that person. “You know, Kathryn, that newsletter is a big job. Would you like a hand? I can…” or “Hey, Lisa. Spreadsheets are really my thing. Would you mind if I sent you a draft of one that the club could use?” Try this, “I’ve always wanted to know how a test session works, Sandy. Can I assist you with the next one?”

The ideal figure skating club parent considers what’s best for all skaters, not just her own kid.

Don’t complain about a committee’s actions because the decisions don’t fit your lifestyle, schedule, or level of commitment.

Do support the club’s efforts as much as possible. It’s good for your voice to be heard, but if well meaning volunteers are doing something and trying to grow the club, don’t be a roadblock because you can’t or don’t want to volunteer. Explain what you can do to support the club’s efforts and wish the volunteers success.

Update: Ice Mom Advisory Board Member Mommia wrote about the board member/bully: In general, everyone [on the board] is great, but it takes only one to spoil it. One board member has caused problems more than once - making rules, then wanting exceptions for her children; pulling her volunteerism and her children out of a show; quitting the club, bad mouthing one of the coaches who is well-liked (but refuses to give in to the mom's demands).

This isn’t the end-all etiquette list for figure skating club parents. It’s a start. What can you add to round out the profile of the ideal member?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: The Second Mark

Joy Goodwin’s The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold is the second book I’ve read about the 2002 Olympic figure skating judging scandal. Thanks to my many readers who recommended it.

You might recall that my big criticism of Jon Jackson’s book, On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed, was that he didn’t bring in the scandal until page 180. The rest was a memoir.

Goodwin begins with the warm-up for the 2002 Olympic pairs skating event, but she, too doesn’t bring in the judging scandal until later in the book – page 238. Unlike Jackson’s book, I really didn’t mind that she waited so long to bring in the bombshell.

What’s the difference? Goodwin, unlike Jackson, brings the main players on stage from page one. Better yet, by the time she brings in the scandal, I cared about the skaters. They’re not just pawns for the judges’ medal scheme, they’re people who’ve survived despite uncaring systems, abusive partners, illness, loneliness, and injuries. Each time, these Olympians pick themselves up, shake it off, and try again. One skater’s parent attributes his daughter’s skating success to her ability to eat bitterness. These folks are tough.

Goodwin writes like she’s showing us the skaters’ world on film instead of in print. Readers can see what China looks like after the Cultural Revolution. They can witness the skating system in Russia and the abuse it fostered. Goodwin describes Jamie Salé and David Pelletier so accurately that it feels like I should invite them over for a couple of beers. I like these people and I feel grateful to Goodwin for introducing them to me.

By the time the judges’ numbers game happened in Chapter Five, I wasn’t sure which skating pair or which coach I was rooting for the most. I can tell you that I had pretty much no sympathy for the judges. Goodwin covers a lot of pages with the skaters’ countries, coaches, parents, and training, but she just gives a quick sketch of what it’s like to be a judge. Her notes at the end of the book list all of her interviews, but she never got to the figure skating officials at the heart of the scandal: Marie-Reine Le Gougne, Ottavio Cinquanta, and Didier Gailhaguet. The scandal chapters just don’t have the fullness that the rest of the book has. It’s O.K., though. I’m not really interested in caring about the political pressures the judges faced. Unless one of them had been brained with a sharp blade or shivered in bloody skates, I’ve no sympathy for them.

The bottom line: Goodwin did her homework. She interviewed everyone who would talk to her and watched countless videos about skating and life in China, Russia, and Canada. It sounds like the book would be dry, but it isn’t. Instead, the book unfolds like a good movie: it has scenery, plot, and characters I care about. This book is very much worth your time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How-to: Survive 6 a.m. Freestyle Ice

I am a zombie. So is Ice Girl. She has three mornings of 6 a.m. figure skating freestyle ice, which makes it tough to fit in homework, Facebook, and sleep.

It’s the homework and sleep that we struggle with and I’m sure all of us 6 a.m. ice parents are struggling with it, too. To tell the truth, we struggle with Facebook, too, but it seems like it’s only a problem for me. Ice Girl likes Facebook just fine.

