Nov 12, 2012

Unmotivated elite skaters, Part 2: Now what?

So you've figured out why your skater doesn't want to skate anymore. What do you do about ?

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:

Family issues
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.

Coaching issues
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.)

Saving face
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?


  1. Of all the things you mention, the last one is IMHO 2nd most frequent. Most frequent is that the skater has just found other things s/he would rather do, like team sports or chase boys/girls.

    The other thing I've noticed (it's probably under your category of "stuck") is skaters who hit the wall of how far natural talent can take them. In this regard, the later this happens the harder it is (just as in academics) -- ironically having huge amounts of natural talent means that when you hit the limit of what you can easily learn, it's that much harder; whereas if you hit that point earlier you really learn to work. Just my 2 cents.

    1. This is so true. Lots of kids have talent. The really successful ones have talent, heart and desire. (And if they don't succeed wildly at skating, they'll succeed wildly at something else; another thing to keep in mind. Skaters who have had a lot of success, but then quit, tend to go on to be successful at whatever is next.)

  2. I think it is very hard for kids who work exceptionally hard to continually watch those who have a lot of natural talent and do not have to work hard. I know the whole theory is that everyone's journey is different, but a 6th grader may or may not get that. I am very interested in Gordon's post that perhaps at some point there is a leveling.

  3. The last is my friend's 12 year-old daughter. She spends at least 1/2 of each freestyle session gossiping at the boards. She's not progressing because she isn't trying anything she doesn't already know how to do.

    I've tried gently broaching the question of whether A is having fun skating, but it was met with an insistent yes. Not that mom stays to watch her skate and see how much time is wasted. A is not engaged and finds reasons to come off the ice at least 2-3 times in an hour session. I'm far from a skating expert, but anyone and everyone can see that this kid does not want to skate. Mom is still tying laces to hurry A up and get her on the ice on time. Really? An almost teen? I've given up trying to broach the subject, but I feel bad for the kid. She's a great kid, but it's clear that she's done.

  4. Yep, I'd agree with the previous commenters. Perhaps a bigger picture is that motivation (not just in figure skating) comes from "focus," and that focus can be driven from a variety of sources. For youngsters, regligion, grief, acheivement-lust, or a creative muse can all cause focus (seledom do monetary considerations focus a younger person). Progress while under focus is about creating and dealing with change. A failure to deal with this change -- changed competitors, changed family life, changed body dimensions -- can cause loss of focus.

    We could explore more about the role of a Coach or a Parent in motivating, but ultimately it's up to the skater to enjoy the moment and avoid burnout by staying balanced. And yep, when the hormones kick in, all bets are off (smile).

  5. We switch things up. A lesson here or there with another coach who specializes in something(with okay of her primary coach). Dance class. Group class.

    Really, I think that group classes of any kind for higher level skaters are such a relief in a way. For singles skaters, the solitary endeavor of skating may be the main draw, but it can be lonely at times. My daughter takes an edges and moves class with a group, and she really looks forward to it. A few weeks ago, the coach brought in her scribe and they did figures. I thought they would moan and groan, but everyone really liked it!

    A dance class on ice or off. Cross training in another sport (which is what the USFSA periodization plan calls for after the last big competition of the year).

    Also, as far as natural talent goes, I think even naturals need to start working harder all around to get and keep the harder elements. Weight training, plyometrics...for some kids, just getting in better shape can make a difference it seems.

    Just getting off the ice for a week or two or three (or four) at the right time isn't a big sin. My daughter has taken weeks off and I thought "Oh boy...this first week back is going to be tough" and then, bam! She lands a jump she'd been struggling with before leaving.

    I'll say this, though...the double axel thing can be a real mind messer. Kids who make it to Intermediate and medal a few times suddenly being humbled again is a hard place to be for a teen. We'll see how this goes.

  6. Wow, are you reading my mind?! This post is so timely for our family.

    We have a 15-year-old who is juv level FS, novice level moves and pre-silver dance. She has always loved skating and has never been too caught up in the social aspect of the rink except when she skated synchro. Suddenly, this fall, after being off the ice for 4 wks with an injury, she decided she didn't want to skate anymore--she had discovered she might be missing more interesting social opportunities because of skating.

    Our daughter has always been involved in many other activities outside of skating and we work very hard to schedule and balance all of her interests (she's a 3-sport high school athlete). Skating is currently not her primary focus but she skates 3-4 times a week. We had finally found a terrific coach who has worked with high school athletes before and understands her schedule. She loves the coach, and we love the coach and really appreciate her willingness to work with dd's busy schedule. But, real or imagined, dd thinks she's missing social opportunities because of skating.

    We have convinced her to continue at least through the end of the school year. My husband and I just want to get her through the next few months because we are confident that her opinion will change as she matures, and we don't want her to regret her decision to quit.

    Her coach is on board in encouraging her. Coach is convinced dd is not aware how talented she is (for as little skating as she does). I feel that we should try to get her through at least Gold moves and Gold dance. I try to stress to her that synchro in college would be a great way to meet people and feel connected on a large university campus (she loved synchro but gave it up to participate in high school sports). If she quits now, that won't be a possibility. Coach and parents are hoping that she will continue...even just skating once or twice a week would be enough for us...but ultimately it will be her decision. If she goes back as an adult, than she pays the bills.

  7. The whole making it to sectionals goal is the wrong focus to start with. The focus has to be skating a challenging but clean program. If my skater became unmotivated, I would help her focus on what she is going to get out of skating long term. Maybe she wants to begin coaching or finish mitf tests or freeskate tests before graduating high school. Or maybe she wants to start organizing shows or other administrative tasks or become much more involved with her skating club. ~meg