Today’s Topic: Why Jumps Get Inconsistent in Figure Skating
Hi everyone! Welcome to Q&A with coach Rebecca. I am Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching. I have decided to talk to figure skaters today. Now, if you’re not a figure skater, don’t worry. I’m going to be talking about inconsistency and what causes it, specifically about that pesky double axel.
I have a couple of questions from members of the Perform Happy community that I will address today. If anyone has questions on live, I’m live on Facebook Tuesdays at 4:30 on the Complete Performance Coaching page. Feel free to chime in and let me know if you have questions that we can get to live. Let’s dig in.
Here’s the question that came through from one of the members. She says,
Q: My daughter’s struggling with staying consistent with her double axel, a jump she’s had consistent for two years now. Last Wednesday that jump was amazing, and she was banging them out like nothing, and now it’s been an entire week and she hasn’t landed a single one. Any immediate words of wisdom I can offer her? I’d love for her to remain confident and not get discouraged, especially heading into this Friday’s competition.
First off, I’ll say right before competition, less is usually more.
Less is More
This is not a time that you want to be sneaking in new techniques or new strategies. If you have a competition on Friday, you’re better off not throwing a whole lot of extra stuff into the mix, because a lot of the time, this inconsistency is caused by overthinking.
Giving her more to think about is probably not going to be super helpful. What I would say is the best thing you can do is talk her through the reality of the situation. Instead of trying to get her to relax or be confident, just say, “Hey, if you don’t land it in competition, how are you going to deal with that?”
Reassurance is Important
Let her know that you’re going to love her no matter what, because she’s going to go out there and try her best. Even if she wipes out, she’s going to get up, shake it off, finish her program strong, and learn something from it.
No matter what happens at competition, it’s a learning experience. She’s learning things to make her more confident in the future. If looking back she can find some clues as to why it happened, that would be very helpful. Today is Tuesday, she’s got three days.
Talk her through it. Let her know that if this is just an off week, and it doesn’t happen, you’re going to go to ice cream, you’re going to celebrate, and you’re going to be so proud of her.
Tell her not to worry about it. Her coaches might be a little miffed, but they will get over it. By Wednesday of next week, it will already have faded into the past. Most people will have completely forgotten about it.
What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?
Talk her through the worst case scenario. Often times that can take enough pressure off that she won’t feel like she has to be perfect, which is probably what’s causing the problem. That’s the immediate answer.
The next step is how to get things happening consistently. Here’s another question I wanted to address that came through from another figure skating mom.
Q: My daughter has had a lot of success competitively, has tremendous potential, but is struggling with a mental block on a particular jump, the double axel. She’s physically able to do the jump, but mental blocks prevent her from taking off a high percentage of the time, so she’s struggling to be consistent.
We’ve got one struggling on the landing, and one struggling with takeoff. I’ve heard a lot of skaters who start popping their jumps for various reasons. Both of these issues come from the same problem. What’s happening here that’s causing this well-learned skill from a high-level skater is that they’re starting to get physically tense in a way that they weren’t before.
Overthinking it All
They were skating free; they were doing it basically just under the conscious radar. They don’t have to think about it, they just think double axel, and off goes the double axel. Then they land it and they go about their business. They don’t have to think, and once you’ve gotten to that high level in any sport, you don’t actually want to be thinking, because those thoughts take too long.
You only have a couple of seconds before the skill is over. You don’t have time to think things like, Oh, pull in, don’t do that, you don’t have time to be thinking that. That’s all stuff you drill beforehand. Then you just go. When it stops working, that’s when these high-level athletes wonder why?
They start to overthink and tense up. They don’t trust themselves, they start to doubt themselves, and they have a hard time relaxing until they can make it again. What’s going on that creates that tension is that the brain is detecting a threat – a threat to safety.
The Fear of It
Now, this could be physical safety, like a fear of falling, or it could be emotional safety, like fear of disappointing people, fear of being upset, fear of frustration, fear of other people watching them when they make a mistake. That’s a huge one. I would say the majority of my clients I’ve worked with around “popping” specifically, they’re worried about other people watching them, what they’re thinking, or who they’re going to let down if they make a mistake.
This is so ironic, because then they make a lot more mistakes because they’re so worried about making mistakes in front of people. Or it might be any kind of threat and the brain goes, Oh, this is dangerous. I’m going to let somebody down in a big way, or I’m going to get hurt, or there’s too much unknown. Some kind of threat just pops up.
