October 27, 2012

Motivating The Child Who Never Wins

The idea for this post comes from one of our readers, who asked me to write on the subject of keeping a gold-medal-less child motivated to skate. I've taken a few days to think over this subject: one which filled my heart with sadness when I read said reader's post idea. Every child deserves to feel like a winner, but it's been hard putting myself in this mum's place, seeing as I don't have any children myself.

So do you spend a decent amount of time in the rink each week, watching your little one skate around to the music, progressing, preparing, and somehow s/he always seems to place off the box, or even win medals, but never the gold? Then this post is for you.

This is such a difficult subject, because the majority of us (and I say this rather than *all* of us, because I know people who have no particular desire to be the best at anything in life, but rather simply draw pleasure from the things they enjoy, and that's fine too) want to win. Not only in skating, but in general. As humans we like to feel important, and yes, better than the rest. So what should you do when your child always misses out on that golden feeling? And how can you help her (or him) go on?

Reality Check
First things first, the angle you take in treating such a subject is going to depend on your child's skill level, yes, talent, and the amount you have invested in skating not only as a parent, but as an entire family (early starts? Financial burden? Missing out on family time? We've all been there).

The first thing to do is make a reality check. If your child is a teen, has been skating since a young age, and has never won a competition, they made not be going to make a career out of it. I say this in the nicest way possible. There are very few skaters who do. But the earlier aspirations are aligned with reality, the faster the skater (and entourage!) can start having fun with their skating.

Every Body's Different
Just because your child isn't winning competitions now, doesn't mean that s/he wont in the future. Keep in mind the massive bodily changes kids go through, and think about how these can impact on a sport where balance and bodily awareness is everything. Even in terms of confidence level, and personality development, each child is different. Some develop, in every sense of the word, earlier than others. Perhaps your child's biggest competition is outrageously out-going, with full-on facial expressions to boot. That's a confidence thing, and there's nothing to say your little one wont come in to her own shortly too.

All my young skating life I was so very shy, and although I did win some club competitions over those first years on the ice, I would also place 2nd or lower in regional competitions. Eventually (as a teen) I got with the program (no pun intended) and realised that an act had to be put on. And boy did it work! Maturity can mean everything, so give your little star a chance to grow as a person, and a skater.

All The Right Reasons
Finding ways to motivate your skater when s/he always seems to miss the top spot can be tough, but ultimately one hard question must be asked: if the only thing that motivates the skater is winning, are they skating for the right reasons? I know this sounds harsh, but often skaters go through many years of their sporting career not truly knowing why. I've known plenty of them, and went through my fair share of the motions too.

Supporting your child to know the difference between winning and taking true pleasure from an activity is going to be key in helping her or him pick themselves up after a disappointment. None of us like to feel second best, but when the ultimate goal is to surpass oneself, enjoy the moment, wear a glittering dress, feel like a princess (I could go on...), then the disappointment is ultimately lessened, and gives way to the simple pleasures that make figure skating so wonderful.

Making Skating Fun
So what can you help your child focus on, to work through the feeling of inadequacy? Here are a few options and ideas of things you could do, to help your kid focus on getting more out of skating.

Gala Performance 
Does your club have a holiday gala coming up within the next couple of months? Or is there a "show", "gala", or "artistic" section at the next open competition you plan on entering? If so, this is an ideal way to take the focus off winning gold, and to put an injection of fun and creativity into your young skater's career! Go nuts, choose wacky music, have kooky choreography, and let your skater's personality shine through. They will get absolutely lost in the moment, and it will be sheer joy not only for the little one, but to watch too.

When I was growing up I was Barbie mad. I had a suitcase full of them, to tell you the whole truth. I was pretty much as girly-girl as you could get, and had a mild obsession with all things glitter (something that has but strengthened with age!). So when I was about 10, and I had the chance to enter into the "gala" category at a regional event as well as the free skate, I knew what I wanted to skate to.... AQUA's "Barbie Girl"! My mum put my hair in bunches, emptied a can of glitter spray over my hair, arms, and tights, and sent me out as a gangly awkward totally oblivious Barbie girl. And it was fabulous. One of my best skating memories (not to mention the photos!).

♥ Focus On Your Skater's Strengths 
If your skater is beautifully strong artistically, or has amazingly deep edges for example, then it's time to use the things s/he is great at to make them feel a million bucks. 

I was always more of an artistic skater, with jumps being the bane of my life (until I finally made the switch to dance, something I deeply regret not having done sooner in my career - I think things could have turned out differently, had I had the hindsight to play on my strengths and step away from my weaknesses). So when I saw "artistic" categories at the events I was entering in, in the free category anyway, I leapt at the chance to build a program which had all of 2 jumps, and pretty much every type of ina bauer, spread eagle, and catch spiral you could imagine. And guess what? I won. That felt amazing

♥ Dancing Queen 
If your child is skating solo, then why not sign him or her up for dance lessons? Hopefully, you could find your little one a partner at your club, even if it's just one 15-minute lesson per week, followed by a bit of goofing about and a bit of pattern dance.

Dancing takes the pressure off "landing those jumps", and is also an amazing way to experience skating as part of a team. Building something with another skater can be a beautiful thing, and in times of trial your skater will be able to pull on the enthusiasm of their partner to get through. Some other great life lessons are up for grabs too!

♥ New Programs 
Make the new programs about what your skater loves. Give him or her a chance to shine, to express themselves to a piece of music that makes them feel something inside (not an easy concept for a younger child to appreciate I understand, but you can try and have your child think about what a piece of music means to them by asking them how it makes them feel, while whittling your way through CDs trying to find "the one"). 

Ask your skater what s/he wants to portray, how s/he wants to feel while skating to that music. Then make sure the choreography does everything it can to make that dream come true.

If your skater is loving the music, loving the movements, and loving their skating, then there's not much else you can ask for.

(Ps. it'll show through, and that's where the magic happens.)

Princess Dress For The Little Ladies 
When all else fails: buy a couple of gross (rhinestone speak: 1 gross = 144 crystals, they usually come in packs of 1, 5, or 10 gross) of Swarovski AB rhinestones (eBay have great prices from Hong Kong based stores in particular) and cover a dress.  Click here for my mammoth embellishment post for the low down on all things sparkle and shine.

Never forget that glitter makes most things better. Sparkle on!

Skating Can Teach Us So Many Things
Remember that skating can and will (if it hasn't already) teach us all so many things that we can use in our daily lives. That your child can pull on throughout her whole adult life.

Dedication? Committing to seeing something through when the going gets rough? Staying focused when all seems lost? I already blogged about what skating brought to my life, click through this way to read it.

Don't Forget To Be There
Finally, one point I know sounds very obvious, but it's worth saying it anyway because I know as adults our feelings can really get in the way sometimes.

So you've spent all your time looking after your skater, nurturing the programs and getting to practice on time. And she comes 4th again. Your disappointed, it sucks. It sucks to see her disappointment. Never forget to act like your child just made you the proudest parent on this planet Earth. Because no matter how bad you are feeling, I can guarantee you your skater is feeling worse.

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1 comment

  1. Your point about kids bodies changing is really something to think about. It happens often that kids who aren't too great at a sport get much better as their bodies change and mature.

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