Sunday, November 30, 2014

Just what makes a "Serious Skater?"

Normally I'm at the rink when it's early morning and quiet, or during general public hours, and so I typically don't see much of the staff most of the year. But then Ice Show happens and I suddenly see a lot of everyone. I suddenly go from living in my own little skating world to being in the thick of everyone! I overhear a lot, and I talk a lot.

A friend came up to me laughing, saying a coach had excused himself from a conversation with the words, "I have to go, I have champions to teach!"

Oh lordy, did we have a good laugh over that humdinger! Champions to teach? Well, do forgive us simple plebians for taking up your precious time, oh godly one! I'm still giggling. Doubtless he is excited over the idea of going overseas to a big comp and all, but the choice of words and tone is classless at best. Humility is a virtue.

So, if there are indeed "Champions to teach," then why waste time with anyone else? I've heard it a lot, that adult skaters won't "go anywhere" in the sport, so why bother at all? Who wants to spend their lives teaching crossovers to beginners when they have visions of being on TV behind the boards at the Olympics as the announcer says, "And there is their coach! He's so effin' talented!" Why bother with skaters who are just recreational, or just rink guards, or just the costume stitchers, or not really all that talented, when you can focus on the kids who will get your name in lights? You know, the "Serious Skaters."

There are two kinds of theatre professional. There are those who do it for the love of themselves: they only take roles or jobs that make them look good and "advance them" as professionals. These people are the biggest dickwads to work with. They are always flouting their resume as "proof" of their artistic merit and how great they are. Meanwhile, everyone else is running around going crazy because Mister Big was too busy talking about how great he is to get the light plot done. (Not a hypothetical scenario. Happens ALL. THE. TIME.)

Then there are the people who do it for the love of the art. They don't mind working in little broken down storefronts on a shoestring, because they can do their art. And they're grateful to be able to do their art. They work the all-nighters, they smile, they're patient and never once do they bring up that one really cool thing they did in Germany.

Mister Big may actually get to Broadway. It happens. And we all roll our eyes and poke each other remembering what an ass he was on those calls.  You can get to your goal of being "famous" or what ever, but the legacy of being a dick will follow you forever. Trust me.

Same thing with coaches. Check in with the beginner classes, and you'll see the same group of cheery people endlessly teaching crossovers to flight after flight of beginners, season after season. Because that's what they do. Artists in their own right, eliciting the first few crossovers from a wobbly beginner makes them smile. As it should, because I remember those first attempts!

Then there's the occasional dude stepping in, who makes a big deal about either "having to teach" the pre-free kids, or that he was so super generous to give an hour of his precious time to teaching them. There's your Mister Big. Mister Big who blows into lessons whenever and without regard for anyone's time but his own. Mister Big who is going to remind you about his "better" skaters at every opportunity, as proof of his great talent. (But wait, he didnt coach them until a year ago, isn't that right? Shhhhh...)

You can try to work with Mister Big, but be wary. He's the first to dismiss people as "weekend hobbyists" and give them a less quality lesson because of his judgement on their prospects of making him look like a better coach. As in, who's a serious skater and who isn't.

How can he tell? He can't. He's not you, he's just some random guy who feels qualified to make a judgement call on something he can't understand anyway. I've started to realize that some people can skate all their lives and never really *get* skating. And some people skate for an afternoon and they light up from some place inside and ask me about lessons and blades, and I light up too and we talk for an hour about it. Because we get it. We might not know how to do a rocker, but just being out there, doing crossovers, is an incredible blessing and a gift.

A Serious Skater isn't someone that Mister Big has blessed with his attention, and an "Unserious Skater" isn't someone who Mister Big has dismissed as a weekend hobbyist. A serious skater is someone who likes going out there and feeling the wind in their ears and smiles at every skill learned and mastered. It's not the skates you're in or the clothes you wear, the tests you take or the comps you skate. It's not your level or your ambition or your Olympic potential. It's your love. And love of just being there and skating isn't something the Mister Bigs can understand.

I remember a conversation I had with coach in summer, just before my test. I told him that my speedskater friend noted I was skating with more confidence, more determination, ever since March. And that made me really happy, because confidence brings bravery, and brave makes me do better things. He nodded and said, "You just needed to find what you wanted out of skating."  And I knew right then I had found my perfect Coach.

So, Mister Big can go to his big competition with his champions. Last night a had a five year old in wobbly skates step onto the ice and reach for me, saying, "Take me around, take me around!" And I did, because I recognized that light in her eyes. She was a very serious skater.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rules of the Road

My husband emailed me the video from Cup of China of Yuzuru Hanyu and the Han Yan crashing into each other. I replied that it's every skater's worst nightmare; flying fast and turning to see someone there, and there's nothing you can do.

But these kinds of accidents are actually kinda rare. Most of us are aware of each other enough to know when someone's close by and we avert or abort accordingly. And most of us follow the spoken and unspoken rules of practice ice in order to work better, get the most out of our ice, and prevent these kinds of horrific accidents.

