Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ask the Ice Moms: What Do I Do When My Figure Skater Feels Lonely?

This question comes from reader L.L.K. She's frustrated because her competitive figure skater has few friends. Here's a part of what she wrote:

[...]she is isolated and alone. She has no time (and to some extent - little desire) to keep in touch with the girls from her previous school.  She is ALWAYS training and none of them really skate. Furthermore, she wants NOTHING to do with the girls in her homeschooling group [...]

Despite the new lifestyle to which we have committed, she is a social butterfly [...] A life without friends, sleepovers and play-dates has left her feeling empty.  There is a deep sadness over the fact that she has no close friends. She would love to build a "true-heart", as she calls it, friendship with another skater who understands the dedication and discipline necessary to skate competitively. Her rink (which we LOVE) is a serious training facility and does not provide a very social atmosphere. When you are there - YOU WORK.

She is a figure skater who is educated at home and needs to meet others like her [...] but how the @#$% do I find them?!?!?!?!
This is a great question, L.L.K., and I don't think it's limited to figure skaters who are homeschooled or very competitive figure skaters. Ice Girl is in public school, skates a ton, and is sad that she has little time with friends. However, she doesn't want to give up the skating, either.

Here's what the Advisory Board had to say:

S.L., a veteran ice mom:
Lonely isn't just for homeschoolers. We never did after school activities or school sports due to skating right after school, then off ice and homework. One thing I committed to when she skated more was making sure I committed to getting her together with a school friend once a week (not easy, usually a weekend). Now mind you, we have plenty of social time at our rink and she has made just as good friends through skating now. Our rink is not as serious. She should try to find someone at her rink to connect with. Unfortunately it takes a while. They may need to commit to another activity/event or connect with a good "old friend" to find a social outlet. I would hate to encourage facebook, but maybe an old friend (or a new one) might connect with her there.
 PairsMom, the ice mom of the male half of the winning intermediate pairs team from the December 2009 Junior Nationals:

I think it is important for skaters to interact with their peers, both skaters and non-skaters.  Yes, it is difficult and if you are making your training the priority, and schoolwork right up there too, there will not be an equal "balance" because there are only so many hours in a day.  Maybe find other skaters that are close to her age at the rink and plan to go to lunch one day after practice, or maybe shopping or a movie, since they are expected to be working while they are at the rink.  This could be the beginning of a "once a week" ritual that they look forward to.  There is potential for a "mentoring" type friendship as well.  Another suggestion, does she have a day off where she attends church or maybe the local gym for off ice work, pilates, ballet?  This is another place to find friends.  This may give her an opportunity to bond with other girls that are close to her age that have similar commitments to their own sport or activity.  Several skaters at our rink enjoy traveling together to competitions, some are competing against each other and others are not, have to figure out what works best for your child.
Hang in there!  Be encouraged!  Most teenagers are going to find their own way eventually.
 Xan, the ice mom of a former Jr. National competitor and current show skater. She's also an adult skater, a coach, and the blogger at Xanboni!

I think that isolation is something that all high achieving kids experience. Their talent and focus sets them apart, and makes it difficult for them not only to connect with their peers, but making it a little scary for their peers to approach them.  My daughter felt this very keenly, that the kids were a little afraid of being her friend; she had to really work at it, and in fact eventually we found a coach who was known for the wonderful camaraderie she created among her skaters.

The obvious first place to look is at the rink, especially among her coach's other skaters, in particular the competitive group.  If she's only skating during school hours, talk to the coach about having one or two practices when she comes to the rink during the regular free style practice times.  Sign her up for the ice show and a class (again, let the coach know why you are doing this).  You can bring in friendships through bribes as well! If there's a special occasion coming up, like her birthday, bring a sheet cake and make sure everyone at the rink that day knows there's free cake! This works brilliantly. The first time someone does it, kids are a little shy; but if you can get all the moms to do it, believe me, kids coalesce around cake.
 Sk8rmom aka "p," the ice mom of a male competitive skater (intermediate level)

I have been in a similar situation as you, and known of others as well.  Often skaters have a focus and maturity that are not common to their age peers. There are other kids around with the same type of focus (be it skating or music or something else), but in a homeschool situation, you might find them few and far between just because you have a smaller pool of people that your skater is exposed to daily. Eventually, your skater will find at least one or two really good friends, if not a multitude that she will enjoy spending time with, but I know it can be hard waiting for that to happen.  