You’re Worried About Everyone Else
The main causes for those are these fears of what people are thinking, even though you can’t read minds. I can’t. I like to think I can, and this was pointed out to me years ago that I was always saying, “She thinks this, and she’s worried about that, and they think I this and they think I …”
You know what, here’s a secret. People don’t care that much. People don’t actually pay that much attention to you. They don’t actually care what you’re doing because they’re all wrapped up in their own selves, just like we are. If I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, what does she think? She’s probably thinking about herself like I’m thinking about myself.
For any of you who are 12, 13, 14 out there, you probably feel like everybody’s thinking about you, everybody’s talking about you all day, every day. The good news is they are not, and they are just as worried about how they’re looking and seeming. If you can let that go, or even better, get to the point of ultimate confidence, which is not just I feel like I can do it, it’s I don’t care what they think. I am myself, I’m good enough, let’s go. If I wipe out, I will get up.
If I land it, that will be awesome. If they don’t like me, that is their loss. That’s the point where, if you can get to that, then it no longer becomes an issue and you can be free.
You’re Worried About Disappointing Everyone
Another main cause of that tension is that fear of disappointing other people. This is another one to get real on. Will your parents be disappointed in you if you make a mistake? If so, chat with your parents, because that’s not the point. Perfection is not the point. I know I’m talking to an audience primarily of Type A perfectionist athletes, gymnasts, swimmers, figure skaters.
These are people who, for them, mistakes are not an option. You go out and you want to be perfect. Guess what? We are all human and we’re not perfect. I hate that just as much as the next person. I wish I could be perfect. I wish I could take every course and have every class and do every workshop until I get perfect, but guess what? It’s not possible. The more that I can navigate that fact gracefully, and let it go when I make a mistake, the happier I will be.
True Champions Make Mistakes
For those of you who are competitors, same deal. Everybody makes mistakes, and the true champions are the ones who keep getting up, and keep getting up, and keep getting up.
Then there’s the fear of injury. If that’s real for you, then do what you’ve got to do, even if you feel ridiculous. Crash pads and helmets – I know those are not things that everybody likes to wear because there’s stigma, but if what’s preventing you from having a strong takeoff is the fear of falling, do what you need to do to make sure that that risk is mitigated, that risk is taken down, and your brain can relax a little bit and let your body relax enough to do what it knows how to do.
If you’re saying, “Um, I’ve been doing this for two years, I’m not going to put a helmet on,” give it a shot. Maybe don’t do it in the heat of the session where everybody is there that you compete against, but consider it. If the fear of injury is real, maybe you’ve been falling on that same hip and it keeps hurting, you’re just sick of feeling that pain, then do what you have to do to take it down a notch and see if that can help.
When You Have High Expectations
When going into competition, if you expect perfection, then you start to melt down in the week or month before. Again, you focus your energy into practice, putting in the best you can. Then, at competition, you just show up and do what’s in there, do what’s been automatically installed in your body and then be ready to let it go if there’s mistakes.
Negative thinking is a huge one, especially after Wednesday. She’s knocking it out, she’s doing great, and then Thursday, Wait, where’s my landing? What’s going on here? Well, think about the thinking. Ask yourself, “What happened? Am I going to be able to make it this weekend? What if I don’t?”
You go into that “what if” thinking as soon as that mistake happens, which then builds, and then the next day you’re wondering if you’re going to make it, and what happens if you don’t? That’s the type of thinking you want to become really aware of, is what is it that happens in my mind when this starts to go south. That’s the first thing that I want to tell you.
How to Create More Consistency in Your Elements in 5 Steps
1. Get Aware
First, you have to figure out what causes your jumps to get inconsistent. What are the things that get the downward spiral started?
What was she doing on Wednesday that was allowing her to thrive? Then, what was she focusing on, who was she training with, what was going on in the environment, what was school like, what was happening Wednesday that was working?
Next, what was going on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, that was not allowing her to thrive? What was she thinking about? What was she paying attention to or focused on? What was she worried about? What was going on in school, with friends? Dig in and figure out what the clues are regarding what’s not working?
There’s obviously something that’s not working. Although it might feel like it randomly just stopped working, I promise you, it’s not random. It’s never random. You can always track it back and find the clues, and that’s where you find the power to overcome.
You’ll realize as soon as you started focusing on one particular thing, that’s when things went south. Maybe you got negative, you became tense, and then you were worried. Maybe you were bummed about a social interaction, you weren’t sleeping, etc.
What was the extra stress? Was there a weird fall, was there a break in concentration? Figure out what gets it started, get your awareness up. That’s the first part.
2. Have a Plan
Number two – have a plan. If you make a mistake, what will you do?
