Mar 12, 2010

How to be a skating parent, the real story

All humor aside, parenting a committed skater is the most thankless and misunderstood factor in the equation. And you don't have to be the parent of a skater who is legitimately heading to nationals to feel the brunt of the disdain for skating parents that is systemic to the profession, and tolerated or even encouraged by a lot of rinks and coaches.

If your child considers skating one of his or her main activities, you are a skating parent whether or not the child takes private lessons. It is the child's relationship to the sport that defines your role. Never let anyone denigrate your, your child's, or your family's commitment just because you choose not to take private lessons. And the reason for that is no one's business but your own. It might be time, it might be money, it might be dumblebunny. It's nobody's business unless you choose to share it.

Your decision to go group classes or synchro or privates, to test ISI or USFS, and whether or not to compete should be informed from the outset by one thing-- what can you afford. "Afford" means not just money, but also time and emotional investment. You can walk into it with a decision matrix at your back, where you've weighed every factor you can think of, or you can slide into it, as most of us do, suddenly finding yourself with an serious figure skater. But either way, always be aware of what you're spending, how much time you're giving, and how your skater is dealing with the various pressures of the sport, physical, emotional, and social.

Your skater's reasons for skating are another personal decision, and this is where a lot of parents and coaches get it wrong. I was the parent of an extremely gifted skater who did not like to compete. We pushed her into it, and she did quite well, but finally told us "done" when she was just sixteen. Whatever it is that skaters get from winning competitions, she just didn't care enough about the Gold, removing a lot of the motivation from the onerous training. Ironically, after she quit competing, she increased her training schedule. Because now she was doing it for her own reasons.

The reason for skating can change, as I've discussed before (search "goals" in the tag cloud). A skater doesn't have to make the decision to be an Olympian when they're five. A coach that tells you he'll get your 5 year old to the Olympics, or even to her Senior test, is talking through his hat. You can go with the flow and still not miss out on anything.

Start taking privates, if you do at all, when it feels right for you. In a strong program, a skater can learn an axel and a couple of doubles in class with extra practice. Privates will get them there faster, and probably with stronger technique, but it's not the only route. Again, let your emotions, your finances, and your schedule guide you. When you decide on privates, hire the coach that your skater likes. Don't worry too much about the end game. As you learn the discipline from the parent's point of view, you'll start learning how to recognize the signs that you need a new coach (ooo--great post topic, watch this space).

One place where I would resist the child's desire or lead is quitting. A lot of kids hit a snag, or have a fight with a friend at the rink, or get stuck at a skill and decide they want to quit. This is one of those times when I would push that child up that hill and help them see the vista from the top. They may decide to quit after all, but kids, especially young teens, are easily discouraged and then get embarrassed by their own discouragement. Help them through this. Remember that especially at the basic skills level (through Freestyle 1), and with kids younger than 9 or 10, you can quit and come back without losing much momentum; ditto with advanced skaters. They can pick up more or less where they left off. The danger zone is young teens in FS 3-6, where the difficulty jumps exponentially just as the hormones kick in. Without a compelling alternative, keep them in skating until they settle back down.

It's all too easy to slide into stereotype, to become a Stage Mother to your skater. Step outside yourself and watch. If you observe behavior that would make you cringe if you observed it in someone else, you've fallen for the evil stereotype.

Be the skating parent that makes all the coaches wish they had your kid.


  1. Very timely post. Daughter (who is 12) is stuck and has been stuck on her double salchow--she is afraid to jump high enough to complete the jump because she's afraid of falling. I'm going to remember to have patience and continue to encourage her.

    On a related point, what's you opinion of using pads to cushion the falls. Coach has told her she'll feel more confident if she uses pads and it will encourage her to jump higher. I'm afraid that she'll use the pads as a crutch and panic when they take them away at competitions. As far as I know, our coach is the only coach that encourages the use of pads. What's your opinion?

  2. Not crazy about the pads, because I think it distorts the way certain kids use their bodies. I'd rather put a kid who's afraid on the harness. But a lot of kids and coaches use them, and they are very common at my home rink. If using the pad reduces her fear, I'd go with it, because that's the bigger barrier. Technique can be fixed.

  3. I really like this, Xan:

    Be the skating parent that makes all the coaches wish they had your kid.

    Ice Mom

  4. what would you do with parents who are simply not there? My student is her own manager- she decides when to skate, with whom, and pays for it. It is impressive, but it also makes me wonder.

  5. Anon, that is every coach's *favorite* kind of parent, and you are really blessed in your child. Frankly, over a certain age (I'd say betw 10 and 13 depending on the kid) and/or level (has all doubles) the parent really does not need to be watching lessons. If it's more convenient to stay in the rink, great. But sit in the lobby and have a cup of coffee.