This is the first year we started homeschooling our skater who is in middle school. We did not start homeschooling because of skating, but it has made practice time a little easier. One thing that we consciously do is to go in for the early morning sessions three times a week to be with the other high-level skaters who attend traditional school. His home rink is a training facility with no public skating, so the skaters are seriously working, similar to your situation. Even though we have more flexibility with schedule, the early-early mornings help to keep our skater in contact with the other kids his age and level, and I feel is very important both for social interaction as well as keeping a competitive edge (it's well worth getting up early for).
Another great thing is that if your skater goes away to other rinks, regional or national competitions, this is a wonderful time to meet new friends. With all the instant electronic communication, it makes it easy to keep in touch. These kids are all in the same boat, practicing hard, loving skating, not much time to do everything they want to do socially. If your skater is a social butterfly, it might not be hard for her to get to know some of the other competitors. These friendships are different than the local friendships, but it gives her a broader pool to choose from and more chances to click with someone. It also gives more incentive to qualify for the next year if you are going to see some friends :).

I talk to other moms at the rink a lot. If there are new kids, no matter what the age or level, I introduce my skater to them. It is very fulfilling for a teen to be a "mentor" or friend to a younger skater. This is sometimes a good way to cultivate very satisfying relationships if peers are few and far between. Little ones are so free with their love and adoration LOL. 

Mainly keep the faith, be patient, I know it's heart breaking to see your child lonely, but with time, you both will figure out what works and she will find at least one special friend to spend time with.  

Maybe this little story will give you some hope knowing that you are not alone and that in time things will work out... It's been almost a year since my skater's good buddy quit skating; they used to "play" and push each other during practices, and it's been a little hard. Well, today, a really cool thing that happened. For about a month or so, my skater has been skating a couple days a week at a public rink.  He says hi to some of the kids, but usually just skates. There is a high-level skater that we see when we are there; she's amazing, and we always marvel at her jumps, etc. Today she started cheering my skater, copying the tricks and spins he was doing (of course doing it better :) and they had a nice exchange of "playing."

It was a really special thing to see; you could feel the change in energy at the rink when this give and take started happening. She even came up to me and started talking, just something little, but it broke the ice. I ended up talking to her mother and my skater had a blast. I am very hopeful that they can become friends even though they are at different skating level, ages and genders. It is just plain fun to have someone to "train" with.

Our Coach (and I say our, because I learn so much from him as well) says "even when skaters play, they are learning." And when in doubt about whether to let your skater to do something "teenagey" or go to sleep early, always remember that "these are kids that want to be skaters, not the other way around". Grab those opportunities.  

Good luck to the both of you! I know that given a little time, things will be better. Just by being concerned, you will help to make it happen for your skater!

From Seasoneds8rmom: mom to a 12-year-old skater and an adult synchro skater
My daughter is an extreme social butterfly. It is very difficult for her to balance skating and her social life. We do the best we can. She still attends public school and this helps a lot because she can still stay connected to her friends at school while she is attending school. There have been many times however that she has wanted to participate in activities with her school friends and has had to miss out because she has skating conflicts. I know that it can be very difficult to juggle mainstream school and figure skating at the championship level but I think if you can try to work with the school to allow her to leave school early or come to school late it may be best for your daughter socially and emotionally to go back to mainstream school.

Often times young skaters think that homeschooling will be best for their competitive skating but then realize after they start homeschooling that it is not the right choice for them. I often would ask my daughter if she wanted to homeschool but she would defiantly say "NO" because she knew that it would interfer with her social connections.

FYI ...Another place where my daughter has close social connections is at church and getting involved in team skating. Being apart of a team can really help to bring skaters together socially and help them make life long friendships. I know many seriously competitive rinks do not agree that team skating helps an individual skater because the coaches feel that it takes too much time and money away for individual practice and coaching time, but you have to do what is best for your child's well being overall. You want your skater to be a happy in all aspects of their life not just skating. If they are not happy in all aspects of their life they will begin to resent skating and get burnt out and eventually quit.

Ice Mom, ice mom of Ice Girl, a 14-year-old skater

I tell you, Ice Girl has this same problem. She attends public school, but skates all the time. It's tough for her to balance school, homework, and skating. In fact, she just broke up with her boyfriend because she couldn't stand the ribbing that came with their Facebook-only relationship. Boyfriend didn't understand why she needed to be at the rink all the time.

Part of what I do is have Ice Girl fill out the ice contract every month. She's in charge and she determines how much ice she wants. It doesn't mean that she has a social life, but it does mean that Ice Mom isn't forcing her on the ice and keeping her from her friends.

When Ice Girl first started figure skating, she had a hard time making friends. People can be slow to warm up and they see families come and go at the rink. Sometimes they wait and watch to see if the skater is serious or not. Now Ice Girl counts most of the skaters at the rink among her friends, but it took a while.