If you fall in practice again, how will you reset? Have a bounce-back routine.
What’s the worst that can happen? How will you cope? If you’ve got all of those things organized, then if you fall, it’s just time to do your bounce-back routine (not time to freak out).
Reset and try again. If your brain is expecting the worst, like if you fail then things will be worse than ever… it creates all this tension–which makes you skate badly!
Whereas if you just look at reality: if you make a mistake, you’ll respond in a predetermined way, and then everyone will get over it.
That doesn’t seem so terrifying, right?
3. Break it Down
I actually like to have people write out bullet points. Basically, teach me a double axel. Write out the following: Skate backwards on your right foot. Glide backwards, step forward onto your left foot, kick through, air position, landing, etc. You write out all the little steps, and then go back through and look at it to find the weakest link.
What’s the point where your confidence is not high? Is your head in the wrong place? Is it your rotation? What is it that’s missing? Then you might need your coach to get some input on this – what’s the place where it looks like you’re losing confidence? Where can your coach tell if you’re going to go for it or not? If you’re going to land it or not?
Break it down, then figure out what is going to be that one focus you’re going to have. You’re going to zero in on the solution of making that skill better. That one correction.
You’re not in the future, you’re not in the “what if I fall” or “what if I don’t take off?” You’re not in the surrounding area of “who’s watching me and what are they thinking.”
You’re just in that edge or that position, or that kick. You are just doing that one thing and you focus all of your attention on that one moment and that one correction.
That way you’re not overthinking, you’re just doing one thing.
Then you get that correction sorted out, and you pick the next one. If there are a couple of kinks that didn’t get worked out, you just take them one at a time. Focus in, stay present, stay calm, breathing is wonderful. Also, something that goes hand in hand with this is imagery. That’s the next one.
4. Imagine Success
Next, refer back to your bullet point list. Add confidence to it, then start seeing it in your mind. You see yourself doing every detail of this skill perfectly, feeling confident, feeling free, feeling like Wednesday in your mind. Boom! You’re hitting them, landing them, solid, smiling, and coach is happy. Everybody’s happy. People are cheering (or nobody’s watching, whatever works best for you).
Just keep landing them in your mind. Keep breathing and get into that confident place that you really need to be in, over and over in your mind, which will remind you that you’ve actually done them over and over, and it will get your brain to remember you don’t have to think that much.
Overthinking on Purpose
I look at visualizing like studying. You’re basically thinking so much about this skill off the ice, that when it comes time to actually do it, you don’t have to think about all the pieces, you can just go. You’ve crammed for the test, over and over, you’ve thought about every single thing, now trust that you’re ready, turn your mind off, and just go take that test.
I do this with swimmers. We’ve thought about every single stroke for every single lap, so when they get in the pool, they don’t even have to think about it. They just get in and swim.
- If you’ve broken your skill down, you’ve really dissected it and looked at it…
- And you’ve imagined yourself performing confidently, you’ve felt it inside your own mind, and you’ve felt the cold and the landing and the confidence, then just go try it.
Then we address negative thinking. You’ve got to get a handle on what’s going on in your mind.
Keep a thought log. For those of you guys who are in the Perform Happy community, I have exercises in there on neutralizing negativity. There is also a detailed thought log that can help you figure out what is it that you’re thinking that’s sending you sideways.
Also, determine what you’re thinking that’s helping you. Make sure that you turn those negative thoughts around and get the right ones in place that are actually going to help you.
Then repeat. Then you go back to the beginning and increase your awareness.
5. Let Go of That Need to be Perfect
Let go of that need to be perfect, and just go have a little fun.
Really, everybody puts so much emphasis on the competition. The way I see it, competition is just a check-in. It’s an opportunity to find out, “How is my training going?”
At each competition, gather more information about yourself as a skater, then go train some more.
“How’s my training going? Okay, good information. Back to training.”
If you can look at it that way, like it’s not this big end-of-the world thing, but it’s just a check-in that will guide your training, it takes a lot of the pressure off. When the pressure is off, the tension goes away, allowing your body to do what it knows how to do.
Hopefully that helps some of our figure skating friends out there. If you have questions, you can always reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to join us in the community and have access to me for questions like this, all the time through our our private Facebook group, or through the online forums, you can join us at performhappy.com.
We also have weekly live trainings and courses on everything from turning anxiety to confidence, mental toughness boot camp, everything you’ll need to get from where you are to where you want to be.
All right everyone, thanks for joining me. I’ll see you next week.
– Coach Rebecca