|Success is a multi-faceted, complex and subjective idea. What defines it for one person may hold little or no meaning for another and because each person's defintion is unique it cannot be easily measured. Medals won and tests passed are one way but they don't tell the whole story. What each actually represents can change radically from one event to the next even under the new judging system. The competitors are different, the judges and evaluators are different, even the scoring system and standards may be different making direct comparisons between one event and the next meaningless.
The idea that passing or winning is the only criteria for success can obscure the real life lessons that sport offers. There are other very important areas that hold true for skating and for life.
Successful skaters are energized by their participation. They feel engaged and compelled to do it. It is important to feel alive in any activity that takes up so much of a person’s time and energy. Passion for what you do is fuel for success. Being happier and more energized spills over into the rest of your life
Skating decisions should include provisions for skaters to love, care and respect themselves and allow them to engage with others who feel the same. Enough time should be left over after skating to allow skaters to experience other parts of their life.
Health is a resource. The healthier the skater and the better he treats his body the more energy he will have to put into whatever he does- school, work or play. Skating can help children become stronger, fitter and wiser about health issues.
Sports, including skating, presents a wonderful opportunity to experience what is happening right here and right now. In fact, that is one of the key factors in becoming a successful performer. Learning and experiencing this skill helps people to fully experience their life.
Skaters need to feel that the time they invest in skating is worthwhile. If there is no meaning it doesn’t really matter how much fun it is, it’s just junk food. Meaning turns it from an empty snack into real sustenance. It is a major factor in keeping skaters interested and engaged for the long term.
Providing for meaning in skating should be an important part of any coaching philosophy. Challenge is fun. The strategy of holding skaters back to win competitions, or worse, using a disproportionate amount of lesson time to teach irrelevant skills to make skating more ‘fun’ so they will stay in the sport longer is not supported by the evidence. These skaters do not generally stay in the sport longer; they disappear when they become aware that they don't possess the skills necessary to progress. This is not an issue related to talent.
When we look at free skating tests and competitions with these other components of success in mind the value of every day practice takes on more importance. Skating involves a great deal of practice and very little competition compared to other sports. In a typical year a skater might practice for 150 hours and compete for a total of 12 minutes. So it really is in the practice arena that skating’s lessons are learned. That is why setting realistic goals, scheduling enough ice time to adequately support attaining those goals, attending regularly, being punctual, respecting others and oneself, training appropriate skills at an appropriate time of the year, mental preparation and eating healthy and staying fit are so important. These are skating's lessons and winning competitions and passing tests are not necessarily a reflection of how well these lessons have been learned. It is quite possible to win and pass without learning a thing.
Probably one of the single biggest factors in determining skill achievement is genetics. We don’t like to think that genetics determines destiny but most of us have to admit that body type predetermines success in many sports and skating is no exception. World-class and World-leading singles skaters are almost always short, slender and flexible. There are of course other factors as outlined on the Free Skating Performance chart and the interaction of these factors comprises each skating performance. Some are trainable; some are not. How the performance is coached and judged is also a factor in skaters’ competitive and test success. These factors are outlined in the Free Skating Coaching and Free Skating Judging charts.
There is more than one way to win. The most meaningful is to make one’s best effort in practice, compete against a field of skaters who have done the same and be the best on that day. But there are always those who will simply possess favourable genetics and underachieve or disrespect the competitive process by delaying trying tests and competing at a level for which they are overqualified. This doesn’t mean that competitive success should be eschewed or that competition is meaningless but it is wise to confine one's effort and concern to those factors that can be controlled. We cannot control the choices of other competitors and coaches.
Children do see gold medals and tests passed as their measure of success. Perhaps that is why some adults- parents and coaches alike- can be persuaded to go for the ‘quick fix’ when they encounter competitive or test failure instead of using the experience to help children learn necessary life lessons. Quick fixes include blaming others or ‘the system’, denying responsibility for poor attendance and punctuality, making excuses for poor quality practice and in the case of coaches, withdrawing effort for students perceived to be less talented and so on. In this way the parties concerned don’t have to accept the consequences of their actions, nothing is learned and success in this context is unachievable.
