I have said this before to my young skater friends and their parents, but with regional qualifying competitions well under way, I feel it bears repeating: Success in competitive skating is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
When you're just out of the starting blocks and headed for your first 100 meters, it seems like fun - and it is. There's a competition here; another one there. You get a program - or two, or three. You get a costume or two. You get a DVD (it used to be VHS copies of which we have three large boxes in the garage waiting to be transferred) and you come home with a hundred or so stuffed animals. Local events are usually within driving distance. It's a weekend jaunt; a fun and exciting getaway.
But as you head into the second 100 meters, the drives get longer; the stays get longer. The expenses grow and the events become spread out over the course of the year. Suddenly, you're racing through the season. There is no summer, fall, winter, spring; there is Summer Skate, Fall Classic, Winter Invitational and Spring Fling, or any manner of names for these events that allow skaters to test their mettle for medals - though the focus really should be about growing in the sport, not just about gaining hardware for the mantelpiece.
In the third 100 meters, you are breathing hard. Your heart is pounding. No matter what the level of competition, every mile is either increasingly euphoric or painstakingly excruciating. Like the rabbit in the race, you rush from one rink to another, one competition to the next - and in some cases from one coach to another -in search of maintaining an elusive state of elation. You run on high energy, high caffeine and even higher amounts of dwindling cash. Like an extreme athlete, you become an "adrenaline junkie" looking for your next competition fix.
The difference is you're the support, not the participant. It's easy to lose sight of that. Did I? Of course. Does that make it okay? No.
Life has a way of teaching you things if you choose to observe, listen and learn. We found out firsthand that over-training and over-use leads to injury. We learned that it was important to listen to doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers and sports psychologists, and it was important for coaches to listen to these experts, too. We observed overzealous and tyrannical behavior on the ice and in the stands. Along with that came the comings and goings of many extremely promising and talented young skaters who grew up and out of the sport for a variety of reasons, not the least which was burnout.
As we look to the last meters of our skater's personal 24K in this sport (though his competitive finish line is still not in sight), we've learned that for athletes and their support crews, marathons require patience, planning and intestinal fortitude. You cannot sprint a marathon and expect to survive. Like the tortoise, taking a slow, steady, well-trained and carefully calculated course can keep you in the race.
So, as you head into whatever mile of this race you find yourself on, remember to breathe, step back and make a plan that takes into account your skater's ability, desire, physical aptitude and his or her long-range goals. It's a team effort, and if you keep that in mind at all times everyone will probably reach a satisfactory and healthy finish somewhere down the line. However, If you only look at short-term gain without a realistic, flexible long-term plan, I can promise one thing - you and your skater will most likely be Hare Today and Gone Tomorrow.