Most of us.

Here are some basic Rules of Practice Ice:

No Music and no Jumps/Spins on MITF Ice.

Yes, there is dedicated Moves Ice, and you can't jump on it or do your program on it. Because MITF, that's why. If there are people on a Power 3 pattern, and you're thinking you're gonna Lutz, you're going to interrupt the traffic pattern. That's rude, because there is a lot more Freestyle Ice than MITF ice. Worst is when someone needs to go Clockwise, as in the Perimeter Stroking on APB Moves. Jumps and Spins are not in MITF tests, so if you're doing them on a MITF session, you are clearly in the wrong.

NO DANCE on Freestyle Sessions.

Oh lordy this gets my gourd. I've nearly been clotheslined by Ice Dancers literally screaming at me as they head into me full tilt because I had the audacity to be "in their pattern" when practicing jumps in the corner, like I'm supposed to do on Freestyle ice. Is there an Ice Dance Pattern called "The Jerk?"
"The Jerk"

Conversely, NO FREESTYLE on Dance Sessions

Now people are supposed to be in a pattern, so jumping around like a maniac will interrupt them. Spinning in the center will also somehow interrupt them. So if you're allowed on a Dance Session and you're not an Ice Dancer, just stick to turning and footwork drills and MITF, people in a pattern get the right of way, and you're fine. Or you could be a Jerk like they are and Jump around like a maniac anyway, but we're nice and we won't do that. (Plus you have to listen to their music and that's just awful.)

Here's a big one that is always overlooked: LOWER LEVEL SKATERS GET THE RIGHT OF WAY.

Did you get that one? Let's say that one again: LOWER LEVEL SKATERS GET THE RIGHT OF WAY.

It's the same as Pedestrians getting the right of way. They cannot dodge as fast, simple as that. But look out onto some Freestyle sessions and you see lower level skaters getting bullied by higher level people and ice dancers who just bulldoze their way around without a care in the world. Because they think that as better skaters, they can. Well, by skating like that, they aren't allowing anyone else to get better.

To allow everyone to skate effectively, Practice Ice is broken down into High and Low ice. You have to pass a given level to be allowed on High Level Practice Ice, because if you can't skate that fast you're a hazard. You also have to pass a certain level to be allowed on Low Freestyle Ice, because of that whole "slow and erratic people are a hazard" thing again. Pre-Freestyle Ice is for Pre-Freestyle people. Simple as that. It's a totally safe, slow as molasses ice, which is what it needs to be for beginners.

But what usually happens is that High Freestyle people see ice, and decide that they must skate on it no matter the level, and bowl over little kids doing FI3's with their double loops. Because they can.

People in a Lesson get the Right of Way

If someone's working with a Coach, they're trying to listen and take in correction, or being moved and manipulated and can't adjust for you. So you give those people a wide berth. Or you're supposed to. Again, I've had skaters just plow through my lesson like we weren't there at all. Or come up and try to start a conversation with the coach, because it's their coach and I'm just an Adult skater...

This is also why coaching from the Boards is so awful. A skater continually trucking back and forth to the boards is forced to interrupt the patterns of other skaters, just to get back to the coach and get correction on something that happened whenever ago. Worse, when they do some patchy little move in front of the boards for the coach, they are then in everyone's way. So, as a skater, you have to stop what you're doing for them. A moving coach/skater team is a more effective working team for everyone on the ice.

NO KIDS on Adult Ice.

Adults, the biggest sore thumbs of the rink, have a hard time finding time and Ice upon which to practice. Practice, of course, would make them better skaters, but finding that safe (physically and mentally) ice is super hard. Once there is some Adults Only Practice Ice, the kids see some slow ice and decide to just bolt on and bowl over someone learning Mohawks or working on Adult MITF. Because they can.

Nope, sorry. Get off. Begone. There is loads of Kid Friendly Practice Ice year round, while our treasured Adult Sessions are only in Summer. And please do not try to tell me that your 16YO is "almost an adult." She's not. And do not say that your 6YO learning an Axel "won't take up much space." She will. Do not say that "It's just for the last half hour." Give them the last half hour and pretty soon you've got an infestation. Over 20 only. Full Stop.

People working on Lifts get Right of Way

Okay, I don't know if this is a rule, but it should be. If I'm being picked up, I DO NOT wany anyone near me. At all. I simply don't have brainspace left to deal with any variables like another skater coming at me when I'm trying to find my balance out of a lift. And I don't want my partner dealing with it, either. He shouldn't have to dodge while carting me around.

There are a lot of other Rules of the Road on Practice Ice, available from the Ice Monitor or Rink Management, but these are the big ones to follow. Be aware, be kind, be courteous. Accidents do happen, as they will in any sport, but they should be rare. If they're happening with alarming frequency, someone's not following the rules.

Take comfort in the fact that you can always become a better skater, but a jerk will always be a jerk. And the kid who is oblivious to other skaters also has a habit of being oblivious to the boards.