Six a.m. ice is a fabulous thing, especially during hockey season when afternoon freestyle ice is limited. Fewer skaters attend 6 a.m. ice and we parents have a camaraderie that comes from the warrior mentality we share.

So. How do we balance sleep, skating, studying, and socializing? Not well. Here’s what I’ve tried that works/doesn’t work.

Homework in the van. This has marginal returns. Sometimes Ice Girl claims that she has car sickness and can’t study, sometimes she does fine. I have purchased a couple of Lightwedges that I keep in the van. They’re great for reading books, but lousy for doing math.

Enforcing a bedtime. This seems like the obvious answer, but it’s a tough one to enforce. Ice Girl sometimes has homework that takes her past the early bedtime and what do I do? Call the coach and cancel the 6 a.m. lesson? Still working on this one.

Banishing that stupid cell phone. I get it. Ice Girl wants a social life. Part of that life is texting. However, when she’s doing homework or supposed to be sleeping, that cell phone is in a different room. We’re working on setting a homework timer and allowing five minutes of texting for every 30 minutes of homework. How’s that working? Great – when we remember to set the timer. Not so great when we forget.

Sleeping in skating clothes. If you tell Ice Grandma that I send Ice Girl to bed in her Under Armour I will deny, deny, deny it. But, between you and me: I do. This is actually Ice Girl’s great idea and I just pretend that I don’t know she sleeps in her skating clothes. Let me tell you: it’s better for her to wake up five minutes before the van leaves and squeeze in enough Z’s than to wear p.j.s that she’ll just throw in the backseat anyway.

Facebook. I come home from work and Ice Girl and I have the homework discussion. How much of it requires the computer? She’s allowed to use the computer only for that portion. The problem is that Facebook often distracts her from that portion. This is an ongoing problem that most teens and parents have, I think. My only solution is to do spot checks on her, but those have marginal returns.

All in the van before bed. Neither Ice Girl nor I are great at thinking in the morning, so we both put everything we’ll need for 6 a.m. ice in the van before bed. I keep a checklist on the garage door so we don’t forget socks, gloves, or skates. This works pretty well most of the time. Sometimes Ice Girl just assumes that we have pony tail holders in the van because we almost always do…until the one time we don’t.

Coffee. After 10 years of living caffeine-free, I’ve given in. Java, java, java! Ice Girl hates the stuff.

Social. Ice Girl fills out the ice contract each month, so she knows when she has ice and when she’s free. This works pretty well most of the time. However, her friends aren’t planners like we are. Ice Girl just received a Halloween party invite that conflicts with ice time. Am I such an ogre that I’ll force I.G. to skate instead? Nope. I’m a softie. Here’s to hoping we can get a switch!

No ice the night before. I won't take Ice Girl to the rink the night before 6 a.m. ice. It's just too much to ask her to skate, study, eat, and sleep in the four hours between the final school bell and setting the alarm. We're pretty successful with this, but then Ice Girl skates a ton on the weekends. That's tough in her new skates.

Update: After reading this comment from Anonymous, I shall never whine about 6 a.m. ice again. Right. We all know that's a total lie.

Only 6am?! Lucky Ice Girl! I have 4am ice three times a week and start work at 5am on the alternate days- it took me about six months to get into a proper routine for it, and I fell asleep at work twice (which is pretty hard when you work in a casino!)

Update: Reader Anonymous gives 10 tips for surviving 6 a.m. ice. Here are two:

5. no double trips in one day if you're going to go in the morning don't go at night homework needs to be done at some point

9. do not i repeat do not fall asleep on the drive over this is what loud music was made for

Update: Reader Anonymous has a male figure skater. Here's what Anony's son does:

He only skates during the week and is off weekends. He keeps the same bed time during the weekends and gets up on his own.

Update: I have no idea how this works, Anonymous, but I'm willing to learn.

My skater is still small enough that she warms up and stretches in the backseat during the 30 minute drive. By the time we get to the rink, she's pretty much ready to go.

