Feb 16, 2013

How much is too much?

Late summer: major Club competitions, like Broadmoor, Detroit, DuPage.
Fall:  qualifying competitions (Regionals and Sectionals)
January: Nationals

That's the competitive schedule.  Spring through early summer is time for learning new programs and skills and taking qualifying tests; late summer is for gearing up conditioning and perfecting the program.

EVERYBODY takes a break after their final competition, be it Regionals, Sectionals or Nationals.

But below the top couple of hundred skaters, who make it past Regionals, or the several dozen who make it past Sectionals, there are lots and lots of local club competitions.

Lots and lots.

I hear about skaters doing 7, or 8, or 12 or 13 local competitions, plus Regionals.

And all I want to say is: are you insane?!

Most coaches will have a competition circuit-- the several competitions to which they always take their skaters. My daughter used to do 3 to 5 non-qualifying competitions each year.

If you are doing a competition a month, when are you learning those new skills, or preparing the next test, or improving conditioning and strength? All you'll be training is the program.

In academic parlance, you'll spend all your time teaching the test.

If your non-elite Juvenile through Intermediate child makes it to Sectionals, he should not be doing any competitions between Regionals and Sectionals. If he makes it past Sectionals, he should probably not be doing more than one local, low-pressure competition before Nationals. Here is the U.S. Figure Skating recommendation for "periodization" or annual training arc.
So what do you do if your coach is constantly scheduling competitions?

If you have a coach who is encouraging a heavy schedule of non-qualifying competition, make him tell you why.  What is your child getting out of it? What clear progress should you expect from the activity? What are the coaches' goals for all this competing? Younger coaches in particular might be more susceptible to feeling like they have to have kids in every competition, partially because they're still finding out which competitions they like, or because they think they should, or because that's what their coaches did.

Also ask the skater-- does she like competing this much? Sometimes kids will just go a long to get along and will start to passive-aggressively check out: by resisting practice, deliberately throwing competitions, non-deliberately throwing competitions (i.e. missing solid skills, because they're stressed), etc. Remember that a lot of kids won't complain about a heavy schedule. For one thing, most kids trust the adults to know what they are doing, and are unlikely to question an authority figure. (Unless they're my kids, who somehow never got that message. I wonder why?)

Ask parents of other coaches and find out if they have similar competition obligations. (Yes, you can talk to parents of other coaches about anything you want.) If it's wildly different, ask your coach about this.

Aside from the impact on skill acquisition, there is considerable cost-- costume, travel, time lost from work or school.  Your coach should not get to make financial choices for you. If your coach isn't hearing your despair, pull the money card. Give her a competition budget, and tell her you can do competitions within that amount, and not over, without an extremely compelling reason.  (In fact, if more parents just had a skating budget, instead of just coming up with whatever the coach demands, there would be a lot fewer unhappy skating parents.) 

What are we missing?
Is there another activity that you or your skater would like to do that is being squeezed out by "extra" competitions? Cross training, after-school activities, academics, "me" time are all lost in a packed competition schedule.

Competitions, even the "serious" ones, can be fun, or they can be a chore. Don't make it a grind.

How many competitions does your skater do each season? Is there a plan?


  1. Great guidelines in this entry!

    I have a Novice level skater, yes we have a plan. Mostly dictated by our budget, but also approved by the coaches. This year he won't be doing the local competitions. Mainly because they are either too early in the season and programs won't be ready, or they conflict with a larger travel competition.

    We will limit it to two travel competitions, possibly one more that is pretty close, not including Qualifying competitions. Keeping it in our half of the US.

    Both cost and training time are the reasons we decided to keep it simple this year. Last year he did two local, one not too far (still considered local, but a hotel stay was needed) and one travel competition. It was too much, the local ones became not too motivating after the large travel competition. But then again, I have a boy, and we need to travel to get numbers to compete against.

    Girls have more numbers so local competitions can be great. If we had that option, I would probably stick to local and do only one away competition.

    It was important early on m skater's career to get the experience of competition, but still he didn't do more than three a year plus Regionals if it was close. I used to think that was not enough (back when it was apparent he needed the competition experience, and I didn't know better), but now, just like you said, he needs the time to train the elements and run through programs, not get ready for the next competition (which puts training on hold).

    Two of the compeititons are decided, but there are two possiblities for the last one. The timing of the competitions, how training is going and how many other Coach's students are going to the various competitions will decide which one will be the final competition.

  2. My skater is not at qualifying levels so she usually does one or two ISI comps (at our local rink, we want to support local programs and they are SO much cheaper), 2-3 local comps (USFS) and this year she will skate at regionals.

    We also volunteer at club comps and at our rink comps (even if she doesn't skate). Many parents forget to add in the time cost of volunteering or donating to the judges/coaches rooms.~meg

  3. Good stuff here. You also could have mentioned the number of programs as a factor. If skaters have a free skate, artistic-dramatic and artistic-light that is 3 sets of costumes, and 3x the practice time (well, maybe not quite).

    For myself I've settle on 4 competitions a year (Adult Sectionals, a local non-qual, a non-qual at my old rink in PDX that includes a figures competition, and an artistic comp. we have here in Phx. called Autumn Antics).

