Monday, February 23, 2009

Intense Figure Skating Training -or- Baby, You Can Drive My Car

By day I’m an education writer, so I read a lot of education-related stuff. This morning I read an article in the Teachers College Record about parents of gifted student musicians.

The gal who wrote it had a child who wouldn’t stop banging on the piano. Robin Schader drove 50-some miles to the nearest academic town for her daughter’s advanced music lessons. She called it The Drive. Sound familiar?

Eventually, Schader opened a not-for-profit student musician’s house in the academic town to house her kid and others like her nearer to the conservatory. Schader also became involved in researching these driven kids and their parents.

Here’s what Schader writes about the parents who sent their children to stay at Music House:

Broadly speaking, we learned that the majority of these parents regarded music lessons as a benefit to their child’s development in multiple ways: enhancing academic learning and discipline while building awareness of the rewards of practice, as well as enriching aesthetic appreciation. Few indicated their investment was made with expectations of a career in music.

The combined experience of working with Music House parents and the subsequent research with [researcher] David Dai demonstrated that there are things parents can do and things parents clearly can’t do. They can’t make professional musicians of their children, nor make them love music, but they can help them gain several valuable life skills through music training.

Schader writes about a later study she did with Professor Sally Reis of the University of Connecticut’s Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Schader and Reis interviewed nearly 400 female former Olympians about their training and experiences.

Schader specifically researched the role the Olympians’ believed their parents played in their athletic success. Here’s what she found:

Interestingly, although the elite athletes acknowledged several external factors as contributors to their success (including the various roles played by parents), ultimately these elite athletes perceived the primary factors to be in their own hands. In their views, perseverance, practice, and personal characteristics were paramount.

When I first read those sentences I thought: Really? All that drive time and gas money and still Mom and Dad aren’t that big of a deal?

Then I thought: Wait. That’s a good thing.

This means that those successful kids, those musicians and athletes, aren’t doing it for Mom and Dad: they’re doing it for themselves. They’re in control and they’re reaping the enormous benefits that come with success: self-esteem, discipline, goal-setting, and independence.

I’m really glad that most Moms and Dads willingly drive their kids ridiculous distances to far-off places at all hours of the day and night. When they get to the rink, the conservatory, or wherever, these parents move to the back seat and let their talented kids drive the rest of the way – wherever they’re headed.

Schader, R. (2009) Parents, Kids, and Pianos. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 15476, Date Accessed: 2/23/2009 11:35:25 AM

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Horror: Moldy Figure Skating Boots

Yesterday I hauled Ice Girl and Ice Friend through the snow to Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center and the Rainbo Sports pro shop.

Our mission: to exchange Ice Friend's old blades with Ice Coach's used blades.

The problem: mold and mildew.

Ice Friend bought her boots and blades a year ago at a different shop. The shop folks took her money and sent her on her way. Ice Friend had no idea that the untreated figure skate boot soles would trap moisture and encourage mold and mildew beneath her blades.

Ice Friend was ticked when she saw that mildew (the black stuff in the photo above). However, Renee at Rainbo said she'd take care of it, the mildew would be manageable, and Ice Friend's blade wouldn't fall off during a salchow.

When we bought Ice Girl's new boots, we waited an additional two weeks while Renee sealed the leather soles with marine-grade varnish and a bit of glitter. Varnish and careful drying of the boot and blade after ice time is the best way to make sure the darn things don't rot. That's Plan A for avoiding boot mildew.

Here's what Renee did for Plan B, the solution to Ice Friend's problem. Renee removed the blade (don't do this at home), dried out the soles with her heat ray gun (a hair dryer will do), blasted the can of Sno Seal with her heat ray to melt it, and then used a cheap foam craft brush to paint the entire sole, heel, and a bit of the white boot with the Sno Seal. She was generous with the amount. Renee let the Sno Seal dry and then wiped off the excess with paper towels. In the photo above, you can see Renee's heat ray, Ice Friend's mildewy boot, and the brush full of molten Sno Seal.

Renee mounted the new blades and sold Ice Friend a $5 can of Sno Seal, which Ice Friend is supposed to smear on her boots once a month. The leather soles are noticeably darker than the untreated leather, but stopping that mildew thing is a big bonus.

For the official directions, you can visit the Sno Seal people's official Web site here:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How-to: Choose a Skating Coach, Part Two

I was browsing and found one of Susan’s posts about how to choose a skating coach. She received three bits of advice from former competitive ice dancer and current coach. You can visit her post here:

1. Professionalism. The coach respects a student’s time and parent’s money.
2. Skill. The coach has the skills to take the skater towards the skater’s goals.
3. Love of ice. The coach loves skating, loves rinks, and is genuinely happy to be there.

That third requirement surprised Susan and surprised me as well. However, it makes perfect sense. So I’ll add this post’s URL to my first How-to Choose a Coach post (you can visit it here):

Anyway, you want to pick the coach who smiles when she enters the rink and is eager to get out on the ice. Don’t pick the grumpy one for whom coaching is just a job. Pick the one who thinks of herself as the luckiest gal in the world – she can earn money while on the ice. How cool is that?

Even though Love of Ice wasn’t a requirement for me when we chose Ice Coach (or rather, she chose Ice Girl), we lucked out on that one. Ice Coach’s mom told me that Ice Coach couldn’t get enough ice as a kid – it was an addiction for her.

That’s the coach I want for my kid: the one who looks forward to 6 a.m. ice as fun, not work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Battle of the Athletic Tights: Cheap C9 or Pricey Under Armour?

Ice Girl loves to wear stretchy, fitted lycra tights on the ice. You know, the kind of tights runners wear. She wears them like tight-fitting pants, not under a practice skirt or dress, but as pants.

