Sep 16, 2012

Too much fun

From a reader:
My skater's coach wants her to spend more time practicing and less time socializing with her friends at the rink.  I've asked her coach to give me a set amount of time she should be practicing but he keeps it vague and says things like "a balance between work and play" "keep skating fun and progress" but then also thinks she shouldn't be able to stay and socialize if she hasn't done enough practicing.  I told my daughter that if her coach didn't think shed been practicing enough she wouldn't be able to stay for social time. She told me I was "ruining it for her". Any advice?
I tell a story about my daughter at practice ice one day. She and a couple of friends were having a spinning contest-- longest spin, most features, most creative, prettiest--and having a really good time doing it. A coach called her over to yell at for for "having too much fun. Skating is serious and if you're not taking it seriously you should leave." Being my daughter, she told him to take a flying leap.

Even elite skaters love skating. They do it because it's fun to skate, it's fun to be the best, it's fun to win. They wouldn't be doing it if it was a horrible slog that made them constantly miserable, with no social or emotional rewards. Work is important, and work ethic is important. But reward is important too.

Why are you at the rink?
Well, to skate, but there are lots of other reasons too. To avoid starting homework. To avoid being at home. To see your friends. However, I'm with that coach on this one. The reason you are at the rink is to skate. So that's the first priority, and blowing off skating is a reason to withhold the reward, in this case socializing. But it doesn't have to be punitive. More of an if-then proposition. If you goof off in class, or hang at the boards instead of practicing, then we go home straight after practice and no socializing today.

But your RUining it
(Imagine that 9-year-old whine). Tough love, baby. Mom's not ruining it. Skater is ruining it by not taking the skating seriously, so that she earns the downtime afterwards.

Social Pressure
Many skaters blame social pressure on the relentless socializing, clique-forming, and hanging-instead-of-working at the rink, so that girls also feel pressure NOT to work. Skaters who insist on taking the skating seriously at a recreational rink can develop a reputation for being snobbish or unfriendly. They feel pressure to not seem to above themselves by working too hard. Some coaches are really good at making the work part of the socializing, but if you've got a coach with a smaller program, or a different philosophy, they work needs to be rewarding. If you've got a skater whom you want to work, make sure the rewards are clear and immediate. Don't yank her out of the rink the second she's done, don't monopolize her time while you're there. Let her have her social time.

You are not the coach
The hardest part of getting the skater onto the rink is that the coach is out there, and the kid is hanging in the lobby wasting time. Coach is most likely not going to get off the rink to track down your skater. But you can also not assume the role of the coach. So be the parent. If your skater is dillydallying, rather than continually demanding they get on the ice (coach's role), just pick up their stuff, and say, hey if you're not going to skate, let's go home. Remember--the socializing is the reward for the skating.

Make the skating social
Goofing off or socializing during class or lesson of course is verboten, and earns the removal of the reward. Practice is another thing. While skaters do need to focus on their own skating during practice, you and the coach can probably come up with a system that allows the skating and the socializing to blend sometimes. Maybe one practice session a week is on my daughter's model--the girls were working (on spins) but had come up with a way to make this fun and social. That other coach was first, a putz, and second unprofessional (because he wasn't their coach, and they weren't interfering with anyone's ability to skate). So choose a session a week, and let the girls direct their own practice; no coach or parent interference. The only proscription is no hanging on the boards to talk.

Like the last suggestion, this one requires some cross-parental and -coach coordination. See if the culprits can do an off-ice or conditioning class together. This adds work+socializing as well.

Yes, take class. A lot of higher level skaters stop taking classes because they think they're too good, or the coach is a snob about it, but class is another place where there are many more opportunities to both work and hang out. Higher level skaters don't need to be taking skills-based classes, so look for specialty classes like Jump Workshop, Moves, Ice Dance, Choreography, or whatever your rink offers.

What have you or your skater done to keep the fun in figure skating? How do you balance work and socializing?


  1. I used to teach the piano to some very clever kids who would AVOID the boring practice but happily fiddle around. Solution? Insist that skills acquisition and consolidation happen first. Work on a particular phrase then put it into the context of the whole piece. Make the tricky bit more tricky and do it 5 times in a row correctly. When that happens they've nailed it.
    Doing the irritating or boring bits first may work for skating practice. If only it worked on my thesis...

    1. I always tell my kids do the hard thing first, then when you do the easy stuff you feel like a genius. And the one part of the lesson that is inviolate is the free time. If you tell a kid they get free time, even if it's just 5 minutes, and then run the lesson over so that they lose that, you lose a lot of trust and respect. Plus, if they KNOW free time is coming, they give you the attention you want now.

  2. Having spin competitions with my friends is how I practice a lot of the time when I go to sessions on weekends, because I skate first and foremost to have fun and stay active. As an adult (24) I know I'm not going to the Olympics. So one other adult friend and I will do warm ups and then challenge each other. One watches to make sure the coast remains clear just in case a skater readjusts, and to see what can be improved. A lot of times our coach will see us out there playing around with the challenges and she comes and joins right in and then comes up with things we never would have thought of to try, like arm and leg variations. It makes it fun and it keeps my friend and I going because we are around the same level so if she lands a jump I'm having trouble with, it pushes me to attempt that jump more and vice versa. :)

    However, I do have practices when I go in the mornings where I am complete focus, but I much prefer my "fun" practice sessions because that's usually when I have the breakthroughs because I'm having fun and not thinking about it.

  3. For my daughters we have the rule that the last 15 minutes of every practice on public session (2-3 times a week in our case) is "skate in any way you want". However, (1) this does not apply to freestyle sessions - those are strictly for practice, and (2) they do have to keep skating; no standing and talking, on or off the ice. Contests with taking turns are fine though. Usually they and their friends are making up their own programs, often with one of them leading and the others trying to follow and copy the leader. Kind of synchronized skating. It's very cute when a whole bunch of 4-6-year old friends are "performing" like this :-)

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: Basic 5 and Pre-pre.

  4. Hi Xan,

    Good post, just a couple things to add. Certain clubs (out here anyway) tend to have a reputation for either being more serious or more social. All Year (AYFSC) is fun, all the gals scream loudly together at a competition, and there's loads of camaraderie. LAFSC on the other hand means serious training. There's still friends and cliques and fun, but the attitude is different.

    Lastly as a parent I recognized over the course of my daughters career that objectives can change. For many years serious competitiveness was de rigueur. Later though friendship became more important. I'd say a parent should be firm but sensitive, and go with the flow. Unless your kid is regional caliber, the friends she makes skating may serve her better in the long run than her technical advancement.

    L.A. Skatedad

  5. I really like Jeff's post. My DD is at FS4/pre-pre level and I ask her to practice when she is on freestyle and not just socialize. She does that, it's more that she needs some guidance on what she should practice (she is 8). She has been doing better with that too in the last few months, but it's a process. On public though, at this point, this is once/week she is allowed to socialize and "play" with her friends. Friendship is huge for her and I am not sure how I would curb her desire for that - it doesn't seem natural. She is still at an age, where she believes in all dreams possible, but I agree with Jeff, unless you have your kid is an olympic hopeful, friendship/fun is just as important if not more and in our case it gives DD more energy and more drive to want to succeed.

  6. Nothing like a game of "Add-On" to sharpen up your skills.

  7. I love all the ideas! What we are working on now is- FS morning session(empty ice) and afternoon(before/after lesson) are for working. PS is for playing. So far so good. Ive still noticed a bit of skating up to folks to chat and a few convos at the boards...its a process! Thanks for creating a post, it helps!