    I also decided to keep each program (I currently have a free skate and a dramatic program) for two seasons and alternate getting a new one. That lessens the load on practice time and on my budget for costumes etc. Of course I'm an adult and a slow learner so I'm not adding lots of new skills or moving up a lot etc.

  4. What about for younger skaters who still years away from qualifying levels, but who love "competitions". Does it matter if they advance slower and so get to qualifying levels at an older age? (like do judges assume they mustn't be as good if they're older than most of the other skaters).

    1. "do judges assume they mustn't be as good if they're older than most of the other skaters"

      This is probably an entirely separate post (or posts), but objectively, no, judges should be judging the "skate", not the skater, so to speak. That is, solid technical elements with strong performance (artistry, musicality, choreography, etc.) should mark well no matter the age of the skater.

      However...I'd love to hear a discussion on this. Or if the discussion is that to do well eventually at Senior levels (whether at Setionals or Nationals - or even make it to Nationals), skaters just simply need higher skills earlier to get solid years in Junior before moving up to Senior and if that could make the question of "what do judges assume about a skater (since judges are only human and there is some room for subjectivity) more of a chicken and egg argument.

  5. "do judges assume they mustn't be as good if they're older than most of the other skaters"

    I don't think they need to assume anything. The girl obviously isn't good. Having said that, parents place too much emphasis on age of the skater. "Wow you're child is so good! How old is she?" Hate this. What difference does it make how old the child is? And what does it matter to you, a stranger? Will you pay for her lesson? Maybe contribute to her college plans? pay for her Prom in next X years? Annoys the hell out of me.

    13. The magic number for you skating parent out there that expect your dtrs to be the next Michelle Kwan. Worry less about other person's dtrs and their age, but worry about yours and the number 13. I don't have any skating background, but that number seems like a good a number as any for triples. No trips by 13, save yourself $$$ and go ISI.

    1. "The girl obviously isn't good."

      Which girl?

  6. Anon (3:04p.m.) sounds like a frustrated parent with a talented skater.

    I guess parents care about other skater's age because of magic number 13.

    They count it back how many years left for the specific skater to achieve triples.

    It's none of their business, but you cannot stop their curiosity.

  7. Watch for a "how to compare skaters" post. What a great idea.

    1. Ooh! Ooh! Can I write the section entitled "My child isn't Michelle Kwan. Should I steer her/him toward volleyball?" ;-)

  8. Some of the age issue comes from USFSA limiting the age on the Juvenile skater. In our area most older (14 gasp) skaters skip pre-juve and move right to open juvenile. It's easier to compete with those your same size than tower over a bunch of 9 year olds.

  9. It's more of comparison, a gauge, for over zealous skating parent. What ever happened to "Skating Moms" in the works? a la "Dance Moms".

    1. There was some video taken at a competition we were at recently. All of younger skaters below pre-pre. Basically, there were reports of parents being told to turn it up a notch and be ridiculous for the cameras.

  10. Personally, I'm more annoyed by skating dads, not moms. I have several friends of skating dads. They are nice and show sportsmanship all the time. However, some dads (not friends) make nasty comments about my skater out of competitive envy. Other dads just glare at us saying nothing. Their princess are nothing wrong. They are far from fighting spirit under their dad's protective wing. I want to see zealous skating dads with their "prince". That would be another story.

  11. Adding to 11:45 (4th post?), what if you're talking about a reasonably talented 6 y/o with solid single jumps and axel and there seems a bit of time yet to worry about triples but they've been bitten by the competition bug. ... Do you go with that and delay and possibly limit progress?, or do you pull them away from competing so they make hastier progress but barely compete for the next few years?

    PS: In response to 3:04 pm ... I personally take this as a compliment. My favorite reply is: "Actually I think she's a pretty good skater for any age".

    1. Another great post topic. The problem with early jumpers is that their bodies and personalities change so much in their early teens that these types often fizzle. We're seeing a lot of this right now with the boys-- there are suddenly a lot of very young (9 yr old intermediates, 1 yr old Juniors) on the National Stage; it will be interesting to see where they go with this.

      To see a really well-managed career of a young superstar, look at Jason Brown, who was tearing up the ice at 7. His coach has been really amazing at keeping him on track and as close to his age-peer competitors as the rules would allow.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Also, even on a light, small body, triples and even double axels can cause wear and tear.

    Skating history is absolutely littered with 14yo wunder kids that people whispered the O word about, who then had to "retire" as an older teen because they irreparably (as far as skating goes) injured. I'd also now include all the uber-flexibility moves needed for spins. Back and shoulder injuries abound.

  13. My daughter just started skating a year ago at age 11. She is a freestyle 2 now and so in love with the sport. Yes she is "old," but if she wants to work hard and aim for moving up the competition ladder I don't think it's wasted money. It has built her self esteem, amazing exercise, and she wants to see how far she can go. I don't think it is a waste to support that even though she won't be going to the Olympics and probably not nationals or even regionals. I feel like if I just left her in ISI she is going to feel like she never had a chance to aim higher.