A child’s view of success is influenced by his parents. Perceived parental beliefs about the causes of success in sport are directly related to athlete’s achievement goals and personal beliefs. A study by Sally White, Maria Kavussanu, Kari Tank and Jason Wingate found that the children of parents who believed that effort leads to success in sport usually had a strong task orientation and believed that effort causes sport success. In contrast, parents who believe that superior ability, external factors and using deceptive tactics are precursors to success in sport usually had children with a strong ego orientation and believed that other factors caused sport success.
Even with all this in mind questions still remain. Why do skaters skate the way they do and why do they place where they do? The myth that figure skating judging is 'crooked' is largely unfounded. Skaters do not generally get ‘ripped off’ and judges don't ‘have it in’ for skaters. Judges are volunteers. They do it because they love the sport and want to give back to the skaters; they are truly not concerned with this kind of detail. If a skater skates exceptionally well, he will be at the top. If he skates abysmally he will be at the bottom. What is less sure are the skaters in between. Under the OBO (6.0) system skaters are assigned marks for their overall performance and do not accumulate set points for each element performed as they do under Cumulative Points Calculation (CPC). Under 6.0, judges have about 10 seconds to decide their marks before the next skater and are more likely to make a determination of who ranks 1-2-3 and so on based on overall performance and then award marks that reflect that judgement. There is nothing wrong with this method, in fact, there are schools of thought that believe ranking skaters and then assigning a mark is more accurate than assigning random points and finding out later what result was created.
As events progress the act of placing skaters in order becomes increasingly complex. It is far easier to get 1, 2 and 3 in the right order when there are only 3 or 4 skaters; when there are 12 or 13 or 65 it becomes nearly impossible to assure accuracy of placements for skaters in the middle positions. Add to this the standard of skating at a typical competitions. Since there can be no guidelines for every situation it is nearly impossible to evaluate whether two falls beats one fall plus 2 trips or whether a cheated axel beats a fall on a double salchow and so on. Judges do their best but skaters who leave the door open through error will risk the possibility that judges will miss some of the nuances in their skating. Remember, judges evaluate what they see on that day, not what is done every day back home on the practice session.
One very clear way to distinguish free skaters at any level is by jumps. Without an adequate jump tally skaters will not place at the top; it’s as simple as that. Many skaters experience difficulty with jumps- that is why they are worth more marks- they are harder. Skaters with a low jump tally and/or poor quality skills cannot reasonably expect high results.
Coaches ought to encourage skaters who love to skate to move as far as possible along their own unique continuum. There are enough legitimate limitations on most skaters without imposing the negative opinions of those who are supposedly on the skater’s team as well. Skaters and coaches who do pursue their dreams in spite of the odds are sure to suffer some disappointments along the way. This is true of all skaters- even the most talented. Real success is not always apparent to outsiders who are not closely involved with the skater’s progress. Skaters at a higher level who do not at first glance appear to be particularly proficient may actually be enjoying more success than their friend who has quit already because she couldn’t do half as much and never even made it to the higher levels to be judged or learn life lessons. And their coaches don’t have to answer for skaters who aren’t there. Coaches who encourage less talented skaters to quit never get called on the carpet later on for why these skaters aren’t passing tests or winning competitions. They may not even be aware that only their most talented skaters are surviving. It is easy to be a great coach if all your students are talented. The wonder for some skaters is not why they don’t pass tests or win events but that they are on that test or competing at all. The true measure of a coach’s success ought to be not how many achieve this or that test or win this or that competition but how many skaters have been supported and inspired to keep trying in spite of the difficulties.
So the next time you are disappointed with a placement, consider the factors on your skater's Free Skating Performance chart. Does she have favourable genetics, has she maximized her training, how is her attitude and mental preparation and so on? Perhaps this skater really has improved her skills or attitude through her efforts to compete at this level. Think of all the other skaters back home at theclub and all the other clubs across the province who did not even enter the event because they weren’t ready or weren’t willing to stick their neck out to be judged or they just didn’t enter for whatever reason. The skater who placed last has a chance to learn wonderful lessons because he took a chance and really tried. He is in it, participating with all its joys and sorrows.