How do you survive 6 a.m. ice? Are you doing a better job than I am? What’s your secret? Please share both successes and failures!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Figure Skate Boots and Blades: Not the Place to Skimp

I’m thrifty, even cheap, but I don’t resort to home dentistry. Sure, I brush my teeth, and I even floss sometimes, but I leave the root canals and fillings to my dentist. My teeth’s good health is important to me: I don’t want rotten, misshapen teeth. I want to chew food without pain and I don’t know the first thing about giving myself Novocain. That’s why I see a professional.

I’m the same way with figure skates. I just don’t know how to fit them on my own; although, I would love a shot of Novocain when it comes to paying for them.

Let’s say, for instance, a person orders her daughter’s figure skating boots and blades online. Being a practical soul, she orders the figure skating boots one size larger for her daughter because the kid is still growing. Practical Mom wants the boot to fit her skater in a year. Practical Mom also bought a boot that’s a pretty high level because she expects her skater to advance quickly. She buys the figure skating blade online and mounts it herself at home. Then she takes the new skates to a local sporting goods store where they sharpen recreational blades.

Practical Mom wants to save money, but she’s doing it in the wrong way. Let’s see where she went wrong and how to make it right.

Ordering figure skating boots online. Sure, you can save money and order boots online, but you have to be cautious. You have to make sure that the foot measurements and foot tracings are done properly – many folks get it wrong. If you order your boots online, you don’t have the benefit of trying on several pairs from different manufacturers. You don’t know that one manufacturer’s boot has a narrow heel or that another has a wider toe box. However, ordering boots online can save you money, especially if the skater has stopped growing. In that case, order the same boot; it’s pretty simple.

How to make it right: Unless you’re very experienced with skate fittings, visit a reputable figure skate dealer for a good fit. If you must order online, call the place you’re ordering from and ask them to walk you through the measurement and foot tracing process. See if they can recommend a certain boot for you based on the measurements.

Ordering a boot that’s too big. Practical Mom knows her kid’s growing, but what she doesn’t know is that the sides of the figure skating boot are reinforced at points that correspond to a skater’s foot size. If a skater is too small for the boot, the non-reinforced areas will take the impact. Renee from Rainbo Sports said that this kind of wear actually makes the boot break down, or crease, faster than a boot that fits well. Practical Mom thinks she’s smart to order a size too big, but really, she’ll be buying new boots sooner.

Boots that are too big also cause foot problems, Renee said. A skater might compensate for the boot’s size by gripping the sole with her toes, which causes foot pain. Her heel might slip in the back and cause a bump on the heel. She could develop painful calluses, too.

How to make it right: Buy the boots that fit your skater’s feet. You can maybe go up a half size, but don’t go up any further than that. Remember that boot sizes don’t correspond to shoe sizes and every figure skating boot manufacturer has a different size chart. You must measure.

Ordering a figure skating boot that’s too advanced. Practical Mom dreams of doubles and thinks that the heavier the boot, the better her skater will perform. This is a lousy idea. Your skater will skate like she’s in cement shoes because the boot’s too tough for her. If you want your skater to quit, buy a boot that’s way too stiff.

How to make it right: Your skater needs to build up her legs and her feet in order to tolerate an advanced boot, Renee said. You’re better off increasing the boot incrementally than jumping from the rental skates your skater used in Basic 4 to a skate that kids doing triples require.

Skipping the heat molding step. I think Practical Mom skipped this step because she doesn’t have a convection oven at home. Few people do. You can’t heat mold a figure skating boot in a conventional oven, so don’t even try it. Heat molding figure skating boots is a fabulous thing. It molds the boot to the skater’s foot and smoothes the break-in process for the skater. Heat molding reduces painful blisters, rubbing, and even scars.

How to make it right: If you have ordered your boots online, take them (and your skater) to a skate shop. Dress your skater in her skate socks, too. Request that the shop heat mold the boot. They’ll probably charge you for it, but it’s worth it.

