Feb 11, 2010

As far as you can go

The Olympics is bringing up issues that face all athletes at every level, and I don't mean being stuck at the airport, unable to make the opening ceremony.

You'll hear a lot of sports reports talking about the athletes needing to "peak" at the Games. What this means is that their training needs to lead to the best performance at the optimum time. This kind of peaking is a short term goal, with a one-year arc, and there is an entire sports training discipline, called periodization training, devoted to it.

But it's not just world-class athletes that deal with peaking, and it doesn't mean just season-to-season. For the recreational and amateur athlete, peaking can mean reaching your highest potential, and it's one of the most challenging places to be, especially for younger people.

Because what if your highest potential is "just" an axel, or a couple of double jumps? Or, what if your highest potential is triples, but suddenly your life is hard, your hormones are rebelling and your dad just got a new job in a different state? Or your coach quits teaching? Or that really cute boy wants to go the movies, or there's a late night party, and you have to traiiinnn.

I talked to several coaches about this over the last couple of days-- what do you do if your skater seems to be peaking?

B shared the difficulties with a young woman who has gotten into a negative cycle. "The lessons have been about the negativity, and it starts to feed off itself. Her bad attitude infects me, and I start to wonder how much I should be dealing with this. I'm here to teach figure skating, not to provide therapy." S concedes "it's the most difficult place for a skater to be. If you don't really have a clear goal, or your skating goal is getting muddied or superseded by the rest of your life, you have to think hard about whether to stay or quit. Skating requires a lot of commitment, if for no other reason than that distracted skaters get injured. Plus, you'll drive your coach crazy." (S is basically the mom of the rink. We have all agreed that it is her role to be driven crazy.)

What do you do with a kid that's stuck?
Once you get to the higher levels, you will get stuck if you don't devote the time and emotional commitment to skating. An axel is hard. Doubles are scary, especially in the learning stages. The ice is crowded, and the cliques will drive you mad. If a couple of kids at the rink have achieved competitive success, you're going to be dealing, sometimes, with their egos and their coach's egos and their parents' egos. Who needs it? Can't land the damn jump, just quit.

And you can. You can quit, and you can come back. When you're 13 or 16, if you're a freestyle skater, it's actually fairly easy to come back to high level skating. Your muscles will remember. So taking a break is not the end of the world. It might be the end of a competitive career, if you had one, but competitive careers are just the tiniest part of the sport.

Rinks need to support this, by having classes for teens, "catch up" clinics, "intro to privates" classes (where you get 20 minutes one-on-one with a rink-assigned coach), et cetera, as well as specialty classes like Synchro, ice dance, hockey for teens, or junior coaching. How about starting a hockey cheerleading squad? Coaches need to support it as well. Keep the lines of communication open, and honor a family's decision to take a break.

Goals can change
I've talked a lot about the importance of goals in figure skating. Goals should be clear, they should be stated. They need to come from the skater, and everyone needs to agree on them-- skater, coach, parent. Adjusting your goals is the best way to get unstuck, to change the "peak." Never going to make it to Nationals? Look into coaching, or joining an ice show, or doing an independent study through your school, and arrange an exhibition with all your skating friends (you get to be the star). Is the axel an unattainable Everest? Ice Dance. Synchro. Speed skating. Hockey. Curling, for heaven's sake. Date night! Take a boy ice skating. Trust me he doesn't care about the stupid axel, because you sure look cute in those leggings.

The point is, you need to do what you want to do. If you love ice skating, like B's difficult student, yet you're miserable every time you step onto the ice, find a new goal. If you discover that you can't find a new goal, come once a week for a while, or drop the lessons and just skate for fun. That ice rink has been there a long time. It's not going anywhere. It'll be there when you come back, with a fresh goal, and a new summit to climb.


  1. but what is a reasonable goal, one that will keep you occupied, but not frustrated? If I skate an average of 7 hours a week, but still feel like I'm not improving much, what should I do?
    Could you please tell me some more about the emotional commitment?

  2. You ask a great question. I've tried writing a post about this-- how do you set a goal-- but it seemed more "self help" than figure skating and outside the scope of the blog. But I'll revisit it. In the meantime, I think your goal sounds a little vague and open ended. How do you know when you've reached "improvement?" What, exactly, are you trying to improve? Again, if it's "improve your skating"-- how will you know? Who is the judge of that? Set an endpoint--a test, a show, a competition, the visit of a remote loved one, as a place to demonstrate, not your "improvement" but simply what you've been working on.