Oct 6, 2011

To compete or not to compete, that is the question

There's one at every rink--a fantastic skater who can't win a competition because the jumps just aren't there. Maybe she falls, maybe the jumps are small, or underrotated, or she doesn't have the doubles, or the triples that she needs.

One skating mother asked me whether it makes any sense for a skater to quit competing and focus on the skills for a while instead?

It depends. It would be impossible to make a blanket judgment, but in general I would say, no. A skater who wants to win competitions, who wants to go to Nationals eventually, needs to keep competing.

However, at the developmental levels (through Novice), competing, and especially winning, should never be the focus of the skating career. They call these levels developmental for a reason. A major club competition like Broadmoor, Detroit or DuPage, a local club competition, and regionals is plenty of competing for a skater who needs to work, to develop, skills. You may have seen the headlines the last couple of years about skaters who have medaled at every level, or won a developmental level twice. This sort of thing makes headlines because it is rare--developmental level skaters--Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice--are notoriously volatile. Skaters move up and down the ranks is wild disarray.

There's a certain value to staying in front of the judges--not just you but also your coach. Your coach is learning what the judges think about you, and getting advice on how to help his skaters develop. Further, however well you jump in practice, putting those same skills out there in competition is a completely different animal.

Being able to compete well is a skill in itself.

Competing is also a good way to get an unbiased assessment of your improvement. Especially with the Code of Points scoring system, you can actually see, by increasing or decreasing point totals, and through the very detailed protocols (which mark each skill in isolation), whether and where you are improving, devolving, or struggling.

This mom is right that preparing for competitions takes away from practice time, especially if the skater is like most skaters with limited time, scarce financial resources, and non-skating interests. The skating world, in fact, divides the year into "Rest, off-season (early and late) pre-season, and in-season." You never never compete during Rest, and you need a really good reason to compete during Off-season. So you should always work a long stretch of time--3 months or more--during the year when there are no competitions to distract you.

One of the things that concerns skaters and their parents is losing time--getting stuck at a level for multiple years. Skaters stay at a level for numerous reasons. Foremost, because in most cases there's no rush. Even if a skater ages out of Juvenile (at 13?) and ends up skating Open Juvenile for a couple of years, they are still competing and improving, and have plenty of time to compete a year or two at Intermediate. Coaches will often hold even a successful skater back if they are young for a level. This has happened with the last 3 Intermediate Men's champions- all in their tweens, the coaches kept them at their level, to allow their bodies to catch up to the maturity needed for the more challenging Novice level. Skaters below these lofty heights can also stay at a level, to bring their repertoire up to par.

How long do you stay at a level, if you're not doing well at it? First, define "well." With Code of Points, "doing well" no longer needs to mean "winning a medal." Doing well can now mean all positive GOEs, or increasing point totals, or full credit for jumps that you used to underrotate. If you don't compete, you're not seeing these very important assessments of your skating.

In other words, winning medals, especially at the lower levels, is not the only value in competing.


  1. Very, very very helpful post!

    Thank you so much!

  2. Juvenile is 14 now. Great post!

  3. Sorry, meant under 14...read you wrong.

  4. What about adults? We can go to (Adult) Nationals, but it's not quite the same thing.

  5. With adults you don't have that time factor hanging over your head. You just move into a different category.

  6. I've spent the last 18 months or so working on competition skills -- I've done 5 freestyle competitions and 2 figures competitions. Competing doesn't particularly thrill me, to be honest, but it is a skill that I want to have and it is certainly one that gets better with practice. I'm less nervous and I handle my nerves better.

    You don't have to compete to do a program -- after all you'll have to do them to test. Doing a program does force you to learn to integrate your skills in a way that is IMHO most important to be a well-rounded skater.

    I still finding testing a lot more nerve-wracking than competing though!