Mounting the figure skating blade herself. You’d think that mounting a figure skate blade to a boot is as simple as drawing a straight line down the center and screwing the blade down on top of the line. However, even a small variance in the mounting can make holding edges and spins difficult for your skater. If you try to adjust the mounting, you’ll weaken the sole and invite water damage. Better to get it right the first time.

How to make it right: Again, if you’ve ordered the boots online, take them into a reputable dealer for the mounting. Yeah, they’re going to charge you, but you’ll save your skater a lot of frustration in the long run and have a more solid boot.

Inexpert figure skate blade sharpening. Blades are pricey and have only so much life in them. An inexpert sharpening can ruin a blade by taking off way too much metal or rounding the blade à la hockey skates. Blades cost $150 on the cheap end and $500+ on the expensive end. For my money, I want the most life out of that bugger.

How to make it right: Take that blade to a reputable skate sharpener. I know – it’s hard to know who sharpens correctly. Ask around. People will tell you. (Someday I’ll write a post about how to know if a sharpening is good or not. Until then, ask around.) I drive Ice Girl’s skates to a shop 90 minutes away because I know that Renee at Rainbo Sports sharpens well. You know I’m cheap, but I’m also not willing to risk my daughter’s Vision blade on just anyone. That’s $500, people. O.K. I bought it used, but still. I’m not going to pay for the local used sporting goods store or hockey shop to ruin it.

The bottom line: scrimping on skates isn’t really saving you much. Look. I want to save money as much as the next person. Perhaps more than the next person: I adore bargains. But, I save money elsewhere: I sew dresses (you can buy them online), I make Ice Girl practice moves on cheap, empty public sessions, and I bought used blades (with Renee’s approval).

Update: From reader Anonymous: The recommendation charts are somewhat helpful, but as a skate tech who works with skaters for a living, I can tell you the charts are not always 100% on the money. The charts don't usually take into account the skaters body size, weight, hours per week he/she skates, how he/she breaks down boots, etc. I have customers who are 65 lbs. and working on Double Axels and the boot I recommend for them is not going to be the same as the boot for a 150 lb. man working on the same jump. Also, there is a major difference between a skater who is a "test" skater at, say, the Intermediate level, and an Intermediate lady who qualifies for Junior Nationals. So I always look at the "whole picture", not just the chart.

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom: Take the coach's advice too. They have WAY more knowledge about all kinds of skates than the other moms at the rink.

Update: From reader Ethelapple: Heat molding is great -- and so is "bumping out" the boot to get a little extra time before having to buy that next pair!

Update: From reader Anonymous: In general, I have found that an excellent pro-shop may have better boot and blade fit information than the coach.

What do you think? Let me know if you think I’m way off base with this one. Better yet, let me know if there’s a way to save money on figure skates that I don’t know about. Have a horror story? Share that, too!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hey, Mom. Stop Coaching from the Stands

This post is courtesy of Cap’n Obvious (left). However, some moms don’t recognize Cap’n Obvious, even when he’s staring back at them from across the hockey glass. This post is for them.

I’m sure every rink has one of these figure skating moms: she’s in the stands, behind the hockey glass, shouting instructions to her figure skater like: “Hold your landings,” or “You’re wide stepping.” You might even have seen this mom pull her figure skater off the ice to lecture the skater about edges.

Mom thinks she’s helping. I know she does. The truth is: she’s not.

Look, Mom. You’re not a coach. And if you are, you know better.

Your role: be your skater’s number-one fan. That’s it. You’re in charge of encouragement and making sure that your skater turns out to be a normal human being.

You are not to shout instructions to your skater from the stands, the hockey box, or the mini van. Mom, you pay good money to qualified coaches for that instruction. Do not interfere. You are in charge of mental health and a normal life. And driving. And paying the bills. But not coaching. Coaching is for coaches. Skating is for skaters. Parenting is for parents.

Mom, your amateur coaching is harmful. You know that money you pay coaches? Well, if you’re coaching on the stands, add a lesson or two for the coach to undo your damage. Include some self-doubt in your extra lesson calculations for the complex you’re giving your skater. Your skater wants to please you, Mom, but also wants to please her coach. Whom should she follow?

