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