Archive for the ‘Skating Psychology’ Category

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Competitions and Nervous Figure Skaters

March 3, 2008

I coached at a local competition here in the Midwest yesterday.  I’m helping my two adult skaters prepare for Adult Nationals in April.

Both skaters skated very well with just a few minor mistakes and both won their events.  I was very proud of them.  But it was interesting that both of them were disappointed immediately after their performances, mostly due to “nervous lapses” that they virtually never have in practice.

Being nervous about competition seems to be nearly universal in our sport.  And this nervousness and anxiety is probably the number one cause of poor or sub-par performances by our skaters.

I would say the odds strongly favor skaters that minimize their nervous response during competition.  A small minority of skaters really love the experience of competing and step up their performance accordingly.  These are those rare “super performers” we love to coach.  But the vast majority of skaters have undesirable responses, as most coaches struggle to keep their skaters calm and collected.

All this brings up an important observation that almost nobody seems to address in the world of figure skating.  The observation is this:  Nervousness, anxiety, and worry are all basically fear-based emotions. 

What exactly are our skaters afraid of?

If we could address exactly what they’re afraid of, doesn’t it follow that they won’t be nervous?  And they’ll start having better and better performances?

It appears most coaches and sports psychologists believe that this nervousness and anxiety is normal.  Most sports psychologists tend to focus on tools and techniques to help the skater manage the nervousness, rather than address the underlying reasons behind it.  And most figure skating coaches are completely inequiped to deal with it, considering almost no coaches have formal training in this area.

Regardless, most coaches handle it the best they can based on their own experiences.  Obviously some coaches are better at managing their skaters’ emotions than others.  Many coaches recommend lots of competitions to nervous skaters to get them to naturally conquer their fear.

But what exactly are skaters nervous about?  Are they worried about embarrassing themselves?  Or embarrassing their parents, families, coaches or friends?

Embarrassment is a form of shame or a painful feeling arising from something perceived as dishonorable.  When stated in those terms, it’s hard to believe skaters think of their sub-par performances as “dishonorable.”  But it’s almost certainly the fear of embarrassment that causes them to be nervous.

From my own experience, very few skaters actually feel intense emotional pain after a poor performance.  Sure, they feel disappointment but they quickly realize they made a good effort (most of the time) and nobody’s opinion of them or those they care about was permanently damaged.

Instead they worry and fret ahead of time about the emotional pain they will suffer or will inflict on  someone they love or respect.  But even after their worst performances they don’t feel that much discomfort.  The worry about the feeling is much worse than the feeling!

If we’re truly interested in helping our skaters have outstanding performances and develop important life skills through skating, we really need to start addressing this.  How can we convince our skaters they have nothing to fear?  Coaches, skaters and parents, I’d love to know what you think about all this.  Please leave a comment below.

Trevor Laak

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Figure Skating Coaches Need Discipline

November 2, 2007

I wanted to make a comment about how much discipline and patience we need as skating coaches.

Today I worked with a low-level skater on a her scratch spin.  I work with this skater in private lessons on a fairly regular basis.  This skater is currently in a basic skills program and is learning a scratch spin in her class.  But I’ve been very unhappy with the technique she’s been learning in class.

Unfortunately, she’d been having some success with the poor technique, spinning about 3 fairly centered rotations.  What I disliked about her technique was she was taught to simply twist into the spin, while I wanted her to glide on a long entrance edge to allow longer, faster spins.

This put me in an awkward position.  I had to convince her to try it my way without openly criticizing her basic skills instruction.  Not surprisingly, when she initially tried it my way the results were terrible because she could not control the entrance edge.  It took multiple lessons over several weeks of patiently and gently demanding the technique I wanted before she started to “get it.”

And today was the breakthrough!  Today she could finally control the edge as it got deeper and deeper until the edge naturally turned into a spin.  Her spins today were nearly centered and she was now getting 6 full revolutions.

With today’s success, I could see that she finally “bought into” the technique I was teaching her.  Up until today, she was merely humoring me.  She was willing to try what I asked, even though it wasn’t working, because I remained utterly unshakable in my requests.  This is the discipline I’m talking about.  We need the discipline to ask a skater to do the proper technique every single time.

