Jun 27, 2012

Afraid to fall

Well, I could be snarky and tell you "get over it."

But in fact, it's perfectly rational. Falling hurts. And it's scary. Sadly, it's going to happen. You're tightrope walking on a slippery surface, after all.

In my experience, however, falling is scariest in the anticipation. Once you slip, it's in the hands of fate. What you need to do, then, is learn how to fall, and more importantly, how to overcome the fear.

The first, and most important thing, is to fall. 
I teach this the same way at both ends of the age spectrum--toddlers and adults, who tend to be the most fearful of falling. Sit down, stand up. Sit down, stand up. Sit down, stand up. You get the idea. You want that ice surface to be your friend. If you're skating with a young child, have a race-- who can get down and then back up the fastest (always let the little guy win). Pretty soon, the kids will be throwing themselves to the ice and scrambling back up and having a blast at it.

Or not
Adults are really really afraid of falling. And they have good reason to be. Most of the injuries I've seen in non-competitive skaters are adults. They fall poorly, and it's a long way down. They come in with more physical deficits, even the healthy ones. So go with that. With most adults, I leave them in their comfort zone, or just barely over it. (The comfort zone of course is a moving target. Once they get comfortable somewhere, you push the bar ever so slightly.)

If you're really not going to let yourself fall deliberately, you have to do everything else the coach says. My favorite skating mantra is that doing the scary, counter-intuitive thing (bend your knee, lean into the edge, turn your shoulders not your hips) makes you safer. If you fight the design parameters of the equipment you are more likely to fall.

Learn how to fall well
Tuck and roll. You want to hit the soft tissue, not the hard stuff. This means chin to chest, hands to tummy, curl your back, hip to the ice. It's better to fall in motion rather than from standing because a lot of the energy will go into the slide instead of your kneecap. Never ever catch yourself on your hand. Whatever position you are in, roll over when you hit the ice. You can practice this.

Do the scary thing
For adults this might mean crossovers. For kids, it's the jumping. The less you practice a skill, the more likely you are to fall when doing it. But don't attempt skills you're not trained for. If you're just learning a loop, you shouldn't be playing around with axels. If you're unsteady on a one-foot glide, what until it's solid before trying crossovers.

Safety equipment
All beginning adults should wear wrist guards. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of head protection, in particular the Ice Halo®, basically a "stealth" helmet that just looks like a really attractive hat. Don't wear bulky kneepads--they make you stand funny and get in the way. A simple sleeve with a soft pad over the kneecap is plenty. If you're in hockey skates, especially beginners, you should have a hockey helmet.

Adults are allowed to cry (sort of). Children are not (sort of). As a coach, I need to know when a child is injured and when they're just scared. If I treat every fall like an ambulance-worthy injury, I'm helping to create the fear. If your child falls, observe her for a moment; she's probably watching you for cues-- "am I hurt?" I have a "no crying on the ice" rule-- you can't cry until you step off, then it's okay. If a student cries despite the no crying rule, I know they're hurt.

Adults need to suck it up. If you pretend you're hurt worse than you are in order to save face, I have to go with that. But you're just reinforcing your own fear if you do this. Accept the level of injury--if it's just to your pride, move on. By the end of the lesson, no one will even remember that you fell.

Try a different type of skating
Some people can't get past the fear. But that doesn't mean don't skate. It really just means don't jump. There's still hockey (nice, padded hockey), ice dance, figures, speed skating and moves. There's also just skating-- come to public and skate around. I am exasperated by people who take lessons and then refuse to learn things because they're scared. If you don't want to learn new things, don't waste everyone's time with lessons. Taking lessons implies a desire to learn new stuff. Just come and skate for fun.

I want to go to Nationals, but I'm afraid of falling
Yes, I have had people say this to me. It is a nonsense statement. If you're afraid of falling to the extent that you can't train, you have zero chance as a competitive skater. If you're a competitive skater, or even just going for the tests, You Will Fall. The vast majority of experienced skaters fall well. Training makes falling safer.

It's like anything. If you practice it a lot, you get good at it.


  1. I have no fear of falling, I've had my share of falls - some serious one. But I suck it up and get right to it. I tend to find why I fell and dont let it happen again.

    Falling teaches: courage, patience and failing is not an "option" its a choice. I don;t let the "fear" of falling get in my way of my goals - it comes with the territory.

    Happy Skating

  2. I want to elaborate later on, but the hardest fall I have ever taken (minus one falling on my face while I was in a spin, yes my forehead and face made contact with the ice, hard) was when I was teaching snowplow, caught a rut and had my feet go right out from under me. My feet literally went right over my head and I landed right above my hip on the right side of my body. The kids were immediately in my face "ARE YOU OK MISS SHAUNA!?!!" and I hurt so bad that all I wanted to do was cry, but I sucked it up, and told the kids to skate as fast as they could to the other side and back. Needless to say I was sore for a good several days and took it easy on the ice after that for a few days, too. Falling is a part of the sport and that's what I've told the kids. If you're not falling, you are not learning. But d*** that fall took the cake for worst one ever. My best teacher move ever was I didn't cry either.

