Friday, March 19, 2010

Ask the Ice Moms: Dealing with Figure Skating Burnout

I’ve written about figure skating burnout before, but I think it’s a big topic that deserves a lot of text.

Here’s the reader’s question:

Just wondering if you have any advice for a little girl who still love skating and wants to skate every day, but is not her usual self on the ice (tired with some tears, missing her usual enthusiasm, no more smiles). I’m thinking of removing her from the ice for a week or so despite her coach’s unhappiness about it. Any help would be most appreciated!

From Pairs Mom, the mom to one-half of December’s Junior National Intermediate Pairs gold medal winners:

I have seen this happen among many skaters of all ages and levels. Does you have access to any type of club ice events or "team skating" such as Theater On Ice or Synchro at your rink? Sometimes when they are put in a group situation it changes the whole dynamic of a normally "individualized" sport. I have seen the enthusiasm come back in the singles skating because of the "group" skating.
Is your skater having to give up being involved in some other activity in order to be at the rink training? Girl Scouts, church activities for youth, school sports or clubs, choir, etc.? If so, then try to work out a compromise so she can be involved in both for awhile even if it means cutting back a little bit on the skating. On the other hand, it could be over-stimulation of being involved in too many activities that makes her too tired or stretched to enjoy her skating.

Get her to talk about it with you and just listen.
From Xan, figure skating coach, mom to a show skater, and blogger at Xanboni!

There are lots of reasons a child might lose enthusiasm for skating that aren't related to burn out. She might have had a bad fall and gotten scared; the coach might have said something coach-y to her that she took too much too heart and is now afraid of displeasing the coach. There might be issues with other skaters on the ice, or it might be entirely non-ice related. Talk to her classroom teacher at school and see if there are any issues there.

The coach is unhappy? Who cares? Has the coach expressed concern about the child's well being (I certainly hope so.) Maybe this family could exchange one or two practice sessions a week for one or two on-ice play dates with friends for a couple of weeks or a month, no practice or lesson required, so the little girl can find the joy in her skating again. Nationals are over, lol. We call this "early off season" and it's exactly the time to get back to the why and forget about the what and the how for a while.
From Kel, mom to a 9-year-old skater:

Instead of removing her from the ice for a week or so, I would decrease her weekly hours for a month or so. Hopefully she would be more anxious to get on the ice when she is there. Depending on the age, I would include the skater in filling out the next month's contract. I'd ask the skater what she wanted to do -- give her some control of her skating. Too bad the coach is unhappy -- I would hope that all coaches would want happy skaters.

From me, Ice Mom

As an education writer, I talk to all kinds of education experts about teaching and learning. In February Nathan Eklund, M. Ed., visited my office to record a series on teacher burnout. He used the clinical definition of it to explain that people can recognize the symptoms, treat them, and avoid burnout.
Eklund sited Herbert Freudenberger, who wrote in 1974:
 “Burnout is a state of exhaustion that results from working too intensely and without concern for one’s own needs”
What can I add? Freudenberger says it’s a clinical condition. I say take the time off that you've been considering and make sure she has a life outside the rink
What about you? Do you have advice for this mom? Should she give her skater some time away from the rink? How do you deal with figure skater burnout?

Hey! Do you have a question for the Ice Moms? Are you an expert and would like to guest post on the Wednesday Ask the Expert feature? Terrific! E-mail me at

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jumpingbeanmom said...

This was happening to my 9 year old in the fall and as it turned out, the coach mix wasn't working. Their styles were so different and their expectations were so different, that she was constantly conflicted and confused as what to do and how to do it. I don't think all kids would have issues with this, but it was one with her and at first I too though 'burn out' but as it turns out, it was actually more complicated than that. A change to the one set of coaches worked.

Ragamama said...