Too often I see coaches throw away a valuable 15 minute lesson of technically improving drills by giving in to the skater’s desire to try the element when they’re still not ready.  Often coaches are giving in to their own curiosity or lack of patience.

I once took away a skater’s axel for 3 months.  At the time, she couldn’t get her free leg in front before jumping.  We used the three months working on exercises to slowly and persistently change her technique.  By the end of the three months, her new technique was totally ingrained in muscle memory.  Her technique was fixed from the very first axel she tried after the 3 months.  And it was permanently fixed!

As coaches, it’s our job to be patient and make sure the technique is good.  Skaters rarely have any patience.  And their parents are usually even worse.  As coaches, we’re the only voice of reason in the process.  The problem is, as coaches we’re likely to give in to our own curiosity, the skater’s pleading, and the parent’s pressure.

Stay strong!

Trevor

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Regionals Is Upon Us…

October 9, 2007

Good luck to all coaches and skaters around the country as they make final preparations for Regionals.  (I know, some events have already happened.)

I coach in the Upper Great Lakes Region and the festivities get underway this week.  It’s obvious, as most of the Regional-bound skaters at our rink are more stressed and more emotional than usual.  Which brings up an important point.

It seems in the days leading up to a major event, the psychological aspects of coaching become the most important.  Those coaches that can help their skaters be confident and remain loose give their skaters a big advantage.  But mental training isn’t something you do a few days before a major event.  And it isn’t just a few words of encouragement right before your skater takes the ice.

Skaters that consistently compete well fall into two categories.  In the first are those lucky skaters that just love to compete.  They thrive on the attention.  They naturally react with better posture and a more awareness.  They jump higher and skate faster.  These skaters are a joy to put on at competitions because you’re likely to get a better performance than their very best practice run through.

In the second category are those skaters that simply feel prepared, even though they’re not natural performers.  Feeling prepared is obviously different for every skater.  And that’s a major challenge for us coaches.  The stress our skaters feel as a major competition approaches suggests that they are not mentally prepared.  Even though they may have flawless technique and the stamina to easily get through their programs, they may not really believe they can do it or they worry about potential distractions and failures.

Mindset plays an important role.  If a skater prepares mentally for all the things that can go wrong and has the mental toughness or discipline to refocus immediately when something does go wrong, they are truly prepared.  Even more prepared are those skaters that can control their mind and body so that nothing does go wrong.

And of course, there are those skaters that really aren’t prepared physically.  They may be trying elements that are too difficult or they know they’ll be outclassed by their competition.  But even these skaters can pull off amazing performances with the right mindset.  At the very least, they are realistic about their situation and understand that stressing out has no value.

So, it always surprises me how little help we give our skaters in the areas of mental training.  But I guess it makes sense when you consider that most coaches have no formal training in this area.

Still, it can be liberating for a skater to take full responsibility for how they skate, as long as they have accepted the consequences.  But most of the time, skaters and coaches are unwilling to really address the consequences.  They are        lurking there, but generally remain unnamed.  The consequences aren’t just whether they make final round or advance to the next event.  The real consequences for our young skaters are usually related to how they think others will think of them, from their parents and friends and families, to their coaches and fellow skaters.  Their personal self-worth is on the line.

There are some great resources out there regarding this important side of skating.  Whether you’re trying to create a champion or just a happy, well-adjusted kid, and energy you spend on this will be worth the effort.

Trevor

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How Does The Ironman Relate to Figure Skating?

September 11, 2007

This weekend I went out and watched the Ironman Wisconsin race here in Madison.  It’s incredibly impressive.  Athletes train for months to race in a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon run of 26.2 miles.  The top finishers take more than 8 hours to complete the race.  Many competitors never finish the race at all and there’s a 19 hour limit before they close the course.  It’s truly grueling.

I had to find out how someone trains for such an event. There are incredibly detailed guides available to help any reasonbly fit athlete complete the Ironman.  A typical program takes 20 weeks of preparation and breaks down the process into mental and physical training.  The detail of such programs can be truly astonishing, but it’s really the only way to get a human body to do something so intense.

