When you walk into our rink, there are two posters that flank the front door. One's of a mom screaming at her sad hockey son, and the other is a dad screaming at his sad hockey son. Both have the caption, "Relax. It's just a game." I want to make some posters of a mom screaming at her daughter in a sparkly dress, with the caption, "Have a valium. It's just figure skating."
I know we skating parents like to claim all the sports crazy in the world for us, but we by no means have a monopoly. The crazy extends to all areas; tennis, golf, swimming, baseball, football, lacrosse, hockey, dance and voice. Anywhere there is a remote chance of a kid becoming a star, parents are throwing themselves into the work of pushing that kid into being that superstar on the Wheaties box.
The simple truth is this: The odds of your kid making it to the NBA, MLB, NHL and whatever the national leagues are for swimming and hockey are dismally small. Same for skating. It's more reasonable and sane to operate with the mindset of, "This is a recreational activity for my child, which encourages self esteem, provides valuable exercise and acts as a deterrent from substance abuse later in life" than it is to have the mantra, "OMG OLYPICKS!" Which isn't to say that I don't get stars in my eyes sometimes. I do, especially when I hear that Coaches like my kid and I get wind that others think him talented. I don't think I'd be a good parent if I didn't. But I do try to bring myself back down to earth and focus on the task at hand. Right now that's jumping on dry land.
Yesterday evening Stitch shocked himself by getting around more than 180. "Mom! I started out facing the tree and I landed facing the flowers! Do you think I can do it on one foot?!"
"Well, let's try it on the stairs first so you can get the height to do it."
Usually the ponderous task of jumping stairs on one foot is enough to remind me of reality. (He's getting better.) And I have this blog, which gives me some space for reflection and catching me in my own bad behavior.
Anonymom brought up some comments yesterday that mirror a conversation Dad and I had that same day about kids, skating, talent and fun. Dad and I were discussing coaches (Stitch was outside), and I was relaying my theories as to how these people operate: They troll the beginner classes for kids who seem to have some knack for it, they skim them off into their higher level classes with the assumption that the kids will "pick up" the basics provided they skate enough. That leaves the Coaches free to focus on "real" skating like jumps and spins in an incredibly demanding and cliquish environ, which girls typically respond to. This is actually Bela Karolyi's method; "Little girls are like scorpions. You put all the scorpions in a bottle and one will come out alive." (Little Girls in Pretty Boxes,) It's actually exploiting Girl Psych. The kids that don't make it through this process of theirs, they don't want anyway, and they can weed the group down to the one or two who actually have a shot. This is just my theory, but Dad agreed and we both found it reprehensible. It literally trashes dozens, if not hundreds, of kids in figure skating simply because it burns them out or makes them feel incompetent enough to quit.
My little Niece was at the receiving end of a similar process. She's really little, and her mom and dad signed her up for a Gymnastics class. The coaches all thought she was the most talented little girl of the bunch, so they bumped her up a few levels. Suddenly surrounded by older girls she didn't know, doing things that seemed too hard, Little M sat down. She quit gymnastics, because the Coaches wouldn't let her take things at her own pace.
Youth Sports is drifting towards a terrible "All or Nothing, Champ or Chump" mentality. Anonymom's comment that skating talent isn't determined until they have all six jumps and are doing "real" spins, I believe is a damaging way of thinking. And it's not just skating. Every week I listen to my coworker trash his own kid because the team lost at another baseball game. Anonymom, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but there seems to be no value at all placed on The Swizzle or the Foul Ball, the lessons from absolute basics and loss.
It's cultural, too. Look at kid's clothing for sports. All little boy's tees say, "FIRST PLACE," or "TEAM CAPTAIN," or "CHAMP, STAR" or some other variation of THE BEST. There's no mention of the work it takes to become a champion, just the finished product. Worse, there's no value ascribed to doing something for fun or just recreationally, because either you're a champion or you're wasting everyone's time. Everyone wrings their hands and wonders why kids quit sports, opting for the safer route of vidya games and other mindless pursuits. I can give you my opinion why; it's because the focus went from Recreational Activity to BE A CHAMPION. Or perhaps the focus never was Recreational Activity to begin with. Parents or Coaches didn't care about the process, only the end result.
We've all seen the moms in the stands who berate their kids after lessons. "You're in Pre-Alpha now, so you need to stop walking like a Tot!" Mom, it's a process. It takes time. Your kid is adorable, and fabulous just the way she is. Her wonky one foot glide will get better. Focus on the Process, not the Product. It will make you and your kid much more sane and your journey much more enjoyable.