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?