PSA 2000 Cyber Ice

My last missive is on the seminar about us. Peter Zapalo, a sports scientist whose "Skate to Win" program is endorsed by the PSA, presented on "Cyber Ice." His website is and tells coaches how to use the Internet for skating purposes.

Naturally, he started out by pointing people to Sandra Loosemore's Skateweb site. I was amused to hear him say "frog, like the animal." Yes, very like the animal! He credited Loosemore for keeping her site well updated. He was also enthusiastic about Paula Slater's work at, especially her coaches' e-mail exchange set-up.

Many of the coaches present were not computer users, but he argued that they must get online, because their skaters and parents and colleagues are. But from the coaches' point of view, I sensed a lot of fear and projection onto the big bad Internet. I suppose that is how a lot of the general population feels about it, projecting their fears of anarchy and the unknown onto this entity, but I guess I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more elation at this wondrous tool that has given so much more power, information, and access to the sport. Zapalo did mention that coaches can get their students' scores online before the official printed results are available, but that got a lot less response than his story of a sectional competitor who made private comments about his performance that were published word-for-word over the Internet the next day.

And in the murmur of fear and outrage that followed that story, there is a lesson for us, the people who post publicly about skating. Universally, coaches and skaters do NOT feel that it is ethical for bystanders to overhear and publicize comments unless they are specifically on the record and for the public. They WILL feel violated if people write up information even if given one-on-one, UNLESS you ask and receive explicit permission to publicize it. Yes, of course it is their responsibility to educate themselves about Internet etiquette, and to learn circumspection -- but it is also the responsibility of skating netizens to understand the effects of our behavior.

For any coaches or competitive skaters who might be reading this, here is my personal advice: I agree that you should not be wading through most of the fan comments, which can be disrespectful or of little value. But I recommend that you appoint one or two extremely trusted, computer-literate people to scan what's out there, deliver periodic general summaries even if they're not positive (for example, "This costume doesn't work as well as the last one because the fans think it disappears under spotlights") but skip the vicious flames, and be able to judge what messages, if any, might be worth forwarding in their entirety.

And for us fans: imagine if you didn't dare log on to Usenet or surf the web because you were afraid total strangers were dissecting your hair, your clothes, your love life. Yes, we should feel free to discuss the sport we love, including critiques, and I have certainly said some blunt things; but I believe that morally speaking, we do not have the right to ruin the Internet for anybody. Keep in mind that coaches and skaters either use computers, or depend on someone who does, and may very well read what we write about them. Our observations on the sport we all love will go a lot further if we word things responsibly and with respect, as we would if speaking to the person face to face.

A few last odds and ends:

Judge Charlie Cyr explained that when doing Moves in the Field, the judges do not look for a calculated turn, as in figures, but moves smoothly skated, in an integrated motion.

I noted a strong resistance to standardization within coaching. Many instructors, even when teaching techniques they believed in wholly, would emphasize frequently, "But YOU'RE the coach." There is an ethic that coaches should come up, on their own, with what works the best for them and their skaters. In that sense, I got the impression that coaching is very much a work in progress, with innovators working tirelessly to create improvements for the collective. I was also touched by the note in the welcome publication advising coaches to remember to pat themselves on the back if they, by themselves, developed a technique that a famous instructor is demonstrating.

Finally, I encountered a pervasive sense of gratitude among coaches that they are able to pursue a career doing what they love. I believe there is a high incidence of that within skate coaching, because it is such a specialized form of knowledge, and certainly the job doesn't have the income or stability to be recommended as a career path. But I very much enjoyed the life appreciation among the coaches, and the genuine excitement at the varied and informative seminar offerings. Thank you, PSA, for celebrating and advancing the profession with a superb conference. And thus endeth my PSA Chronicles 2000.

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