I have to say, it was an unbelievable thrill to see my old student Chris win the gold in Juvenile Dance at Junior Nationals with his partner Angel. But it was not the only, or even the biggest thrill I've gotten from seeing what my students accomplish.
Elite skating is only one possible goal when your tiny one first steps onto the ice. Because of the glamor, fame, and sometimes even wealth associated with skating at the highest level, this is the image that a lot of parents have when their children start skating. In fact I believe this image scares a lot of parents off. There are two most-common remarks made to me by parents: first, "I'm not one of those pushy parents, but..." (okay, if you're saying this you are one of those pushy parents and should go for the competitive career. I am not being sarcastic.), and second "Why should she take lessons, she's not going to the Olympics."
In a million years, no parent would ever make a remark like that regarding any other endeavor. Think about it:
"He's not going to be starting for Manchester United, why should he play soccer?"
"She's not going to Juilliard, why should she take music lessons?"
"She's not going to Harvard Law, why should she attend university?"
"He's not going to be CEO, why should he work at the bank?"
The materialism that our society is succumbing to sometimes causes us to think in commoditized terms first-- how can I "use" this? But humans are about more than monetary gain. Especially because of relative the wealth that characterizes Western culture you also work towards personal rewards in accomplishment, humanity, knowledge. And figure skating has so many more outcomes than a trip to the Olympics.
Skating is a resume-builder. I see lots of really smart girls, with more determination than talent, using skating to add to their accomplishments for college applications. This is especially important for kids whose schedules or abilities don't allow them to excel at team sports. You get to succeed at skating on your own timeline, at your own pace, and to your own highest level-- no team try outs, no "you have to make varsity by 15 years old or you're out" age limits, no coach passing you by in favor of the team's stars.
So many of the kids I've known through my years of skating met their best friends not at school or place of worship, but at the rink. Further, they'll meet kids both more like them (through the love of skating) and less like them (because rinks draw kids from all over a district and from all social, racial, and religious backgrounds). In other words they find out that kids who superficially seem too different to bother with, in fact, share a lot of traits.
Any difficult endeavor teaches life lessons as well. Focus, overcoming odds and adversity, how to get along with others, tolerance for difference, poise. I always think skaters are older than they are, because of the incredible poise and public ease they develop. So yes, skating is a path to enlightenment as well. This goes back to those thrilling moments I was talking about. Six-year-old "Patty" finally managing a one-foot glide after a year of trying. A student with cerebral palsy learning to do a waltz jump. A smile from my developmentally disabled student. A senior getting a coveted ice show part on her last try.
If you are into it for the glory rather than the life lessons (and I have to confess, I've yet to hear some 10 year old confess to loving figure skating for the life lessons she's gaining), well, glory comes in all shapes and sizes. Testing, local competitions through both USFS Basic Skills and ISI, ice show solos. All of these things give some kids the same kind of thrill that competing at Nationals gives others. Don't downplay or disdain the importance of these things in child's life. My daughter, who competed at Junior Nationals, and is a triple gold medalist (moves, freestyle, dance), considered her solo as Dream Clara in our local Nutcracker performance to be the emotional pinnacle of her skating. These things are important, and not because "she's not good enough for Nationals" or, something I hear all the time, "Nationals is more important." The parents' or coach's idea of what is important is not always the same as the skater's.
UPDATE: Can't believe I left out Synchronized skating! And no, like ice dance, synchro is not just "for skaters who can't jump" and no, it doesn't "ruin your technique." It uses different techniques, expands your view of skating, and appeals to skaters who thrive in team environments.
Don't be afraid to let your child skate because they're not heading for the Olympics. They're headed for life, and skating is a great way to get there.