You’re also pressuring the poor kid. Kids are not widgets that perform the same as other kids, learn the same way as other kids, or progress as fast as other kids. They are people, not gears or cogs. People are different from one another, so you can’t expect your kid to learn a jump at the same rate as some other kid. You can’t stress out because another skater has passed a moves test and your skater hasn’t. Your sidelines coaching puts pressure on your skater and will delay her progress instead of furthering it. Plus, she’ll never feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. Add some extra professional coaching lessons to compensate for that, too.

Your in-the-stands coaching is also pretty awkward. Shouting from the stands distracts other skaters. They worry about the pressure you’re putting on their friend, but they also worry that maybe their moms will think that amateur coaching is a good idea, too. Moms who recognize that in-the-stands coaching is a no-no look away from you when you shout and move their blankets to another part of the bleachers.

Some of you might feel your skater traps you into the amateur coaching role. I’ve seen skaters ask Mom how a spin or jump looked. Mom struggles to say something intelligent, but that’s where it all goes wrong.

Here’s what you say, Mom, when your skater asks you for feedback, “It looked great, honey. You’ll have to show your coach.”

Stick to the script, Mom. Deviating from the script leads to long-term trouble with amateur coaching. Resist. Be strong. Smile, nod, and wave the kid back out on the ice.

That’s not to say that parenting from the stands isn’t a good thing. It’s a fabulous thing. Want to parent from the stands? Here’s how:

  1. Watch your skater and give her a periodic thumbs-up.
  2. Sit with other moms and clap for every skater when each one finishes a program.
  3. Smile and nod whenever your skater asks for feedback or approaches the hockey glass for a conversation. Do not say anything; just keep smiling and nodding.
  4. When your skater stands around at the boards and chats with friends, wave her over, give her a stern look, and make a skating motion. It’s perfectly fine for Mom to tell skaters to use their ice time well.
  5. You can do anything the coach authorizes you to do. I’m authorized to do a ride ’em cowboy motion whenever Ice Girl does a rodeo arm movement with her lutz. That’s great fun, I tell you.
  6. Be your skater’s biggest fan. Watch her and let her know that what she’s doing is important and interesting.
  7. Hugs and love. When skater comes off the ice in tears, offer the hug. When skater comes off the ice with a smile, offer the hug. 
Update: Counterpoint from reader Anonymous (thanks, Anony!):

I agree with you coaching from stand with so many people around will probably do more harm than good. but I think you go too far by saying parents shouldn't make any technical comments on any or most circumstances.

I am sure there are parents out there who played gymnastics, ballet or even ice skate etc... who have some valuable experiences who can share with their kids ... like how to rotate the body efficiently, how to transfer weight properly etc... I believe they are qualify to comment on the skaters. Of course it doesn't mean they becomes an authority higher than than the coach.

What I am trying to say is, no one should feel guilty by DEEPLY participating in your child's sports. If you have previous experiences in related sports, feel free to do it. It is a blessing that you can discuss with your child at that level. if you do it properly and respectfully, you can have a more intimate relationship with your child. I would love to see my daughter come to talk/share with me about the technical details of the jump that she knows I may not 100% understand but knows enough to chat or help her to spot the problem. Rather than having her thinking - "mom won't understand the frustration of my axel problem, I would rather talk to my friends."

There is nothing wrong with trying to understand and/or comment things like ... why your right leg is not straight while you are rotating or why your head you not moving to the left when you are in the air.

The only thing that you should feel guilty undermine the authority of your coach or criticize/embarrass your kid in public.

Update: From the Professional Skater's Association's Ten Commandments for Figure Skating Parents: III Thou shalt not coach your child. You have taken your child to a professional coach - do not undermine that performance by trying to coach your child on the side. Your job is to support and love your child no matter what, and the coach is responsible for the technical part of the job.

Update: From USFSA's Parent Information: 10. Turn your child over to the coach at practices and competitions – don't meddle or coach from the sidelines.

