Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Left Foot

Last night I booked it home, got in the car, drove to the rink and relieved The Sitter who had taken Stitch to the Put-In Lesson that evening. I wasn't sure about this, Stitch had been rolling his eyes at the concept, but when I got there both boys were laughing and having fun. They were doing the warmup routine, waltz jumps, something with a swizzle and a hop and they try to clack their skates together, and that new jump; a toepick dig into the ice, hop up, half twist and land on toepicks.

I was talking to Rink Pal, distracting myself from the abject horror I feel as a parent at any jump, and asked, "What is that? That thing they're doing now?"
"That? Oh, she's getting them ready for toe loops. Half loop, actually."

Stitch was hopping and smiling and laughing, he looked at me with this "I'm awesome" grin, and then he got called away by Coach to go do something else. She had the boys finish up with swizzle races, slalom races forward and backward, and the horrifying three lap race where toepicks become mortal enemies of small children. Coach declared the final minutes as "free time," and Stitch kept flying. Gordon, exhausted and at the end of his rope, departed without a word to Rink Pal or me, but he's a kid so I don't really care.

Stitch, on the other hand. I was afraid I was going to have to ask Rink Pal to get his skates on and fetch him. He was laughing, sailing around, feinting at the door, darting away again, laughing at us the whole time. "I don't want to go!"

He had the rink to himself, I don't blame him. But leave we did, towards home and dinner and normalcy where people don't willingly jump around on low friction surfaces.

When we got home, I got to thinking. Coach is right. Why spend valuable time and money allowing Stitch to languish for ten weeks listening to a Coach I don't particularly like talk too much and jerk him around. (And why why do I always get this coach in the Group Class lottery?) All he'll do is scrape ice, hang off the boards, go in circles, spin, and complain that he hates group lessons. ("Group lessons are booooorring!" Repeat ad nauseum.) Why do that, when we have Privates and lots of ice? Everyone's established that it's just a matter of practice and patience anyway, he's nearly there, why waste the resources? He does really well in that class on Saturday, much better than I expected. He's engaged, active, and moving. This kind of thing was becoming increasingly rare in the Group Classes, as the skills started stacking high up behind his “official” placement.

This is why no one honestly blogs about skating, because the experience is different for everyone. This is our journey, that is yours, and I'm starting to think that this isn't as linear as I had originally imagined.

That girl who was endlessly repeating Alpha, her mom was spending $120 a pop per session, over and over and over again. At five times, $600.00, it becomes silly. Isn't there a more economical way? An hour or two of pickup privates on Public ice for $60ish per hour? Do it on certain public sessions and the ice is less crowded than a typical Pre-FS Practice Ice. Even if you need two hours at four half hour sessions, you're saving $360.00. (I subtracted the original $120 on the Group Class.) I saw her last weekend, with a private coach, crossing over like the rest of the kids. Was there any concession made for the thought that this girl might do better in Privates than in a Group format? Why is the Group Class schedule being held as the pro forma standard by which all kids must learn, when I know of lots of kids who just do privates?

Faster progressing kids makes you think about the time factor. If a kid wants to be a Big League Skater, they don't have time to agonize like that. They need to get it or not, but fifty weeks for a six or seven year old is an eternity when the age gateway is 13. Yes, I actually did read portions of the USFS Rulebook, and if anyone tells Stitch that Big League Men don't get points for Spirals, I'll hunt them down like the dogs they are. I'm also pleased that USFS hates feathered costumes as much as I do, at least on Synchro Skaters.

The Skating Game is rigged from the start, and the weird doublespeak begins from Day One. At Home Rink, kids can't get into a Pre-Alpha Class until they're 6. So, how does this explain a kid doing Axels at seven or eight? The YouTubes are full of seven year olds doing Axels. Good ones. According to Coach, this is normal. I believe this, because you can't wander onto an online skating parent’s message board without getting an inferiority complex when you admit your six year old is still learning swizzles. (They’re not Pre-Pre yet? Wow, you’re behind!) If Axel Paulsen had any idea that his jump would be the source of anxiety for kids still learning multiplication tables and parental competition akin to dueling mountain hillbilly factions, he might have kept it to himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t.

Following the standard Group Class format, four sessions per year starting at six years old, kids don't get to imitate Mr. Paulsen until nine. This is assuming that they don't repeat levels or skip a session. My understanding is that most kids repeat levels, but that could be avoided with Privates and a hella lotta practice. So, would anyone care to explain that seven year old doing Axels? The answer, of course, is the Ugly Truth.

I know I've used this before, but it fits in so many places.

Johnny Weir was an elderly 12 when he began skating, and yet he made it under the wire. Evan Lysacek started skating at 8, but won the Novice Title at 13. (Wikipedia, both of them.) That's swizzles to double jumps and flying spins in five years. Is anyone really going to insist to me that there wasn't some fudging (and inordinate spending of cash) going on? Now, I don’t know if Stitch wants to be a Big League Skater, or if he even could be, but it would be nice to leave that door open for him should he wish to really try for little girls throwing stuffed animals at him, get the big crystal trophies he lusts after and be on TV.

We can still do the formal tests, and I fully intend to. I'm not going to do Summer Session since I can't promise him to be there all the time, but Coach has some pretty cool plans for summer when he can be there. We can use that time to do the tests, get the patches, and be on track for Fall and Winter. Since Pre-Free has no "objectives" that I can see beyond getting the feet wet in a faster environ, why not shoot for the Gamma test in a few weeks? And Delta in Mid-Summer? He has to take the ISI tests anyway if he wants to compete in July. (If he doesn't pass that, I'm buying pizza for the rink. Kid's got solid edges, forward and backward. Backward edges are FS2.) If getting the patches becomes an issue, I can still call ISI direct. I still believe in the standards, and I will make sure Stitch lives up to them. But as for a Linear Path, I can't promise that anymore. The speed at which Stitch picks up higher level skills has thrown a wrench into everything. If anyone's unhappy with detours, then I just have to place that in their court.

Stitch is really happy. I remind him all the time of his left foot, so he knows how I feel. I'm always bugging him to work on his left foot, but when he's figured out how to draw hearts on the ice with his spin, saying "I love you, mom!" it's hard to stay mad at anything or care about what other people think. When I first filled out that form to request Private Coaching, I wrote, "is bored in group class. needs challenge."

That's what I asked for, and that's what I got.


  1. It's great to hold students to a high standard, but it takes time. I noticed that it takes my daughter about a year before a jump or whatever element starts looking really good. Does that mean she should stop and just work on that element the whole year? Yeah, she would be bored and it takes time anyway. Just because she's working at things at a higher level, doesn't mean she's going to stop working on the lower level stuff. She'll be working on crossovers forever (especially the forward clockwise direction!). Yes, she had an axel at 7 because she had private lessons. That doesn't mean we stopped the group lessons. At worst, they were great supervised practice. I wouldn't stress over what people say or think. Just trust your coach and go with whatever works for your son.

  2. I have nothing at all against kids who are really advanced at a young age, in fact I think it's great. What started to bug me was the coin of "You can't get into basic class until 6/Isn't this little tot doing waltz jumps great?" Ya know?

    And I think there's a reason why Forward Crossovers are still a judged element all the way up to Freeskate 3, LOL.