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you know that I am cheap, cheap, cheap. I looked at the $60 price tag on the Under Armour Cold Gear Tornado Tights and had to sit down before I passed out.

I found Champion C9 pants (top) at Target for less than half the cost of the Under Armour (bottom) – just $24.99 for the Champion C9 Running Tights. That’s what Ice Girl has been wearing for over six months with no complaints.

However, two weeks ago, Ice Grandma, that softee, bought Ice Girl a pair of the Under Armour pants, which gives me a great opportunity to compare the two.

Cost. Champion C9 wins hands down. Ice Girl and I can buy two of these pairs of tights from Target and have money left over for a chai tea latte, hot cocoa, and one ginormous cookie to split from the in-store Starbucks. (Champion C9 = $24.99, Under Armour = $59.99; venti chai = $3.99, venti hot cocoa = $3.99, one cookie = $1.95)

Styling. I give a slight edge to Under Armour on styling because of their tights’ simplicity. Under Armour and C9 both have a color stripe on the side. The black C9 tights have a small bit of silver, but the black C9 tights with pink have a huge side stripe of pink. Under Armour is just a basic tight with nothing but a stripe; C9 has a bottom zipper from bottom hem to mid-thigh and a pocket in the back at the waistband.

Some of the zipper pulls have broken off Ice Girl’s C9 tights, but it’s not very annoying to Ice Girl; she can still zip the bottoms with her nimble little fingers. She likes the back pocket in the C9 pants so she can put a couple of bucks in there for the pop machine. An online reviewer said that the zipper in the C9 tights rubbed against her leg and caused her leg to bleed, but Ice Girl has never complained about the zipper at all.

Fit. No clear winner here. Ice Girl likes the fit equally on both pairs.

Warmth. No clear winner. Champion C9 ad copy claims that its fabric speeds evaporation and keeps an athlete warm. Under Armour claims dry warmth, too. Ice Girl hasn’t noticed that one is warmer than the other. She’s worn them both in the coldest rink she skates in and they are both good.

Durability. Slight edge to Under Armour. Some of the zipper pulls on the Champion C9 tights have broken off, but the lycra remains stretchy and resilient even after lots of careless washing and over-drying. Under Armour doesn’t have the zipper, so it has no pulls to lose, which is why I think it has a slight durability edge.
The bottom line. I'm cheap and Under Armour's pricey. I also have a thing for venti chai lattes, so for my $60, I'll take two pair of the Champion C9 tights and a venti chai latte to go.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pennies from Hell: Empty Pockets before Hitting the Ice

In our defense, let me state again that Ice Girl has been figure skating for just 14 months. We're new and this story happened last August, when she'd been skating for just eight months.

And, Ice Dad's the culprit, not me!

We were at a competition and Ice Girl hit Ice Dad up for some hot cocoa. He gave her, I don't know, two bucks. She put the change in her jacket, drank the hot cocoa down, and went out for her warm-up.

Skate, skate, skate. Spin, spin...scatter pennies on the ice. Ice Coach held her head as if she'd had brain freeze. Ice Girl scrambled to pick up the change and bring it to Ice Coach. I turned to that husband of mine and demanded an explanation. He pretended innocence.

Last weekend at Badger State Winter Games, some other kid (not mine, I swear), had a few tubes of lip gloss in her pockets. Skate, skate, skate, spin, spin...lip gloss tubes all over the ice. None of the skaters saw it, including Bonnie Bell. We parents in the stands were shouting and gesturing at our skaters to pick up what we thought were markers. Skaters and coaches were bewildered and several girls missed the tubes by inches. Finally a couple of girls realized that these objects were on the ice and collected them.

Bottom line:
This one seems pretty obvious, but since my family isn't the only one to have done it, I think telling new skating parents not to give kids small objects before going on the ice is a pretty good idea. Frisking the little buggers before they go on the ice isn't a bad idea, either. I'm not going so far as to sew Ice Girl's pockets closed, but I did consider it briefly. However, I chose to sew Ice Dad's wallet shut instead.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quick tip: extra skate guards for competitions

This tip comes from Competitive Skater, who keeps two pairs of skate guards in her bag for competitions. One pair is her wet pair, the other is the dry pair.

At a competition, Competitive Skater wears the wet pair (dry at the time) to the rink, removes them, skates, and then puts them back on.

Competitive Skater returns to her skate bag, dries the guards, dries her boots and blades and puts on her dry guards for photos. No rust. Smart girl, that Competitive Skater.

Competitive Skater Dad is even smarter – he got Competitive Skater’s second pair of guards from the rink manager when the manager was getting rid of a year’s worth of lost-and-found stuff.

I scoured the lost-and-found last night: no dice. So, Ice Girl will be getting her second pair of guards at Badger State this weekend. Renee at Rainbo’s bringing them with her – we just have to pick the color. I’m hoping Ice Girl won’t pick purple, but I’m betting they’ll be sparkly.

Update: Ice Grandma popped for the new blade guards at Badger State Winter Games. When I buy guards, I shell out for the plain ol' guards that cost $9 - 13. Ice Girl has had her eye on these cool flashing guards for $25. You know me. I did the math and figured I could buy two pairs of guards instead of one pair of flashing guards. Or, I could buy one pair of plain ol' guards and one hour of ice. Choose, Ice Girl. She totally outwitted me and hit up Ice Grandma instead. Now Ice Girl has flashing guards (very cool) that require 8 watch-type batteries. They came with batteries, but I'm betting we'll need replacements soon. I did lobby hard for the orange flashing guards, but both Ice Girl and Ice Grandma looked at me as if I were nuts. She chose clear flashing guards - the better to see the cool lights.