Aug 6, 2011

The limits of talent and desire

I'm the sort of person who does not believe in limits. I especially get my hackles up when confronted with the suggestion that I "can't" do something. My philosophy, and the one I share with discouraged students, is "if someone is doing it, it's possible, and if it's possible you can do it."

But if this was the case, wouldn't every skater have a double axel?

And not to mince words, yes. Every skater that put in the work required IS capable of that double axel. A naturally athletic skater will get it sooner, and more easily. A naturally motivated skater will find the longer athletic slog less onerous because of their inclination to accept hard work. A skater with a lot of time to skate will appear to have learned it quickly, even though they've devoted the same number of hours to it. A more timid skater will have more difficulty than a courageous one. A courageous one may accept falls that she doesn't need to accept, and slow down her progress.

I never tried the harder jumps. I could probably eventually have done them, but I was too scared. So I never tried. In other words, my ability to do an axel is not in question. I believe it. It was my desire to do an axel that got in the way.

This is what I see over and over--skaters, and their mothers, blame their failures, if you want to see it that way, on their native ability, narrowly defining that as meaning athletic ability. But ability is the same thing as body type; it's just another quality that you need to understand and accommodate. The skater gets discouraged, and stops being responsive in lessons. She doesn't practice. She takes one lesson a week. She won't make attempts when the coach isn't there. She jumps from coach to coach, looking for the one who will "give" her the axel (or the double, or the jump sit...).

It is okay to give up a goal. But be honest with yourself. If this goal remains important in itself, for you and not for your mother or your popularity, then don't give up on it. If you're just going through the motions, then rethink the goal. I decided the skating tests and higher freestyle skills were not the best use of my time, and put my energy into the PSA ratings instead.

Understand what you desire and why you desire it. Understand where your talent lies and use that to achieve your goal. Pointless to rely on athletic ability alone, if your talent is persistence.

There are no limits to talent or desire. You only limit yourself.


  1. On a similar subject the book Bounce by Matthew Syed should be required reading for all skaters, parents and coaches - he completely demolishes the idea that it is about natural talent and shows how all the top sportspeople (and other top performers) got there by practice/dedication alone.

  2. While I'm all for working toward ambitious goals (after all I did start skating at age 39) -- I do think there comes a point (I'm hoping it's a ways out for me) where you body really can't do something. You can't pull in tight enough, or your reactions are not quick enough, or whatever. I suspect that applies mostly to jumps. Certainly for basic skating, dance, and figures I've seen people doing them into their 70s and even beyond.

  3. I remember when my daughter started skating I thought 'Why didn't she pick a sport she has a natural talent for??' And then I watched her surpass my expectations of her. Again and again and again. I never thought she would get an axel. She just got third place in a competition today where she landed a double flip, two double loops, two double toes and an axel. She has taught ME what time and determination will do. And this is all only 8 months after she broke her ankle during the warm up ice at a competition. All I was hoping was that she would get that axel back again. It's a good thing that she doesn't let ME make her goals!

  4. Thanks for this, Xan! My daughter is starting to stare down the double axel, so this is timely.

    I think another added element for a competitive skater that puts pressure on and may make a kid toss up their hands is the "clock" ticking, especially for teens. You can always work on the jump (or spin or moves) but for a competitive skater, there is an added pressure of "will it happen on time?"

    I just watched Glacier Falls competition, and with 13yo Leah Keiser doing a seemingly effortless triple lutz-triple toe, and Courtney Hicks attempting a quad salchow (!!!), there is a squeeze on both ends to learn jumps in that sort of magic window for ladies skaters: early enough to compete at higher levels and gain experience also knowing that most bodies can't withstand that kind of pounding for very long.

    Again, this is a specific situation which add "will I get it in time enough" to a simple "will I get it". I know there are a lot of variables put into play there as well.

  5. HM, Congratulations to your daughter! Josette, the time factor is a very good point; if you don't make that window then you've added a challenge to a competitive career, and you do see this happen. But that is a factor of "when" and not "if." It affects what you can do with the jump, not your ability to actually acquire it.

  6. HM, congrats to your daughter - how wonderful!

    As an adult skater I worry about simply becoming too old to learn some of the skills I desire very much. When I skated in my 20's, I did not have at all the same sense of the clock ticking away as I do now. I am willing to work hard and put in the time, I don't care about falling, but I do wonder if my goals are realistic at 40. It doesn't stop me from wanting them, though. :)

  7. I'm 21, I've been skating for 10 years, and my talent is persistence.

    The highest compliment I have ever received as a skater was a couple of years ago when my coach told me, "I didn't think you would make it further than the first one or two levels of moves in the field. I thought you would give up and quit." I laughed and said, "Well, you didn't know me very well." I was working on Juv or Intermediate moves then. Now I'm working on novice.

    Nobody thought I would get an axel. Sometimes not even me. But I landed my double toe loop yesterday.