One of Ice Girl's competitive friends said, "I'm a figure skater. I don't have a social life." That's kind of sad, but it is a choice that kids make. There's definately a dip in events that Ice Girl can attend.
Today was a good day at practice! One of the other skaters who is a National Champion and trains with the same coach called Ice Princess over to introduce her to another skater (male pair skater who also trains with the same coach) who had been wanting to meet Princess! She was BEAMING and felt embraced for perhaps the first time by her peers. Mind you that Champion is 16 and Pairs Skater is nearly 20 - but they can be AWESOME mentor buddies to my sweet 10 year old!

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom, whose daughter has a best friend at the rink: We are lucky because one of my daughter's best friends is a skater too - they started at about the same time, go to the same school and skate some of the same freestyle sessions. On the flip side, I need to make sure there isn't too much socializing going on during practice time!

Update: From reader jumpingbeanmom: I go out of my way to make sure she can get to parties, have friends over etc. even if it is uber incovenient for me and the other family members because I know it is a huge sacrafice for her.

Update: From reader Jozet at Halushki: [...] keep Saturday afternoons/evenings and Sundays skate free [...] just knowing when friends can call her is a big help. Sometimes, kids would want to get together and call her last minute, and you know what happens after too many "I'm busy tonight" - kids stop calling. The sacred free time was a big help.

Update: From reader FrozenMom, who values her skater as a whole person: It is easy to get caught up in the competitive cycle and forget that they are children who need friends to share the successes and also the bad times, any athlete can suffer an injury which stops their competitive lifestyle for good or for years, I see it as part of my job to make sure that if that did happen it doesn't feel like life is over!

How about you? Is your Ice Girl or Ice Boy lonely? What have you done to balance skating, school, and a social life? 

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Helicopter Mom said...

We are lucky because one of my daughter's best friends is a skater too - they started at about the same time, go to the same school and skate some of the same freestyle sessions. On the flip side, I need to make sure there isn't too much socializing going on during practice time! They both made friends with another girl their age at the rink, who goes to a different school, and other than that same "socializing" issue, that friendship has been a wonderful thing as well. Our biggest problem is keeping the friendships alive with kids outside the rink, since as we all know, there is very little free time for a skater! My daughter was determined to try school sports this year (she's in 4th grade) so I've done what I can to accommodate her but it's cut into her skating time which may end up being a problem. BUT she's only young once, and if she discovers something she likes more than skating, I can take that vacation with Ice Mom!!! But seriously, it was easier when she was younger and skated on public sessions where her school friends could come and when there wasn't so much homework that she couldn't have a playdate once in awhile... It's not even my daughter asking... it's the kids who come up to me at school or call on the phone and ask for a playdate and I say "I'll try to make it happen - maybe on Spring Break?" My daughter seems okay with having friends at school and then friends at the rink but I don't know how she'd do if she didn't have those school friends too. I know some of the kids at our rink homeschool and it's a very different situation. They have made friends through skating but I know that sometimes the coaches really try to get their skaters together to help that along. Maybe one of the coaches that L.L.K.'s daughter works with might now of some other skaters in the same situation?

jumpingbeanmom said...

Oh, this is really hard. My competitive skater is 9 and to make it harder, her 10 year old sister is the queen of social butterfly-dom. So her 'normal' is not even normal as far as having playdates etc goes.

I go out of my way to make sure she can get to parties, have friends over etc. even if it is uber incovenient for me and the other family members because I know it is a huge sacrafice for her.

And I agree with the others about finding another skater that understands. Sometimes just one good friend is all you need to make you feel ok with it- I have invited her best skating friends over, taken them to movies etc.

My skater goes to public school.

Sk8nLane said...

This is my worry if dd continues to skate - which I do not think is even a question. We skate 2 rinks to get the ice time and travel frequently for coaching, which puts a damper on any social activities. My other challenge right now is all the skaters she is on the ice with are much older. She is 9 and they are all around 13-15. They are great role models, but not friends.

One thing I have found that helps is when I make the offer for a friend and mother to ride with us for lessons that are out of town. I have also encouraged her to ask friends to go to open skate with her.

I do let her "drive the bus" on this. She makes the choice of social vs. skating and only once or twice has chose the social option. I worry as she hits those teenage years.

What to do?????

jumpingbeanmom said...

SK8Lane- My 9 year old is in a similar situation, most of the competitive kids that her coach has are much older than her. Even her team mates are mostly older than her (synchro). And her best skating friend (same age)- well I messed that up with a coaching change, so sadly they don't skate together too much anymore.

