PSA 2001 Sports Psych Q & A

I sat in for part of a Sports Psychology Q and A session led by Sean McCann. He was explaining how to help a skater break down their job so they can define it more specifically than "I want to win or place." For example, a skater could say, "To skate well, I will 1) have fun, 2) breathe during my footwork, and 3) warm up [can't read my notes]."

Then, you can look at these items, and ask the skater to rate the chances of these things happening. Suppose, on a scale of 1-10, the skater thinks there's a chance of 5 that they will "have fun." Then you try to increase the odds that this will happen. If, say, the skater enjoys going shopping with their mom at competitions, they can plan to do that -- that might increase the chances to 9 out of 10 that they'll manage to have fun at the competition. Looking at specific things closely like this can help to increase the skater's confidence.

McCann reminded coaches not to talk at their skaters or give speeches, but to ask them questions, especially those which require more than a yes or no answer.

A female coach asked how to deal with a young student whose problematic dad went to the Olympics in a different sport. He has driven the child to perfectionism, so she cries often when she makes errors, and furthermore, he has "a problem with women," so he does not always heed the coach's authority. McCann recommended, "With a dad like that, keep it on the performance. Practical. He can point to himself -- he's got his own personal mythology. Tell him, this is what I know about being a figure skater."

Someone else told of a father who was a former football player, with a military background, who had destroyed the spirit of his 13-year-old skater daughter with his overbearing attitude. Her new coach laid down the law to the dad: "You are not to come to the rink. You don't talk about skating this way. She's 13. She'll be skating at the Olympics when she's 23. This is a 10-year program, not a 'next year' program."

It was clear from all the coaches in the room that one question and answer session couldn't even begin to provide what they needed to deal with the complex family situations and dysfunctional parents that come along with the territory of coaching. My guess is that coaches and parents would gobble up whatever resources the PSA and the USFSA could offer to help them figure out how to resolve these things productively. There is a need. Some rinks have mentoring programs, in which new parents can learn from parents who are more experienced in dealing with skater children. But one attendee noted that parents at her rink tended to emulate not the sanest parents, but the parents of the most successful skater at the rink.

Not that anyone was suggesting that all parents are hindrances. Priscilla Hill spoke admiringly of one student who "practices all day with me, so he can show his mother at that last practice of the day what he's learned. And I will never kick her out of the rink." I loved hearing not only the story about the love between parent and child, but also the words of the coach who knows how to appreciate this when she sees it.

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