Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Figure Skating Might Give Your Child

Parents often wonder what they can nudge their kids into that might help them build character, get plenty of exercise, and perhaps improve their habits and judgments.  Figure skating is not for everyone, but if you are one of those "in for a penny, in for a pound" type parents willing to sacrifice much of your time and money for something really outstanding in your child's life, you might want to take a look at the sport.

I have a friend who was not a skater herself, but one of her daughters took to the sport in a big way and a son followed.  It was a struggle.  Getting up very early and going to the rink for lessons and practice with her kids; odd hours and the occasional trip to a contest;  volunteer work at the rink; and living through various injuries--and perhaps most difficult for her, the huge drain on the family budget;  were part and parcel of her experience.  At times, it just didn't seem worth it.  And as she saw her kids grow and she experienced the battle of the wills with her kids in teen years and other difficult times that all parents experience--she would ask herself:

 "Is it all worth it or was I foolish to go along with this?  What difference has it made?" 

One thing she knew for sure, her kids loved the sport and it kept them in tremendous shape.  She also knew that they cared more about their diets than most kids, although there were still the occasional battle about bad food choices. They also managed their time well and had decent sleeping habits. 

If your child becomes a serious competitive skater, time management is another skill they learn.  Homework is not something to leisurely approach, competitive kids often attack it with determination and get it done quickly.  In fact they aggressively take on many activities--they are driven. At least many of them are. 

Of course, at some point in time, 99.999999999% of kids move on and leave the competitive arena.  It's no different than kids who play baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, track, or football--or most any sports--there is only so much room at the top.  But parents who have been "in a for a penny in for a pound" with kids in competitive figure skating, often have invested tens of thousands of dollars in the effort.  Oh, I am sure there are some who have figured out a way to reduce such costs, but the costs can be substantial and are substantial for many people who have kids in the sport for many  years.  That's not to say that you can't have a kid in skating who goes to the rink through a program that allows them to exercise at reasonable cost, but if your child is a serious competitive figure skater, the costs typically run high. Talk to a parents who have had kids involved for substantial periods of time and get the scoop yourself in your area.  Find out for yourself before you get started.

If you have ever seen a child who was in ballet for a long period of time--you know that they are poised, their posture in excellent, and they often they carry themselves very confidently.  There is something special about a child who has had ballet.  I look at figure skating in the same way.  The child who skates and has a good positive experience from it, carries certain positive characteristics for the balance of his or her life. (That's not say that other sports don't offer great outcomes as well--good programs produce good results, but today, we are looking at figure skating.)

But there is a intensity in competitive figure skating that burns a little warmer than most sports in that so much focus is on the child's own performance. Typically, it is not a team sport, although there are skating teams who perform synchronized skating routines.

Getting back to my friend, I know she was very concerned about the huge expenses and investment that her family had made in skating.  Her daughter showed promise and was certainly committed, but she was never a top skater.  Yet through thick and thin, Mom and Dad had paid the price for her training--not just in dollars, but in their own investment in time.  My friend saw her daughter grow in maturity that the young student expressed in positive ways in college.  Like my friend, her daughter devoted time to charitable causes.  Her mom's example was critical and outside the sport, but her daughter's time management skills helped her make time for tutoring poor disadvantaged kids through her college days.   Her skating routines and practice taught her about self sacrifice and knowing what her parents and coaches had done for her, she wanted to follow their example.   She did many things to help others. And she started to look towards a career that she would find fulfilling and make use of her talents.  

As she was wrapping up her undergraduate degree she applied for one of the most sought after scholarships for graduate work in the world.  She went through an intense application process--she was interviewed multiple times. As she looked back on her life, the one constant  activity that helped her stay disciplined and goal orientated was her skating. It was one activity that seemed to pull her towards a disciplined approach to everything she did. Her intelligence, her parent's example, and other family values and faith were important in determining what she would do.  Her athletic activity that she dedicated herself to early in her life helped her get those important things done that she wanted to accomplish.  She received the scholarship.  

Her mom no longer looks back at skating wondering whether it was worth it for her.

As the publisher at Sporting Chance Press, I've seen how people can integrate their athletic efforts into their everyday life in healthy ways--in spiritual ways as well.  For a figure skater, the family makes a huge investment and parents need to work hard to make sure the program works for their kids.  The child who receives all the extra attention and sacrifice needs to appreciate  that others around have made a great sacrifice on the athlete's behalf.  We receive and we give as well.  If the child grows up to believe that they exist to receive from others, this is obviously a poor outcome.  The parents have to make sure this does not happen.  Developing self absorbed individuals is not a good sports outcome!

How do kids come to understand figure skating?  Well, they just do it and learn first hand, but reading helps as well.  We published a great book on the subject, after all that's what we do.

When we published Maddie Takes the Ice by figure skater and international ice dancer Nicolette House, it opened  up the figure skating world for me.  It is a book that not only shows the daily activities and lifestyle of a young competitive figure skater, but through her eyes, we also see how her family and others around her are impacted.  How does competitive figure skating change a child's life?  Maddie has been called a book that provides a good read for kids and a realistic view of the sport.  It has been a very popular book with libraries and schools.  It was named an America's Battle of the Books selection for two different scholastic years.  We've had orders from Japan, Sweden,  and Mexico.  This middle grade novel is a great read for young girls and it is highly recommended for kids during this Winter Olympic year. 

Of course, my friend would want me to mention that  parents are not replaced by books, neither are teachers, coaches and friends.