Thursday, October 8, 2009

Darth Vader, Dragon Lady and the Maytag Repairman

Most of us are "Normal" skating parents. Of course my daughter says that "Normal" is a setting on your washing machine, so we are whatever normal is in this sport. We support our skaters, and continue to be chief cook, bottle washer, chauffeur (until that blessed day that they get their driver's licenses!!) Sherpa and cheerleader. For some of us, that continues on much longer than one would like; for others, it is a lifestyle choice.

But for a few parents who seem to be in a constant state of spin dry, being a skating parent is an entitlement but it is also something that must be paid back - over and over until everyone is wrung out. These are the "Darth Vader" dads and the "Dragon Lady" moms of our sport.

Prepare to go to the Dark Side with a veritable laundry list of what NOT to do as a skating parent.

"Dragon Lady" mom is well chronicled in figure skating and there have been some absolute classic examples of those who have paved the way into the abiss. This is the mom whose behavior is so bad, so over the top, that she ultimately drives her kid out of the sport. She is a subtle and not-so-subtle mental abuser. The Dragon Lady is never satisfied, no matter what her skater does, because her goal as a mom is to win in order to justify all her personal years of sacrifice. This is the mom who not only coaches from the sidelines, but stalks the rink from morning to night checking out the competition, commenting on everyone and comparing style, music and technique to those of her skater. This is the mom who spends hours on the phone with the coach critiquing and criticizing (if the coach is putting up with it, he or she is a co-conspirator). This is the mom who has a scale in the kitchen, notes on the fridge, measures portions and charts weight gain of their skater in ounces, not pounds because being thin in the sport is critical to success. Unfortunately some have even gone beyond the dark side into physical expressions of their displeasure. Fortunately, this is very rare. Her goal: Smack down her skater's self esteem and take control in order to create her definition of a winner - kind of like Dr. Frankenstein and the monster, with about the same results.

On the other side is the less chronicled but perhaps even more insidious villain - Darth Vader Dad. I'm not quite sure why this parent is not usually viewed with the same distain as Dragon Lady. Maybe it is because there aren't as many dads hanging in the rink, so their behavior is usually more stealth than that of the omni-present, stereotypical skating mom. If you have never encountered Darth Vader, here are some of the signs:

1. He is in the rink more than any skating mom and sometimes more than the coach or the Zamboni driver.
2. He never seems to change clothes.
3. He gives "pep talks" to his skater before every session, lives and dies by every move during a normal day and then "debriefs" his skater after each lesson, letting him or her know exactly what they did wrong and how to fix it (a more subtle form of coaching from the boards).
4. He is never without Starbucks.
5. He is never without some communication device like a laptop, Blackberry or iPhone from which he continues to conduct his business while never taking his eyes off the ice.
6. He is in constant communication with the coach or choreographer, even during a session. This includes but is not limited to: hand signals, winks, frowns, gestures, grunts, coughs or - yes - texting the coach!
7. At competitions, he is the master schmoozer in public and the master intimidator if he is one-on-one with his skater's competitor, like in a locker room or an elevator.
8. He smiles with his mouth but not his eyes when he talks to you because he is always assessing to see if your knowledge is greater than his.
9. He sharpens his skater's blades because no one can do it better than he can.
10. He is an expert on absolutely everything, including IJS scoring, because he MUST know it all.

You know, if we're truly honest with ourselves, we've all ventured to the Dark Side of spin dry at one time or another while being in this sport - mostly early on in our skating adventure and probably at a qualifying competition. That's where the pressure is greatest and where our DL and DV tendencies seem to come out. For most of us, too, we recognize this and take a step back from the precipice. We may dangle a toe over the edge, but we don't go there. It's like putting bleach in with your dark clothing. You only do it once and it becomes a lesson learned.

However, for those parents who don't know when to stop - for the parents who guzzle bleach while convincing themselves it will make them stronger and give them super powers - the results always seem to be the same. They are on terminal spin dry, sucking the fluids out of everyone they drag into the machine with them until, finally, their skater is all washed up. Where is the Maytag Man when you really need him? He would be the perfect referee. The only problem is that DV and DL would be calling him day and night from the depths of the machine they broke themselves. Even he couldn't fix it, but at least he wouldn't be lonely anymore..


  1. I tell you, Ateam, it's spooky how you know D.V.

    He always wears the same clothes and is a master schmoozer/intimidator.


  2. Season says.....
    It's nice to know that other skating parents let out there inner DV and DL from time to time. I don't feel so alone in my guilt and shame for being such a bad parent.

    I agree that the DV's and DL's that have a chronic condition need serious psychological help. Hopefully we can be supportive and maybe we need to have some interventions for these types of parents.

    The worst DV's and DL's are those that are on your figure skating club board of directors or in the worst cases they are president of the board.

    If you try to tell them anything and your shipped off to a cold ice burg in the Arctic to live with the polar bears. Not one person in your rink will talk to you or help you because they are so afraid that they will get eaten alive.

    BEWARE! who you vote onto your board of directors at your figure skating club. These parents are usually first in line to sign up to be nominated and elected to the figure skating board because they need to have total control of all things figure skating in their childs life. If they end up on the board they will have that same control over your skater. SPOOOOOOKY!!!!!

  3. Ah yes. We know those, too. DVs and DLs are everywhere.
    That being said, there are some wonderful and caring people who run for boards. The challenge is more for the Board to remember what a board is there to do. They are NOT there to micromanage coaches or set schedules. The function of a Board is to raise money and awareness in order to keep a club going. Leave scheduling and sessions to the pros. That's what they do. Don't try this at home, they ARE professionals.