For many skaters, the beginning of October brings with it the most important event of the competitive season: Regionals.
I competed in my first New England Regional competition in 1996. I was 11 years old, and I was terrified.
For months leading up to the event, I studied my competitors. I knew everything about their skating: the order of every jump in their programs; how they liked to wear their hair; how consistent they were; who was likely to pose the biggest threat. It was an obsession.
With this obsession came an intense fear about my own performance. For weeks before the competition, I had daily “freaks outs” during run-throughs, where missing one jump sparked session-long crying fits and compulsive attempts to re-skate my program mistake-free.
It was much.
I ended up winning the event, but looking back on that competition—and the myriad that followed—I now see competing from a completely different perspective.
Here are some truths for today’s skaters that I wish I had known during my career—
You are in Control
This is one of the most important truths—if not the most important truth—to keep in mind heading into any event. You are the one who is in control of your performance. No one and nothing is responsible for what happens to you out there on the ice, and this is a great thing. While you can’t control the results and what each judge chooses to focus on during your performance, what actually happens on the ice is entirely within your control.
So often skaters get nervous about everything external. They dwell on the skating order. They dwell on how the ice feels, their competitors’ performances, the temperature in the rink, what time they have to skate. While that stuff does matter to an extent, it has very little—if anything—to do with your actual performance. Rather than losing energy dwelling on all the externals, turn that energy inward. Make sure that you’re thinking positively, you’re taking care of yourself physically and your mind is in the right place. The only person to blame or applaud at the end of your performance is you. If you give too much weight to the externals, they become excuses. You are 100% responsible for what happens when your music starts. And with this—
The Training is Done
I remember going to competitions, seeing my competitors on practice sessions and suddenly wishing I had another week of training to do a few more long program run-throughs. There were times when I’d kick myself wishing I had worked harder in the weeks leading up to an event, but the thing is, that time has passed. Once you get to the event, thinking about what you didn’t do will never serve you. Focus on what you are bringing to the table, the training you have done and performing every element to the best of your ability on that day.
You’re Judged on the Whole Performance
The first time I tried a triple salchow in competition, the jump was all I could focus on for weeks leading up to the event—to the detriment of every other element in my program. When the time came to compete, I fell on the triple sal…and then proceeded to fall two more times on elements that normally were quite easy for me.
I learned a very important lesson that day: One jump—good or bad—does not define a performance. It’s easy to become consumed with the most difficult jump in your program, but you have to remember that you’re being judged on the performance as a whole. So, make it a performance. One jump is over in a second or two; you have 2, 3 or 4 plus other minutes of skating that you’re also being judged on. Those other minutes matter.
Results Don’t Define Your Worth
When the judges’ scores are announced and the results posted, it can be easy to read into the placement next to your name in a way that extends far beyond what seven or nine people thought of your performance that day. Skaters can sometimes take the number personally, and sometimes they can turn a good or bad score into an evaluation of their worth as a human being.
But here’s a very important and 100% accurate truth: You are not your placement. Your worth as a person does not change—for better or worse—based on that number next to your name. Your worth is not defined by what a handful of individuals see in your skating on one day or during one weekend. Skating is what you do; it is not who you are. And at the end of the day—
It’s Just Skating
This sport demands so much. You have to smile while hurling your body into the air and doing everything you can to not fall down on very cold, unforgiving ice. It’s sometimes hard to divorce yourself from everything that you put into it—financially, emotionally and physically—but at the end of the day, it is just a sport. Skating is just an activity, and this is one event.
If you’re competing this week, go after the event with all you have. You have the ability to make it a great moment, and your performance is entirely up to you. Skating is an amazing sport. It’s exciting. It’s challenging in all the right ways, and it demands and reveals so much of a person. But at the end of the day, whether you have the skate of your life or you fall fifteen times, you will wake up the next day and you will still be the amazing, lovable and talented person that you are right now. Keeping things in perspective is paramount. Always remember: It’s just skating.