Jul 14, 2012

Talking to yourself

Self talk--by which I mean tin-foil hat, pretend there's someone at the other end of the cell phone, outloud crazy person talking to yourself while you're practicing--is one of the most effective practice tools at your disposal, and if you don't mind the weird looks, it's free.

One thing at a time
Just as the trick to coaching is often finding the root problem, you need to find out what is that you want to remind yourself to do. Let's take beginning three turns-- there's a lot going on in a really short amount of time, so you can't say, at the start "okay I'm going to push and then up there at the top of the arc (wait, how will I know where that is?) I'm going to rotate and then when I'm backwards I'll check, and I know my arms belong somewhere and if they're wrong then the turn is a spin? or I'll fall? something? and then I'll glide."  Class is over by the time you get all the way through this. Think about the skill-- push, glide, rotate, check, glide. You have plenty of time to say, and do, each of these things in order.

Complex skills
Of course, if you're running a program, or jumping axels, or doing combination spins, you cannot possibly pick out each thing you need to think about. So you need to focus on one or two key items-- do you rush your jumps? Then your self-talk word might be "wait." Do you bobble the landing? Say "strong." This is where you need a pair of outside eyes to spot the point at which you need to talk to yourself. If you watch certain skaters you can actually see them talking to themselves.

Keep it Simple, Stupid works brilliantly here. Say one thing, say that same thing every time you are in the same situation. Your self-talk won't help you if what you end up saying is "what was I supposed to be telling myself here?"

Stay positive
Self talk can also be self-destructive. If you tell yourself, "crap I always fall on the double sal" then you will always fall on the double sal. Self talk helps you set up expectations-- it can be specific instructions related to the skill but it can also be a pep talk. What it can't be is a recitation of mistakes or fears.

Say it
Eventually, you'll train yourself to do the self-talk to yourself. But when you're teaching yourself this skill, do it out loud. You'll look a little weird, but on the other hand, if everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing, no one will be paying attention to you. By saying it aloud you can keep it confined--your thoughts are much more likely to wander than a verbal command.

Have you used self-talk? Does your or your skater's coach teach this technique?


  1. I talk to myself *all the time* when I'm practicing. I'm only working on single jumps, but a simple "arms low" or a count sequence that will help me remember when to sit on an edge for an extra moment or when NOT to, seems to help a lot. I tend to combine isolated movements with the talking. So, if my arms are the problem, I'll talk myself through the arm movement and practice it a few times before trying the whole jump again. (Then again, I'm an adult, so I don't mind looking crazy on the ice. ;)

  2. With technology being what it is today it wouldn't surprise me if the coaches talked to the skaters over wifi through some clip-on type earpiece. Or if you could buy an iPod synchronized to your program music whispering instructions into your ear! For practice only, naturally.

    1. Except it doesn't help for the coach to do the talking. The skater has to do this for him/herself. The coach cannot feel the timing of the skill in the same way that the skater can. What they CAN do is use video to point out where in the skill the skater is going wrong; this is the place where the skater needs to start talking!

    2. haha, no wi-fi, but Coach threatens to make IceBoy wear a shock collar so that he can remotely zing him to remind him to do what they've just talked about working on. ;) arms in {shock} arms in {shock} LOL

  3. I thought I was the only one who did this! I count (like on 8-step mohawks or a dance) but I also give myself tips like "press down on that free foot." When I am learning something that scares me (I'm 39 so that happens) I'll say stuff like, "It's okay to lean back," over and over with the rhythm of what I'm practicing. I even give gratitude out loud when I do something I usually haven't been successful trying. This is so extremely helpful I've decided I don't care how crazy it might appear.

  4. Great post, Xan. I talk to myself ALL the time while skating and I think it's a huge help. One of the coaches I work with suggested turning the adult tendency to think/over think to your advantage by engaging your brain in exactly this way. "wait" is one of my favorites as I tend to rush. I have also put together a specific mental plan for my program, comprised of cue words like those you recommend.

  5. I guess what bothers me about counting is that when I see a gal doing this it comes across as "telegraphing" a jump. In other words it appears to the audience as "she turns, takes a quick glance to gauge her position, setting, one... two.... wait... four, jump!"

    I realize a skater needs to do this to end up in the right place for her jump, but besides a figurine frozen counting can't she come up with a couple graceful and eye distracting (carefully timed) arm movements that accomplishes the same thing? That gets her where she needs to be without shooting halfway across the rink looking like she is "setting up?"