A story though- my daughter just started skating preliminary and she was really flipped out by the prospect of having to land two different double jumps in a program. So I promised a reward- a manicure and sleepover with a friend of her choice for the first program run through will all jumps landed (axel, axel combo and the doubles). She took the challenge and made it. So when I asked her who she wanted- she wanted the skating friend because 'my school friends have no idea how HARD it was to do that'.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Helicopter!

I have that problem with Ice Girl, too. Some sessions she has friends who won't leave her alone to skate. They'd rather socialize.

Excellent idea for a post, thanks!

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

Hi, jumpingbean.

I can't wait to go on vacation with you! Once I sell off Ice Girl's skates and dresses, we'll go. Sorry, I.G.

You know, when given a choice between socializing with her synchro team and socializing with her school friends, I.G. always chooses school friends. Interesting, isn't it?

Ice Mom

jumpingbeanmom said...

That is interesting IceMom- my daughter still splits, sometimes skating friend, sometimes other friends. I think she has plenty of friend, but sometimes she thinks she doesn't

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Sk8nLane.

I have a teen and she's often torn between social and skating. However, she makes out the ice contract every month. She's in charge of her ice time and her level of committment. That works, mostly.

However, she did just break up with her boyfriend because they could only have a Facebook relationship. She doesn't have time for anything else. Boyfriend was v. sad.

Ice Mom

Jozet at Halushki said...

All great thoughts and ideas!

My 11 year old is in public school and has a fair-to-middling social life. We really, really, really try to work very hard during the week - skating, homework, music practice - but then keep Saturday afternoons/evenings and Sundays skate free. It helps with burnout in a lot of ways, and just knowing that there IS a block of time free for having friends over is a bit of a relief. Also, when she does meet new kids, she can tell them, yes, the week is hectic, but that they can always count on her being available and around; just knowing when friends can call her is a big help. Sometimes, kids would want to get together and call her last minute, and you know what happens after too many "I'm busy tonight" - kids stop calling. The sacred free time was a big help.

Other than that, organizing activities for kids at the rink that aren't skate oriented does help. One summer, some of the skaters organized a breakfast potluck, and everyone brought food to share. It's easy enough with email to organize a movie night or an afternoon rock climbing. Sometimes you can get group discounts for these activities, and the team building outside the rink could help with fostering friendships and overall better dynamics inside the rink.

Our rink also has a Skater of the Month and skaters take turns posting a photo of themselves and then some information about their skating life as well as their interests off-ice as well. It can be a good conversation starter and could even be done weekly during the summer.

Just a few more ideas to add. And to start myself!

FrozenMom said...

We have moved countries from a super social rink with 30 + coaches to a rink with 1 coach, and lots of competitive parents - I invite a school friend over once a week - it can be anyone but it has to be someone AWAY from the rink. They must have someone who does not know if they have lost their jump, or they think they have embarrassed themselves in a comp. They are too young to be able to keep everything in perspective so I view that is my job to provide time where they can balance life and skating
I also try not to be too hard on my daughter if she wants to 'play skate' and we have one skating session a week where I have told her that she is not ALLOWED to practice the hard stuff, but she can prance around and do anything she wants, play with any available girls etc. It is easy to get caught up in the competitive cycle and forget that they are children who need friends to share the successes and also the bad times, any athlete can suffer an injury which stops their competitive lifestyle for good or for years, I see it as part of my job to make sure that if that did happen it doesn't feel like life is over!

Maybe we need a facebook page for the kids - maybe a chatroom exists for them at least where they could have friends who would understand their lifestyle...

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Frozen Mom.

Thanks for the great comment.

I agree: I think the kids need an online hangout where they can share the unique issues that skaters have.

Guess what? It's coming. I'm announcing something like that on Monday and I'm putting Ice Girl in charge of it :)

Ice Mom

Anonymous said...

Another great topic from Ice Mom! My daughter is a USFS skater and her club is fairly serious. She is a huge social butterfly and I have to keep tabs on what she's doing at practice many times. She is 12 and the good thing is she has friends from her class on her synchro team. This has its pros and cons. The coaches are VERY serious about this team and don't want any socializing going on at the rink. As she gets older she wants to be with her other friends from school,etc. She's a good skater and does love it and her coach would love to see her at the rink 6-7 days/week practicing but that's not her. My daughter decided that she needed to do another activity for fun and she now plays field hockey and loves that too. It's a town sport and doesn't require lots of practice time so it doesn't interfere with her rink time. She's very happy and is doing great with her skating and has time for her schoolwork and some socializing too. I think you have to take a look at your skater's goals-Does she want to skate at a national/international level?,does she just want to have fun?, does she enjoy solo or synchro skating more?,does she want to coach? etc. If you have an idea of where they want to go with it it helps alot. My daughter loves synchro and has cut back on her solo competing. It's all in what will make them happy in the end.