Aug 27, 2013

Coming back from injury- physical

I have pulled my MCL, had two concussions, broke a toe, broke my ankle, seriously sprained the other ankle, and had major surgery. Only the MCL and one of the concussions happened on the ice, but all of them affected my skating.

In my 21 years in the rink, I've seen two career-ending injuries-- a skater with severe nerve damage from crashing into the boards, and a shattered kneecap (again, skater meets boards).

So here's the heirarchy of who gets a say:
The skater
If you are in pain do not train full out. You can skate, as in make it around the rink in skates, but if you have, for instance, dislocated your kneecap and it doesn't feel good, for god's sake, don't jump.  You probably know the level of pain that feels like injury as opposed to lack of training. Don't let anyone tell you that you're being a wimp, or that you "can't possibly still be in that much pain."

The doctor
This one's tricky, because most doctors I've talked to don't get skating at all, and athletes in general only moderately better. Thank goodness I managed to find a bone and joint guy who was a skater, because the first one I had was a complete idiot, insisting that since I'd been skating, I must have broken my kneecap (a rare injury, despite the above) rather than tearing the ligament (extremely common).  Doctors also often go straight to "quit," not understanding that you may not consider this an option.

If you're uncomfortable with your doctor's advise, or mistrust her expertise, find, as I did, a doctor who gets it, or ask your doctor to recommend a sports injury specialist.

If your doctor has you on painkillers, please do not skate while you are taking them. I once had a parent come up to the judge's booth at an audition to explain that her daughter had fallen on every single jump because she was, essentially, high on painkillers. We were pretty speechless.

The parent
With older skaters, parent and skater need to assess the resumption of training together. With younger skaters, it's the parents call in conjunction with medical advice.

The coach
I almost didn't even put the coach on the list, because when it comes to injury that has required medical attention, the coach is almost not even part of the question. I have received emails from skaters asking what to do when their coach pressures them to train, even though one, some, or all of the people above aren't ready. Do not let your coach pressure you to train at a level you do not feel you're ready for. If you miss a competition, or a test, or a season, then you miss it. Better than crippling yourself for life.

Edit. From the comments, a great link from L.A. Skate Dad:
Have you had a serious injury? How did you resume training?

Aug 20, 2013

Just not getting there

There comes a point in the lives of young athletes where, after another year of investment in time, work and cash money, the child just doesn't seem to be fulfilling whatever potential people keep saying they see in her.

It's hardest for skaters, where the dream of the big time is a realistic one. Unlike, say, basketball players, where getting to the NBA is vanishingly rare, in skating, recognizable achievement on a national level happens to skaters at every single rink. Everyone who stays in skating knows national competitors. It's a small field and yes, your talented kid has a legitimate shot.

Parents of talented skaters often get to that place where they wonder if they're being strung along. A skater who trains and trains but never makes it out of final round...well, it's an awfully expensive hobby for a 14 year old.

So how do you know when you're just not going to get there, or, even more to the point, where "there" even is?

"She's a nice skater, but be reasonable." 
Don't you just wish someone would say this sometimes? But if your skater is just a nice-skater-but-be-reasonable the coach is not going to suggest s/he go to Regionals year after year. This is because bringing an unprepared or unqualified skater to Regionals reflects on the coach as much as on the skater. Just as you are there to get your skater a prize, the coach is there to show how good her skaters are. So, in fact, if your skater is not a potentially national-level skater, the coach is going to say this.

Waiting for the breakthrough
Every kid will have one. For some of them, it's the double axel. For others it's "whoah I hate competing! How about if I test out!"  If you're waiting for a breatkthrough, make sure you recognize it when it comes.

Step it back
Three or four competitions a year is plenty for a child at the Regionals or even Sectionals level. One maybe two serious Club competitions, Regionals and/or Sectionals,  one or two no-name local comps to try out the choreo or the new jump. If your coach is taking your also-ran to more competitions than this, you're competing too much. Remember that training for competition takes time away from solidifying the skills. Counterintuitively, you're not going to get better at competition, if all you ever train for is competing. Some of the training has to be open ended just to work on skills.

Who can advise me?
Many clubs arrange for judges to critique their kids just before competitions, but your coach can also arrange one-on-ones just for her kids, or just for one kid-- your kid. Tell the coach you really want to hear the low-down from a judge in a non-stress situation, from someone with nothing invested in the child, either financially or emotionally. Remember that both coach and parent are emotionally and financially invested in the child. It's important to be clear that you have no problem with this, but feel an objective assessment would help everyone.
Caveat-- do not set up a judge critique on your own. This is a Skating Parent Cardinal Sin. You can initiate the process by asking the coach to set it up. You May Not Contact The Judge Yourself. (I mean it.)

What does the skater want to do?
Sometimes you have to let kids make bad choices. If the skater balks at competing, and her training attitude reflects that, then stop competing. Maybe she'll come back to it, maybe she'll move on, maybe she'll really regret it at 25.  But in the end, it's just skating. If she quits, life goes on.

And sometimes, they make amazing, mature choices and turn themselves around.

How have you or your skater handled this conundrum? Let's hear from some older skaters at Novice or above who had to make such a choice.