Update: From reader Season: We also do not want to live our lives through our children. We as parents if we want to be skaters then we need to get out our skates take some lessons and get on the ice with our children. You can be more supportive on the ice sharing in what they are learning than you can ever be coaching from the sidelines.

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom: I AM trying to pay closer attention during her lessons (I used to sit in the warm room and read a book!) so that on sessions when she has no lesson (and I can pry her away from her chatty friends), she can't hit me with "I don't know what to practice!" So I try to see what the coach is working on with her so I can remind her that she might want to try working on that.

Update: Ateam on the Edge posted the profile of the skating parents we all try to avoid at the rink. Read about Dragon Lady and Darth Vader. 

So, parents, what do you think? Got a cure for the amateur coaching mom? Do you have a suggestion for sideline parenting? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Would You Keep This Figure Skating Coach?

Thanks to my unofficial editorial advisory board: Ice Coach, Ice Dad, Ice Girl, Ice Friend, K.R. and C.L.

Please note: all e-mails below have been edited for length and usage.

A couple of weeks ago I received this question from reader L.L. in my InBox that said three things:
  1. L.L. likes her daughter’s figure skating coach.
  2. Competition problem #1: Skater and coach never practiced the compulsory at both ends of the rink. Skater was distressed at a competition when she had to skate at the other end of the rink.
  3. Competition problem #2: Weird problem where Skater was signed up for an interpretive figure skating event and thought it would be her normal program.
L.L. wanted to know: So why didn't our coach know about these things and what do I do now? Do I fire her or give her another chance? Isn’t that one of the reasons you have a coach and don't do it yourself?

I conducted a poll of my informal advisory board and it came out 6 to 1 in favor of keeping the coach on.

Here’s what some of us said:

  1. Yes, it's the coach's responsibility to know the rules – she should have known them.
  2. Is this a new coach? It sounds like she must be. Learning is hard, and that kind of mistake is likely only made once.
  3. I, personally, would give the coach one more chance assuming all else is good in the skater-coach relationship. If not, I would say that's a good reason to leave.

C.L: I think that the parent should have a heart-to-heart with the coach if she likes her. These seem like honest mistakes that maybe a newer coach would not be aware of. For the next competition, the parent and coach should review the rules together and schedule practice ice on the rink beforehand.

Ice Friend: I would say fire her, unless the kid wants to keep the coach. I know if it were me, I would not be happy, because it would make me feel like I’m not skating to my fullest. The coach should know about the competition’s rules, because they’re written in the competitions packets that they sign. It has all of the information, so maybe the coach read it, but she didn’t pay very much attention to the details.

Ice Mom: For me, the coaching relationship is more complicated than competition results. I look for a coach who loves to be on the ice, has good skating skills, is a good teacher, is nice to me and my kid, and is easy to communicate with. I want Ice Girl to do well at competitions and I sign her up for a lot of them. But at this level, I think that the competition thing is really about getting kids to understand what a competition is and how to mentally prepare for them. If your daughter freaked out or was thrown for a loop, that really didn't happen. It's obvious your coach let you down in the competition area, but you wrote that you really like her. Maybe the other criteria outweigh the competition fiascos. Maybe you're willing to take another chance with her because you believe she's a good coach and a good fit for your daughter and your family.

Ice Girl: Maybe the coach has really good skills and works well with the skater. I would sit down and talk with the coach, but I wouldn’t let her go just over this.

Most of us are willing to give this coach another chance, and that’s just what L.L. did.

Update: From Anonymous in the comments: I'm all for giving people a second chance, as long as you're confident that you're not being taken advantage of. If you think it was the kind of mistake you only make once, than give her another try. If, however, there are repeated missed details, then you should consider whether she is really serious about being a good coach. You need to be an advocate for your kids as well as a partner with the coach. Skating is too expensive not to be concerned about the details.

From reader Season: The main point of my post is that open communication with the coach is very important and if your coach is young and new to the profession she may need some time to get used to being a coach.

From reader Rosalie: One or two mistakes is fine, as long as they don't happen again, but you are paying your coach to help you/your skater progress, not to be your buddy.

What do you think? What would you recommend a parent do in this situation?