Nov 14, 2011

How do you quit?

No, this is not more drama about the rink. This is about how young people move on from the intensity of training.

Even serious recreational skaters train at a level and in a way that is very different from other youth after school activities like student government, drama club or team sports. If you've been a competitor it's even harder, because you're also giving up prestige, and a great big chunk of your identity.

A reader asks:
How do you help your child leave the sport? Mine has started talking about it in a very calm way recently. I think she is concerned she will lose her identity and her friends, but she just does not have the same drive she used to and never seems happy to go to the rink anymore. I feel like I am taking her to some after school math session every day. Only this one is really expensive.
The organization Team up for Youth, studying girls in team sports found the following:
"While many girls play sports in their younger years, most drop out during adolescence. Why? Research shows that girls may face overt or subtle pressure from their peers and families to ‘feminize,’ or to take on responsibilities (e.g. studying, taking care of younger siblings) that prohibit their continued participation. One researcher describes adolescence as “a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle” in which girls “lose their assertive, energetic and ‘tomboyish’ personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed.”* The girls who continue to play through adolescence and beyond are usually those who have developed an athlete identity. Being an athlete is a part of who they are. These are the girls who say, “I am a basketball player!” rather than, “I play basketball.” These are the girls who see sports participation as a non-negotiable.
(full pdf here)
 With girls in solo athletics like skating, tennis, skiing, et cetera, the change is even more fraught, because of the competing social scenes. People at school may barely be aware that the student is even an athlete. My own daughter tried to participate in after school activities in high school, only to be told that no absences would be tolerated for non-school sports. She eventually simply shifted her entire social identity to the rink, but other students may find that they feel pressure, either internally or externally to make the opposite choice.

Skating adds another dimension, because a lot of people don't consider it a sport, and/or don't consider recreational skating to be a worthy pasttime. Some equate recreational skating with failure. The single most-frequent question we would be asked when people found out my daughter was a skater was "oh, have you been to nationals?" This from people who had no way of knowing the answer was "yes." Society doesn't assume that every high school football player is going to the NFL, but this is a common misperception about figure skating--that it happens only at an elite level.

The thing is, there is very little downside to either choice. The tricky part is finding your way through the morass of emotion that is the adolescent, especially adolescent girls. As the reader asks, how do you support this decision?

I'll add a corollary as well--how do you support the decision to stay? This can be just as difficult, because of the social demands on adolescents, and because of the more demanding training as you increase your level.  There are issues as well even if the skater just wants to keep skating--there is a lot of contempt among some coaching staffs for kids who plateau, even the ones for whom that is a choice (adults get this a lot too).

I'm going to pull a page from the late great IceMom here, and throw this back to you. How do you help your skater make the choice to stay or to go, to improve or to plateau?


  1. whoa....."late" great IceMom???? Late meaning.....? Loved her blog. She lead me to yours.

  2. I am amused by how they make taking on responsibility sound like a bad thing.

    "Society doesn't assume that every high school football player is going to the NFL"
    Football players would not take on so much risk if they did not think they were going to get a big payoff. I think it is a common irrational belief that "their player" might go on to a higher level. The difference is, no high school football player has already been to the NFL.

  3. You mentioned the social and cultural effects of quitting, but I think the physiological effects of stopping your training must also be considerable. There was a time when I was in high school where a week without exercise would make me extremely uncomfortable, and I was not even exercising that much. How do you deal with the physiological adjustment?

  4. Late great only inasmuch as she seems to have suspended the blog!

  5. There is a long answer to this question, but the short answer is the same answer I just gave to the guidance counselor regarding my daughter's low(ish) Language Arts grade: We need to find out 1) if she really just doesn't like LA all together or 2) if it's just something about this year that we need to support her in to get her though to the next level/year where she might like it more or 3) we need to fine out if it's something she's experiencing in class that can be fixed before she gives up on it all together.

    I wouldn't care if my kids "gave up" if they were doing it from a place of conviction or a decision they feel mostly at peace with. But if they are giving up because of an ongoing problem that they can't figure out, I want to make sure they have the resources to help them figure it out first, give it another try before making an all or nothing decision.

  6. I have done my best to not define my daughter as a "skater". This way, when she quits (maybe next year, maybe never), she won't lose her identity. She also has a strong core group of friends who are not skaters. They are competitive in karate, soccer, theater, swim etc. We moms make sure to have them get together regularly - even at unconventional times due to hectic schedules and taken family mom/daughter mini vacations and outings. This way our girls have strong roots.

    Also while the majority of dd's time is spent on the ice she also does another sport, art, music, strategy games, and crafts. By keeping her well rounded and trying new things she would have ease in filling up those hours with other activities she loves. ~Meg

  7. Our daughter is also involved in other sports and activities. And while she once considered skating to be her real passion, high school sports are becoming more important to her. I don't think she'll give up skating, just allow her focus and goals to evolve.

    But, recently she had to change coaches and while we emphasized to each potential coach that her high school sports were important to her and that we were looking for a coach willing to work with her schedule, the first coach we hired wasn't forthright with us about her intentions and the situation didn't work out. This coach had said she was willing to work with our daughter's goals and schedule but really wanted to try to get her to commit to more skating than our daughter wanted to do and was able to do. That coach lasted only 2 months and suggested to us that our daughter should consider giving up skating because we would never find a quality coach willing to compete with other activities.

    Over the years, we have learned to keep talk of other activities to a minimum because many coaches assume that if skaters have other activities, they will not be dedicated to skating. Our daughter manages 3-4 lessons a week and 2 additional practice ice sessions and she's a 2 sport high school athlete and musician. She rarely misses a skating lesson or practice ice and uses her ice time efficiently. She is a dedicated recreational skater. She has a coach now who supports her decision to do other sports and this coach has worked with other skating high school athletes before--what a difference that makes. She emphasizes that it is up to our daughter to decide how far she wants to go. If her goals are to pass both Senior Moves and Freeskate before she graduates, she'll have to put in more early morning practice time to achieve that goal. She holds up other skater/athletes she has coached that have achieved that goal as examples. She makes it clear it is possible but it will require continued dedication on our daughter's part. Our daughter is in the driver's seat.

  8. Can you do a post on 'moving into' the intensity of training for adults when they retire? I mean, if I live long enough they may change Adult Silver Moves so that I can pass it (i.e. no spirals)

  9. The stupid spiral thing pisses me off; I should get a buy on the spiral, because I took moves when it was in the lower level; now I'd have to do it again! (Although it's the 8-step mohawk that stops me cold.)

  10. This one is a very familiar topic in our home.

    With regards to quitting. Make double sure about your feelings around this. Make sure you are clear that it is your child's decision, not yours. That your ego is not tied up in them continuing or quittting the activity. (not so good at this one, but working on it.)

    Second thing is not to let them quit when they are down. Whether it is an injury or a skill they are stuck on or a competition that didn't go get the picture. If it's the middle of season, then have them finish out the season and make their decision then. If they are injured, have them rehabilitate, get back to skating, then make the decision.

    Every situation is different, I'm talking about competitive skaters who have put years into their craft (especially the injury rehab part). However it is a good thing in life to teach our children to finish what you start, honor your committments, and never quit when you are down.

    If they decide to quit, have a plan in place, something that they will do/pursue with their freed up time. Don't let them just sit around the house and mope or hang out with friends until the cows come home. Kids are usually interested in many things, but you have to make sure they move in a positive direction.

    My skater: You never let me quit, I would have quit so many times already if you let me.
    Me: Well, do you want to quit now?
    My skater: No, but that's not the point...
    me: LOL