Monday, December 30, 2013

Crowd psychology and the Sunday Winter Holiday Public Session


In order to maximize my ice time I, like many adult skaters, rely heavily on weekend public sessions.  I don't have to tell most of my readers that weekend publics are mobbed during the holiday season.  The mob "ramp-up" starts during the Thanksgiving holiday and achieves it's maximum density during Christmas break.  Mercifully for the dedicated skaters the tide generally starts going back out around mid-January and by February weekend publics tend to return to a manageable population level.

As an observer with more than a casual interest in weekend publics I've noticed that some crowded sessions just flow better than others.  Typically, Saturday is calmer than Sunday.  But why is this so?  There are just as many people on the ice but the dynamic or personality of the crowd at the Saturday session is usually more conducive to higher level practice.  In my mind I picture it as the difference between a closely packed but orderly school of fish and a similar school of fish which suddenly becomes chaotic.

Case in point: I skated the early afternoon publics at Bowie on both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend.  The Saturday session was crowded but I was able to skate several patterns of each of the two dances I'm working on plus get in a fair amount of practice on back skating elements and foot work sequences.  The crowd was "mellow" for lack of a better word.  Sunday the vibe was completely different.  The crowd was chaotic with kids all over the map, adult ice tourists camping out in the rink ends or coming to dead stops in the mid of traffic to take photos with their cell phones and very few breaks in traffic when one could take a flyer.  It was total bedlam and I got close to zip accomplished.  By the end of the session I told myself that this would be the last Sunday public I'd skate until mid-January.  My time on earth is a non-renewable resource and I have a long laundry list of other things I could be doing.

But the question remains: what is different in terms of crowd psychology between a "good" and "bad" collection of ice tourists at a public session?  What is the trigger that moves a crowd on an ice rink from orderly to agitated?  Does the introduction of a few good skaters cause tension like the introduction of predators in a chicken coop, or does the presence of good skaters impose a certain discipline which the crowd follows?  There were more good skaters Saturday than Sunday.  Coincidence or not?

There are also different degrees of anonymity in a given crowd.  Some crowds are composed of unconnected individuals while other crowds are clusters of family members or friends.  Are unconnected individuals more orderly than people who know one another?  I'm beginning to suspect so. 

Are people grumpier on Sunday vs Saturday, knowing that the following day is a workday?  Do they bring that aggravation to the ice?  Perhaps.

Fortunately I have this next week off and so will skate as many early morning public sessions as possible.  That will get me another week closer to "low tide".


  1. My theory, at least with my rink, is most of the group LTS classes are Saturday mornings. So the "free" public session they can skate on, it's basically people working on skills. Sunday, the public session is after the hockey pick up. And we all know about hockey players...

  2. I've got no beef with actual hockey players. They have good skating skills and mostly don't try to mow anyone down. Wannbee hockey boyz OTOH can be a PITA. As for the flow noticed on different public sessions, it's kinda the same thing I notice when driving different days on the Wash, DC beltway--sometimes traffic flows fast and easy with good harmony and other times it's either out of synch with me or I'm out of synch with it. Don't know why, just is.

  3. Weird. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a passage in Forty Signs of Rain about crowd behavior that I kept pinned on my noteboard. It's long, but smart:
    Day in and day out you drove into the same traffic jam, with the same basic population of players. If you therefore played the game as if playing with the same opponent every time, which in a sense you were, with you learning them and them learning you, then more elaborate strategies would gain more points than 'always defect,' [quotes mine] The first version of the more successful strategy was called tit for tat, in which you did to your opponent what they last did to you. This out-competed always defect, which in a way was a rather encouraging finding. But tit for tat was not the perfect strategy, because it could spiral in either direction, good or bad, and the bad was an endless feud. Thus further trials had found successful variously revised versions of tit for tat, like generous tit for tat, in which you gave opponents one defection before turning on them, or always generous, which in certain limited conditions worked well. Or, the most powerful strategy Frank knew of, an irregularly generous tit for tat, where you forgave defecting opponents once before turning on them, but only about a third of the time, unpredictably, so you were not regularly taken advantage of by one of the less cooperative strategies, but could still pull out of a death spiral of tit-for-tat feuding if one should arise.

  4. @ASL: I think Kim Stanley Robinson cut me off during a lane change the other day just before the Mormon Temple...

    The beltway, like the ice rink has a constantly changing cast of characters. I do see repeat "customers" at the rink but never (well, hardly ever, as Gilbert and Sullivan would say) on the beltway. What I do recognize on the beltway, is the difference between week day and weekend crowds--week day crowds are regular commuters and they all know exactly where they're going and which lane(s) will most efficiently get them to the specific exit they need. They plan ahead and strategize accordingly. The weekend crowd is composed of a rich mixture of out of towners, who don't have a clue plus infrequent locals, who at best only vaguely recall where they want to exit. Predictably, the weekend crowd on the Washington Beltway is way more spastic than the week day crowd. Don't know how or if this scenario translates to the rink. Thanks for the tip re: Forty signs of rain.