  3. Just a couple things to add. When my daughter was learning a new move she would sometimes wear "hip pads" -- not sure where she got them or if the were for hockey or whatever. They would get in the way and sometimes out of position, so this was just for learning.

    From a (non-skating) parent's viewpoint, watching your kid fall also takes quite a bit of, uh, acclimation. Those first couple years my heart would be in my throat every time she fell. After that you understand the skater has learned to fall as a subset skill, and when she falls you watch for different signs (she'll show or suppress pain, but is she /really/ injured and need some time off the ice?).

    Finally, I've seen some skaters actually get more injured when they *don't* fall, for example if they land a jump long and try to force themselves to stay upright, at the expense of an extreme muscle strain.

    Thanks for this... a very nice post Xan.

  4. I agree that most adults are very afraid of falling. And I really, really agree that the anticipation of falling is much worse than the actual fall in terms of fear.

    Most adults don't fall very often and I think that works against us. I've had 3 somewhat nasty falls in the last 3 weeks or so -- 2 of them those nasty backwards falls. Grrr. But I'm fine. I tucked my head and rolled and it wasn't so bad.

    Re: non-jumping as a way to avoid falls... well maybe. For myself I've certainly fallen while ice dancing, and I fall all the time while working on figures -- they are easy falls though, almost slow-motion.

    Everyone is different re: equipment. I wore a wrist guard for a couple of weeks after I returned to the ice following a broken wrist; I found that it actually made me more fearful, not less, as it reminded me of the injury. If others want to wear helmets or wrist guards or whatever that's certainly their choice and I wouldn't think less of them, but it doesn't work for me. Besides I don't think you could (or would want to) wear them in competition.

    Good post Xan!

  5. This post came in a timely manner. My 7-year-old "alpha" skater starts falling...really badly. Not in the class, but in the public skating. She cries for two reasons. One is pain, needless to say. Another one is embarrassment. She thinks everyone is laughing at her (indeed some kids laughed at her). I am telling her not to care about other skaters too much, and just focus on her practice. I was about to buy knee pads for her, but after reading your post I changed my mind. I will make her practice sit and fall more although she thinks that is too easy for her... Thank you for a good advice!

  6. My 8-year-old FS4 skater has respect of the ice, but little fear of falling. She always has a bruise here and there but she doesn't seem to mind! I think I feel worse for her than she does herself! It's almost as if she knows it's part of the game. I've seen 2 adults and 2 kids break their arms within the last year of skating and although it's scarey, they were all beginners and/or skaters who just did that one holiday skate... It's a fine line, but my DD would never wear a helmet or anything like it. It's a fine line. I'm scared of the injuries the odds of which seemingly start increasing once the child has gotten seriously into jumping!

  7. You're not learning if you aren't falling! This was my daughter's mantra while learning Axel. She and all of her friends wore knee pads when they started and they still wear them - even national skaters wear them in practice! When they went to start Axel they stared with hip and tailbone pads or padded shorts. They have a decade of skating ahead of them, why have unnecessary injuries now? It also removes a little fear of falling when starting a new element. She has never asked to wear them in competition. ~Meg

  8. I think what holds me back is not the fear of falling/pain...it's the consequences of having a broken bone as a stay-at-home mum...would be really hard to do all the things I need to do without an arm/leg working...hence the need for knee pads to work on my twizzles at speed, and the fact I ALWAYS wear wristguards! Plus the simple practical issue of if I break something at a rink 30 miles from home, how do I get me and my car back home in time for school pickup etc...

  9. I'm still a beginner, but I fell A LOT at the start when I kept face-planting over my toe picks. I haven't fallen nearly as much since I started working with my coach, [but I still have some fear]. I wear knee pads and elbow pads normally, but during one recent lesson I decided not to wear the elbows. I was so nervous about it and felt sure I would fall,[which I didn't.] I tend to go through a little hierarchy of fears when I get on the ice: I have to swizzle easily around to get a feel for the ice again and then later on I have a moment when I feel like I want to cry, but I don't; it's sort of a release of the fear I think. Then I feel fine and I keep skating, re-tie my laces, step on & off the ice a couple of times and become relaxed. [I used to really fear that first step on the ice until I learned to step out side-ways and I don't fear that anymore!]

  10. I used to be afraid to fall, but then I realized if I was ever going to Regionals I would have to suck it up, so I did.