Michelle Leigh, ChPC - Figure Skating
Inexperienced coaches have a tendency to share everything – every nugget of knowledge, every tried-and-tested solution. “It’s way too much,” says renowned figure skating coach Michelle Leigh. She has learnt this after many years on the job and it’s something she wishes she had known from the start. “Experience, she says, teaches you to make sure you keep to the key points and reveals the importance of trying to get an athlete used to being out of their comfort zone.” Great coaches share the right information at the right time. Keeping your coaching plan and feedback simple, particularly in preparation for competition, is important.
Here are 4 easy ways you can help your athlete as they prepare for competition.
This is common for athletes at all levels; the distractions are just different at various stages of the game. Less experienced athletes will worry about judges and how cold the rink is while the elite must manage extensive travel, responsibilities to sponsors and the media, and the pressure of representing their country. The key is to give them the tools to take control, stay focused, and be confident. Key words and cues are a great tool to bring back focus: “Elvis (Stojko) taught me that and he used to look at his left hand as his cue coming into his first jump and had a key word for every component of his routine,” explains Leigh. She often has athletes share their competition plans and has a conversation with them to maintain focus. “Treat every athlete as they need to be treated – there is no one blueprint. Everyone is different and you need to tailor the approach.”
Find quiet space
The designated warm-up area isn’t always the best. Find an area you can use for the duration of the event to meet with the athlete, discuss the program, and rehearse. A safe, comfortable, and preferably familiar space will help with 1-on-1 conversations and keep the athlete’s attention on preparation. “The space should be close enough to the competition area so that the athlete knows what’s going on, but removed enough to keep them focused on their preparation.” A good space helps athletes open up to coaches. Difficult conversations are sometimes the most important ones over the course of an event and a good space contributes to a positive outcome.
Have a plan and be flexible too
Athletes that have a planned pre-competition routine may be more confident because of the perceived control but it’s also important for them to be flexible in where and how they execute their pre-competition routine. A well prepared athlete can carry out their pre-competition routine anywhere. Even practicing doing a warm-up in a different location in their home rink can help train this. A lack of adaptability isn’t a problem until suddenly an athlete begins to feel uncomfortable. “Sometimes we spend so much time on skill development that we forget about stress management in a new environment,” says Leigh. There’s room for this kind of training at the developmental level; you don’t have to wait until the elite stages to start thinking about it.
“Don’t become more of yourself,’ Peter Jensen taught me that.”
Coaches get nervous too, and that’s normal. As the person the athlete looks to in their moments of vulnerability, a coach needs to be just as focused as the athlete. Not becoming more of yourself means that if you’re usually loud, don’t get louder; if you micromanage, keep it in check. Be conscious of the behaviours that will be magnified and manage them. “If you’re going to be the ‘rock’ you can’t be distracted and you need to look and feel like you’re in control.”