While I skated for a few years as a child, I did the majority of my figure skating as an adult. I still remember when I picked up skating again as an adult, back in the 80’s (wow, was it that long ago?). One thing that stands out about that time is that there were very few adults out on the ice. Most of the skaters were actually just children accompanied by coaches who were preparing them for one competition or another. It was even somewhat intimidating at first… All these kids zooming by and doing difficult jumps, while there I was, clobbering around on my skates, trying not to fall on my butt in front of kids who weren’t even in middle school yet.
When you did encounter an adult, they were ice dancers and certainly not figure skaters who did jumps and spins. So they practiced the sport to feel the rush of the speed and the beauty of the aesthetics, but rarely took chances with jumps – that was unheard of for adult skaters in those days! I remember thinking how weird that was back then. Little did I realize then that I was skating into unchartered territory and blazing a new trail!
I also remember that there were limited opportunities for adults. It was as though adult skaters didn’t seem to exist, even though there must have been others (there was no internet back then or ways to form a meet-up group). Also, there were no adult standardized tests yet developed by the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA), and I had to go through the same test structure as the other young skaters to get my certification. The standards were tough and the judges showed no leniency.
And possibly the worst part; there were no special group lessons just for adults either, and my only option was to take the group lessons with children. Yep, I looked pretty foolish at times, but thankfully I could brush off any red-cheeked embarrassment to the cold temperatures at the rink.
Then, when I was ready to compete, there were no special categories for adults! So I competed against the young competitors. The tough thing about that is I couldn’t really win either way! Either everyone just chuckled at the grown woman who took a trophy from a 12 year old, or chuckled at the grown woman who lost to a 12 year old (talk about humbling at times).
And, finally, there were coaches who simply didn’t want to teach adult skaters. It wasn’t worth it to them. There weren’t enough adult clients, and they couldn’t build the same reputation for themselves as they could by helping a teenager win trophies and awards (adult skaters don’t often make it to the Olympics – hence, less opportunities for coaches to build a name).
Some coaches were also just downers. They were so focused on the competitive nature of the sport and not the fun aspect of it that they couldn’t just focus on teaching. In fact, I had to leave my first coach after a few years because she didn’t think I could learn axles or double jumps – a great motivator she was. So, I went on to do just that in spite of her and fortunately found a wonderful coach that didn’t limit my abilities… Someone who encouraged me and inspired me to achieve my best. Life was much different back then! While it seemed unfair at times, I can honestly say it made me a much stronger skater and competitor as a result.
Today things are much different because around 1991 or so the USFSA realized things needed to change, as there were more and more adult skaters stepping (and often falling) onto the ice. Finally, adult categories were created and adults could compete at competitions in their own category and age group, without having to be professionals. A whole series of adult tests were developed, a group lesson structure for adults in the learn-to-skate series was developed, and now there is an adult nationals held every year, as well as an international competition! Talk about change!
But even though my initial experiences were tough, and I felt very much alone at times, I have come to realize that the experience helped me develop qualities that help me to this day. It forced me to become more humble, it helped me to develop tenacity in going after my goals, and it helped me realize that becoming good at something was a matter of effort – not just talent.
An even more important change that I noticed was my amplified willingness to be daring and different. I was pretty outgoing growing up and I really liked to break the rules. I was never shy about standing out and looking silly in front of others so skating gave me the perfect stage but in a really positive way. While I felt uncomfortable at times, I continued to move forward. And as an adult, taking these first steps on the ice was just a continuation of those feelings. I was okay looking silly at times, because it was worse to not do something you want simply because others might judge you. You only get one life, and a short one at that.
What’s important for new adult skaters to realize today is that while there are more and more adult skaters getting involved with the sport, each person is capable of different things and attaining different levels of success. For me, I was willing to take the falls so I took the risks. I loved learning the really showy stuff like butterflies, death drops, kicks and slides across the ice. I wanted to be different and I strived to be different, because I always knew I was capable of more.
This is what I’ve also found by getting to know other adult skaters. Ice skating is quite a solitary sport. You make great friends, and you share wonderful moments with people who also feel an urge to break their own psychological and physical barriers of what everyone says is “possible,” but at the end of the day, the journey is a very personal one. And to take it is not always easy. It requires several traits that develop over time:
The first thing you’ll realize when you take up the sport is that it takes tenacity. Ice skating is not for quitters. After all, it takes guts to get out on the ice and challenge yourself day after day and fall after fall. You literally have to learn how to get up and try again. Sometimes it may take months before getting a particular move – not to mention some bruises. But that’s just part of life, on and off the ice… To be able to stick with something no matter what, and see it through to the end.
It also takes faith… Faith that you will get whatever move, eventually. Even if you can’t do it the first time, or the second time, or the 100th time, you must develop faith in yourself. Were there days I wanted to throw in the towel? Absolutely! Were there days where I had to scrape my body off the ice? You betcha! But, there were also days I when I learned how to fly (jump) and that exhilarating feeling made me want to continue to grow my wings. But, it took faith to believe that I could get there. Adult skaters tend to develop a lot of faith in themselves – it’s essential!
Lastly, it takes pure guts and being fearless at times. For many kids, getting the axle jump is a defining jump. Axles are the only jump where the take-off is forward, so you are looking straight into the air as you take off-it’s like knowing you are taking the leap off the cliff and actually doing it over and over! As a young competitor, you can move up if you can get your axle but if you can’t, you’re done as a skater. The same is true for adult skaters, it’s a defining jump for us too, because it simply takes guts to learn it. If you can walk and jump in your sneakers on the sidewalk, you can learn the axle, but you must have the guts to accept the inevitability of falling.
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something to all the coaches out there since I am now one myself. Taking on an adult skater will be memorable and you will be surprised to learn that adults have what it takes to succeed on the ice. Adult skaters are consistent and show up on time, which means a more rewarding experience for you! And, they show up because they want to, because they love it – not because they have a parent sitting in the stands.
Also, adult skaters understand the concepts more quickly on how to do a move, but it just takes their bodies a while to do it – so be patient with your adult students. And the more detail you provide as a coach to an adult, the better, because eventually they will get their bodies to go in that direction, if they understand the nuances of the move. And, lastly, adults want to learn the really cool and hard stuff too. This is something I saw over and over in my adult students. Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves spirals and footwork, but adult students love to fly (jump) and spin fast more. So, challenge your students!
So, to all the adult skaters out there, take pride in what you do, because most adults haven’t yet developed the tenacity, faith or guts to get it done. Just stepping onto the ice for the first time takes guts – you’re already doing something different. And, if you’re an adult just starting out in the sport, know that you will eventually get to your goals, and that you can do anything you set your mind to!
D. Cooper has been a coach since 1999. She is a member of the United States Figure Skating Association and a member of the Professional Skaters Association for coaches, and she continues to actively coach students of all ages. D. Cooper is also a published author with a recently released book, “Learn How to Ice Skate, 7 Basic Moves – A Guide for the First Time Skater” which is an easy to understand, down to earth, overview of the sport for absolute beginners.