Nov 15, 2012

My child didn't win because

A parent wrote to me about her disappointment over her child's placement in competition. She was competing at Basic 8, although she skates at FS1 level. First, it is common, and appropriate, to compete 1 to 3 levels below your class level for non qualifying and recreational competitions. For ISI you must compete at your highest official test (as opposed to class test). Basic Skills encourages you to skate at your class level (there is no formal test registration process for Basic Skills), but also allows you to  skate "up." My reader says,
All the girls at her level were doing moves and spins that were far higher than her level. She got last place because she was doing the requirements for that level. My question is should we have put her in basic 6 so that she can get a gold? Or let her lose knowing that most of these other children are in higher levels? Her coach wanted her to do basic 8 because that is the level she had just passed.  What's the rule for these competitions?
First of all, Rule #1 for competitions is follow the coach's advice. (Or as my old mentor Nick Belovol used to say, Rule #1 is 'coach is always right' and Rule #2 is 'remember Rule #1'). The objective is never to "get a gold" but rather to skate a personal best.

Second of all, this parent is speculating as to why she got last place. You cannot tell why a skater placed a certain way at Basic Skills, because placements are based on ordinals, not points. It's equally possible she was just the worst skater. Speculations of this nature will make you crazy.

In basic skills competitions, there are selected restrictions on elements, but generally you are allowed to do most moves from higher levels. Sticking to the passed elements from the current level is a common and acceptable strategy. At another competition, this skater might well have been up against kids who were also skating only moves from their own level, in which case, she might have placed better. But there's no way to know this, so the best strategy is to use a program that the skater and the coach know that the skater does well.

Basic Skills competitions are particularly challenging, because judges have a lot of discretion in the marks; individual elements are not marked separately (unlike in IJS scoring and in ISI competitions), and the rules about acceptable elements are somewhat fluid from competition to competition.

It's alright to have a conversation with the coach expressing your concerns regarding competitions, and just asking why she chose some particular strategy. Make it non-confrontational, and with information,  not "how can we get my daughter to win" as the goal.

Even a child who skates her absolute best doing stuff from higher levels is never guaranteed a win; you have no control over what other kids are skating, how well they do, what the judges are looking for on that day, and tons of other factors. Recreational competitions like Basic Skills and ISI are for fun.

Forget USFS's PR about how "Basic Skills is the path to the Olympics." A sure way to make sure your skater never gets that Olympic bug, or even just a simple desire to succeed, is to create anxiety over non-qualifying competitions at the Basic 8/Delta level. This is like assuming that the C on the third-grade spelling test will affect that Harvard admission.


  1. Freeskate programs at Basic Skills are definitely not the place to get uber competitive. There is soooo much variation in skill level and maturity level among skaters. An almost-teen skating against a much younger child may just look more artistic because she has more body control and that's what some judges who happen to be on the panel that day are looking for. Or, a really bendy seven year old can make an older child look stiff. You just never know.

    On the other hand, I do understand that competing and competing against other kids and not placing well time after time can be a de-motivator for a child. Usually the compulsory moves test have fewer kids and are only about the level skills. Some club competitions are having "team" events where each child is responsible for performing one skill, and the team is judged as a whole. Once in a while, a confidence booster competition is a good thing. However, placing last in the whole scheme of things isn't a big deal. The more experience a child gets competing and moving up and down and up and down the ranks, the more any one competition becomes a way to focus on individual accomplishment. I will say...IJS with all it's own issues was a relief in other ways.

  2. If possible, skate two programs - include an artistic program! They are so much fun for the kids. See if a friend will be a partner. It takes the pressure off of being perfect and kids really let loose. There tend to not be as many entries in 2nd and 3rd events so if medals motivate, they have more opportunities.

    I wonder at the "far higher" comment...are you sure? There are required elements and restrictions in competitions. I am guessing they looked "far higher" because they were well done.

    I'm not a skater or a coach. I was surprised that our coach put in a camel spin that wasn't really fast and not as nice as her other camel spins. Finally I asked my daughter why it didn't look as secure and she said it's a higher level because it's (change?) to an outside edge. As a parent what looks "far higher" isn't always far higher. You really have to trust your coach. ~Meg

    1. "You really have to trust your coach"


  3. True, one C in 3rd grade that an A-student got because he was not feeling well won't affect anything. But if a 3rd-grader is consistently getting Fs (or even Cs) and his dream is to go to Harvard, I think he better start studying soon.

    "In basic skills competitions, there are selected restrictions on elements, but generally you are allowed to do most moves from higher levels."
    Really? All basic skills competitions in our area have very precise lists of required elements (which are from the corresponding class level) and clearly state that no elements from higher levels are permitted. Any elements from lower levels are OK.
    In artistic events though the levels are usually combined: there are artistic basic 1-8 and artistic freeskate 1-6. Our coach often puts our daughters with higher level skaters (for a number of reasons which I do understand and I totally agree that the coach is doing the right thing). Say my 3.5-year old who was in Basic 4 at the time, was competing against a 7-year old in Basic 4 and an 8-year old in Basic 7. Clearly mine had no chance of winning. I was not concerned at all, but it was very hard to explain to my little one why it was not important that she won't win. How I knew that she won't win even though she tried her best and did her program quite well. Why we signed her up for an event where she had no chance... I spent hours encouraging her, telling her how great she actually was...