But all this got me thinking, that figure skaters do not have any similar guides to training for a major event.  Sure, some coaches have figured out a great system that works for their skaters, but most coaches are in the dark about how to help a skater peak at the right moment.

What if skating coaches had a complete guide to preparing a skater for Regionals?  Would the number of great performances at Regionals increase?  Without a doubt!

Most skaters train their physical bodies by skating regularly.  Many even have training programs that taper off or increase in intensity as the main competition draws near.  But there seems to be very little focus in skating on training the complete athlete, including nutrition, rest, and mental preparation.  I would venture to guess that less than 10% of all competitive skaters have a mental training program, and less than 1% actually take it seriously.

Getting back to the Ironman, athletes prepare by regularly focusing on race preparation, physical training, physical health, mental health and efficiency.  Every aspect of training is laid out in a weekly and daily training program.

Do any figure skating coaches out there apply similar techniques?

To optimize their performace at a major event, figure skaters should focus on a clear, step by step process that includes the following:

  • Competition Prep – including knowing all the rules, being familiar with the venue, proper eating the days leading up to the event, and equipment care such as costumes and skates
  • Training – focusing on developing the fitness required to perform the programs, and repetition of the programs to minimize the mental stress of all motions
  • Physical health – including nutrition, weight, body composition, fatique, soreness, and injuries
  • Mental health – from confidence and motivation, to stress control
  • Efficiency – with the emphasis on flexibility, equipment setup, and proper form or good skating technique

Any true training program should take all of these factors into account.  I know of no program that addresses all of these issues for figure skaters.  Yet these issues are completely understood and publicly available for many other sports.  I suspect that figure skating training methods are only in their infancy and all of these issues will be addressed in the future.  As athletes continue to compete at higher and higher levels, they are constantly looking for an edge.  Someone will discover it in figure skating.  Then training for a major event will become a science!

Trevor

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Inconsistent Axels May Be Lacking Airtime

August 13, 2007

Today was a routine day at the rink.  No breakthroughs.  Some skaters are stressing about the upcoming DuPage Open competition this weekend.  It’s also time to decide exactly who is ready to test at the upcoming test session here in the Madison area.

One of the skaters I work with regularly was upset today because she wasn’t landing her double toe and the technical changes I suggested made it “feel” worse.  This is so common in coaching that I felt it deserved a comment here.  I find myself constantly repeating to my skaters that to learn a new skill, there’s a good chance they’ll have to get out of their “comfort zone.”  As obvious as this sounds to many of us, it is not obvious to our skaters.  Especially if they have landed the jump in question before.  But we know that this is true with anything…without stretching ourselves, we wouldn’t grow.  And there’s discomfort in stretching ourselves.

Anyway, today’s video analysis is another axel.  Click the link below to see one common problem that reduces axel flight time and the effect it can have.

 Common Axel Flight Time Problem

If you find these videos helpful, please post a comment below.  Thanks.

Trevor

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Figure Skating Video Analysis Example

August 13, 2007

Today I spent a few minutes creating a short video analysis of an axel attempt.  If you look closely, you’ll notice there is no Dartfish symbol on the final video.  The reason is that I do not use Dartfish for my video analysis.

 Of course Dartfish is the industry standard at this time, but considering the cost (>$1500), it just isn’t practical for the majority of figure skating coaches.  Ialready owned a medium cost laptop produced in early 2006 and an inexpensive digital video camera, and created a full video analysis system for less than $300.  I’ll reveal how I did it in a future entry.

 To see today’s analysis, click the link below:

Axel Two Foot Landing Video Analysis

 The video shows clearly one of the major errors that many skaters have when learning the axel.  The error is usually caused by fear as described in the video. 

Please comment on the video and let me know what you think of it.

Trevor

P.S. Don’t forget to check out Skating Coach Quiz!  There’s a great Dartfish analysis performed by Chris Conte you should really see. 

Figure Skating Video Analysis Rocks!