In my long career of skating and coaching, I have learned so much from the athletes and coaches that I have met over those many years.
In my professional years, I began to realize that psychology plays a definite part in a competitor’s training, and that I had been developing a definite philosophy throughout my early skating years in that respect.
I would like to share some of my ideas about different aspects of skating.
I learned early that the easy way out for a would-be skater, was to practice only certain moves that come easy for them on the ice and use every opportunity to show off these moves, and not practice the moves that were more difficult for them that made them look awkward. As a result, two or three years later the skater would have improved very little because they would have been able to do one or two things well and that’s where it ended.
But fortunately for myself, I learned that the more difficulties I encountered, the more stubborn I became to get over these difficulties. I didn’t care how awkward I looked. As a matter of fact people watching me practice in those earlier formative years would have said, “What is this young man trying to do, become an expert in falling? He seems to be on the seat of his pants more than he is on his feet”. This is exactly how it looked, but I didn’t care what I looked like as long as I could master the maneuver.
I have always believed you must learn to fall before you can learn to skate. If you stop falling you stop learning because you stop pursuing the more difficult moves.
The Natural Athlete
Professionals are always looking for a potential champion. The tendency is naturally to look for the skater who shows good coordination and other good physical attributes. This of course is necessary. Often overlooked, is the important asset of the mental attitude and personality of the skater.
Very often the skaters possessing all the natural ability, the so called ‘natural athletes’, fade out because they do not posses the tough mental attitude to achieve. Whereas a skater with less physical assets but with a tough mental attitude will succeed where the other will not.
This brings to mind a point that is quite unique to figure skating. Figure skating is unique when you compare it to other sports because in the skaters’ early years the skater has an opportunity to handle psychological pressures though the test structure. In how many sports can youngsters work towards perfecting their work to a test standard; perform all their work in front of an evaluator or judge, and if they are successful in passing, all the glory is theirs. If they are not successful on their attempt all the pressure of failure is on their shoulders alone. Learning at a very early age to handle success and failure will help prepare them for various pressures and situations they may incur later in life. (It took me seven tries to finally pass my first figure test but I didn’t give up and kept trying)
Let us dwell for a moment on a very important mental aspect of skating – that is the skater’s attitude toward the meaning of perfection. How does one describe perfection? To me it is like describing beauty as being only in the eyes of the beholder, so I believe perfection is an imaginative picture that is only in the mind of the skater. In other words, the skater must possess the imagination to consistently portray, to themselves, in their mind’s eye, the picture that they wish to project while skating. In essence, the skater must become the hunter, relentlessly searching or hunting the perfection they see as an image in their mind’s eye. Of course, never able to completely capture it.
Let us assume, as an example, that the skater is working on a certain move, be it a jump, spin or footwork. It is not enough just to imagine those moves being done with perfect style, form, etc., it must also include that very important rapport with the music. In other words that subtle bit of interpretation that you give to that bar of music when you are doing that move, how it fits, how it becomes part of it – because no matter how much perfection you can bestow on a certain move if it does not fit the music a great deal of it is lost.
The musical aspect of skating has been very important to me. I guess if it wasn’t, or hadn’t been, then why have music?
I recently had a conversation with an ISU Judge, who told me that judges write ‘BGM’ in their brief notes while judging if there is little connection to the music. It stands for background music! No skater wants that in the judges’ minds for their evaluation.
Judges and Perception
I cannot leave out the one factor that is very prevalent in skating – the human factor – the judge.
Many skaters try to please the judges and they end up doing just the opposite. I have seen coaches try to impress skaters with the importance of a smile. “Go out there and smile and show the judges you are enjoying it”. It has to come from within. A genuine smile reflex comes out in a beautiful way. An artificial smile makes a skater look affected and as I have already stated, instead of pleasing the judges you end up doing just the opposite. Of course some programs need a different expression to suit the music but it still must be genuine. It is so important to find your own emotions in your program.
I have always skated to win! Not merely to win a medal or championship, but more important to me, to win a moral victory. That is to be able to ask myself, “Are you pleased with what you have done?” If I feel I have given my best, then I have won a victory and generally speaking the results will eventually prove that sooner or later. This philosophy of mine psychologically prepared me for any competition pressures.
I recall one fleeting thought that went through my mind when I was competing at the World Championship in Prague. “Everything is going well, nothing to worry about now so let’s just enjoy it”. And that is exactly what I did from that point on. I enjoyed competing in the World’s in Prague not because I won but because I knew I had prepared properly. I was in excellent shape and I skated my best. I was pleased with what I had done. It was fun!
In summing up my thoughts on my philosophy of skating, I think they are best expressed in seven words I once saw written on a skating club poster. They were “Skate your way to fun and health”. I have never forgotten these words, and even though I was most fortunate and was able to reach world championship heights, these simple words still remain as a reminder to me and I hope they will become a reminder to all skaters, that no matter what stage of skating they are in, first and foremost to get fun out of it, good health will follow, and to some even fame and the opportunities that come with it.
Skating has given me a wonderful life. It has kept me active, healthy and happy and at eighty-two years old I am still skating regularly. I look forward each year to all of the new skaters, elements, new programs and music, and all the new aspects of the sport that are brought to the ice.
Once again, see you at the rink!
Photo credit: Skate Canada