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

  4. It's interesting...I've been doing some research and writing on sports and competition, and the way kids are trained in soccer specifically. In the US, we get kids on the field and playing games as young as 5 years old, and at some games - even though up until under-10 soccer is considered "developmental" - it really does get cut-throat. That's not just the parents at the game; that's coaches pushing kids to pass the ball and play games to win based upon strategy.

    Then, I read an article about the elite Ajax soccer club/academy and they said that they don't even worry about winning games until kids are much older. The point of games is only to get kids to practice individual skills in a competitive atmosphere. Whether a game is won or lost is not the point. The point up until early teens is individual skill building.

    Now, I know there are a lot of differences between skating and soccer, and even American ideas about competition. And this school is training kids to basically "sell" as professional athletes later on. Plus, soccer has a longer competitive shelf like with athletes peaking at 25-30 yo.

    But what I found with my Intermediate skater was that even though she medaled regularly in Basic thru Pre-Juvenile, at Juvenile, more and more previous 1st place kids were finding themselves at the bottom of the standings and really needing to work their way up the ranks again. Progress was a matter of .5 points here or moving a -2 GOE to a -1 GOE. You have to make the decision then to look at this as an individual sport within a competition and compete to learn how to compete, not necessarily to medal (at least not right away).

    My youngest is 6 and may start competing soon. Even though, yes, he will want a shiny medal, I'm going to start out lovingly brainwashing him. :-) Or, do what we're doing in soccer and not let him compete - other than friendly neighborhood games - and with skating, just participate in shows and smaller events with only 4 kids and 1-4 medals. The focus will be on skills, and competitions will be stressed as "learning to compete". If he still gets upset, we'll pull back, but at some point he'll have to make a decision as to whether or not he's okay going for long times between medaling. Because eventually, that's just a fact.

  5. Oh, there's a whole backstory here about how or why *parents* should even be concerned if their kids are "winning," but that always gets into the rather touchy issues of How To Parent. Okay I'll dip a toe in.

    My youngest daughter skated; as she was born when I was 32 by the time she was serious (around age 11) I was already middle-aged, past some serious illness, unemployment, death of a parent, divorce, yada yada. So perhaps I had a more "seasoned" perspective.

    It's important to make sure that your children are dedicated and practice 110%. But skating is like the rest of life; sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug.

    A parent's role is to help even out the emotional ups-and downs of their child's endeavors (to prepare them for their life ahead). If you set the expectations in your kid that they should ALWAYS expect to win, well then...

  6. On a practical note, even now with my higher-level skater, if she's freaking out or worrying that she won't place well OR even has a chance to place well and *that* is freaking her out, I'll tell her to think of this as a "practice competition."

    It's not for real. This competition is to practice competing with an axel in her program for the first time. Or this competition is to practice competing at 7:00 AM in the morning. Or this competition is to practice remembering to smile all the way through a program. I know it's a mind trick. She knows it's a mind trick.

    But it does work to calm kids down and give them a face-saving "out" if they don't medal.

    Also, we have a tradition of all competitions ending with an ice cream sundae. No matter what. :-)

  7. My Child didn't win because .... she wasn't better than girls ahead of her at that particular competition. ... falls on her jumps when other girls ahead and below her don't fall ... but she makes the podium all the time causing hypertensive crisis in some skating moms whose kid finishes below mine w/ a clean program. go figure. gotta love this sport.

    1. Anyone who sticks it out long enough will sooner or later develop the "oh well" shrug. Even the most hyepertensive parent. It all goes around and comes around eventually.

  8. It is my understanding that even at that level-we were certainly told anyway-that you can't do elements that are higher, however some elements might look higher if they have something added to them, like a spiral catch foot, or variation on a spin. I would say to the parent though-listen to your coach and if you are going to compete, get used to not understanding the placements. You will find from Basic Skills to Prelim (does seem to get a little better by Pre-Juv) that marks can be all over the place and make absolutely no sense-rarely will you see unanimous ordinals and sometimes you will see things as odd as kids getting 1st place ordinals and 6th place in the same event and everything in between-how that is possible, one does not know, but if you are going to stick it out, you need to develop thick skin, a sense of humor and do it b/c your child loves it first and foremost. Some days the marks will go your way and some days you will wonder if the judges slept through the competition and just rolled some dice and put marks on the sheet. Every now and then you will find a group that has consistent ordinals for each competitor, but more often than not, you will be looking at the marks with a perplexing stare. You will run into kids who sandbag, and you just can't get upset about it-personally, we always erred on the side of skating at or above-would rather skate your best and know you are at appropriate level than teaching a child winning is more important than integrity. I would say to the parent, hang on, enjoy the ride and try not to get to worried about it, although it can be frustrating and confusing some days.

  9. You are correct that elements from a higher level are supposedly penalized, but in practice the competition director has a lot of discretion in what they'll allow; further, while there is a supposed ".2 deduction" for elements from a higher level, the deduction is based off of air, since there is no set point range. Because the final outcome is based on ordinals, rather than straight points, the deductions hardly matter, as the judge can just manipulate her score so that the skater she likes comes out first, regardless of "deductions." (You may have figured out that I think Basic Skills competitions are, shall we say, flawed.)