As attention turns to the ladies’ figure skating competition this week in Sochi, I bet that thousands of young girls across the world will watch the programs and dream of one day skating in the Olympics. Before parents uproot families and move to train with elite coaches, there are a few ideas worth considering. These recommendations could help athletes in many competitive sports and not just figure skating.
Develop a yearly training and competition schedule based on periodization.
Figure skating often demands that its competitive athletes train year-round at an early age. Look at the ladies competing for the United States. Gracie Gold, the 2014 U.S. champion, started skating at age 8. Polina Edmunds, the 2014 U.S. silver medalist, began at age 5. Ashley Wagner started when she was 2 years old!
Young athletes often cannot withstand the physical and mental toll of training and competing at full intensity all year. Instead, top coaches and skaters create schedules based on the concept of periodization.
Periodization is a term for breaking up the year into different segments based on the competition seasons and off-seasons. Each segment focuses on different exercises and varying levels of intensity of the training. Periodic adjustments allow athletes’ bodies to rest and recover more effectively. The changes also help them stay mentally fresh all year.
Add cross training into your routine.
Figure skating involves jumps, spins, and other movements done hundreds of times each day, day after day, month after month. These movements cause repetitive stress on the lower bodies that can build up over time and eventually lead to overuse injuries. Any sport with a repetitive motion or activity, such as running in soccer or pitching in baseball, has a similar risk.
Athletes in these sports can vary their exercise activities to allow their bodies to rest and to build strength and conditioning in other ways. A figure skater could do yoga one day per week. A travel soccer player could take one season off and swim competitively. Different sports or types of exercise can allow the body to recover and add a change of pace and fun into long training seasons.
Make sure the athlete actually wants to do it.
Achieving an elite level in figure skating requires years of hard work. The demands can change the lives of the young athletes dramatically. They often train for several hours each day, or even twice a day. Some skaters might switch to online schools to free up more time to train. Often skating takes up most of the free time outside of school, at the expense of friends and other activities.
Also read: Warning signs for youth sports burnout
It is crucial that the kids themselves are actually the ones who decide to pursue the sport at an elite level. It must be their dreams and not the dreams of the parents. If parents push their children to do it, the physical and emotional stresses could lead the kids to burn out and eventually quit rather than win championships.
Every sport has different demands, but these concepts can be important whether your child plays baseball, tennis, soccer, gymnastics, or another competitive sport. Keep them in mind, and you might help prevent overuse injuries, improve performance, and keep your young athlete playing sports for years to come.
Do you agree with these tips for competitive figure skating? Could they apply to other sports or types of exercise? I would love for you to share your thoughts!