Sunday, August 9, 2009

Figure Skating Parenting: Taming the Parenting Beast

Former world- and national-level figure skater Jennifer Kirk recently blogged about the Overzealous Skating Parent. It pretty much reads like a manual of abuse: floggings with hairbrushes, screaming at the skater in public places, silent treatment, ridiculous schedules, sideline coaching, budging other skaters and parents out of the way, and forcing skaters to train despite injuries.

Deep down, maybe way, way deep down, we parents all want what's best for our kids. So how can this simple desire go so horribly wrong?

The donkey metaphor. Let's say I have a donkey, a cart, and a carrot. I want the donkey to pull the cart down the road. Where should I put the carrot?

If I position the carrot far from the donkey, the donkey thinks the carrot is not a realistic goal and munches on weeds in the road. The cart doesn't move. If I position the carrot very close to the donkey, the donkey eats the carrot and the cart doesn't move. If I position the carrot where the donkey can see it, smell it, and where the donkey gets a taste of it once in a while, that cart moves down the road pretty fast. Using a stick instead of a carrot makes the cart tip over. Of course, you should not unhook your donkey and pull the cart instead. That's pretty pointless.

In other words, help your figure skater set up small, achievable goals. Don't punish, but encourage your skater with praise and...carrots. Or chocolate. You get the idea.

Other suggestions for keeping your sanity will parenting a figure skater:

  1. The kid has to want it more than the parent. This intrinsic motivation, by definition, has to come from the kid. Maybe that desire was there in the beginning, but, as a parent, how do you keep it kindled? Be your figure skater's biggest fan. Notice the little things that she does well and let her know about it. Be the positive voice for your child, a voice she can replay in her head when she feels low. Help her want to continue skating by encouraging her.
  2. The parent needs a vision. Get a piece of paper and a pen At the top of a piece of paper, write: my best parenting year ever. Write today's date, but put next year's year. O.K. What happened to make this the best parenting year ever? What did you do to make it happen? Realize this is about parenting, not skating. Your skater can make one for herself that's titled my best figure skating year ever. She is allowed to write about double loops and pancake spins. Your paper, though, is all about how you were a fabulous parent. When your skater cried, you...what? When your skater triumphed, you...what? When your skater was injured, you...what? When your skater had trouble with her lutz, you...what? When you had a coaching problem, you...what? Visit this vision once a week. Don't lose sight of your vision - when you do, bad parenting happens.
  3. Focus on the positive. This is a great activity for parents, figure skaters, and anyone else who needs help staying away from negative thoughts. Keep a list every day of five positive things that happened. Dedicate a page in the skater's binder or a small memo pad in your purse for this activity. Date it. Sometimes your list might have dorky stuff like - made it to the rink without any accidents, or able to write on my list. That's fine. Just have five things every day. You'll notice that you're more able to focus on the positive when you have to write them on a list. You can look back at your list and figure out if there's a pattern to your bad days or bad weeks or if maybe it's just a random thing.
  4. Mistakes happen. One of the most profound things I've read lately is that people should strive for excellence, not perfection. Your skater will mess up. So will you. Shrug it off. Say, "That's cool" and move on. Don't pick at the faults, don't magnify them with over analysis and nagging. That's cool. Move on. Focus on the positive. Learn from your mistakes. Treat your skater with dignity and respect - like you want to be treated.
  5. Encourage a life off the ice. Your skater is talented at more than one thing. Ice Girl loves to sing. She's in chorus at school and she loves to write original songs and sing them in her bedroom when she thinks no one is listening. She and her school friends love to ride bikes in the summer and they hang out at the park down the street and talk. Of course, she has this texting thing that she adores. This is all good. On-ice life will end someday and she needs to know that when it does, she still has value. You need a life off the ice, too. Make sure you have more to talk about at work than your figure skater's double flip.
I'm not a perfect parent. I blow a gasket when Ice Girl spends more time on Facebook than with her textbooks. I'm not fabulous about encouraging a life off the ice when we have so little time at home as it is.

But, I'm working on it. That's positive #1 to go on my list. I recognize that this is Ice Girl's journey and I'm just the driver. That's positive #2 to go on my list. She's having a sleepover tonight. That's positive #3...