Depending on the age of your child it could be something developmental. My daughter started skating at a very young age so every six months or so I'd have to gear up for another developmental milestone. Sometimes what a very young child might think they want at that moment may not live up to there expectations when they actually get what it is they wanted. I think my daughter would sometimes get bored with the skills she leared but wasn't ready to move on to other things. I found that letting her coach know her mood she'd try to switch it up a bit. They'd play games like Simon says, red light green light (stopping in graceful poses of course;) etc. Etc. Luckily I have a very open minded coach who was willing to tap into the brain of a little girl and would consider my input as well. Some days my daughter would beg me to take her to the rink and two mins after getting on the ice she'd come off in tears saying her skates felt funny, her undies where weird, it was too cold, too crowded, etc. We'd leave after trying to fix the problems that couldn't really be fixed in the first place. And like magic these issues would dissapear the next time only to arise again another time. I nearly went insane trying to get to the bottom of it but eventually I just left it alone. I would think ok she's done but when I asked if she wanted to stop and maybe do something else instead (soccer, the park, or even just go home and veg) she'd get teary eyed and say she still wanted to skate but... But I just don't know why I feel this way mommy :(. Usually these things would come up during brain development stages (which will keep happening but in less fequency until they are in their late teens eek!). and i started recognizing the signs before I was caught off guard. One major sign at least for the little ones was her balance would get thrown off (on and off the ice) and she'd sleep more or less, and spit even more fire when mad. Luckily these things never last long and they come away from it a tiny bit more mature. Through all these issues she never lost her passion for skating. And she hasn't brought up weird undies or came off the ice without a smile in atleast a year :).

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the comments posted. I feel that all skaters should take at least a 1-2 week break during the season, especially when they are young skaters.

I think they need time to just be regular everyday children. Your daughter will show you were her heart truely lies during that week. If she wants to skate she will ask to skate, if she wants to play with her friends or go on outings with her friends than she will ask to spend time with her friends.

If however she wants to skate when she is having her break than I would recommend open skating only and take a couple of friends to make the experience more fun. She should just have fun during the open skate.

You will be suprised how much practice she will do during the open skate session without having to be asked.

If you have non skating friends come with you to open skate she will want to show off what she has learned and her friends may ask her to teach them a few tricks. Believe it or not teaching is one of the best forms of learning and you can see if she really understands the skills she has learned.

I also love the idea of joining a skating team to help bring the joy of skating back to your daughters heart. My daughter who is now 15 years old was feeling skating burnout and she joined a compulsory skating team and fell back in love with skating again.

I would also recommend having your skater participate in you rinks annual ice show. This is a fun way for that skater to feel special, have fun with skating and make new friends. I hope this helps, Seasonedsk8rmom

Anonymous said...

My daughter skates on a Synchro team. It's a long year. Our last competition is tomorrow, then try-outs are in one month. I always ask her every year if she wants to do team again. And she always says Yes. Also, our ice show is coming up, so that's a nice break from classes. I also recommend doing other activities.

Ice Mom said...

You know, jumpingbeanmom, I think you're right.

Sometimes the coach/skater relationship just isn't a good fit.

It's not a personal thing. It's just a thing.

I'm an education writer. My favorite cognitive scientist, Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia wrote in his book Why Don't Students Like School? that the single most important factor in whether a student learns is her connection with her teacher. It is twice as important as number two, teacher organization. Number three is teacher instructional skills. Number four is teacher knowledge. In other words, motivation is amazingly important. Skill and knowledge are surprisingly far down on the list.

I know good people, nice people, fabulous skaters, who don't push or challenge their students. Nice, nice gals. Beautiful skating. Not great coaches. My daughter had one of these coaches as a guest coach. She said that the guest coach didn't push her. It was like the coach didn't believe Ice Girl could do it. It's like she knows figure skating is hard and she doesn't think her students are capable.

Geez, that was long. Anyway, I think a coaching change is sometimes what you need. It's not the first thing, but sometimes it's the best thing.

I'm glad it worked for your daughter.

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Ragamama.

It's great that you and your daughter's coach have a good rapport. I think it's so important to communicate with one another and do what's best for the child.

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Season.

I like that two weeks off thing. It's sort of like renewing the commitment to the sport. You still want to do this after two weeks? Great. Hit the ice.

Very wise, as always.

Ice Mom

jumpingbeanmom said...

"I like that two weeks off thing. It's sort of like renewing the commitment to the sport. You still want to do this after two weeks? Great. Hit the ice"

I agree, last year, when 8 yo just got a beautiful axel, I was worried that our two week vacation was going to kill it, and actually it was better- like the break helped her.

jumpingbeanmom said...

Ice Mom- yes, it was this

"I know good people, nice people, fabulous skaters, who don't push or challenge their students. Nice, nice gals."

My dd had one of those too and amazingly I think it rubbed off on jumpingbean. Her new team tells her she can and expects her to and she just does, it is amazing.

Ice Mom said...

Ugh, jumpingbean. I hate that stupid Axel! :)

Glad your daughter kept it over a break!

Ice Mom

jumpingbeanmom said...

