First, be aware that somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16, and around the Intermediate and Novice levels, a lot of skaters do just decide they want to move on to other things. Some of them decide they don't want to compete anymore. This is fine. And you can take it slow; for advanced skaters it's a bad idea to just allow them to cut it off, especially for adolescents, who are discovering all the amazing possibilities open to them, but may lack the judgment to make good choices. If your high level skater wants to quit, make her step it down gradually, just in case she changes her mind.
Here are some of the issues we identified yesterday:
You want to make sure your kid hates going to the rink? Have screaming fights with your soon-to-be-ex in the lobby. Yes, he's a pig who sleeps with everything with a pulse, but really, your child's friends and the coaching staff don't need to know this. Kids can feel either responsible for family dissolution and job pressures, or like they should be doing something to help. Reassure them that family issues will not be allowed to interfere with skating. And then make sure that this is true.
Problems at school
Academic and social issues at school can affect a teen's entire life. If the issues are academic, this is the more important problem to fix than the lack of motivation in skating. Improving academics, or at least helping a child get her academics under control, will probably fix her skating motivation as well, by removing the anxiety she's likely to be feeling. But school comes first.
If the school problems are social, skating itself is the fix. Skating rink social circles tend to be non-tangent to school cliques, so a kid who is having social difficulties at school has an alternative place where she can feel comfortable socially.
Social problems: rink
In other words, bullying. If your skater is being bullied (and trust me, skater grrls invented the concept), you need to help her develop alternate social circles that obviate the bully. You can also try moving some practices, lessons or classes to another facility, even over the skater's objection. Let the coach know your suspicions. If it's overt, complain to the skating director. Do not confront the bullies or their coach on your child's behalf.
If the lack of motivation is due to skating issues, try mixing it up. Add a hip hop class for off-ice. Find a rink with interesting specialty classes for skaters at your child's level. Suggest she try something new like ice dance or adagio (which can be done in same-sex couples), or something like Theater on Ice or Artistry in Motion. Especially if the skater is not going to Sectionals or Nationals, this is a great time of year to try new and different skating-related activities. If you can afford it, look into the winter skating camps-- there are amazing weeklong programs at Sun Valley, Lake Placid and Ice Castle taught by authentic icons of skating like Dorothy Hamill.
While I am leary of encouraging parents to get involved in skills issues, you might try asking the coach if there are particular skills or skating issues (like the ability, for instance, to skate a clean program) that your skater might be feeling discouraged about. Talk to the coach about how you can help the skater get past this. Maybe there are new skills that she or he can add that have less emotion tied to them. Can't get the double axel? Maybe it's time to start working on butterflies as a "reward" during lessons and practice, or some of the older figures skills, like using your blade to draw a tulip or a star.
This is where your observation of the coach is important. If you observe any dynamic with the coach that you think is off, ask the skater in a non-confrontational way. "Do you feel like your coach is helping you with your goals" not "Wow, I can't believe your coach is ignoring you like that." "I had no idea how much the coach has to actually touch you to help you with those positions" not "I'm calling child protective services on that pervert." Let the skater tell you if there is a problem. Please note that a coach touching a student is rarely because the coach is a criminal; this does not mean that all skaters are, or need to be, comfortable with a coach who handles them.
As everyone knows, switching coaches is extremely fraught, especially at poorly run rinks, so tread carefully around coaching issues. Keep lines of communication open, and never make accusations you aren't willing to go to court over.
Drugs and alcohol
I have observed many young teens who start losing interest in skating because they are developing drug or alcohol problems. If you suspect this, keep your child skating with a whip and a chair if need be, and talk to your school counselor about how to address a problem like this. If this is an issue, you will also see symptoms in your child's academic and social spheres as well. (In fact, you're liable to see it there first. Skating can be an island of sanity for a child who is dealing with such problems.)
The other thing you can try doing with a competitive skater who is unmotivated, of course, is nothing. That's right. Because losing motivation, and therefore not working, has its own guaranteed outcome-- lack of skating success. And frankly, you can't make the skater want to succeed. If she's going to sabotage her skating, then she's the one who suffers, if that's what it is.
Which brings me to the final point.
It's possible that the unmotivated skater does not want to disappoint you. She's done skating, but is afraid of your reaction. So she stops working, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What did you do to help with a skater losing motiviation?