Monday, February 23, 2009

Intense Figure Skating Training -or- Baby, You Can Drive My Car

By day I’m an education writer, so I read a lot of education-related stuff. This morning I read an article in the Teachers College Record about parents of gifted student musicians.

The gal who wrote it had a child who wouldn’t stop banging on the piano. Robin Schader drove 50-some miles to the nearest academic town for her daughter’s advanced music lessons. She called it The Drive. Sound familiar?

Eventually, Schader opened a not-for-profit student musician’s house in the academic town to house her kid and others like her nearer to the conservatory. Schader also became involved in researching these driven kids and their parents.

Here’s what Schader writes about the parents who sent their children to stay at Music House:

Broadly speaking, we learned that the majority of these parents regarded music lessons as a benefit to their child’s development in multiple ways: enhancing academic learning and discipline while building awareness of the rewards of practice, as well as enriching aesthetic appreciation. Few indicated their investment was made with expectations of a career in music.

The combined experience of working with Music House parents and the subsequent research with [researcher] David Dai demonstrated that there are things parents can do and things parents clearly can’t do. They can’t make professional musicians of their children, nor make them love music, but they can help them gain several valuable life skills through music training.

Schader writes about a later study she did with Professor Sally Reis of the University of Connecticut’s Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Schader and Reis interviewed nearly 400 female former Olympians about their training and experiences.

Schader specifically researched the role the Olympians’ believed their parents played in their athletic success. Here’s what she found:

Interestingly, although the elite athletes acknowledged several external factors as contributors to their success (including the various roles played by parents), ultimately these elite athletes perceived the primary factors to be in their own hands. In their views, perseverance, practice, and personal characteristics were paramount.

When I first read those sentences I thought: Really? All that drive time and gas money and still Mom and Dad aren’t that big of a deal?

Then I thought: Wait. That’s a good thing.

This means that those successful kids, those musicians and athletes, aren’t doing it for Mom and Dad: they’re doing it for themselves. They’re in control and they’re reaping the enormous benefits that come with success: self-esteem, discipline, goal-setting, and independence.

I’m really glad that most Moms and Dads willingly drive their kids ridiculous distances to far-off places at all hours of the day and night. When they get to the rink, the conservatory, or wherever, these parents move to the back seat and let their talented kids drive the rest of the way – wherever they’re headed.

Schader, R. (2009) Parents, Kids, and Pianos. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 15476, Date Accessed: 2/23/2009 11:35:25 AM


just pat said...

My husband and I have a phrase we use for parents that are new to figure skating and think their child might be the next olympic hopeful. We say they have "Olympic Stars" in their eyes.

It starts because their child shows an interest and loves the sport, but at some point it becomes more important to the parent. Especially if the child is talented. But I've seen a few very promising skaters who left the sport because they didn't want it as badly as the parent did.

I have a child that was an "okay" skater. She loved skating and loved to go to competitions, but she really wasn't that talented. But she just kept doing it and wouldn't give it up. We spent around $7,000 a year for her skating. For us, that is a lot of money. It would have been her college fund. My husband thought I was nuts to keep paying the bills.
But here's the thing-- we realized she was learning much more than how to do an axel. She was learning how to set goals, how to be disciplined in her practice, how to persevere, and deal with disappointment. How to be graceful in winning and defeat.

We thought the life skills she was learning were worth the price we were paying. We could see the things she was learning on the ice carried into the other areas of her life. She grew up to be a good student and a good person.

So while she may not have been a "gifted" skater (and lord knows, I wish she could have been) she received other gifts through skating. We let her make the choice to stick with it, and she made the most she could out of the experience because she was driven.

She's now in college with an academic scholarship, so I guess that "college fund" was worth it.

Ice Mom said...

What a beautiful comment, just pat.

Ice Charades said...

Like "just pat's kid" I was only an "okay" skater. I think I had more natural talent for piano or dance, but skating is the one thing I stuck with. And like "just pat" said, I learned a lot about discipline, grace under pressure, getting along with others, setting goals, failing tests (a lot - which often made me more determined)and pushing myself.

Yes, skating costs money, and it may trump other opportunities for the family, but I'm so glad I didn't spend my skating time watching tv or singing into a hairbrush in the comfort of my bedroom.

Skating puts you out there - you have the double whammy of mastering physical elements (like catching a pass in football or hitting a ball) while performing, a.k.a. making it all look good, for an audience or judges. That's a great skill to have.

Icegirl is already learning skills beyond what you learn in a classroom.

When the going got rough in my skating (like trying to pass my figure tests), my parents always said I could quit at anytime. That freedom made me more determined not to. And that is one of the best gifts my parents gave to me ... besides all those rides to the rink.

anomalily said...

I started skating at 11 years old- pretty late, but I was completely determined to match my peers as quickly as possible. My parents, who perceived skating as "just another fad" for me in the beginning, agreed to lessons, but asked for me to pay for lessons and ice time out of my allowance & money made shoveling other people's driveways in the beginning. They agreed to pay my club fee.
After a year of me gathering all my money together and paying my coach often in rolled change (not to mention gaining significant skills on-ice) my parents decided this was more than a fad and supported me completely, even driving me to three different rinks in the area.

When I was 15, I decided it was time to start hauling my own ass to the rink. I lived in a the city and the rinks were in the suburbs (and one was in a different state), so I started biking & busing myself all over town. That was the best decision I ever made- I gained independence, conditioned myself while getting to the rink, and took some burden off my parents.

While I'm just a casual skater now as a 20-something, I now work for a program that encourages teenagers & youth to bike to school. I love seeing that feeling of independence & determination in teenagers that previously felt tethered to their parent's cars & interests.

Also, I must say, I always enjoyed being the skater in the rink whose parents had no expectations. I was skating purely for myself. I can't say so much for a number of my fellow skaters.