LOL Ice Mom- she was the rare girl that didn't lose stupid axel, now stupid double toe- a whole 'nother ball of wax- we have stupid double sal after some seriously frustrating moments and even double loops and flips, but that toe.......grrrrrr said...

I don't know if any of these will apply to your situation - and I definitely think a week or two off here and there can work *wonders* - but I'll offer (and repeat) some of the things that work for us:

Making sure she has one "sleep-in" morning during the week; that is, not a morning practice every day. I see definite burnout by Friday unless we take that enforced midweek break.

Usually, we don't skate at all (or as much) on Thursdays and use that afternoon for a conditioning or ballet or yoga or gymnastics or "dance moves day" (videos from the library work for this and it makes a good playdate time for non-skater friends to join her). Something fun that supports skating, but isn't skating.

After a test or a competition, it's a HUGE deal for my daughter to get back on the ice. We usually have a rigorous practice week before a competition, and having to get back on the ice first thing Monday morning can be psychologically tough. The week following a big/extra practice week is now a mandatory "down time" week with fewer practices.

Yes, other "non ice" activities: scouts, music, art, just hanging out in neighborhood with other kids. We may never make it to the Olympics with a more lax schedule than other skaters, but I can't mortgage my house anyway, so...;-)

Public ice sessions with her school and neighborhood friends. Fun to play around a bit and, okay, show off some of her fancy footwork (her friends love it!)

When we were working on axel for about a year, we had a LOT of burnout. There were many months where we switched off a week of hard work and more lessons and then a week with fewer lessons and ice sessions. I'd rather her take a little bit longer to learn a move than to quit altogether at every plateau (and the plateaus seem to get more frequent the more difficult the skills become, at least for my daughter.)

Sometimes when learning a new move or series of skills, breaking down practice sessions to incorporate mini goals that are definitely achievable: More revolutions on a particular spin (1/2 revs count ;-) ); for her Ina Bauer, I suggested she try to do an Ina Bauer for just one inch on the ice - next session she tried for 2 inches, then was very slow moving, but I made a BIG deal about it each time and she really started to look forward to even just that small amount of practice and success.

Encouraging her to be creative: my daughter likes making up her own moves and naming them or trying different arm positions for her spirals (even *very* goofy one) or, uhm, "creative" positions for spins.

Our rink has a class for higher level Basic Skills and Freestyle skaters, and during that class the coaches allow time for Interpretive performance. It's a lot of fun and the girls skate to all kinds of music they don't usually skate to for programs.

Last but not least, I have a whole slew of encouragement quotes that I copy and tape on the rink wall near her water bottle. Quotes by skaters that remind my daughter that even the best skaters have some hard days. Her favorite is "I try not to rush myself up the mountain. I try to be proud of the effort I'm making." ~Michelle Kwan

Ask me sometime how I help my daughter get through an awful competition experience. Oye. That's a whole other post! ;-)

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Jozet.

I like the way you give your daughter breaks at every plateau and make sure she has a social life.

Expect an e-mail on the competition thing.

Ice Mom said...

LOL! I just realized that I used the Royal We when talking about my daughter.

No, I don't get on the ice with her (although I do skate.) However, I think all drivers and morning wakers get to say "we" for at least that part of it. ;-)

sk8rmom.p said...

I have experienced the tears and whiny sessions, this is usually when DS is tired, whether from school or coming down with a cold or growing. I tell myself each time after the fact that I should have recognized it at the time, but it takes such different forms each time.

I have learned to be more accepting of his moods and actually encourage him to get off the ice during these times. Now that he is older, he is the one who takes a break, for a few minutes for "tea and sympathy" and then goes back for the remainder of the session happy as a clam. I think that just letting him vent and giving him an out makes all the difference in the world to him. He's in control, I am not being a skating maniac mom making him skate because "I paid for it!".

Also, IceCoach is very adamant that if I start to see the signs of "burnout" meaning not enjoying himself, not wanting to be at the rink, whining more than usual--that I let him know and there WILL be a 1 week break.

If a one week break is scary, it might be helpful to remember that a one week break now might avoid a total burn out and quitting down the road. These are human beings not machines out there. :)

I know of one young skater who took a whole year break and has come back to be a champion skater at a higher level. Another young one just came back from a 1 month hiatus and is now happy happy happy. During that month break though, it has to be cold turkey, not occasionally sneaking back for a session. Chances are that if they love it, they'll be back and be stronger and happier than before.

Good luck!!!