I want to say up front that there are no serious competitive figure skaters without a pushy parent lurking about somewhere. It's a necessary part of the equation, and it's not just the skater they're pushing-- they're also pushing the coach, the judges, USFS and rink management, and we need them to do this.
If you've done your homework and set your goals, then have at it. There isn't a teenager on the planet who really wants to get up at 4:30 to go skate for 4 hours before school, I don't care what Rachael Flatt's press pack says. That girl and every one like her has a pushy mom helping her achieve greatness, and god bless 'em.
Skating needs pushy parents.
What it doesn't need are stage mothers. These are the Skating Moms who think they know better than the coach, the judge, and the skating director, or who insist that their 4 or 5 or 6 year old participate in class even though they're having a tantrum, or who buy their Pre Alpha skater Pattern 99 blades with K-picks because, well, only the best for Princess.
So how can you tell if you're right kind of pushy?
Did the skater set the goal, or did you?
Is your skater aiming at competing in qualifying competitions? Even if you're still in Learn-to-skate classes, if you've discussed this with the kid, then you need to push, which at this level just means telling the kid "you promised" or "you made a commitment" to skate this much, and I paid for it, so you're doing it. You have to read your own kid and understand the difference between pushing him to do something he loves but is hard, and pushing him to do something hard, which he hates.
What's your skater's age?
If your child is under the age of 5, lighten up. If your child is 11 or older and you're sinking money into skating, then push them to excel or make them scale it back or quit. Now, by "pushing" I don't mean screaming at them in the lobby, complaining about them to everyone, embarrassing them in front of their friends, et cetera. Figure out what you need to do to make them fulfill their goals and obligations-- take away the cell phone, make them pay for part of it, conspire with the coach, whatever. If you don't know how to push your teenager, you're in trouble, anyway.
What was that about goals?
Are you goals and the skaters the same? Does the coach know what the goal is, and does she support it? No matter how talented your skater is, if her goal is not to be a competitive skater, you cannot push her hard enough to make that happen. There's a legendary skater at my rink, best skater that ever went through there. She didn't want to compete, but her mother pushed and pushed. So she would just sabotage her final round at Sectionals every year. The skater has to want the prize, whatever it is.
Dino-Boy and Joy Boy
Oh Dino-Boy. What can I say about Dino-Boy. I don't argue with him. Sometimes he skates. Sometimes he don't. He's got me and everyone, including his mother, his sister, and the junior coach, completely in his power. This is a push-resistant kid. They exist. You just gotta go with the flow. I think he'll be a skater eventually, but for now, I just let him do his thing.
JoyBoy on the other hand loves to skate and he's really good at it. Unfortunately, he also loves to mess with you, but you can push him really hard and he'll respond. He'll roll his eyes, he'll stick out his tongue, but you can push. If you've got a JoyBoy, push away.
Interestingly, there's a subset of families where the pushy ones are the skaters-- it's the parents who are reluctant. This can be a heartbreaking phenomenon, because minor children are at the mercy of their parents' whims and needs. I've seen kids who had to quit because mom doesn't like getting up at 5-- kid was perfectly willing, but mom wouldn't do it. I have seen families decide that spending on unneeded consumer goods was more important than the child's dream. Dad retires and moves to a community without a rink, and off the kid goes too, kissing the skating dream goodbye. These kids need to push-- for time, for funds, for respect, and sometimes for the right to move away from their families in order to pursue the goal.
You can tell if you're pushing too hard by how hard the kid pushes back. Kids will test you; they'll see if they can resist just a little. Don't give in to the little bastards, and they'll generally step happily onto the ice.
More about pushy parents (the good kind) here.