Getting serious about ice skating

Skating My daughter first stepped onto an ice rink at a birthday party 2 years ago; she couldn't stand for more than 5 seconds, but she enjoyed it so much that we signed her up for lessons not long after. Since then it has become clear that my daughter's interest in skating isn't limited to gliding around an ice rink with her friends. She has moved past struggling to stay upright, and onto spins, spirals and salchows. Now she's at the stage where rented ice skates don't cut it anymore. When many of her classmates drop out and the class size shrinks from twelve to three. And everyone seems to have a private coach. I've been talking with a few of the other moms with daughters in more advanced levels, and I've only found one girl who does not take private lessons. The consensus seems to be, if your daughter is serious, if she wants to enter competitions, even small ones, she'll need a coach.

I'm no dummy. I know that skating is an expensive sport -- private ice skating coaches charge $35 to $45 for a 30-minute lesson, not including ice time, and don't get me started on the expensive ice skates and costumes -- and it requires a lot of dedication from a very young age. I've read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes and I know it's a high-pressure sport. Even though I know skating is a serious sport that requires athleticism and grace, the competition aspect of skating, with the very young kids in glittery costumes and makeup, reminds me a bit too much of the beauty queen scene, of the Toddlers and Tiaras set with their pageant coaches and pushy parents. I knew all this when The Pea started -- I just didn't want to go that route, and I didn't think we'd ever have to.

Fortunately, The Pea is easygoing and so far only mildly affected by peer pressure, so she accepted our "Sorry, honey, we can't afford private lessons" with good grace. A couple of weeks ago she entered her first competition at the local rink with -- gasp! -- no coach and a recycled old ballet costume. None of the other skating people I spoke with had ever heard of such a notion, but luckily the rink director was fine with it. She walked us through all the rules and techincal details that parents usually leave to the coaches (which, I'll admit, is one good reason to hire a coach for competitions!). With my dance background and The Pea's skating knowledge, we pieced together a simple routine. I hired a coach for a one-off session to check the routine over and give her some tips. She performed beautifully at the competition, had fun, won second place, and everyone was happy.

Until the coach approached me after the competition with a can't-refuse offer: he wants to coach her regularly, and he's willing to halve his coaching fee. She's good, he said. She has the drive and dedication. And most important, she really, really loves skating. He doesn't do this solely for the money and he loves working with kids like her. How old is she? Eight? Ok, she's young enough... but she needs to start soon, before she gets too old....

Oh shit. Now what I do? Now that cost has become less of an issue, we really had a decision to make. I'll love him forever for his generous offer, we couldn't accept such a big discount and not get serious about skating. He wants weekly sessions in addition to group lessons, practice, and gymnastics lessons to improve her flexibility. There would be the unspoken agreement that she's in it to win it, or at least to see if she's good enough to enter serious competitions before she gets too old. Skating would no longer be something she can blow off because she's been invited to a birthday party. My husband cynically pointed out that he's probably just doing what he has to do to get additional clients in this recession, and privately I don't think she's thaaat good (am I a bad mother for saying that?), but maternal ego forced me to take his feedback at face value. Maybe The Pea does have talent -- but is it worth the financial and time commitment? My mind screams No, but it makes me miserable to think that we might be depriving her of the chance to realize her fullest potential.

In the end, I turned to The Pea and had a very honest conversation with her. I told her that an opportunity had opened up for her and she could have private coaching if she really wanted it, but the coach would expect her to work very hard and spend most of her time with skating. Something in her schedule would have to give. And The Pea made the decision herself. Yes, she really, really loves skating, but it's not her life. One competition a year is enough for her because she loves other things too. She wasn't willing to give up her jazz lessons or playdates. She even said she'd prefer to take karate lessons or one of the special-skills group skating lessons rather than spend the money on private lessons. Dear Lord, thank you for giving us such a sensible girl and making this so much easier.

So we told the coach, very nicely, Thanks, but no thanks. The Pea is sticking to group lessons, for now at least. I still feel traces of guilt when I think she might not be progressing as quickly as some of the other kids, or whether she has really learned all she can from group lessons. If it looks like she needs a coach in order to pass her tests and move on to higher levels, we can always reconsider. But now that I know she's just in it to have fun, there's no hurry to land a lutz or an axel before she hits puberty. Which means I may have killed my daughter's chances of ever winning an Olympic ice skating medal. But it also means she can still dream of winning a medal in the Math Olympics. And that she can still be a Girl Scout and try out karate if she wants to and do absolutely nothing on a hot summer afternoon. And I'm okay with that. And, I think, so is she.

Original SV Moms Post April 24, 2009. Bonggamom often finds herself skating on thin ice as she juggles her 3 kids' schedules and feeds her blogging addiction. Read all about her attempts to find her inner diva and win the gold medal for motherhood at Finding Bonggamom.

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