Please share your parenting-with-sanity tips. We know what rotten figure skating parents look like - and so do movie producers. Let's write a manual of what fabulous figure skating parents look like. Please add your methods in the comments.


Diane Mars said...

Thanks you SO MUCH Icemom !!!

Those tips are applicable to all parents regarding their child(ren), not only the skating ones :)

I'm trying to do the same with my daughter (which is a plaster-painter) and.

Thanks you !

Anonymous said...

Parents need to read those lines !
"Some parents enter the sport for all the wrong reasons. These parents are destined to be stage moms. They live vicariously through their child. Their child’s success become their success. They see every action their child does as a reflection on them. Unable to distinguish between the boundaries of a healthy parent-child relationship, these moms and dads get blinded by their own dreams.
Understanding this can be hard for some overzealous moms and dads. There are no rules for how to make a skater a winner, and there are no rules for how a parent should behave. It is up to the parent to keep him or herself in check and to see the big picture. This sport can suck people in and make them believe that skating is all that matters in the world. It isn’t. A child’s well-being is the most important thing. Not making nationals or taking a season off to rest an injury isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When a parent becomes too involved in a child’s career and turns it into a career of their own, it can not only hurt their relationship, but it can also make their child resent the sport and their mom or dad for becoming so controlling over what began as a fun activity.
Jennifer kirk

Ice Mom said...

"Some parents enter the sport for all the wrong reasons." - Jennifer Kirk

You're right, Anony. I think that these misguided folks somehow believe they're doing their children/the world a favor.

Ugh. They're not.

I'm not convinced these stage moms have a strong grounding in reality, so giving them guidelines is like blowing in the wind.

The point's well taken, though. Thanks for the comment.

Ice Mom

EBingley said...

Great post - thank you! Would it be inappropriate to print this and post it on the glass of the rink?
Heck, I'd like to read it every once in a while too!

Ice Mom said...

Thank you, EBingley, for thinking that it's good enough to go on the glass at the rink! Feel free to post it.

Better yet: sneak a copy into the stage mom's purse.

Anonymous said...

that is funny ! but you right icemom it is like blowing in the wind, they never know they have a problem. I'm a beginner in the area, my daughter is five and in basic 5 class, and men I've already seen some funky parents acting up ! The sad part is the kids act like them !

Leah said...

I just found this blog and it's great! My daughter is 8 and will be skating in her first competition this November. She is in freestyle 2 and will be skating at freestyle 1. I have no idea what to expect! How exactly are they judged at that level? I also love that you make icegirl's dresses! I am just learning to sew and hope to be able to make one, not for this coming competition but maybe the next. How difficult are these to make, for the novice sewer? Thanks!

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Leah. I'm glad you like the blog.

Thank you very much for the great topic idea: what to expect at a competition.

Sewing really isn't that hard. I'd start with a practice skirt first, though, so you can get the hang of working with elastic. Try Jalie #2215 or Kwik Sew #3051 (size xs-lg) or Kwik Sew #3006 (child's sizes).

I'm sorta working on a post about the rudiments of sewing. It's pretty long, though.

Best wishes for success!

Ice Mom

Veronica Lee said...

Hi! I'm visiting from MBC. Great blog.

Nanny3 said...

Love this post! Every time I go to a practice at my daughter's rink I have at least 2 Moms quiz me about my daughter's level,what MIF/FS test she's preparing for,what place she placed in at her last competition,etc. I've quickly learned that changing the subject to work,school,my hubby and/or other kids,etc. works wonders. My daughter is very talented per 4 of the coaches at her rink. She's also on a synchro team.She skates because she loves to skate. We have no aspirations of her being an Olympic competitor. She also plays soccer and lacrosse and she loves sleepovers with her friends. We encourage and support her when she doesn't have her best skate and we applaud her when she does well. The most important thing we do is love her unconditionally.Too many parents today believe that their kids will go far in sports and earn scholarships,etc. if their kids show any potential in whatever sport they do. Some kids do and that's great, but I realize that the most important thing is that my daughter is having fun and loves what she is doing. Kids are only kids for a short time in their lives It's important that in addition to working hard to achieve their goals, they have fun and some balance in their lives as well. Cheer them on and applaud but always remember to give them a big hug before they get on that ice. I assure you that's what they'll remember most!

Fiona said...

Very interesting tips Ice mom.