Feb 8, 2010

Best in the class

What makes a skater the "best?"

We're about to see the best skaters in the world going after it in Vancouver, and the field is deep this year, especially the men, with probably upwards of 15 of them in real contention for 3 medals. It's easy to see that they are the "best"-- they do they hardest stuff, consistently and well.

But what about your local skating program? Who's best there? There's that girl with the bad attitude who can kinda land a double axel. How about the coach who had skaters at Nationals? Fifteen years ago. Or the one who won Outer Podunkia's singles title when she was 17 (and is still bragging about it, at 40). Is it the kid with the most tests, or who does the most competitions? Is it the kid whose mother is always complaining about her daughter's ice show costumes, because "she's the best skater in this rink, how come they always give her such an ugly costume."

Or is it the kid who never quits, the one determined to get that axel 3 years on, or who took an after school job because her parents can't afford lessons. How about the kid in old hockey skates who always helps the little ones when they get scared on public ice, or the coach who quit her day job out of love for this sport.

In class, best is the skater who is working to achieve success at those skills. Especially in the really beginner classes, I always tell my kids I'm not looking for speed, I'm looking for perfection. I'll be happier with the kid who takes 1 full minute to get across the ice doing perfectly formed swizzles than the one who rushes off at full speed and forgets to do swizzles at all. But if we're having a race, then the best one is the fast one; your perfect swizzles don't apply here.

So "best" is a relative term. One of the great things about the controversial "Code of Points" scoring system is that skaters now get the phenomenon of the "personal best:" a score higher than any they have had before. It's been wonderful to watch the middle of the pack skaters take their 7th or 12th place with joy in the eyes, because they know they just bested themselves.

Best is reaching or exceeding your own goals. A skating parent who tells you their coach or their child is best should be asked, "relative to what?" If it's not your skater's goal to win a competition, then being "best" at competitions is meaningless. If you have a coach that's helping you to progress and achieve your goals, then their past glories don't matter.

Never tell a coach that your child is "best" in class (usually followed by a demand that they be moved up a level). The coach, and the child for that matter, might have a completely different idea about what "best" means.

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